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Article 5th May 2024 Newmarket

By Ben Cox

Elmalka became the fourth-longest priced winner of the QIPCO 1000 Guineas in the post-World War II period when swooping in dramatic fashion to spring a 28-1 upset in the mile fillies’ Classic at Newmarket today.    

Partnered by 42-year-old Brazilian Silvestre de Sousa, who was enjoying a first British Classic success, Elmalka came into today’s contest having made a winning debut on the all-weather at Southwell in November before coming home a close third in the Group Three Fred Darling Stakes at Newbury last month.     

The daughter of Kingman dwelt at the start and was at the rear of the 16 runners in the early part of the mile contest. She began to make headway entering the final furlong and got up in the final strides to prevail. At the finish, she had a neck to spare over Porta Fortuna (11-1) with a further short-head back to Ramatuelle (9-2) in third.   

Sheikh Ahmed Al Maktoum’s filly is out of Nahrain who provided Elmalka’s trainer Roger Varian with his first Group One winner in the 2009 Prix de l'Opera at Longchamp. Varian, 45, was enjoying a third UK Classic win after two St Leger victories with Kingston Hill (2014) and Eldar Eldarov (2022).

The Newmarket-based trainer said: “It’s not a surprise because I wouldn’t have run her if I didn’t think she was going to run well, but you don’t come into these races thinking you’re going to win.

“She ran a big race at Newbury and she was as green as grass and credit to James Doyle who gave her a super ride that day. He got an education into her and she finished strongly. We weren’t set on running in the Guineas that day but the turnaround in the filly in the last fortnight has been quite incredible.

“She’s looked fantastic, she’s eaten everything in front of her and she’s worked well. I was in two minds whether to run her because I didn’t want to do the wrong thing by the filly but that’s why we’re here, right, to have a go?

“I was thinking about the race at Epsom against the older fillies and then maybe missing Ascot and going to the Falmouth fresh. Anyway ‘Plan A’ has come off and we’re delighted.”    

Asked about her incredible turn of foot at the end of the race, he went on: “You know what, she showed a little bit of that at Newbury and I thought another 100 yards and she might have been a length and a half winner. She was just taking off.

“It’s very special actually to train the winner for His Highness Sheik Ahmed Al Maktoum, who’s supported me all of my career and supported Michael Jarvis before me. She’s a homebred filly and out of Nahrain who was my first Group One winner the first year I trained, winning the Prix de l’Opera. You can’t get more special than that.

“I’m delighted for the owner, of course, and the team at home who put in so much hard work. It’s a bit gutting that Hanniko (his wife) and the kids are not here. They’re at Windsor today – she’s got these pop-up stalls everywhere this weekend and she was at Windsor Thursday and today and she was at Newmarket Friday and yesterday so it’s how it fell this year.

“But it’s a team effort and these things don’t happen by accident. It’s a huge thrill and it hasn’t quite sunk in.”

Referring to his two previous Classic victories he went on: “You can’t be labelled just as a Leger trainer. You need something with a bit of speed so I’m delighted to have won a Guineas.”

Winning jockey de Sousa is not first choice at Varian’s and, when asked whether he might now use him more often, the trainer replied: “The situation is that James Doyle will ride the majority when available but unfortunately for James his first job and first priority is with Wathnan Racing, and he was in France today riding for them, but Silvestre’s not a bad substitute!

“Silvestre rode a winner for us yesterday at Goodwood so, of course Silvestre’s going to have rides for us, but as you know James is our rider when available.”

When asked what he thought of the Elmalka over the winter, Varian continued: “She only won at Southwell but the clockwatchers … I credit Michael Spence who rang me that day and said ‘I think that filly will win the Guineas - she’s clocked an unbelievable time for Southwell. She’s run to over 100 on debut’. I take that stuff with a pinch of salt but that is gospel truth.”

Asked whether he thought Ramatuelle would prove too much for his filly in the closing stages, he continued: “I can’t tell you what I was thinking - I was thinking at half-way we weren’t really handling the track. But the further we went I thought ‘she’s going to come into this’ and in the dip I thought we’d run a place. Final 100 yards I did think we’d get there. It was great.”

Successful rider de Sousa, who was UK champion jockey in 2015, 2017 and 2018, returned to riding in the UK at the start of this year after a stint in Hong Kong.

He said: “Roger has had me in since I’ve been back and I asked him if I can ride out in the mornings. He didn’t promise me a lot but he’s put me up on a couple of nice horses in the mornings and in the afternoons as well and I’m just delighted the opportunity has been given to me and the Al Maktoum family as well. I’m delighted for them.

“I’m so proud. I’ve been trying to win a Classic for so long and it’s just an amazing feeling.

“I haven’t had that feeling for a long time. Especially when you’ve had time off and you come back – it was just unbelievable.

“I love British racing so much. To me it’s my base. This is the place where it starts and I hope this is the place where I’m going to finish one day. I just love the races and the crowds and to see the tracks packed, it’s just amazing.”

Asked when he thought he had a chance of victory he said: “Just when we came down the dip I could see the horses in front could never get away from me and I hoped that when we hit the rising ground she would pick up.

“She’s still a bit green and inexperienced. She won a race and ran a good third at Newbury but she’s just learning. It was a good way to learn and learn about the feel as well. she’s really tough and game as well.

“They went an even gallop and she’s an inexperienced filly. She’s still learning. I didn’t want to be at the back but the situation of the race and the way she travelled for me, I just had to accept it and ride the race from there. It was all down to me to do from that position and she delivered for me. I couldn’t do it all myself and she picked up when I wanted.”

Asked about returning to Britain he said: “I’ve still got my head in the air and picking up rides and getting winners. I’ve been working hard behind the scenes and just want my opportunities back and I’m still capable. I’ll just work hard and see how the season goes.”

French trainer Christopher Head, who saddled the third Ramatuelle, said: “It was a very nice run from Ramatuelle and I was very happy with her performance today.

“We needed to be humble today as we were up against plenty of very nice fillies but she held her own and ran a very nice race.

“I thought she would last home when she hit the rising ground and she has only been beaten a very few metres at the finish.

“The programme is still wide open for her – she can maybe go sprinting or stay at a mile. I will speak with her owners and see – everything is open to her. A mile is the limit of her stamina. 

“I would like to thank the owners for letting me run her.”

A further half-length back in fourth was Tamfana (33-1). The German-bred filly came home strongly after meeting trouble in running.

Her trainer, the West Sussex-based Frenchman David Menuisier, said: “I have mixed feelings.

“She was the unluckiest filly in the race but what can you do? The plan was to always to go to the French Oaks after today and she will still go there and she will have a good chance.

“I don’t really know what to say – you could run the race 100 times and 99 times she would win, but that’s life.

“I feel sorry for Jamie (Spencer, jockey) as well because it had nothing to do with him. He was there in the right spot – exactly in the same place as yesterday’s winner – and travelling better than anything else. It was a matter of getting gaps and we didn’t, which can happen. We are not the first people this has happened to and we won’t be the last – we have to cope with that.

“I’d like to be happy but I can’t really as we came here to win the race. I can be happy as we know have a very good filly – everything was right except the result.”

The QIPCO 1000 Guineas is part of the QIPCO British Champions Series.


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