26 August 2007

Now the real game is on. York confirmed that Authorized was a good Derby winner, can an Arc triumph prove that he is a great one?

Racing, like all sports, needs showdowns. That’s what was so good about Authorized versus Dylan Thomas. That’s what will be great about the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp in October. Because Manduro, Mandesha and Zambezi Sun, the best horses in France, will come to join them to do battle at Longchamp, plus the Irish filly Peeping Fawn who, from the way she won at York on Wednesday, might even be the best of all.

There may be another 1,000 Flat races to be run in Britain this year but none of them is likely to have the impact of the Juddmonte International on Tuesday. For the first time the winners of the Derby (Authorized), the King George (Dylan Thomas) and the Eclipse (Notnowcato) had met in this mile and a quarter shoot-out and, unlike so many highly trumpeted encounters, the thrills were delivered.

For if there is to be any point to the game the argument has to be over something much more important than the starting price. On Tuesday we had debate a plenty. Had Authorized run below par or did Frankie Dettori just get outmanoeuvred by Ryan Moore when second to Notnowcato in the Eclipse? Would Dylan Thomas look as awesome over this mile and a quarter as he had over the mile and a half of the King George? And could the Argentinian-bred, South African-handled Asiatic Boy produce the dazzling form he showed earlier in Dubai?

Add the usual Ballydoyle supporting cast to their Dylan Thomas bid, and you had as pure a galloping examination as any season can give. In just two and a quarter minutes reputations can be won and lost and anyone doubting quite how much it matters to those involved should have seen the tubby, chain-smoking figure sitting on his own by the corner of the paddock. More than any other trainer, Peter Chapple-Hyam takes it personally. Authorized would run. He would just sit and suffer.

But not for too long. In current racing there is no better sight than that of Frankie Dettori poised up behind the mane with a great race at his mercy. Two furlongs from home at York you could see that he had this Juddmonte for the taking unless Dylan Thomas was able to sprout wings from his unpromising position inside him. Dylan got out in pursuit but he was never going to cut down the leader. Authorized had broken the recent hoodoo on Derby winners and Peter Chapple-Hyam’s heart was not just on his sleeve, it was juggling around in rhapsodies in front of him.

Great was the rejoicing from the stands to the saddling stalls, Dettori did his flying, albeit flu-ridden, dismount, and a deep satisfaction spread across the Knavesmire and polarised on the small group leading the tall bay colt away to the washing stall. At his head was the small lean figure of Noel O’Connor, who originally came over from Ireland more than 20 years ago and whose only top level horse before Authorized was Nadwah, the 1997 Queen Mary winner. “He’s given them their answer,” said O’Connor before being engulfed in an enormous bear hug by Chapple-Hyam. “This is a machine. Right from the beginning we knew he was something exceptional. Now we’ll beat them all in the Arc.”

Yet will he? Authorized may now be officially rated as the best racehorse on the planet but the beauty of the York showdown is that it leads us to an even better one in Paris. The way Peeping Fawn powered home on Wednesday in what, incredibly, was her 10th race of the season, made you wonder whether she might not have the power and mentality to rule the colts in the Arc. The style with which Manduro has swept away his opponents this summer will make him very hard to beat if he can retain his finishing kick in this first attempt at a mile and a half. And while O’Connor and the rest of the Authorized fan club may think the York result conclusive, Dylan Thomas supporters will rightly say that the one length verdict is easily within reach if the race goes their way.

If, if, if – that’s the way it should be. There is no point of a showdown unless it’s fuelled by speculation and followed by re-interpretation. Authorized already has claims to greatness. But now they have to be tested in greater depth. He has looked good at Epsom and York, yet Longchamp has scuppered many a Derby winner. He could be an exception. If he can turn up as good as he looked.

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