Loyalty or royalty - a NSW chief’s conundrum
Nicholas Godfrey is in Australia for the inaugural Championships, the richest racing festival in the southern hemisphere - he'll be blogging about his experiences on the far side of the world
PRESUMABLY everyone involved in organising the Championships in Sydney would love to see the Queen's colours carried to victory by the favourite Carlton House in 'her race', the Queen Elizabeth Stakes, which provides the A$4 million (£2.22m) centrepiece of Saturday's meeting at Randwick.
Or would they? Because while any such royal victory would be manna from heaven in promotional terms, Racing NSW chairman John Messara can perhaps be forgiven for divided loyalties in the Longines-sponsored showpiece.
Messara, a prime mover behind the Championships, will surely be rooting for five-time Group 1 winner It's A Dundeel, who is one of Carlton House's principal rivals in a 12-runner field.
In December, Messara's Arrowfield Stud secured a controlling interest in New Zealand-trained It's A Dundeel for a rumoured A$10m - about £5.6m. They already had a 30 per cent interest, and if this was a lot of money, It's A Dundeel had the form in the book, including a hat-trick at last year's Sydney Autumn Carnival featuring the Australian Derby. He then came second in the Queen Elizabeth as a three-year-old, suffering an odds-on defeat at the hands of French Derby winner Reliable Man, since retired to stud.
That seemed a minor setback when he came back as good as new in the spring, beating Coolmore's superstar filly Atlantic Jewel at Caulfield, so out came the Messara cheque book. He was immediately eyeing the Championships and Royal Ascot.
Except that It's A Dundeel hasn't won a race since, filling only the minor places on all three starts so far at this year's autumn carnival, the stage he dominated in 2013.
Now comes the big one on Saturday, when he must turn the tables on recent conquerors like fellow Kiwi Silent Achiever and Boban, one of five runners for the all-conquering Chris Waller yard.
Certainly the smoke signals look promising for It's A Dundeel. He has been the only real market mover in ante-post betting, and jockey James McDonald could not have been more upbeat after a workout at Warwick Farm racecourse earlier this week.
"He felt very comfortable - he just feels like a horse who is peaking at the right time," said the jockey, grinning from ear-to-ear. "I came away from there very happy and even more confident in him. It's the best he has worked for me."
Messara, on hand for the gallop, picked out number one at last night's draw ceremony at Randwick. Despite Her Majesty's rival interest, he must be hoping that's where his horse finishes. For what it's worth, I think he just might.
PS - I type this next words guardedly, not wishing to tempt fate. It has stopped raining and the skies are blue. At last.