November 30, 2023

Marsha nips Lady Aurelia on line in Nunthorpe

Lady Aurelia (top) is just denied by Marsha in the final stride of the Nunthorpe, a "Win & You're In" for the BC Turf Sprint (Official photo finish tweeted by Breeders' Cup)

No match for Lady Aurelia in the King’s Stand (G1) at Royal Ascot, Marsha conjured up a form reversal Friday in a heart-stopping conclusion to York’s Nunthorpe (G1). As the odds-on Lady Aurelia disposed of market rival Battaash and reached for the line, the 8-1 Marsha surged in time to surprise her – and her jockey Frankie Dettori, who celebrated in the mistaken belief the favorite had held on.

Trained by Sir Mark Prescott, the Elite Racing Club homebred was earning her second Group 1 laurel, her previous career high coming in last fall’s Prix de l’Abbaye (G1) on Arc Day. Marsha kicked off 2017 with a similarly top-drawer performance in the May 6 Palace House (G3) at Newmarket, where she became the first female since legendary Lochsong to prevail under her extra weight as a Group 1 winner.

Marsha was actually favored over Lady Aurelia in the King’s Stand, only to finish third to Wesley Ward’s star and to defending champion Profitable. Next seen at the Curragh, Marsha was the class of the Sapphire (G2) field, but the 1-2 favorite was denied by exposed 10-1 shot Caspian Prince. She was beaten again in the August 4 King George (G2) at Glorious Goodwood, unable to contain the potent kick of Battaash or peg back Profitable when third.

But on Friday, Marsha was at her absolute best, not only returning to her prior level but likely bettering it. Unlike the bunched-up finish in the l’Abbaye, Marsha and Lady Aurelia pulled well clear of the rest at York, with 50-1 Cotai Glory 3 3/4 lengths astern in third.

Battaash had shaped up as Lady Aurelia’s most dangerous rival – a rapidly progressive fellow three-year-old who’d defeated the leading older sprinters. Backers of Battaash had early warning, however, that he might not be up to the challenge when he got stirred up beforehand. Balking for some time behind the gate and finally needing to be hooded in order to load, the Charlie Hills gelding was not sending positive signals.

Although Battaash broke well and raced prominently, he wasn’t traveling with quite the same verve as Lady Aurelia. Still in hand for Dettori, the American-based speedster burned off most of her pursuers. She had to find a bit extra to put away Battaash, who folded tamely to fourth.

Then Marsha unleased a strong rally on the stands’ side, but Lady Aurelia still appeared to have victory within her grasp. Although she drifted left as Marsha quickly closed the gap, the wire was coming up fast – too soon for Marsha. Or was it?

The camera proved that Marsha had indeed gotten her nose down on the line, notwithstanding Dettori’s ebullience aboard Lady Aurelia.

“I wasn’t sure,” winning rider Luke Morris said, “and when I saw Frankie put his arm up, I was gutted as I thought he had won. Then someone said congratulations to me and it turned into jubilation.”

“Ow!” Dettori told Racing Post. “You saw it yourself. I thought I had won a neck. You’ve seen it on TV. I’m shocked, lads.”

Ward must have been gutted, but was the soul of gracious sportsmanship:

“She’s a true champion – these things happen. She ran a brilliant race and the other filly ran us down. I think we got beat fair and square. She’s run a fantastic race and I’m very proud of her.”

While Lady Aurelia remains on course for the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1), it’s uncertain whether she’ll get a rematch with Marsha. The Nunthorpe is a “Win & You’re In,” if Marsha’s connections are interested in taking up the free berth at Del Mar.

The Irish-bred Marsha is by Acclamation and out of the stakes-winning Marju mare Marlinka, herself a three-quarter sister to multiple Group 1-winning champion Soviet Song.