x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Novellist writes his way into the Ascot horse racing record books

German horse sets new course record as jockey Johnny Murtagh rides to a win in King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes, writes Geoffrey Riddle.

Jockey Johnny Murtagh, centre, rides Novellist to a record win at Ascot on Saturday. Alan Crowhurst / Getty Images
Jockey Johnny Murtagh, centre, rides Novellist to a record win at Ascot on Saturday. Alan Crowhurst / Getty Images

ASCOT, England // Novellist flew the flag for Germany in the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes by posting a record-breaking performance on Saturday.

Twelve months after Danedream had become the first German winner of the European summer highlight, her compatriot followed in her hoofprints by lowering Harbinger's 2010 course record by over two seconds.

Where Danedream had edged out Nathaniel by a nose, however, Novellist powered home to beat Trading Leather, the Irish Derby winner, by five lengths. In truth, the margin could have been more, as a delighted jockey Johnny Murtagh pointed out.

"It didn't feel like a track record but I was always cruising and in my comfort zone and there is more improvement to come," he said.

Murtagh's sense of timing was just another confirmation that the Irishman remains at the height of his powers, despite combining race riding with a fledgling training career.

Although he was crowned the leading rider at Royal Ascot last month, he was not even considered second choice for the ride behind Ryan Moore and William Buick earlier in the week. When Andreas Wohler realised neither of those jockeys would be available, he secured Murtagh by calling him personally.

"I was worried about how confident Johnny was before the race, because I thought he shouldn't be thinking it was too easy, but he rode the horse as if he'd ridden him 20 times before," the trainer said.

Novellist appears to have an equal chance in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in Paris in October to Andre Fabre's Flintshire, Roger Charlton's Al Kazeem and last year's unlucky runner-up, Orfevre.

The German raider will now be placed on the same path that worked for Danedream. Pencilled in is a run in the Grosser Preis Von Baden on September 1 before a bid to become Europe's best horse at Longchamp.

Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid's Ektihaam set a furious pace under Dane O'Neill, in part because he was hen-pecked in the lead by Joe Fanning on Universal and Kevin Manning on Trading Leather.

Not much changed until the home straight, where Ektihaam gave way before Murtagh unleashed his mount's powerful stride.

Murtagh said: "It was how I dreamed it would happen last night, but it was far easier than I had thought. I was worried that something was going to come from behind but nothing did."

Cirrus Des Aigles, the 2012 Dubai Sheema Classic hero, looked a shadow of his former self and managed to hold off Universal for fourth. According to trainer Corine Barande-Barbe, Cirrus Des Aigles' loss to Novellist in the Grand Prix de Saint Cloud in June was due to lack of fitness and once again the seven-year-old gelding's condition appeared to let him down.

"He ran very well, he wasn't really fit," Christophe Soumillon said. "The horse needs a race."

Mukhadram makes up for previous losses

Paul Hanagan made the right decision by deciding to go to York to ride Mukhadram in preference to Ektihaam at Ascot, as Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid’s colt finally atoned for his narrow defeats this season.

Twice Mukhadram had led Al Kazeem in the past five weeks and twice he had been reeled in, most controversially when boxed in on the rail in the Coral Eclipse at Sandown three weeks ago when he finished third. Al Kazeem’s manoeuvre in the Coral Eclipse cost Sheikh Hamdan the best part of £50,000 (Dh282,548) in prize money, but the coffers were filled back up with £56,710 when Mukhadram held off Grandeur in the Group 2 York Stakes.

“I am very proud of him today,” Hanagan said. “If there is a horse that deserved that, it is him. He should have been second in the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes as we all know.”

Mukhadram once again led from as soon as the gates opened but appeared to have difficulty handling the left-handed galloping track along the Knavesmire.

“I struggled to get him on the right leg,” Hanagan added in an interview with Racing UK, a British racing channel. “Because his last two runs have been the other way around and he probably got a little shock at the bend.”

Mukhadram could next run in the Juddmonte International back at York next month, where he could run against Cirrus Des Aigles.

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