22 May 2005

AT 2pm the skies darkened above The Curragh. For Dubawi they brought rain from heaven. Freed from the firm ground that saw him finish a sore-footed fifth in the English 2,000 Guineas, he took the Irish equivalent by the throat.

It was the performance Sheikh Mohammed and the Godolphin team had promised us all winter. Storming to the front two furlongs out, Dubawi went a long way clear before being eased up to a mere two lengths over the Newmarket fourth Oratorio. Democratic Deficit was a further six lengths back, in front of Rebel Rebel, runner-up in that 2,000 Guineas. In form book terms Dubawi’s redemption was complete.

The signs had been there beforehand. For all his compact power Dubawi will always remain a small, rather dinky striding colt in the paddock, but unlike Newmarket this looked like a racehorse once he hit the track. “Back there he felt terrible,” confirmed Frankie Dettori afterwards, “he kept changing his legs cantering down, wouldn’t let himself stretch, and it was the same in the race. Today he felt like silk beneath me. He has power to burn.”

There was speed to burn in the early stages but silence with it. Showcase, the Ballydoyle pacemaker, scorched off in front but the absence of a course commentary for the first 30 seconds set a sense of unreality which developed into farce when the opening announcement three furlongs up the track was the somewhat obvious “They’re off.” They were, and by now Dubawi was clearly coasting while the Kieren Fallon elbows were already pumping on Oratorio.

After the Newmarket debacle the mind was not keen to accept what the eye was telling it. Dubawi looked as if he could take this lot when he wanted. Up on his back Dettori felt his confidence return. “I could see the others were beaten,” he said, “so I sent him clear, took him over to the far rail and kicked again. I don’t want to think where else he might go, today was the day.”

The last remark referred to whether Dubawi will now attempt the extra half mile in the Derby and it was a party line taken up even more eloquently by Sheikh Mohammed himself. “Dubai Millennium (Dubawi’s ill-fated sire) was the best horse we ever had,” said the poetry-loving prince, “it was sad that God took him away from us but now he has given us his son in return. Newmarket was not his day.”

But punters don’t wait. Within minutes bookmakers were producing their ante post tissues of Derby betting with very different takes on Dubawi’s chance. Totesport offered him as a 4-1 chance behind 2-1 favourite Motivator, Ladbroke’s being as generous as 7-1 with Ballydoyle’s Chester winner Gypsy King second choice at 5-1. There are just two weeks before the issue will be resolved around Epsom’s mile and a half which takes six seconds longer to run at record pace than its Curragh equivalent. Dubawi is now proven as the fastest horse in the race but horses of his conformation and his brilliance over a mile rarely have the stamina for the longer distance.

The winner at Epsom will take their place in history. But in the true equine athletic context they will only then be entering the big arena where the real racing begins. Where the competition is open to all, where they will have to pitch against the likes of Bago, Grey Swallow and Azamour who line up against each other in The Curragh’s Tattersalls Gold Cup this afternoon.

I was very impressed with Dubawi yesterday, I have become a great admirer of Motivator after becoming his diarist this winter, but none of us would suggest that either of them are yet at level weights anything like a match for the trio who do battle this afternoon. Arc de Triomphe winner Bago has already won impressively this season. Irish Derby hero Grey Swallow is reported very fit by trainer Dermot Weld but it was Irish Champion Azamour who will make even hardened paddock watchers gasp when the rug is stripped off him.

What was a tall and almost lean horse when he ran third in our Guineas last May has matured in the most magnificent way. That afternoon he pulled 475 kilos on the weighbridge, unusually for a fit thoroughbred he put poundage on through the season to end up 505 kilos in the Champion Stakes. Yesterday morning he was a full 515 kilos of the most marvellous gleaming muscle you will ever be likely to see. He now has a huge crested neck above his big but easy moving frame. He is the very beau ideal of the thoroughbred racehorse in its prime. The likes of Dubawi and Motivator are mere teenagers by comparison. “The scales can tell us that his physique has improved,” said his admiring trainer John Oxx before adding the caution, “now we have to see if he can translate that to racecourse performance.”

More heavy showers could blunt his chances on this first run of the season, but if looks mean anything, Azamour today could be another blessing from above.

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