08/25/2017 12:16PM

Marsha nips Lady Aurelia in Nunthorpe Stakes

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A filly won the Group 1 Nunthorpe Stakes on Friday at York Racecourse, but not the one widely expected to do so.

In fact, Marsha’s victory over the U.S.-based Lady Aurelia wasn’t expected even after the horses had crossed the finish line. Lady Aurelia appeared to have held on as jockey Frankie Dettori rose up from the saddle and punched the air in celebration. A minute later, the photo finish was resolved and Lady Aurelia had been defeated by a nose.

“I’m very proud of her,” said Lady Aurelia’s trainer, Wesley Ward. “It looks like she was just a millimeter away from victory, and she’s still a true champion.”

This was not some jaw-dropping upset. Lady Aurelia was favored to win the Nunthorpe based on her overall form and especially a decisive last-start victory in the Group 1 King’s Stand Stakes on June 20 at Royal Ascot, a race in which Marsha had finished third, more than three lengths behind Lady Aurelia.

But Marsha, a 4-year-old filly by the British stallion Acclamation trained by Mark Prescott for her breeder, the Elite Racing Club, had widely been seen as Lady Aurelia’s prime rival in the King’s Stand after ending her 3-year-old campaign with a win in the Group 1 Prix de l’Abbaye de Longchamp and starting 2017 with a Group 3 tally while giving weight to solid sprinters at Newmarket. Marsha came back from the King’s Stand to be beaten in Ireland and was a distant third behind Battaash three weeks ago in the Group 2 King George at Goodwood. Friday, she was back to her best, as the top two finished more than three lengths clear of third-place Cotai Glory.

Battaash delayed the start several minutes by refusing to be loaded into the starting gate. Finally, hooded, he went in, and the field quickly was sent on its way in the five-furlong straight-course dash run over good ground.

Lady Aurelia broke alertly and went to the front, but she did not open up on the field while racing nearer the far-side rail than most of her opponents. Battash was prominent in the early going but dropped away halfway through the race as Lady Aurelia opened daylight. She held a clear advantage a quarter-mile out, but across the track Marsha and jockey Luke Morris were steadily bridging the gap, which shrank as the two fillies converged near the wire. They hit the finish together, Marsha’s head bobbing down even as Dettori rose up.

The Nunthorpe was a Win and You're In for the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint. Marsha likely has the Abbaye as a major autumn goal, while Lady Aurelia, who lost little in defeat, heads back to Keeneland to prepare for the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint.