06/19/2008 12:00AM

Yeats takes Gold Cup for third year in row


Yeats ran off with his third consecutive triumph in the $490,000 Ascot Gold Cup on Thursday, giving trainer Aidan O'Brien and rider Johnny Murtagh their third Group 1 feature in the first three days of Royal Ascot and their fourth Group 1 tally at the meeting overall.

This third 2 1/2-mile Gold Cup victory by the mightily impressive 7-year-old Yeats was probably the best of all. On even terms with the undefeated French invader Coastal Path from the three-eighths pole, the 11-8 Yeats asserted himself inside the quarter pole only to be met with a challenge from last year's runner-up, Geordieland, who actually put his nose in front for a brief moment. Yeats immediately reminded Geordieland where he was and drew off to a five-length victory, adding to his 1 1/2-length score last year and a four-length tally in 2006. Second again, Geordieland finished 4 1/2 lengths ahead of Coastal Path. The winning time on good to firm ground was 4:21.14, less than a second slower than his two previous victories.

Yeats thus becomes the only horse other than Sagaro to land a triple in the Gold Cup, a race that was first run in 1807, the very year Ascot Racecourse was founded. Trained by Francois Boutin, Sagaro turned the hat trick between 1975 and 1977.

Named for the painter Jack Yeats, the younger brother of poet William Butler Yeats, the Thoroughbred Yeats has been world class throughout his career. As a 3-year-old, he was the antepost favorite for the Epsom Derby but missed that race and the rest of the season with pulled back muscles. At 4, he won the Group 1 Coronation Cup at 1 1/2 miles. As a 5-year-old, he won the two-mile Goodwood Cup and at 6 he added the 1 3/4-mile Irish St. Leger.

After this latest triumph, O'Brien would not commit his incredible stayer to a set program, nor would he promise or rule out a return to Ascot for a fourth possible Gold Cup, contenting himself to declare simply that Yeats is "a unique horse." His latest Gold Cup victory adds to the O'Brien/Murtagh wins of Henrythenavigator in the St. James's Palace and Haradsun in the Queen Anne on Tuesday, and of Duke of Marmalade in the Prince of Wales on Wednesday.

* Earlier on the card, South Central, a speedy Kentucky-bred son of Forest Camp, made an improbable jump from a lowly Carlisle maiden to win the Group 2 Norfolk Stakes for 2-year-olds by a desperate short head from Spin Cycle, getting the five furlongs in 1:01.83.

* In a woefully weak Group 2 Ribblesdale Stakes at 1 1/2 miles for 3-year-old fillies, Stonerside Stable's 10-3 Michita drew off to a 3 1/2-length victory over Arthur's Girl.