7 October 2001

Godolphin charge has the right qualities to take the coveted prize at Longchamp today

It is easier in the rain. It wipes the glamour away. It was raining hard at Newmarket on Tuesday. The reasons that make Sakhee the Arc de Triomphe favourite were out there in the raw.

This afternoon at Longchamp, the most cosmopolitan crowd in racing will be packed into that normally empty corner of the Bois de Boulogne to see this chunky four-year-old do duty, and probably carry off the booty, for the famous blue silks of Sheikh Hamdan. It will be a place of strut and shout and excuse. Galloping up Warren Hill on Tuesday, Sakhee gave out a different feel.

It was only an exercise canter-up behind other blue-coloured members of the Godolphin team under the eyes of racing manager Simon Crisford and trainer Saeed bin Suroor. But there was no doubting the set of Sakhee’s neck against the slope, the snorting challenge of the short, sharp stride biting so quickly into the turf. Here was simple ruthless readiness; an answer to the mystery.

The mystery is the oldest and most central in the game. Just what is it that makes one horse go faster than another? This week at Tattersalls Yearling Sales, the big players have been spending millions on horses they do not see go faster than a walk. They are gambling on pedigree and apparent athleticism. A year on just a few, will have shown enough racecourse promise to still be potential contenders. But what clicks, physically or mentally to propel them to the pinnacle Sakhee attempts today?

It is not straight physique. The thoroughbred racehorse has been a purpose-bred athlete for 300 years and all reasonable specimens in the top flight, while coming in slightly different shapes and sizes, have the same basic physical attributes. Sakhee, just 16 hands at the shoulder and 496 kilos on the weigh bridge, is no better made than many of his rivals. And as for pedigree, both parents had talent, but his sire Bahri was a miler which makes top-class form at today’s mile and a half a slight surprise.

It is not some effortless, measurable balance of his stride. Back in the Eighties, Professor Pratt, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, did all sorts of impressive studies on “gait analysis” to try and deduce a champion from the precise pattern of their four-legged flow. Fascinating though they were, their conclusions came all too close to plain common sense. A loose and easy stride is best, but it needs to be harnessed to the right amount of muscle and will. Sakhee has an action a bit too snappy for the absolute purist.

Neither is the champions’ mix always one of instant, innate ability. Sakhee, unlike Galileo, was not recognised as a superstar from day one and was only fourth in his first outing, a minor event at Leicester, back in August 1999. He won his next four races and was second to Sinndar in last year’s Derby, but when he was only fourth in the Eclipse he was largely forgotten until he reappeared successfully under the Godolphin banner this July. Then he added an impressive seven-length triumph in York’s Juddmonte International, which has been officially rated the best run of the season so far.

So the only answers left are physical conditioning and mental well-being and that is where Sakhee comes in at the top. “Everything has come right for him,” says Godolphin manager Simon Crisford. “In Dubai last winter he had a chip in his knee so we were always aiming him for the end of the season. He had a warm-up run before winning at York and comes here in tremendous shape.”

Before these big races the best time is the private time. Standing in the box with Sakhee on Tuesday, running a hand along the strong, supple skin of his rib cage and then feeling the packed muscles across his quarters was one of these. He did not start off a champion, he just missed the top last season, but here now is a thoroughbred in its absolute prime.

It will not be very private this afternoon. But once those runners fan into the Longchamp straight, trust Sakhee to lay down the law.

NB Sakhee bolted up in the Arc !

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