By Geoffrey Riddle at Goodwood
Michael Tabor frequently mentions that he has “high-class problems” to discuss with his fellow Coolmore owners John Magnier and Derrick Smith.
After Winter secured her fourth straight Group One triumph in the Qatar Nassau Stakes in commanding style under Ryan Moore at Goodwood on Thursday the triumvirate have much to contemplate.
Winter fully justified being hammered down from Betway’s best morning price of 13-8 into 10-11 when the gates opened and in the closing stages of the mile and a quarter contest she strode clear of 16-1 outsider Blond Me to win by a length and a half.
The daughter of dual Derby winner Galileo never looked totally comfortable on the gluey going but if the presence of Blond Me gave the form a weak look Godolphin’s Group One winner Sobetsu was just a neck behind in third.
As trainer Aidan O’Brien made quite clear afterwards Winter has almost any option open to her now and where the muscular grey filly goes next is intrinsically linked to where stable companion Churchill also heads.
The 2000 Guineas winner was ridden out at Ballydoyle by Donnacha O’Brien on Thursday morning, having been scratched from Wednesday’s Sussex Stakes, and could well be the Ballydoyle representative in the Juddmonte International on August 21 in preference to a clash with Ribchester in the Prix Jacques Le Marois on Sunday week.
“We walked the track yesterday in a hurricane and the risk was too high to run Churchill in that ground,” O’Brien said.
“It definitely was not the wrong decision. Churchill arrived home this morning and he might be able to take in York.”
Winter is also entered in the ten-furlong contest on the Knavesmire, but also has an engagement in the Darley Yorkshire Oaks three days later and is 12-1 with Paddy Power up against the 1-3 quote about dual Oaks and King George winner Enable.
The smart money has gone down on Winter appearing in the Irish Champion Stakes on September 9, for which she is the 5-1 favourite with Skybet and as short as 3-1 with Paddy Power, but the twinkle in O’Brien’s eye and the intonation of his voice suggests a step up to 12 furlongs could come sooner, rather than later.
“I wouldn’t rule out a mile and a half and we are now very comfortable at a mile and a quarter,” the trainer said. “She is a strong, powerful mare with big powerful feet and she weighs between 530-540kgs.
“The lads will decide her future, but she has the option of Leopardstown [where she is also entered in the Matron Stakes], or York.”
When asked about the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, in which last year’s runner-up Highland Reel is 16-1 in comparison to Winter’s 12-1, he added: “It’s possible but the Arc is a good few races away.”
Analysis: David Cleary explains how Nassau heroine Winter proved the point that Galileo progeny almost always stay at least 1m 2f pic.twitter.com/NIL9dNipkk— Racing UK (@Racing_UK) August 3, 2017
O’Brien deliberately gave Winter a break after her early season exertions that brought victories in two Guineas plus the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot.
The 50mm of rain that fell on the Downs on Wednesday had left the going soft, heavy in places, which was the softest she has encountered in her eight-race career.
The going compromised the chances of Breeders’ Cup winner Queen’s Trust, and So Mi Dar, who had previously won in such conditions but was trying to shrug off a 305-day lay-off.
Only Sobetsu had won a top-level race in soft ground and William Buick went in search of his treble on the card after wins on Endless Time and Barraquero by setting an even pace from the front.
Winter was keen early on, but Moore eventually settled her and tracked Hydrangea, Winter’s stable companion who was ridden by Seamie Heffernan.
Moore kept So Mi Dar and Frankie Dettori hemmed on the rail and two furlongs out Moore played the waiting game as his mount cruised to the front with ease before he pushed her out to deliver O'Brien's fourth Nassau win.
"I was holding my breath all the way, because she was keen in Ryan's hands to start with, and he did a great job to relax her," O'Brien said. "I knew he was going to wait, but when you get to the final two furlongs in that ground you don't know what's going to happen."
Moore downplayed Winter’s efforts in his first post-race synopsis, but having had time to reflect he said: “We thought ten furlongs would be OK, but the ground is bad summer ground and you never know how any horse handles it.
"She has plenty of ability and she pulled through. The going blunted her a bit but in the end she was well on top."
It was a second victory for Moore in succession after Minding provided him with his first win 12 months ago. Winter’s time of 2m 11.79s was the slowest since Lyphard’s Delta in 1993.
“She travels beautifully," he added. "She is a high-class filly and you always feel she will pick fillies up.
“It would be unfair to say she is better at a mile or ten furlongs – she looks very good at both.”