HART & SOUL
Class prevails for an ageing warrior
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.