mark Johnston’s Permian – Flat racing’s unluckiest loser of 2017 – will be hoping for a change of fortune in tonight’s Group One Secretariat Stakes in Arlington.
A race named after America’s 1973 Triple Crown hero, the Yorkshire challenger heads to Chicago after an agonising defeat in last month’s Juddmonte Grand Prix de Paris at Saint-Cloud.
Jockey William Buick thought Permian had prevailed from Christophe Soumillon’s mount Shakeel – the Middleham horse was clearly in front momentarily before the line and immediately afterwards. The TV pictures suggested so.
Yet, in this head-bobbing finish in which the photo-finish frame required close inspection, Shakeel had just a whisker in hand over Permian who had so nearly made all under Buick who was philosophical in defeat.
“We all thought we’d won, and so did Christophe,” lamented the rider at the time.
“I always thought I was in the right place going the right pace and Permian won the race everywhere bar the line. He was in front before and after, and it was just bad luck. I gave him a pat after the line so he probably thinks he won.
“He deserved a pat anyway, he’s a very gutsy and straightforward horse.”
As such, Permian has a favourite’s chance in tonight’s 10-furlong race which has attracted a select field.
He’s certainly good enough – the unknown is whether the colt’s season-long exertions have taken their toll on a horse who, as Buick says, is all guts and will be racing for the 14th time.
This, after all, is a horse who thrives on his work and already had three races under his belt this season before landing York’s Dante Stakes in May. A disappointing run in the Epsom Derby – Permian didn’t handle the unique undulations – was followed by Royal Ascot success in the King Edward VII Stakes before suffering Parisian heartbreak just four weeks ago.
It’s a tall order but Johnston’s son and assistant Charlie, speaking from Chicago, is hopeful that Permian can beat his five rivals headed by America’s home hope Oscar Performance and win a Group One – the horse’s ultimate objective for 2017.
“There’s only six horses in the race and he comes out top on ratings,” said Johnston junior.
“It’s a bit of a different test – a sharp mile and a quarter on an American circuit – but this horse has shown how adaptable he is all season.
“We thought the French race would take a lot out of him and he’d need a bit longer, but he came out of it better than ever.
“He’s just the most phenomenal horse. Everything we’ve thrown at him this year, he’s come back asking for more. He’s travelled over super and William knows him better than anyone.
“Priority number one is to try and get a Group One under his belt. Let’s hope he’ll take a bit of beating.”
French trainer Jean-Claude Rouget has sent over Afandem, the mount of Frankie Dettori, while Aidan O’Brien saddles Taj Mahal who will be ridden by Ryan Moore.
Meanwhile, Buick plans to catch the red-eye flight so he can ride 2016 Eclipse hero Hawkbill in Germany tomorrow.
The rider’s American adventure does mean that he misses the ride on Francis Of Assisi in the feature Betfred Rose of Lancaster Stakes at Haydock today.
Charlie Appleby’s globetrotter won the Bendigo Cup and the Queen Elizabeth Stakes in Australia last year, and is currently at the head of the betting for the Melbourne Cup in November.
Bought out of Aidan O’Brien’s yard to go hurdling by John Ferguson, he came up short against the best over timber and was transferred to Appleby, who has really found the key to the seven-year-old. Adam Kirby will be in the saddle.
“He’s in good shape. He obviously had the spring off after his victories in Melbourne last year and he’s currently joint-favourite for the Melbourne Cup,” said Appleby. “He’ll be making his way back down there. They start quarantine in the middle of September and we’ll get a run into him before he goes on the plane – he’s in great nick.
“I couldn’t be any happier with him and I’m looking forward to seeing him out and then he’ll be on his travels. He’s not far off full fitness, to be fair. He’s better going there fresher than too fit first time out. He’s fresh and well and looks in good shape.”