7 October 2007

As Frankie Dettori looked out across the half-empty Newmarket paddock on Friday afternoon, his eyes took on a faraway look. Thoughts turned to the teeming, Parisian scene when he waits for his leg up on Authorized at Longchamp this afternoon. “I just can’t wait,” said Dettori. He is not the only one.

The twists of plot involved as Dettori and Authorized close out the 12-runner Arc de Triomphe parade would make even Bernie Ecclestone green with envy. They involve season-deciding rivalries between the greatest players equine or human and all on the eve of the greatest scandal to hit racing in a century. Authorized, who in June gave Dettori that longed for first Epsom success, has a habit of being fired up and impatient in the paddock. His will not be the only reputation on the line.

On the horse front Authorized is challenged by Irish Derby winner Soldier of Fortune and Grand Prix de Paris hero Zambezi Sun from his own generation and by stars Dylan Thomas and Mandesha from the older generation. Among the jockeys, Dettori is trying for his fourth Arc, Johnny Murtagh (Soldier of Fortune), Stephane Pasquier (Zambezi Sun), Kieren Fallon (Dylan Thomas) and Christophe Soumillon (Mandesha) for their second, and in Pasquier’s case the big-race adrenalin will be heightened by potentially unfinished business with Fallon (whom he brought down in the Grand Prix de Paris) and Murtagh whom he allegedly called a seven-letter French obscenity after being tightened up at Ascot last Saturday.

Among the owners and breeders the power play is just as intense. Mandesha attempts to bring the Aga Khan’s studs a fifth Arc, and Zambezi Sun tries to collect a fourth for Khalid Abdulla’s Juddmonte operation. More controversially Sheikh Mohammed has already bought Authorized to try and challenge the hegemony of the Coolmore stallions which he currently boycotts but which are responsible for both Dylan Thomas (by Danehill) and Soldier of Fortune (Galileo) not to mention Authorized himself (by the Coolmore star Montjeu).

All that to be played out in under two and a half minutes of climbing and swinging gallop in the Bois de Boulogne this afternoon and for Fallon it represents a human challenge surely unique in the whole history of the game. He will be slamming out of those Longchamp starting gates not only with a great chance of crowning the racing career of the horse beneath but certain that next morning his own reputation will be under unprecedented attack when the race-fixing case opens against him at the Old Bailey. No pressure there then.

I firmly believe not only that the final battle will be between Dylan Thomas and Authorized but that punters are suffering a serious case of Frankie-mania if they start taking odds as short as 5-4 Authorized compared to as much as 11-2 about Dylan Thomas. To boil it down to these two risks rejecting at least three horses, Soldier of Fortune, Zambezi Sun and Mandesha, with talent enough to win an Arc but in the end a punter has to make his pick.

Mandesha is silkily talented but there has been a touch of reluctance about her this season that even the fitting of sheepskin cheekpieces to polarise her application may not rectify. Zambezi Sun has the classic profile of a French-trained horse peaking for the Arc but the suspicion remains that the body of his form may not be good enough, a comment which also has to apply to Soldier of Fortune. Sure the Irish Derby winner won the Prix Niel over the Longchamp track last time but only three races ago he was miles behind Authorized at Epsom.

Compare those with Dylan Thomas who, in 11 races since being inched out of the Derby by Sir Percy in June 2006, has only dipped from his highest standard when caught out on softish ground at York last year and when completely failing to cope when tried on dirt at Belmont. Sure Authorized beat him in the Juddmonte, but it was by just one length, it was over 300 yards shorter than today’s optimum 12 furlongs and the run of the race trapped him behind Authorized at a crucial moment.

With a pacemaker Fallon ought to be able to galvanize Dylan Thomas into a momentum which could outgun his rivals, Authorized included. But instinct suggests that the younger horse may still prevail. It will not be easy, the Derby winner is an in-and-out galloper at home but blew away a stable companion in exceptional fashion on Tuesday. He could have the vital edge of acceleration.

“You can argue it as you like,” said Dettori with that far away look on Friday. “But in the end you need the horse beneath you. This guy has class. I think he is the real deal.”

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