With one persistent swoop towards the shadows of the post, the heart of one improving, excelling sprinter was broken as another reaped the reward that she had so richly deserved. Spirit Quartz may be the horse of tomorrow but today's Group 1 Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes pronounced the Australian mare, Ortensia, as the horse of today as she ran out a neck victor in gruelling conditions on the third day of the York Ebor Festival. Few will disagree that she deserved this one just fifteen months after potential retirement to the breeding sheds.
The chance for Ortensia to gain her first European Group 1 looked to have been dealt a severe blow overnight. Having encountered perfect sunshine all week, York Racecourse was to inherit somewhat of a downpour of precipitation on Thursday night to the disbelief of Ortensia's trainer, Paul Messara. The perfect good-to-firm ground that would've seen Ortensia at her very best had seemingly been cruelly snatched from within her grasp. With a furlong to go, Ortensia was stuck on the far side seemingly with very little to aim her late running style towards. Languishing towards the tail end of the field, the seven year old daughter of Testa Rossa went from languishing to imperiously eating up ground in a matter of strides. Quickly catching Tangerine Trees on the far side, she now aimed for old friend and rival, Spirit Quartz, in the shadows of the post and got ahead of Robert Cowell's consistent gelding for a hard-battled neck-distance victory. Two months later than many British racing fans had expected, Ortensia had landed her British Group 1 and pronounced her as victorious in three continents at the highest level. Back in third, the pride of Yorkshire, Hamish McGonagall, put in another fantastic performance over a course and distance at which he holds four victories, whilst Bated Breath only able to land sixth-place.
"I can't remember riding a horse that can go through so many gears over five furlongs" said William Buick, who has been aboard Ortensia for all of her races since the Darley July Cup at Newmarket, "She's an amazing mare and the best five furlong horse I've ever ridden. Once she finds her feet and she passes a couple of horses her confidence builds. You just have to ride her how she wants to be ridden - she's the boss. It's like she knows where the winning post is. I didnt realise they were going to go that quick. I was worried at half way, I was worried I was going to have too much ground to make up.".
With victory also comes heartbreak; Robert Cowell and Paul Messara are friends, always have been, and Cowell was fully of the belief that it would take a monumental performance from any horse to take down the improving seven year old, Ortensia, at York. Cowell and the connections of Spirit Quartz (left) can exit the Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes elated with their four year old gelding's performance, whilst also fully in the knowledge that their son of Invincible Spirit is a thoroughly exciting prospect for next season. For Spirit Quartz, it has always been about next season, a prospect that could turn out to be an unbeatable proposition on European soil next season and a further credit to the speed-laden yard of Robert Cowell.
One can only imagine how Horse Racing Nation photographer, Emma-Louise Kerwin, must've felt as nineteen thoroughbreds thundered towards her lens in the shadows of the post with a horse she has no fear in adopting as her favourite, in Spirit Quartz, looked to be finally about to achieve his first victory in England and a first Group 1. For Spirit Quartz, today was another day in which second place only began to tell the story of an exciting story that awaits its unfolding. Years of success await for Robert Cowell's new star with the Prix de L'Abbeye at Longchamp [7th October] and an early 2013 target at Meydan firmly on the radar for this stunning propsect.
After the third-place finish of his seven year old mare, Alverta, in the 2010 Darley July Cup, Messara vowed to return one day with a horse capable of Group-race victory in the Northern Hemisphere. On Friday the 24th of August 2012, the taste of European success was finally achieved for Messara at the very highest level with a mare who refused to be retired. "The horse hit a bit of a form slump in Australia and the owner was going to retire her but he said he'd love to win another race with her if we could get her racing before she goes to stud. We brought her along nice and slow and went back to a very natural approach with the horse and she started to bloom. She's just gone on from there from a Listed race in Flemington, to a Group 1 at Dubai and beyond. For me, it's now five victories from seven races" said Messara, "It's been a hell of a ride. The biggest thrill of my training career by far, to come all this way and win a Group 1 is fantastic.".
"Winners are grinners" quipped Messara on Twitter on Friday night, "We did it". The Haydock Sprint Cup [8th September] looks like the next target for Messara's dream-maker.
Photos Courtesy of Emma-Louise Kerwin (Goodtosoft.co.uk)