The Times, 17th June 2021
What is it that separates a top horse from the ordinary? As Love was led back, sweat dripping after starting her season with an expected victory in the featured Prince of Wales Stakes, it was time again to ask one of racing’s most intriguing questions.
It cannot only be looks, because fine specimen though Love is, she is little or no better than any of her opponents yesterday, or in last year’s unbeaten dual classic-winning campaign, which established her as the best filly in Europe.
In the Ascot paddock, great as it was to see her bright chestnut coat and that white splash down her forehead, it was her race record, not her comparatively light frame, that was the most imposing.
It cannot only be her breeding, for although she is by the super sire Galileo, so are hundreds of others, and while her dam, Pikaboo, useless on a racecourse, does come from one of the Prince Khalid Abdullah families, so too do plenty of others.
But there were two other key characteristics that struck again yesterday, as they had last season: her action and her attitude. The flow of the stride is crucial to the racehorse because it is the rhythm of those four legs that conveys the 400-plus kilogram barrel of a body forward. Very rare is the runner — the filly Attraction a notable exception — who can reach the heights without a decent action, and Love’s action is a beauty.
At full stretch her forelegs reach forward and swing under with an ease and a power that others can only envy. It was very evident again yesterday, but in a slowly run race in which she had to make her own running it was her attitude that was even more impressive. Without a race since August, and with the talented Audarya sweeping up on her outside, the sweet flow of the stride was never going to be enough. What was needed was determination, and in the way she set out her head and neck in answer to Ryan Moore’s urgings there was determination in every line.
It is this that sets her apart. This that makes her seasoned jockey and trainer shake their heads in admiration. Sitting in Moore’s kitchen before last year’s Derby, he laughed at the uncertainty among Aidan O’Brien’s candidates — he duly chose the wrong one — but dropped his voice when he spoke of the feel Love had given him in the 1,000 Guineas.
His tone was similar yesterday as he said: “She’s such an honest filly with a lot of ability. Hopefully she will get better as the year goes on.”
He loves her because she puts her heart in it. O’Brien loves her for that, and for the proof that racehorses are there to be raced. He ran Love seven times as a two-year-old, winning only twice.
“She needed the experience to gain her strength,” O’Brien said, after receiving his Prince of Wales trophy from the man himself. “Then she improved through the winter and we hope she will improve again. Running as a two-year-old hardened her up for the classic year — you must not be afraid to be beaten.”
Mystery solved? Not quite, but, as happens in a wider life, Love has some of the answer.