10 September 2006

Sun and shadows for racing yesterday. At York Frankie Dettori won his fourth St Leger with an iron-fist-out-of-the-velvet-glove ride on the favourite Sixties Icon. At Leopardstown Kieren Fallon on Dylan Thomas outpunched Jamie Spencer and Ouija Board in the race of the day – perhaps of the whole season. But the morning had begun with the shock news that Godolphin’s Dubai World Cup winner Electrocutionist had died of a heart attack at Newmarket.

It’s always hard to balance the different lights that hit the retina. Nothing could be more glorious than the way Paul and Susan Roy’s Sixties Icon swept past the St Leger field to earn himself a tilt at the Arc de Triomphe. Little could better the screaming moment when Spencer launched supermare Ouija Board past Dylan Thomas only to find Fallon and the Irish Derby winner had another spurt in the tank. But then you think of the equine champion with a career snuffed out.

The brutal truth is that the shade will always accompany the light. The late Dick Hern won the St Leger on six occasions. But it was also Dick who used to ruefully repeat the adage “if you have livestock, you are going to have dead stock”. The Godolphin team run a state-of-the-art training operation. When Electrocutionist showed some abnormal signs early in the week, he was immediately hospitalised. “He appeared to be responding well to treatment,” said racing manager Simon Crisford, “but during the night he suffered what seems to have been a heart attack. He was a real favourite and it is very sad for all of us.”

Dettori has had many great days in the blue silks of Godolphin and was in the saddle when Electrocutionist had his moment of immortality this March. But yesterday it was in the all mauve silks of Susan Roy that he added yet another classic to his collection. The Roy livery is comparatively new to the game but Susan and her financier husband Paul have already tasted the special fruit with Sarava in the 2002 Belmont Stakes and Wilko in the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. The St Leger may no longer draw the stars but Sixties Icon looks a horse still on the climb. He could take those silks to even higher peaks.

Black and dark blue were the colours at Leopardstown: Fallon in the dark blue Magnier set and Spencer in the black with the white cap which the Earl of Derby’s horses have worn ever since the very first Derby got its name. I am planning a book about Ouija Board, the only horse the current Earl owned when she landed the first of her victories in a little race at Yarmouth back in October 2003. What happened yesterday only added to the story.

For don’t forget the filly, who was Horse of The Year in her Oaks and Breeders’ Cup- winning 12 month of 2004, ran what was billed as the race of the season when she and Alexander Goldrun had that epic duel at Goodwood last time. Alexander Goldrun, herself the veteran of 29 races in six different countries, was pitched in again. The threat of her sprint finish was to prove a crucial factor in the closing stages of what was to become one of the greatest examples of poker on horseback that you will ever see.

For while Dylan Thomas’s stable companion Ace set the gallop, Jamie Spencer tracked Fallon with Alexander Goldrun behind him so that her rider, Kevin Manning, would be able to play last of all. Turning into the straight Ace was weakening and as Fallon began to work on Dylan Thomas, Spencer looked back to check that Alexander Goldrun was still there. Now it would get difficult.

His filly ought to have the speed to take Dylan Thomas, whose best performance was in the Irish Derby over a mile and a half. But if he played his hand too soon Dylan Thomas might get back at him. If he waited too long, Alexander Goldrun might sprint past them both. Spencer waited as long as he dared. Two races earlier in the Matron Stakes he had been in a similar position on Michael Bell’s astonishing filly Red Evie. Then he had played, gone past and just held on. Now, 300 yards out he committed Ouija Board. She went past. But would she hold on?

“Kieren’s a devil,” said Aidan O’Brien afterwards before suggesting that Dylan Thomas’s target may be the Breeders’ Cup Classic. “He kidded the other horse to commit and then got back at him.” For Spencer the move had seemed the right one at the time. But not now as Dylan Thomas dug in against the rail. The colt was on a roll and had a decisive neck at the line. The Ouija Board heroics will go on to America and Hong Kong. But this was for Dylan. Fallon punched the air with meaning. He had played the cards right.

Kieren came back to the hero’s welcome his ride so richly deserved. He came in to talk sweetly about Dylan Thomas and how the colt had “speed and toughness and was only going to get better”. No one had the heart to ask him about the court case which one year on could transfix us all. Sunshine and shadows, it will be a difficult time.

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