Class pre­vails for an age­ing war­rior

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - RACING - RAY THOMAS

WHEN trainer James Cum­mings made the de­ci­sion to set Hartnell for the Ep­som Hand­i­cap, most felt it would be a bridge too far for the age­ing Godol­phin warhorse. But Cum­mings had con­fi­dence in Hartnell, the sup­port of sta­ble staff, and the com­fort­ing ad­vice of re­spected form ex­pert and rac­ing au­thor­ity Do­minic Beirne who re­minded the trainer there is no sub­sti­tute for class.

“I told James of some of the great older horses who had been writ­ten off but bounced back to win big races at 20/1 and 30/1 such as Su­per Im­pose (Cox Plate),’’ he said. “I even men­tioned Kieren Perkins in the 1500m freestyle in the (1996 At­lanta) Olympics; ev­ery­one had writ­ten him off but again class pre­vailed.’’

And so it proved at Royal Rand­wick yes­ter­day when Hartnell won a mem­o­rable Group 1 $1 mil­lion TAB Ep­som Hand­i­cap (1600m) be­fore a crowd of 14,087.

It was a case of the old and the new — vet­eran Hartnell, the eight-year-old geld­ing shoul­der­ing top­weight of 57kg and con­test­ing his 44th race, against the glam­our grey four-year-old D’Ar­gento, lin­ing up for only his 10th start but with a 3.5kg weight pull.

The Ep­som pro­duced a clas­sic end­ing as Hartnell wore down his ri­val for a fa­mous win.

Hartnell ($20) edged out D’Ar­gento ($4.40 equal favourite) to win by a half head with an un­lucky Un­for­got­ten ($4.40 equal favourite) less than a length away third.

“I just re­ally can’t be­lieve it but you know you have be­lief in your horse and he’s a su­per horse, Hartnell,’’ Cum­mings said.

“He’s just had a great build-up to this race, had him here thirdup, it was a bold move run­ning in the Ep­som when he could have run at a weight-for-age and been a strong chance in the Hill Stakes.’’

Cum­mings re­vealed the Ep­som came into his think­ing af­ter Hartnell ran only fourth in the Dato Tan Chin Nam Stakes last start.

“I thought he was a frac­tion big that day,’’ Cum­mings said.

“But I re­alised he would be cherry ripe for his next run and I was con­vinced it was time to run him in a good race like the Ep­som.

“There was ro­bust dis­cus­sion about it but the proof is in the pud­ding.

“The horse is per­form­ing, he does so every prepa­ra­tion and he is just a won­der­ful horse.’’

Hartnell, the for­mer English gal­loper who has called Aus­tralia home for four years, scored his 13th win, his fourth at Group 1 level and took his prize­money past the $5 mil­lion bar­rier.

“I had a heap of pres­sure train­ing this horse when I took him over,’’ Cum­mings said. “He had been win­less for a while but he has won every sin­gle prepa­ra­tion now.

“He’s won two Group 1 races, a Group 2 — this is just a huge mo­ment and priv­i­lege to have a horse of his cal­i­bre un­der my care.’’

Hartnell gave jockey Hugh Bow­man his first Group 1 win in Godol­phin’s fa­mous royal blue colours.

“It is nice to have Hugh on Hartnell, he’s been the fly in Hartnell’s oint­ment for a long time when rid­ing Winx, but he’s prob­a­bly paid Hartnell back in spades there win­ning an Ep­som on him,’’ Cum­mings said.

“In clas­sic Hugh style, he just threw ev­ery­thing at him. I think class got him over the line.”

Bow­man said it meant a “great deal” to him to ride a Group 1 for Godol­phin.

“I know I wear the all blue when I ride Winx but I am very proud to rep­re­sent Sheik Mo­hammed in the Godol­phin colours, it’s my first Group 1 win in them,’’ he said.

“I ended up with a re­ally nice run and I was able to work into it. I did see James (McDon­ald) go through and hit the lead and I thought I am not go­ing to catch that horse (D’Ar­gento) be­cause I know the tal­ent he has.

“I didn’t rush through my gears. This horse has to be balanced to be at his best so I didn’t rush. I just let him get or­gan­ised and I could sense I was go­ing to get to D’Ar­gento.

“I was sur­prised I didn’t beat him a bit more com­fort­ably to be hon­est in the end, but I am just so proud and so ex­cited.

“In the car on the way here, (wife) Chris­tine asked me why I wasn’t on Un­for­got­ten and I said it has 52.5kg but she said ‘I will tell you some­thing’.

“She said ‘I have a real good feel­ing about Hartnell to­day’ and she never says that so it’s re­ally quite spe­cial to be hon­est.”

Trainer Chris Waller had to set­tle for sec­ond, third and fourth plac­ings with D’Ar­gento, Un­for­got­ten and Shil­le­lagh.

McDon­ald (D’Ar­gento) said the grey “went unreal’’.

Hugh Bow­man scores a rare win for Godol­phin aboard Hartnell.

James Cum­mings hugs Hugh Bow­man af­ter Hartnell’s win.

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