Johnny Murtagh drives Duke of Marmalade to the post
Saturday’s King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes saw Susan Magnier and Michael Tabor’s DUKE OF MARMALADE (Danehill) digging deep to put up a true champion’s performance.
The UK’s Racing Post reports that only the great Brigadier Gerard had won Ascot’s premier middle distance race on his first attempt at a mile and a half, but the champion son of Danehill, Duke Of Marmalade, shares that record with the equine legend and is now establishing an aura of his own after beating Papal Bull in a thrilling climax.
What, for a moment, had looked like becoming a procession when Duke Of Marmalade swept to the front over a furlong out turned into an unexpectedly hard-fought contest in which Papal Bull, under Olivier Peslier, grabbed the lead to go a neck in front – and 1-10 in running on Betfair – only for Duke Of Marmalade to battle back and win by half a length.
By King George standards, the duel was brief but it was still memorable, the pair crossing the line nine lengths clear of Youmzain, yet again the victim of a hard-luck story, having been denied the chance to produce a meaningful challenge when impeded by Papal Bull approaching a furlong out.
Victory gave Aidan O’Brien a 14th Group 1 of the year and Johnny Murtagh a 12th at the top level, equalling the rider’s best haul for a season, and despite their many triumphs, neither doubted that Duke Of Marmalade ranks among the very best they have been associated with.
“He’s a very rare horse to show top form over a mile and such determination and aggression at the end of a race over a mile and a half,” said Aidan O’Brien. “It’s unusual. There’s no doubt this is a great horse now. He only goes there and wins his races and we have seen a typical example today.”
Johnny Murtagh said: “Even when it looks like all is gone he still finds more and that’s why I think he’s a true champion. He doesn’t lack in any department. He has good speed, relaxes and has a great will to win. He’s like most of the great ones I’ve ridden. He’s on a par with Dylan Thomas and he’ll be very hard to beat this year.
“We quickened unbelievably well in the straight and I thought there was no way we’d be beat. When Papal Bull came up to me and went a neck up I was surprised, but when I got my stick in my right hand, gave him a couple of smacks, he found top gear again. The good horses can win when all looks lost.”
As expected, Aidan O’Brien employed Red Rock Canyon as a pacemaker but, even though Duke Of Marmalade was unproven at the distance, the pace was deliberately set to provide a test for the 4-6 favourite.
“We put all our cards on the table, put in solid pace and if he stayed, he stayed,” the trainer added. “If he didn’t, he didn’t and we could drop him back. He got to the front a little earlier than we wanted. His rhythm took him there. I was happy when Papal Bull came to him. I knew Johnny had not really gone for everything and when he did the response was great.”
Incidentally, Ascot was not the only place that Susan Magnier’s famous dark blue silks were carried to victory. The Mike de Kock-trained Front House, the first horse to carry her colours in South Africa, won Saturday’s Gold Circle Oaks, a Grade 2 event at Clairwood, Durban.