11 September 2005

The key is in the after taste. When Motivator got beat half a length by Oratorio in the Eclipse Stakes back in July, it was a bitter cup to swallow. Defeat by the same distance in yesterday’s Baileys Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown was fizzy happiness and a toast to give the winner his due.

This time there was no disbelieving shock as Motivator went from apparent cruising to head-high struggle when Oratorio came through. This time Motivator had to cut for glory even before the long home straight and ran hard all the way to the line with only Oratorio and an inspired Kieren Fallon able to reel him in.

A head behind the leading pair was the magnificent mare Alexander Goldrun, another length to Oratorio’s talented stablemate Ace, and only at the close of this main group was last year’s winner and this year’s favourite Azamour. It had been billed as the race of the season. It was. It was just the script that brought the unexpected.

Azamour was a disappointment. At 7 am he had been a huge stalking presence walking round John Oxx’s barn with the stable team electric in their confidence. In the afternoon new jockey Christophe Soumillon duly warmed up with a victory in the second race and when he dropped Azamour in towards the back of the field as the Irish Champion Stakes got underway, the 2004 last-to-first story seemed ready to be retold. Motivator’s part always looked the most precarious. Drawn widest of all, Kevin Darley had no option but to bring him across and behind Temple Place and Hazarista, respected pace- makers for himself and Azamour. With only the unfancied Mona Lisa beside him it was clear a good five furlongs out that Darley would be forced to play his hand first and dare those behind to catch him.

True, Kevin had done just that on Attraction to hold off Chic in the Matron Stakes earlier in the afternoon, but front-running is Attraction’s style. Motivator had stopped at Sandown. We held our breath. Darley didn’t. He fired his bonny partner into the dip before the straight so that Motivator came winging out along that far rail to throw the gauntlet smack in the faces of his rivals. They fanned out to swamp him. They couldn’t. At least eight of them couldn’t.

Grey Swallow and Norse Dancer were flat out and struggling. Azamour was closing but without his usual awesome punch. Ace was coming very late, so too was Alexander Goldrun on the wide outside, but it was only the dark blue jacket of Kieran Fallon who looked certain to run Motivator down. A furlong out he got to him. The Fallon whip cracked three decisive times to take control but Motivator went down fighting. This was not disappointment; this was being beaten by a faster horse.

Reactions afterwards told a positive story – except, that is, in the downcast faces of the Azamour and Grey Swallow camps. “He’s run an absolute cracker,” smiled Michael Bell, who was so worried about the ground to consider withdrawing his colt half and hour beforehand. “Two furlongs further and what beats us in the Arc?” Paris dreams for Motivator’s many owners are very much back on the agenda. It was the sixth race and second defeat of Motivator’s career. He is evidently maturing from high-wired potential into a complete running machine.

But consider the case of Oratorio. This was his sixth victory from 13 races and over £1 million of prize money but only now is he being paid his due. Credit for the colt’s full emergence was swiftly passed from trainer Aidan O’Brien to jockey Kieren Fallon for what he said had been “a master class.” With Scorpion’s St Leger victory also less than an hour old O’Brien was entitled to be ecstatic but he chose his words carefully. “This horse needs understanding,” he said. “He’s lazy and Kieren has the ability to get it out of him. I can’t find the words to say how fantastic a rider he is.

A year ago Fallon had been a beleaguered figure with both his personal and professional lives in a mess.

Back on home soil he is a rejuvenated figure. “Oratorio may be lazy but he’s not slow,” he said with real enthusiasm in his eyes. “I really throught he would win the Derby but he just couldn’t handle Epsom. He’s really got himself together now, I think he could win at any distance.”

Whether that will take in a mile and a half in the Arc remains doubtful while Scorpion does duty for the Ballydoyle battalions. But either way, Fallon will again be in opposition to Motivator. Another cup will be tasted in Paris. Who ever wins it the fizz, is guaranteed.

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