7 May 2006
Great is the most dangerous word. The three-year-old colt that is called George Washington has a great name. On the evidence of his becoming the first 2,000 Guineas winner in history to refuse to enter the unsaddling enclosure, he has certainly got a great temper. But, in just over one and a half quite awesome minutes of galloping at Newmarket yesterday we now know that George Washington is indeed a great horse.
The best horses I have seen up the Rowley Mile have been Nijinsky, Brigadier Gerard, El Gran Senor and Dancing Brave. After each one there was a moment of buzzing wonderment as the sense of something exceptional hit through even the most boozed-up binoculars. As Kieren Fallon loosed his bright bay partner past the pacemaking Olympian Odyssey and Sir Percy, that moment came again. This horse, and here comes another dangerous word, was different class.
A two-and-a-half length, one-and-a half-length beating of Sir Percy and Olympian Odyssey in a time of one minute 36.86 seconds may not seem fantastic on paper. But Sir Percy’s home work had been so brilliant that jockey Martin Dwyer would not hear of defeat, yet George Washington swept by him as if his legs were in a different gear. Yes, we really can put him in alongside El Gran Senor, Nijinsky, Dancing Brave and “The Brigadier.”
The sectional times confirmed it. George Washington ran the quarter mile section between the three furlong and one furlong markers in a fantastic 22.80 secs, taking more than half a second out of Sir Percy’s 23.41. What’s more, the winner’s 12.96 on the uphill final furlong when his white-blazed face was swerving erratically over to the far rail was still the quickest of his field. No wonder trainer Aidan O’Brien says he has never had a horse with such speed.
O’Brien has also said he has never had a horse with such arrogance about him and as the winner was led back to the unsaddling enclosure we saw why. No matter that Nijinksy and every Guineas winner back to Wizard on the first day in 1809 had walked in to the victory circle, this one would not budge. Maybe the infant George Washington “could not tell a lie”. This big one would not take a bow.
“He’s very, very special,” said a smiling Fallon much more in wonderment than the relief at overcoming his own drama of being hospitalised on Thursday night after crushing his right foot in the stalls at Tipperary. “Sure, he has this way with him,” said the Ballydoyle jockey who was winning his fourth 2,000 Guineas. “He hung back behind the stalls before the start but he was always going to go in. And in the race he just blew them away.”
It had been O’Brien who, with characteristic personal attention to detail, had got down to the start himself to ensure that his quirky super-star did not have a last-minute moment of stage fright. And as he talked afterwards the deep, deep involvement with a horse psyche which has made O’Brien such an astonishing trainer came flooding through.
“We have never had anything like this,” said the normally so reticent young master of Ballydoyle – not a bad opening comment for someone whose stars have already won virtually every major race in Europe and hit the big time in America too. “This horse has always had quite exceptional ability. It’s that raw power that he has. We’ve never had a horse that showed this kind of speed and get that kind of trip.”
George Washington’s dominance is not just in ability on the track. “I have never had a horse who showed such self-belief,” added O’Brien. “It’s because all his life he has had people look up to him [18 months ago, the colt was, at 1,150,000 gns, the most expensive lot at the yearling sales]. And horses look up to him as well. He knows he can go past anything. So if he feels he doesn’t want to do something, he won’t. That’s what happened when he was walking back. He just decided he would not come in and there was nothing we could do about it.”
Strictly on pedigree – he is by Danehill out of an Alysheba mare – you could not rule George Washington out of staying the extra half mile of the Derby trip. But the way O’Brien spoke made that sound a remote possibility. “We wanted him to show his brilliance over a mile,” he said. “We would not want to indulge ourselves too much with him.”
O’Brien’s hopes of winning today’s big race with Rumplestiltskin, to land the Guineas double as he did last year, were dimmed when he reported the filly slightly ‘in season.’ But as for the Derby, other bred-in-the-purple colts will doubtless come through to fly the Ballydoyle flag at Epsom for which Sir Percy is now joint favourite with the French colt Visindar. “He ran a terrific race,” said Dwyer. “He finished really well. I think that was a great Derby trial.”
George Washington and Sir Percy, that’s two great names. A Derby win for the latter could yet give us a season almost overladen with greatness.