30 July 2006

Small fields need not a dull race make. Only six runners for this running of the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes but by the time Christophe Soumillon thrust Hurricane Run over the line half-a-length in front of the duelling pair of Electrocutionist and Heart’s Cry we had been through drama enough for a dozen of them.

Soumillon had, of course, only got his place in Hurricane Run’s saddle when Kieren Fallon’s appeal against his suspension was thrown out in the High Court on Friday and we did not have to wait too long into Saturday for further twists to this “King George” story. In the early hours Frankie Dettori’s ride, Electrocutionist, was found to be stiff after being “cast” (trapped against a wall) in his box overnight. Racing manager Simon Crisford updated The Morning Line and bookies licked their lips.

Electrocutionist was dispatched to Ascot and after a careful veterinary inspection was to be found marching handsomely behind his grey pacemaker, Cherry Mix, in the pre-parade ring as the clock ticked down to the 4.20 start time. A big, bright bay with a wide white splash down his face, Electrocutionist looked a picture of health and it says something for his stable’s resources that he could have a pacemaker like Cherry Mix, who had run a close second in an Arc de Triomphe.

At this stage six years ago Hurricane Run’s sire, Montjeu, was in such a strop that it was only when his enterprising stable hand vaulted on to  his back that he consented to enter the main paddock. Montjeu’s son has developed much of the father’s winning talent but the way he laid his ears back and jig-jogged sweatily suggests he has some of the temperament too. However he settled down once Soumillon was loaded up, and the remaining paddock interest was the initial strange demeanour of the Japanese horse Heart’s Cry.

This admirable but long-backed five-year-old, whose earnings already exceed £4.5 million, has an odd upright walk somewhat over-emphasised by the presence of a stable hand with a long blue rope on either side of his bridle. The horse’s participation had brought a massive media presence from his native land and the millions of race fans back home will have been proud of his effort in such a hugely challenging “away” match.

The moment the gates opened Kerrin McEvoy on Cherry Mix showed just how tough things would be by sending his partner some three lengths clear of Hurricane Run in second, with Heart’s Cry back in third, and Electrocutionist a close-up fourth. We then had one of those long “phoney war” minutes when a race appears to remain the same although you know that six half-ton racehorses are stretching themselves, their strength and their oxygen at 35mph.

Running to the turn the changes came aplenty. First Dettori put Eletrocutionist past Hurricane Run in pursuit of the pacemaker with Heart’s Cry after him. As they straightened up Dettori took over and as Heart’s Cry followed, Hurricane Run was trapped on the inside. A gasp went up from the crowd as the commentator called “and Soumillon is having to work hard on the favourite”.

In the elation of victory both Soumillon and trainer Andre Fabre denied any moments of worry but that was not how it looked from the stand or on the replays. Indeed it was only because Electrocutionist kept lugging left into Heart’s Cry that a gap came for Hurricane Run to race at. And when it did all of Soumillon’s commitment and a suspension-earning over use of his “cravache” were needed to get Hurricane Run to join a three-way battle to follow his sire to “King George” glory.

Across the track Heart’s Cry seemed to be holding Eletrocutionist only to weaken slightly in the last furlong, something his jockey, Christophe Lemaire, confirmed afterwards, saying “he hasn’t raced since March and got a little tired in the 100 metres”. Trainer Kojiro Hashiguchi added defiantly: “I want Hurricane Run to come to Japan for the Japan Cup. On his home course Heart’s Cry will win.”

Such arguments are the grist that keeps racing’s mill turning and the main impression is that the principals were all close enough here for a different result in any re-match and the presence of the gallant but limited Enforcer less than two lengths away in fourth (earning a cool £40,000) suggests there have been better runnings in the race’s 56-year-history.

To the naked eye Electrocutionist seemed unwilling to completely let himself down on the ground, his big white face twisting left under the strain and only finally running absolutely straight at the winner when the race was over. But connections were having none of it. “It was a great effort from him,” Crisford said sportingly, “but there are no excuses. He gave everything and we are certainly not suggesting for one minute that what happened this morning made any difference to his performance.”

Andre Fabre has long been France’s and maybe the world’s greatest trainer and this King George filled one of the very few omissions on his roll of honour. “Circumstances made the race spectacular,” he said, “but it was not planned like that. I said to Christophe beforehand that his best race was in the Arc when he came from behind and I never lost any confidence. What I like about him is the speed he has for a horse that could stay two miles. I look forward to his stud career and think he could be a great stallion.”

That will be under the famous Coolmore banner but Hurricane Run originally hails from the stud Gestut Ammerland near Munich and so can claim to be Germany’s greatest ever gift to the racehorse kingdom.

Yesterday was a difficult day but the sign of a champion is to get success whatever the circumstances. Hurricane Run’s performance in last year’s Arc had him rated as the best horse in the world. This year the Japanese No. 1 Deep Impact will be over to challenge. It will not be a match to miss.

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