Declan Rix

Declan Rix reflects on Space Blues's classy Prix Maurice de Gheest success, a victory which Declan now believes makes him a better horse than his Charlie Appleby stablemate Pinatubo.

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Pinatubo has company in stable mate Space Blues

He may not have the same kind of profile as his stable mate Pinatubo, but there is now a real case to say Space Blues is just as good, if not marginally better, than last season’s Champion Juvenile.

Space Blues’s maiden Group 1 victory in Sunday’s Prix Maurice de Gheest was done in some style, better style than the final winning margin of three-quarters-of-a-length suggests, earning him a rating of 119+ on my figures. He now sits 1lb ahead of his much more talked about stablemate Pinatubo (118+)(125 juvenile).

Under a confident William Buick, Space Blues sat out the back of the 11-runner field on Sunday, before coming with a withering late run to mow down this season’s Diamond Jubilee Stakes winner, Hello Youmzain. Irish 2000 Guineas and Prix Jean Prat runner-up – both Group 1s - Lope Y Fernandez was third, a further head behind.

Pre-race, the Maurice de Gheest looked an exciting and competitive contest and on the day, the race came up trumps with every one of the main players running their race – Wichita aside; although, on the back of a disappointing Sussex Stakes effort, I’m not sure he really was that big of a player.

If the betting market was your guide, than I suppose you would have to be disappointed with 11/10 favourite Earthlight finishing fourth (beaten 1 length), but I have this down as a career best for the son of Shamardal. It would be easy to say Andre Fabre’s inmate didn’t run up to full potential with the market in mind, but I just don’t see it like that.

True, Earthlight hasn’t had an ideal season courtesy of a little niggling early campaign set-back, but he had a beautiful prep run coming into the race, and visually, looked a better horse with how he travelled through the contest under Mickael Barzalona, compared to his seasonal debut.

Disappointing he was beaten, and to lose his unbeaten record, but it looks a career best on just his second run of an interrupted 3yo campaign. With such a high-class man guiding his career, I don’t see why he can’t improve again after just seven career starts.

Praise must be lavished on the winner, however, who is such a likable and now progressive horse. Charlie Appleby’s inmate ticks a hell-of-a-lot of boxes on the thoroughbred checklist; ability, attitude, consistency, toughness, soundness and all wrapped with a nice bow that is a potent turn of foot.

Also blessed with a high-cruising speed, this son of Dubawi could one day prove to be a successful stallion down the line, but hopefully we get to enjoy him for another while longer, especially if Sunday is anything to go by.

Having sat out the back early, you could see how strongly the chestnut 4yo travelled by how low William Buick’s heels were to the ground. With Buick getting cover behind Wichita, it was sometimes hard to see just how strong the pair travelled early together, but Buick’s body language was that of a confident jockey.

Despite having conceded first run and early ground, Space Blue’s went through the gears impressively in the final 600m (2.98 furlongs), clocking closing sectionals of 33.12 according to France Galop’s sectional data. He simply has too many gears for his rivals and won going away, looking a little value for more.

It is unfortunate in some ways, that 7f appears to be his ideal trip; funnily enough, just like his stablemate Pinatubo. The current crop of 6f horses are no great shakes, no star among them, so I have no doubts about both Pinatubo and Space Blues being able to compete with the best over 6f given their strong-travelling abilities and class, but it continues to be a shame that top-class 7f horses are not catered for in Britain or Ireland.

OK, the Prix Maurice de Gheest is 6½f and on Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe day, we do have the Group 1 Prix de la Foret, but both races are in France and we now surely need a Group 1 race over 7f in Britain? Some will say “it’s only a furlong difference, it’s nothing”, but we see with just 1f what a difference that makes to the likes of a Battaash.

I am normally not a fan of adding more Group/Grade 1s to any calendar – flat or jumps – but I would welcome a seven-furlong Group 1 race for 3yos and older horses with open arms.

Having the race spaced nicely (4-6 weeks) ahead of the Maurice de Gheest would be ideal, but I do understand you cannot just pick races like this out of the air; and, where it will be run and when, is for far smarter people than me to decide, if indeed this ever came to fruition.

Maybe the Group 2 Summer Mile at Ascot - won by Mohaather this season - could be brought down a furlong and upgraded, and then run on the straight track?

Or maybe the Lennox Stakes at Goodwood - won by Space Blues this season, just 12 days previous - could be upgraded, but brought to an earlier fixture at the course? Having Group 1s at their Glorious Goodwood festival over seven and eight furlongs (Sussex Stakes) may not be the best option? This way, the track could have another big day outside of their flagship meeting.

Either way, I do think a race of this nature would add to British flat racing and more importantly, accommodate horses’ needs to reach their full potential.

Declan Rix
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