From death's door to an immortal threshold

Richard Edmondson reflects on the steps in Lammtarra's irresistible rise
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Before the cuckoos had roused this year we were promised this would be the season of the wonder horse. Unusually for racing, the prophecy has proved correct, but truer to the fluctuations of the turf the wrong colt has been in the beam for much of the time.

While Celtic Swing rests his vulnerable body it is now Lammtarra who will be remembered for illuminating 1995. Six months ago, the roles were reversed. As Lady Herries' colt pounded out his preparation in Sussex, Lammtarra was the invalid, fighting for this life in Dubai's state of the art veterinary hospital.

Visitors were not assaulted with details of his progress and by the time Lammtarra returned to Britain he was one of the least heralded components of the Godolphin machine.

It is this absence of build-up to greatness which forms the illusion that Lammtarra's abbreviated career is even shorter than it actually is. For the patient purists who have waited for another Mill Reef, the only other horse to capture the top trident of Derby, King George and Arc, the pleasure must be over all too quickly. Like children watching the bonfire night rocket, the object of their fascination has disappeared in an instant.

Indeed the only people who will see a competitive Lammtarra in the flesh again are likely to be those who attend the Breeders' Cup gala at Belmont Park at the end of the month. If, as is planned, he retires win, lose or draw, he will have enjoyed an athletic career of under 12 minutes. His new task will be in the passion houses of either the Dalham Hall Stud in Newmarket or the Gainsborough Stud in Kentucky - both the property of the Maktoum family. Lammtarra means invisible in Arabic and for most of us now he might as well be.

By the time of the Breeders' Cup Turf some idea of his place in the all- time list will have emerged. By deed alone, he must command the greatest respect, for overcoming illness and rushed preparations to triumph where so many have floundered before.

Lammtarra looks the part, with his chestnut hide stretched over a narrow frame appearing as though much furniture polish has been applied and there are the black, almost mournful, eyes. But everything he does is functional, hugely admirable, yet strangely without startling impact. In other worlds, he would be Stan Smith to Ille Nastase, Charlton to Best, arguably the better but without the same charm.

But aesthetes always like to see their horse produce a sudden burst of acceleration, just as Lammtarra's sire Nijinsky, used to deliver. There are early rumblings that Lammtarra himself will have to deliver yet again, and in a thrilling manner, in America if he is to join the immortals. "That was an excellent performance in Paris," Ian Balding, Mill Reef's trainer, said. "Lammtarra is such a tough horse and even though you wouldn't say he has a brilliant turn of speed like Mill Reef, Nijinsky or Dancing Brave, he just does it another way."

The handicappers of Timeform now have Lammtarra placed on a provisional mark of 134 - some way below his predecessors as Arc winners, Sea Bird II, Mill Reef and Dancing Brave.

Sunday's win was, of course, a great success for genes. Centuries of playing around with the mating game have culminated in breeders suggesting nothing more complex than putting the best to the best in an effort to conceive a classic beast. In practice this seldom works and Lammtarra is very much an exception. As he is by a Triple Crown victor out of an Oaks winner he will be expected to make a good fist of his stud career. But it will not be that easy.

Yesterday, Lanfranco Dettori, the winning jockey, was in good spirits, for the first part of the day at least. "The first thing I did this morning was to run downstairs and check the trophy was still there" he said. "I watched the video thousands of times last night and Lammtarra is unbelievable. He is a lion.''

The Italian's achievement was noted by the course executive at Pontefract, where he was awarded a bottle of champagne, but officials also later noted that he was bending the rules on La Alla Wa Asa in the closing contest. Dettori was found guilty of irresponsible riding and, as this was his third such offence of the season, he was referred to the Jockey Club. Pontefract must have seemed a long way from Paris.