- Night of Thunder wins 2,000 Guineas
- 40-1 shot triumphed in first Classic of the English season
- Kieren Fallon rode his fifth Guineas winner
- NEW: First 1,000 Guineas for master trainer Andre Fabre
It was billed as a showdown between king and country: John Gosden's imperious Kingman versus Aiden O'Brien's exciting Australia. In the end it was 40-1 shot Night of Thunder, ridden by Kieren Fallon, who delivered a shock result in the first Classic of the English season.
Racing is a sport of many long and proud traditions. The newest of these is surely the preoccupation, in the run up to the 2,000 Guineas, with identifying the "next Frankel."
Perhaps inevitably, Kingman, running in the same green, pink and white colours of Khalid Abdulla, had bourn the brunt of this fevered speculation. A star turn in the Greenham Stakes -- a race also won by Frankel en route to his Guineas in 2011 -- did nothing to quell racing fans' hopes that lightening could, perhaps, strike twice.
Kingman's only vulnerability appeared to be the ground -- he needed surgery last year to remove a bone chip and connections were concerned about the going being too fast. In the end it was not drought but thunder they should have worried about.
The 14-runner field had split into two groups at the start of the race, with one group, containing pre-race favorite Kingman and Night of Thunder, being lead by Spanish challenger Noozhoh Canarias, while the second was headed by Night of Thunder's more fancied stable mate Toormore.
As the two groups approached the final half-furlong, Kingman's jockey James Doyle looked to have timed his run perfectly on the outside, with Joseph O'Brien and Australia matching him stride-for-stride on the inside.
Night of Thunder, however, appeared on Kingman's flank and looked set to take him on, before taking an unexplained detour to join Australia on the stands side.
Despite losing valuable seconds in the switch, Night of Thunder powered home to win by half a length. Kingman and Australia were split by a head in second and third respectively.
It was a first Classic win, on paper, at least, for Richard Hannon, Jr., who took the reins of his father's training operation just this season.
The normally voluble Hannon was lost for words as the plaudits rained down on his champion.
"It's the stuff of dreams," said Hannon. "As a school boy you dream of days like this -- you think you might get there one day, and you might not. But we've done it."
By contrast, Night of Thunder's veteran jockey Fallon, is a previous four-time winner of this race. The 49-year-old has seen his fair share of ups and downs in a colorful career which has seen him crowned Champion Jockey six times yet also serve lengthy bans following accusations of race fixing and testing positive for banned substances.
"It's brilliant," said Fallon, whose last win in the race came in 2006. "It's a great race to win and it kick-starts our confidence for the year."
From here, thoughts inevitably turn to the Derby, the next of the English "Classics" on the calendar.
Australia, on pedigree, should have his best chance at Epsom (he is the son of a Derby winner and an Oaks winner), while Kingman has shown too much class in his career to date to be written off just yet.
The search for the next Frankel goes on.
Fabre breaks 1,000 Guineas duck
In the fillies' equivalent Sunday, French raider Miss France delivered the goods under jockey Maxime Guyon to give master trainer Andre Fabre his first victory in the 1,000 Guineas.
Tucked in behind early pacesetter Manderley, Miss France showed a devastating turn of foot to beat a fast-finishing Lightening Thunder in a thrilling finish.
It was a marked change of tactics for the winner of the Oh So Sharp Stakes.
24-time French champion trainer Fabre told reporters that the ride was "the exact opposite of the way I wanted her ridden -- but it worked."
It is expected she will now be targeted at the "French Oaks" -- the Prix de Diane.