Domination was reconfirmed on Saturday at Sandown Park as the in-form duo of John Gosden and William Buick notched up yet another top class success with their four year old son of Galileo,
Nathaniel. Impressive in victory, Nathaniel was rumoured to have needed this run en route to defending his King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes crown at Ascot in two weeks time and, if that is indeed the case, he could pose a huge threat to any of his challengers in his forthcoming defence.
Turning into the Sandown straight, Nathaniel sat second behind the Godolphin pacemaker, City Style, and kicked on with two furlongs to go. Challengers came thick and fast from all corners and it was clear that Nathaniel would have to be very close to his utmost best to repel this competitive field. With the Godolphin duo of
Farhh and Monterosso seemingly struggling to mount challenges from the turn, it was the intriguing duo of Cityscape and Crackerjack King who took on Nathaniel first. Coming to the outside of Nathaniel, it initially looked as though it would only be a matter of time before Crackerjack King and jockey Ryan Moore would be upsides William Buick but Nathaniel continued to dig deep and proved increasingly hard to pass. Such was the performance in his King George & Queen Elizabeth Stakes victory last year, Nathaniel proved that he thrives on sitting behind the pacesetters, taking the race by the scruff of the neck in the home straight and has the tenacity to dig to the bottom of his reserves to hold off all comers.
A gutsy horse with a sheer unbelievable attitude and want to win, Nathaniel needed all those reserves to repel a renewed challenge from Dettori on Farhh. After looking beaten turning into the straight, Dettori had exerted exceptional momentum from his mount and with a solitary furlong to go, the race looked all but looked over. To the majority of the racegoers in the packed stands, Farhh was getting there with every stride and looked to go narrowly in front of Nathaniel as the rising ground came into play but no matter how many times Dettori and his charge challenged and attempted to by they just could not get past. In an exciting finish reminiscent of So You Think's grinding closure on Workforce last year, Farhh came to Nathaniel with the chance to earn himself Group 1 glory after just one previous attempt at the top level and he threw down a non-stop challenge with the rising ground seemingly paying to his strengths. Battling tooth and nail and with neither horse willing to lay down, it was eventually Nathaniel who reigned supreme, repelling every challenge thrown down by Farhh and gaining Group 1 victory in his seasonal reappearance after a string of minor setbacks this season.
This was victory for Nathaniel in a race where most had wrote off his chances; In a race where he was arguably out of his comfort zone over ten furlongs, it had looked like Nathaniel would also be unlucky with the ground conditions at Sandown despite significant rainfall in the Esher area in the 24 hours leading up to the race. In a country where shock floods have rocked many areas in the height of summer, Sandown Park's turf track looked to be playing significantly faster than it was thought and with many rumouring that Nathaniel had been less than impressive at home in recent pieces of works, it looked as though everything was playing against Nathaniel - nobody told him that. Entering the parade ring, Nathaniel gazed at his competition as if he were the rightful owner of the 2012 Coral-Eclipse trophy and in bamboozlement at to who these eight other horses were to believe they could challenge his return to glory. With a nervous yet confident John Gosden holding onto him, Nathaniel was the last into the parade ring but the first home with a performance that further enhanced the Coral-Eclipse as one of the most exciting races in the British racing calendar.
There may have been no Frankel or no So You Think in this renewal of the race but Nathaniel's performance in his seasonal reappearance reaffirmed that he is a horse well and truly on the up in the middle distance races at the very top level. With a rematch with St Nicholas Abbey in this year's King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes now on the cards, Nathaniel will also have the likes of Sea Moon and Danedream to contend with at Ascot in two weeks. Can he defend his title? Despite the high quality of opponent, Nathaniel is further enhancing his reputation and I struggle to see just how any of these challengers can defeat him at his very best.
A stellar King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes awaits. Start the countdown.
Photos Courtesy of Emma-Louise Kerwin (Goodtosoft.co.uk)