28 September 2003
Brough Scott sees the Luca Cumani-trained runner live up to his `best in the world’ tag with a great win at Ascot.
Luca Cumani was right. Falbrav is indeed “the best horse in the world”, at least on yesterday’s lightning fast conditions. Anyone lucky enough to see him power home in Ascot’s Queen Elizabeth II Stakes ahead of track record holder Russian Rhythm should count themselves lucky to have the beau ideal of the thoroughbred racehorse burnt into the retina.
This was what three hundred years of selective breeding has been aiming for. A huge, powerful, athletic, aggressive dominant male prepared to go out on to the track and run his rivals out of it. Eight times Falbrav has been loaded into the stalls this season, every occasion in the highest class. There have been checks and disappointments – as there are in all highly competitive athletic events. But Falbrav is man enough to come back for more. Yesterday was the 12th and finest success of his whole 24-race £2.8 million career.
It was also his first lifetime attempt at a trip as short as a mile. The last time he was on a racecourse was that much-blocked second place in the Irish Champion Stakes three weeks ago. From the moments the gates opened yesterday you could see that this time there was going to be no mistake.
Blatant, the Godolphin pacemaker for Dubai Destination, hared out in the lead but Falbrav was right behind him, a big white spume of sweat showing across his massive neck, Darryll Holland’s back bowed on the reins as he locked on to the mighty power beneath.
Frankie Dettori put Dubai Destination close enough on the outside to cover an early attack, Kieren Fallon had Russian Rhythm tucked on the rails with Kevin Darley and last year’s winner Where Or When handy on the outside. Blatant was good enough to lead them to the straight, to have towed them through the first six furlongs in one minute 12.6 secs, three full seconds faster than the top two-year-old Snow Ridge in the opener. But everyone could see that once the bell rang as the field swung the turn it would be Falbrav committed, the others trying to overcome the hurt.
Dubai Destination attacked first, failed first. As frailty swept him back through the field Russian Rhythm pushed out to have a real shot at the leader, while Tillerman worked his way up the inside hoping for a late rally. Russian Rhythm is a terrific filly and already three times a Group One winner this season. Fallon’s body clamped down, the chesnut limbs strained beneath him. She got to within almost a length of the leader but then Falbrav dug again. Falbrav was too strong.
There are many excitements on a racecourse, but in Flat racing there is no greater fulfilment than seeing an absolute champion lay down the law. As Darryll Holland drove toward the line, Falbrav kept up a remorseless tempo which, although a second slower than Snow Ridge’s sprinting final quarter, had Russian Rhythm ground down almost three lengths adrift with Tillerman another length away third.
This triumph was the ultimate fulfilment for trainer Luca Cumani. When he lost the Aga Khan’s horses three seasons ago he said it would take him five years to get back. He has made it with many months to spare and with a horse which he has to rate as the best of all those great ones – Tolomeo, Barathea, and Derby winners Kahyasi and High-Rise – that have gone before. He took over an established good horse – Falbrav had won the Japan Cup last year for his Italian stable – and made him into a great one. In doing so he has sent a benchmark for other trainers and other horses.
Yesterday had opened with Snow Ridge winning the Royal Lodge Stakes in style. In the paddock and cantering loose limbed to the start he was, to adapt one of Raymond Chandler’s greatest phrases the sort of sight “that would make a bishop kick in a stained glass window”. His is the promise. Falbrav the aim.
In a slowly-run race Snow Ridge found himself blocked and baffled as the field seemed to be sprinting away from him. But Martin Dwyer was both patient and persuasive. When the big colt finally got his stride together he cut through to win right on the line. Some of us then rushed off to back him for both the 2,000 Guineas and the Derby. He is a much darker bay than Falbrav, but a beautiful young buck in his own right.
So twice in one day did we have a horse reflecting the most vivid lines ever penned about a thoroughbred – John Masefield’s Right Royal:
He moved in his box with restless tread
His eyes like sparks in his lovely head
Ready to burst his heart to pass
Each gasping horse in that street of grass.
For Right Royal, read Falbrav. Snow Ridge has quite a target ahead of him.