26 June 2005

There is one horse who looks a certain winner in today’s Irish Derby and he won’t have to run a yard. Montjeu can leave events at The Curragh to his two sons, Hurricane Run and Walk In The Park, while he does nothing more rigorous than pleasuring one of the last of his hundred-plus mares of the breeding season at his Tipperary base in Coolmore.

If, as the betting suggests, Hurricane Run and Walk In The Park finish first and second this afternoon, Montjeu can claim the envious title of being the hottest thing in the covering shed. For it was only in 2001 that he started the stallion life. Three weeks ago his other son, Motivator, beat Walk In The Park to win our Derby at Epsom and so his very first crop has produced the best three middle-distance horses in Europe.

So swift is the turnover of generations among the four-legged elite. It is as if Goran Ivanisevic had embarked on fatherhood after the Wimbledon Ball four years ago and now had three offspring going into the second week. Before we start making too exact comparisons remember that Montjeu began his sultan’s life doing a dual hemisphere stint which included another hundred mares down in New Zealand. Even the most racket-ready player might baulk at that.

The real fascination is how the talents and quirks of Montjeu are coming through. Early on Friday morning the awesome sight of Motivator at almost full stretch rocked the retina as he swept past on his only serious gallop before next Saturday’s Eclipse Stakes showdown with Hurricane Run’s French Derby conqueror, Shamardal. Motivator is in terrific shape but he’s hot. The moment he stepped off the box at the top of the Al Bahathri gallop the adrenalin was pumping the sweat through the skin in anticipation. His two brothers are like that. They take it from their dad. They take some handling, before the race and in it.

At Epsom, while most eyes were seeing whether the Motivator team could keep the lid on their colt, not as many realised quite what a job John Hammond’s French assistants and resurgent jockey Alan Munro were having with the massive Walk In The Park. He is a bit bigger and burlier than Motivator and, on his trip to Lingfield in May, he all but ran away with Kieren Fallon on the way to the start and pulled so alarmingly in the race that he had nothing left at the finish.

The fact that Fallon, possessed of the most powerful pectorals in the weighing-room, had such difficulty pays credit to the strength as well as the talent of the able, if controversial, Munro who only returned from a four-year self-imposed sabbatical at the beginning of this season. When you consider that Munro had been riding in the Far East for most of the past decade, 24 winners and today’s mount on Walk In The Park constitute a considerable comeback towards the heights he reached when steering Generous to the Derby, Irish Derby and King George treble, in 1991, aged only 24.

But there has always been a touch of jagged uncertainty in his personality. In the days of Generous he had a slight American accent to go with his pleasing, low-crouched transatlantic style and his return to the jockey pack here has not been without incident. He used his sabbatical to become a black belt in karate and Richard Quinn ended up looking very much the worse for wear after a weighing-room row at Newmarket last month about which further action may be taken.

Today’s challenge is of the in-saddle kind and I believe that the maturing Walk In The Park will have too many guns for Hurricane Run, who has been made odds-on favourite on the strength of his fast-finishing second to Shamardal at Chantilly. These odds are based on the way Shamardal subsequently ran away with the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot at York and conveniently forget two absolutely crucial factors.

Firstly, that the St James’s Palace was over a mile rather than the mile and a quarter of the French Derby, at which distance Shamardal was palpably weakening at the finish. Secondly, that a whole host of ordinary opponents were also closing and Walk In The Park’s inferior stablemate, Gharir, was less than a length off at the line.

Sure you can argue that Hurricane Run might have won if he had not swerved around in the straight. But that’s like suggesting Nadal would have stayed in Wimbledon contention if he had adapted better to grass. As perceived at the moment, Hurricane Run may not yet be handling the fire in his Montjeu genes as well as some of his sire’s other sons. So if we agree that Gypsy King and Fracas won’t reverse Epsom placings with Walk In The Park, if Bahar Shumal and Shalapour are put in the “promising but not good enough” tray, there can only be one result.

Meanwhile, back in the paddocks at Coolmore, Montjeu will think only of food, copulation and territory. We humans, of course, have much wider spheres of interest?

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