25 July 2004
The big day needs the big performance. Right on cue Doyen and Frankie Dettori powered off the turn to put this King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes field to the sword with the run of the season.
At the line he was adjudged three lengths clear of the international traveller Hard Buck and his own anorexic looking stable companion, Sulamani, in the ordinary time of 2min 33.18sec. But mere statistics give no indication of Doyen’s superiority, nor of the thrill of the moment when Dettori tightened the reins and angled his partner towards daylight and King George glory.
Hard Buck’s efffort under Seabiscuit star Gary Stevens was an enormous tribute to the enterprise and skill of his Kentucky trainer Kenny McPeek, who had successfully campaigned the Brazilian ace in both the United States and Dubai before producing a best-ever performance from an American-based horse in the King George. Sulamani may show every rib and have the neck of a roe deer, but there was nothing wrong with the way he ran yesterday. Except that he, like the rest, could not match the marvel that Doyen has become as a four-year-old.
It was the fourth time that Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin operation have won what is the most important race in the calendar. But even Swain (1997 and ’98) and Daylami (’99) cannot have given more satisfaction than this supremely handsome son of Sadler’s Wells, who was bred and reared on the Mohammed studs in Ireland. For the Sheikh also bred Doyen’s dam Moon Cactus, who won three good races and was second in the French Oaks for Steve Cauthen and Henry Cecil in 1990, and her own first foal was Moonshell, who won the Oaks at Epsom under Dettori in ’95.
In the past the Godolphin approach has had a touch of the Abramovich about it. Sulamani, bought expensively from the Niarchos team after running second in the Arc, being a typical example. But Doyen’s triumph has represented long-term planning on the track as well as of it. Entrusted to Andre Fabre in Chantilly for his first two seasons, he was a slightly baffled fifth on his only run as a two-year-old, progressed through three modest victories to run second in an Arc trial and a seven-length fourth in the Arc itself. His winter in Dubai was not wholly successful, he also took time to settle when he first came to Newmarket and his Coronation Cup second to Warrsan had a touch of ring rustiness about it.
But now the shine is full and glorious on him. At Royal Ascot he set a 2min 26.53sec track record for this demanding mile-and-a-half and yesterday, in the paddock, on the way to the start and in the race itself he was never less than awesome. A bay son of Sadler’s Wells he has that super stallion’s trademark white star on his forehead and a smoother, and therefore firm-ground adapting action and a more forward head carriage than some of the Sadler’s Wells stock. Once the stalls opened Dettori’s only problem was to restrain his mount in what seemed a pretty steady opening quarter.
This was set by his stablemate, Lunar Sovereign, from Hard Buck and Warrsan. Quite why major courses like Ascot cannot install basic quarter-mile sectional timing is little short of a scandal at a time when millions are being spent on efforts to modernise racing. Maybe, as everyone watches lap times being called in the Olympics, the penny will drop that in 2004 it is wholly inadequate for an equine athletic to give its viewers no more than the final clocking.
That gripe had special relevance yesterday. For at Swinley Bottom, Ted Durcan accelerated on the leader and it would have been interesting to know the increase in the tempo. Even more illuminating would have been to have the sectional clockings off the final turn. For a moment Doyen did not have much racing room, then Dettori saw the gap and the punch he delivered to go clear of his field was as good as anything we have seen in the event’s 55-year history. How much better if we could put a measurement on what looks like greatness. Ascot have tremendous plans for their rebuilding. Sectional times are not yet included. They should be.
“This was the easiest King George winner I have ridden,” a beaming Dettori said after his obligatory flying dismount from a horse who is only now maturing towards perfection. “Now we can say it – he is one of the finest. He can only learn and get better and better.” Sheikh Mohammed added: “The sky’s the limit. We can take him to the Arc and the Breeders’ Cup. He is a very special horse.”
Dettori’s day had begun eventfully with a fall and his 2,000 winner in Britain when the first time out two-year-old Nightfall took his re-united partner to a photo-finish victory in the first. Dettori gave the public a special flying dismount to mark the occasion and then, with his unerring instinct for the hearts and minds, continued: “I have lived here for 18 years and the British people have taken me to their hearts as if I was one of them. I have a wonderful job and a wonderful team to work with at Godolphin and a great support from my family and friends. This was a great milestone for me.”
Doyen’s victory four races later was proof that there is a long and glorious way to go on the Dettori journey. This September, still three months shy of his 34th birthday, he launches his autobiography. It will be no lightweight volume. But it went to press way back in the spring. Doyen could be a glorious start to volume two.