27 July 2003
The Irish-trained colt defied a betting drift to take the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes
Battle hardened: that’s what you have to be to win Ascot’s King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes, the toughest race of the summer. That’s what applies to Alamshar, John Oxx, Johnny Murtagh and, this week, especially for the Aga Khan.
For on Tuesday evening he was the victim of a vicious mugging when out jogging near his home. He was taken to hospital but was back in the paddock alongside Alamshar yesterday. “It was the spray in the eyes that was very disorientating,” he said. Half an hour later, Alamshar was the compensation. And how.
This King George had as much strength in depth as any field in its 53-year history and the fact that, in the morning, Ladbrokes went 4-1 the field told you how open it was. Solid older stars like Nayef, Millenary and Warrsan were joined by last year’s Classic winners
Sulamani and Bollin Eric, not to mention proven international top performers like Italy’s massive Falbrav and South Africa’s almost equally big Victory Moon. And there was also Grandera, last year’s official world champion but now sporting huge sheepskin cheekpieces to get his errant concentration back on track.
All these had already triumphed at the highest level but none of them, (sorry Grandera) had ever established themselves as truly the king of their generation. If there was to be a contender for that honour, it would have to come from the two Derby winners stalking around the paddock beforehand: Epsom hero Kris Kin showing dark patches of sweat alongside his chesnut flank and little Alamshar, at 15.2 hands the smallest in the field but now strutting with the buoyant confidence of having turned over the French Derby winner, Dalakhani, in the Irish Classic at The Curragh.
It was to be a race with plenty of stories but few excuses. Nayef’s pacemaker, Izdiham, set off in front along the rail pursued by Leadership doing the same domestique duties for Sulamani, while Falbrav’s team decided to opt for the wide unwatered outside path, where the route might be longer but the going decidedly quicker. Grandera was already sulking out the back, Kris Kin was towards the rear and outside of the pack, Nayef quite nice and handy but Alamshar, who had got out of position when a strong-finishing third to Kris Kin in the Derby, was on the tail of the pacemaker.
Oxx is a quiet and thoughtful man. He had thought about this. “It seemed sensible to keep close,” he said afterwards. It was a decision that made Murtagh’s ride as straightforward as his famous `round the outside’ Breeders’ Cup victory on Kalanisi had been dramatic. He was confident his horse would stay and would answer to pressure. So, once in the straight he committed his little partner for the line and asked the others the question. Hard though they tried, none of them ever looked too close to an answer.
The official verdict was 3½ lengths over Sulamani, with Kris Kin two lengths away third, Bollin Eric fourth, Falbrav fifth, Warrsan sixth, a weakening Nayef seventh and Victory Moon and Grandera out the back in 10th and 11th. It was not in the awesome runaway league of other Derby winners like Mill Reef, Nijinsky, Shergar and Generous, but this was a top horse asserting his ascendancy and showing how a three-year-old’s 12lb weight concession from his elders can be an almost impossible demand on the senior generations.
Give credit most of all to Sulamani, who looked miserably light and tucked up beforehand. “I know,” said an ebullient Frankie Dettori afterwards, “but I am telling you he looked much better than usual.” His cause had hardly been helped when Darryl Holland finally altered course to starboard on Falbrav, only to temporarily lose grip of his reins and nearly collide with Sulamani. Kris Kin would have preferred a faster pace, (the winning time of 2 min 33.2 sec was the slowest in nine years) and Grandera would rather be in the breeding shed.
But this was not a day for moans, it was an afternoon to hail the champion of his generation.
But is Alamshar actually that? True, he had that clear-cut victory over Dalakhani at The Curragh, but the lean-looking grey got stranded in front that day and a rematch would see many thinking that his lightning acceleration might turn the tables. That is racing’s eternal tomorrow about which those involved with yesterday’s performance will not lose even half a wink of slumber. Yesterday Alamshar was the smallest but the best.
To think that Murtagh was still not fully rated outside his native Ireland before his annus mirabilis with Sinndar, Kalanisi and the rest in 2000. He is now well established at the very top of the tree and eloquent and engaging with it. “This is a horse still on the climb,” he said, “he has a tremendous attitude and has to be right up with the very best I have ridden.”
Oxx is not one of life’s self-advertisers but his horses speak volumes. At lunch with his family beforehand, he said: “I think Alamshar has a lot of character, he would love to talk.” One soft morning on The Curragh two months ago he had looked across at the little colt trotting past, and said: “He has always shown a lot of quality, we will have to go and find if he can show it in the highest class.” Now Alamshar has.
Which leaves us with the Aga. Battered maybe, but absolutely unbowed. Alamshar’s victory is but one more example of the long-term principles of a stud that has not splashed out in the transfer market since 1977. It needs more than a mugger to stop him.