Mohaathar’s thriller for the ages at Goodwood

THE TIMES, 30 July 2020

Ah the joy, the thrill of it. 300 yards to run and you are shuttled back last of the six runners and have to pull out and chase birds that have surely flown. That’s what Jim Crowley had to ask Mohaathar at Goodwood, and the little colt’s dazzling answer has made this Sussex Stakes the race of the season. 

Goodwood’s rolling downs mean rolling horses and when all six have run at the highest level, that also means that racing room may be hard. Especially if, as yesterday, Ryan Moore set only a steady pace on the super tough Circus Maximus with his talented stable mates, Vatican City and Wichita second and third outside him, and Mohaathar and this year’s 2,000 Guineas winner Kameko settled but then trapped inside them when things hotted up in the straight. 

It takes little over half a minute for those last three furlongs to unfurl, but as it emerges the predicament freezes the action as the brain tears ahead for a solution. This is race riding at its starkest. Twenty seconds before, Mohaathar and Kameko’s position may have seemed logical, now they were imprisoned and it was the Irish Guineas winner Siskin and the outsider San Donato at the back who had the space to chase down the leaders. 

San Donato moved first and with such momentum that he swept through to nearly lead before abruptly running out of stamina, leaving Siskin to course past at the sort of speed which had seen him start favourite to here extend his still unbeaten record. Circus Maximus and Wichita were still up front. Kameko was so totally trapped inside them that he never got a run and has to confide this into the bad memory book to which Mohaathar was also in serious danger of joining. 

Shoved back in by Wichita when first trying to move out, Jim Crowley now had to pull his partner around the outside to find daylight. However essential, it is always a costly manoeuvre and an intensely difficult one when top class opponents are accelerating ahead of you at 40 miles an hour. 

For three or four heart stopping seconds it didn’t seem possible, but then those almost dainty hooves bit deep into the Goodwood turf and Mohaathar produced a final furlong burst that raced impossibly past the two leaders, so that the result, three quarters of a length and half a length over Circus Maximus and Siskin, wasn’t even close. I haven’t seen as brilliant a closing burst since Dancing Brave mowed down a mega field in the Arc de Triomphe – and that was 35 years ago! 

It was redemption for this most elegant of thoroughbreds who was orphaned at birth and whose whole career was after threatened by injury last spring. It was also a much-rejoiced return to the big time for trainer Marcus Tregoning whose fortunes have dipped since Sir Percy’s Derby victory in 2006. Now based at Whitsbury in Hampshire, Goodwood has been his favourite course since his days as assistant to Dick Hern in the Nashwan glory years, and his own delight almost matched that of his many well-wishers. 

“It’s a big thing go come here, and a big thing for my team,” he said afterwards, quite misty eyed with happiness, “when we left Lambourn, we didn’t have very many horses, we had to leave some loyal people behind and it was like starting over again. Luckily Sheikh Hamdan has supported me. He’s a very good owner and he’s a lot of fun too.” 

His admiration and affection for the horse who made this all possible was shared by his children, three of whom actually ride Mohaathar of a morning, and most of all by Jim Crowley. “He’s an absolute aeroplane,” said the 42 year old jockey who has had such a stellar season in the blue and white Hamdan silks, “everything went wrong, he was up against the best European milers and I am not saying he made them look ordinary but he won very, very well.” 

There was a soft smile about Jim’s face which told of having been to a very special place. I remember that smile on Pat Eddery when he talked about Dancing Brave after the Arc. “It took him just a few strides to get himself balanced,” Jim said of Mohaathar, shaking his head in gratitude and wonderment, “but when he took off, it really was something else.” Yes, the very thrill of it.

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