Starman took centre stage as he proved himself in the top bracket of this year’s sprinting division with an emphatic victory in the Darley July Cup at Newmarket.
Saturday’s racing took place against a sad backdrop as the death of the mighty Galileo, at the age of 23, brought a watershed moment for the sport.
Coolmore’s great stallion, winner of the Derby at Epsom and the Irish version at the Curragh in 2001, as well as the King George, went on to sire the peerless Frankel among a progeny of more than 90 Group One winners in the two subsequent decades.
Many more are sure to follow, of course, and descendants pre-eminent for generations to come.
Starman is not of that line, but continues to scorch the turf this summer and excelled himself for trainer Ed Walker and jockey Tom Marquand with an unstoppable change of gear against the best of the rest over six furlongs on the July course.
Walker had taken the four-year-old out of his intended Royal Ascot target, the Diamond Jubilee Stakes, when a deluge descended three weeks ago.
But the Lambourn trainer has always had the highest opinion of his Duke of York Stakes winner, and was vindicated with a most impressive Group One graduation as Starman struck from off the pace to beat favourite Dragon Symbol and defending champion Oxted by a length and a quarter and a short-head.
The 9-2 victory was Walker’s first at the top level, and he said: “It’s great. It’s taken its time, but better late than never as they say.
“I always believed so much in this horse. I put a lot of pressure on myself, and it’s great that belief has been vindicated.
“His only blip was on bad ground at Ascot last season, and we’ve been proved to have made the right call in missing the Royal meeting.”
Walker had long been convinced Starman was his champion in waiting.
He added: “I hoped he’d win a Group One, and we dreamed that he’ll be a sprinter of a generation.
“A horse that was going through the grades as quickly as he was, you have to dream.
“They’re all champions when they walk into the yard, but this horse has never let us down.”
It was a special result, too, for Marquand, who was quick to praise Walker and the winner – as well as William Haggas.
He said: “He was pretty exceptional and has confirmed what Ed has been saying all week.
“I’m not going to lie – even I was thinking ‘am I over-rating him a little bit?’. That confidence was justified today, and you have to put him in the top tier of sprinting in Europe after that.”
Marquand has ridden many of his biggest winners for Haggas, and he voiced his gratitude that the Newmarket trainer kept him free to ride Starman.
“Primarily William is my biggest supporter, and he had horses all over the country – and good horses at that,” he said.
“It makes life pretty tricky when it comes to things like that, because loyalty is pretty hard to find in the game, and I’ve got that from William.
“Today I think it just came to the fore what a great trainer and person he is in that he let me come here and ride Starman – because he had some pretty important horses elsewhere.”
Elsewhere on the classy card, Charlie Appleby’s Native Trail remained unbeaten as he doubled his career tally in the bet365 Superlative Stakes.
Appleby struck in the same juvenile Group Two last year, with subsequent 2000 Guineas runner-up Master Of The Seas.
William Buick rode both, Native Trail getting the better of Masekela by a short head to put himself on course to try succeed next where Master Of The Seas did not – in the National Stakes at the Curragh in September.
Appleby said: “It was a good achievement winning today, but I do feel that when we step him up in trip, we’ll hopefully see a bit more improvement again.
“We’ll look towards the National Stakes and then potentially on to the Vertem Futurity Trophy or the Lagardere.”
There were some major handicap pots on offer too, and for the second year in succession Motakhayyel bagged Newmarket’s Bunbury Cup for Richard Hannon – this time, ridden by Frankie Dettori.
At York, in-form Andrew Balding’s Johnny Drama was a 22-1 winner of another hugely competitive event, the John Smith’s Cup – in which apprentice Joshua Bryan was scoring by far the biggest success of his career so far.
The feature Group Two Betfred Summer Mile at Ascot went to Tilsit, who was completing a double for jockey Kieran Shoemark and trainer Charlie Hills and may head next for the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood.
Sunday’s undoubted highlight came in France, where Laws Of Indices sprang a 28-1 shock for Ken Condon and jockey Oliver Peslier in the Haras d’Etreham Prix Jean Prat.
It was a third Group One success for Kildare trainer Condon as the winner led home an Irish one-two, by a head from Joseph O’Brien’s Thunder Moon.
Condon will consider sending Laws Of Indices back to France for the Prix de la Foret at ParisLongchamp in October and possibly to the Breeders’ Cup Mile too.
Reflecting on the colt’s first victory since last year’s Railway Stakes, he said: “It’s just a dream result, fantastic.
“I think he was headed, and he fought back at the end. So it’s brilliant.
“He was an eight-grand yearling – it’s a great story”