15 October 2000
Brough Scott on how a tough colt gained his just reward in Newmarket’s Champion Stakes and a rising star landed the Dewhurst.
DEFEAT need not be disaster but victory is still what counts. Montjeu lost nothing and regained much in reputation in his gallant return to action two weeks after his Arc de Triomphe flop. But for Kalanisi this Dubai Champion Stakes was a triumph not before time.
For in his two previous races only the photo finish and the brutally tough Giant’s Causeway have stopped Kalanisi having both the Eclipse Stakes and the Juddmonte International on his ticket. The one doubt that lingered was that Kalanisi might not be man enough for a showdown. That doubt can linger no more.
For as this Champion Stakes hit the final hill, Johnny Murtagh had brought Kalanisi through his field. Past Montjeu’s pacemaker Lermontov on the rails, past Slickly on the outside, past Shiva and then with what was to prove a match-winning flourish, past Shiva’s stable companion Love Divine. But Montjeu was still to come.
Michael Kinane had dropped his partner in at the back of the bunch and got a pretty good split through the field when the divots really began to fly. Best of all he got up behind the leaders a furlong out and then was able to switch left inside Love Divine and have the rails advantage as he mounted his attack on Kalanisi.
The image of Montjeu in last year’s French and Irish Derbys and this year’s King George gave an understandable feel of disappointment at the super colt’s inability to overtake the leader. But hindsight may show that this was almost as admirable an effort as any in his superb 15-race, 11-victory, £2.3 million career.
Many comparisons were made yesterday morning with the great Nijinsky’s Champion Stakes attempt after his own Arc de Triomphe debacle exactly 30 years before. But in truth the comparisons were always unhelpful. Nijinsky was a much faster horse than Montjeu. He won the Dewhurst and the Guineas in a manner the French-trained horse would never have done. But Montjeu was more of a stayer than Nijinsky. He pulled El Condor Pasa back at Longchamp. This year he may well have got rushed off his feet in the second fastest Arc that was ever run.
But that defeat was still damaging. He wasn’t, like Nijinsky, an unlucky second, he was a well-beaten fourth. His connections could have made their excuses and left. To their huge credit they came back for more. In my view they were justified because yesterday showed just how admirable a racehorse Montjeu really is. And knowing owner Michael Tabor, a tilt at the Breeders’ Cup or even the Japan Cup is still not out of the question. After all, healthy animal permitting, what is there to lose? A racehorse should be there to race not just to pump up stallion value.
Kalanisi certainly looks set to race again. Sir Michael Stoute was talking about both the Breeders’ Cup and the Japan Cup, stressing that the horse has only made eight appearances to date.
Whichever path is chosen, both Kalanisi and Montjeu are, in Flat racing terms, coming to the end of their careers. The thrill of Champions Day at Newmarket is the chance, besides also seeing such things as the super-tough stamina slog of Heros Fatal in the Cesarewitch, of watching the contenders for next season’s classics strut their stuff.
Whether the filly Sayedah can follow last year’s Rockfel Stakes winner Lahan to 1,000 Guineas glory is open to question but the way Tobougg toyed with his field in the Dewhurst made you think the sky was the limit.
The Godolphin colt Noverre was a respectable second and, even if Tobougg now accompanies him to winter quarters in Dubai, his current trainer Mick Channon will not lose a jot of the credit earned. Time was when M Channon was an international football name. In just ten years as a trainer he is now in the same status in the racing game. It is a unique achievement. Classics cannot be long delayed.