Courage and class speak any language. Danedream may have an English name but the four year old filly is as German as Angela Merkel and her inching out of last year’s winner Nathaniel in yesterday’s King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes was the finest win for her nation in British racing history.
The first ever running of “The King George” came three years after the last London Olympics and was part of the 1951 Festival of Britain. This year’s event was moved forward a week to avoid clashing with the Olympics but the 10 runner field could stand proud in any company. For it also brought together two victors from Royal Ascot and the winners of the French Derby, the Japanese Derby, the Melbourne Cup and America’s Breeder’s’ Cup, and that’s before we take in Danedream’s record breaking victory for Germany in last year’s Arc de Triomphe. But the beauty of horse racing is that the endless possibilities of anticipation get shaken out into just one result and Danedream’s 9-1 starting price shows that nothing seemed certain beforehand,
For while Nathaniel’s only run of the season had been a splendid win in the Eclipse Stakes on July 7th, Danedream’s last appearance was a deeply disappointing last of four in France a month back. Her bay coat shone with health in the late arriving summer sun but she is a lean and spare filly and it was easy to share jockey Andreas Stark’s private fears that the defeat in France might indicate that her top days were over.
Oh we of little faith. For it was easier to go with the money and think of Nathaniel marching aggressively round under the watchful eye of his octogenarian owner Lady Rothschild and his namesake Nathaniel of that ilk. Or to follow the gleaming line of the Hardwicke Stakes winner Sea Moon as he swept towards the start the most impressive mover of them all. Jockey Craig Williams had flown from Australia to partner Melbourne Cup hero Dunaden, Yasunari Iwata and Japanese Derby winner Deep Brillante had trekked from the Orient, Peslier and French Derby scorer Reliable Man had crossed the channel, Joseph O’Brien and St Nicholas Abbey all the way from Tipperary. All of them meant business.
Danedream’s stride to the start was short and scratchy but when the gates slammed open she was purpose straightaway which is more than can be said for St Nicholas Abbey’s pacemaker Robin Hood who missed the kick and had to be embarrassingly hustled up for his role of equine “domestique”. When his blinkered face did get to the front it was ahead of Dunaden and Brown Panther who represents sporting royalty in Michael Owen, with Nathaniel, Deep Brillante and Reliable Man in mid division while Sea Moon and finally St Nicholas Abbey were parked dangerously far away at the back.
In the way of these things the position visually remained the same all the way to the final turn but the laws of equine athletics and of racing form demand a radical alteration when the pressure turns on. Swinging into the straight and sure enough Robin Hood was spent and drifted swiftly back through the field like a bit of galloping flotsam while Brown Panther attacked Dunaden for the lead with Danedream and Nathaniel driving up behind them, Reliable Man working on the outside, Sea Moon in traffic and Joseph O’Brien desperately trying to catch some wet sail breeze on St Nicholas Abbey.
As Brown Panther weakened William Buick forced Nathaniel past with Danedream briefly squeezed between them so that Andreas Stark had to manouevre outside and still had a length and a half to gain as Nathaniel took the furlong pole in front. But what we had seen in last year’s Arc was not so distant a memory. That fearless look in Danedream’s eye was never more bravely set as she coursed Nathaniel down to have a nostril in it right on the line with the hard driven St Nicholas Abbey finally running Reliable Man out of third and Sea Moon also closing fast but too late in fifth.
It was so close that at first the TV close ups focused on the black silks of William Buick’s as he hacked Nathaniel slowly to a halt. It had been so attritional that each of the first three jockeys earned suspensions for breaching the whip guidelines. But it had also been so brave that when Danedream’s name was called, the whole grandstand could roar in acknowledgement as Andreas Stark again and again raised both arms aloft in salute at the filly beneath and in tribute to this greatest of German racing days.
“What a moment it is for me,” said the 38 year old rider, “and for all the German racing fans sitting at home on TV. Hopefully we will go back to the Arc but after today she has done everything – winning the Arc and the King George, the first filly ever to do the double. Everything is a bonus from now on.”
Beforehand trainer Peter Schiergen had said that he thought Danedream was the forgotten horse in the race. She will never be forgotten now.