When the exhausted pugilists of Europe and the United States were finally pulled apart in the gathering gloom of Breeders' Cup XVIII here at Belmont Park on Saturday there were two fists in the air.
With three victories, the transatlantic travellers had equalled their previous best performance at racing's Olympics, the 1991 running at Churchill Downs, Kentucky. Yet the big one eluded them.
The Classic, the culmination of a dramatic day, saw Godolphin's Sakhee denied right on the wire by the reigning champion Tiznow. After eight rounds a draw was declared.
Sakhee, the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winner, was officially beaten by a nose, but it must have been a Cyrano de Bergerac nose, as it looked mightily close on the line. His defeat was all the more intolerable as he had appeared the victor all the way up the stretch.
"I went by Tiznow and if I kept that momentum going it would have been a foregone conclusion," Frankie Dettori, the jockey, reported. "I felt my horse go the last 50 yards. He gave me everything. He had no more else to give. I couldn't shake Tiznow off and he knuckled down and fought me back. He has a great reputation and a head like a dinosaur.
"It was a great race and for a horse like Sakhee to run only a few weeks ago and then take on the best American horses on the dirt must have been a great effort. In my heart he is still the winner for me, even if he lost. He's a great jewel."
The flawed diamond was Aidan O'Brien's Galileo, who finished sixth. It was upsetting to see the dual Derby winner eroding in front of our very eyes. Suddenly Epsom and 9 June seemed an awfully long time ago. "He's had a long, hard year, a fantastic season," Michael Kinane, the jockey, said. "He's been a pleasure to ride and deserves to win every time. I was in a lovely position down inside Tiznow, but he just couldn't adapt to the conditions. He was struggling to get hold of it [the dirt]. Every stride required a big effort."
So Galileo has gone out of his shield, but the system that produced him remains in place. The new monarch of the Ballydoyle and Coolmore axis is Johannesburg, who was close to perfection in the Juvenile. Officer would probably have been Horse Of The Year if he had succeeded here and there did indeed appear to be an outstanding athlete in his contest. That was a measure of the achievement registered by Johannesburg, who could not have moved faster even if he was carried by wings. He ran most of the way on the rail, which was reckoned to be the dead zone by several trainers, and then killed them for pace. The American-bred colt is available at 5-1 with Coral to return to the state of his birth and win next spring's Kentucky Derby.
The Godolphin golden moments came in the Turf, in which Fantastic Light got the job done, and in the Juvenile Fillies, when Tempera and Imperial Gesture filled the forecast for the American branch of the Dubaian team. There is no Flat race on earth which is now out of the reach of Sheikh Mohammed and the spending will not stop until the Classic and the Kentucky Derby have been collected. "It's not just a warning bell that was sounded yesterday," Eoin Harty, the Sheikh's trainer in America, said yesterday. "The racing community in the States has been well aware of that now for some time. This is what is going to happen. This is the future."
The Maktoums, indeed all the Arab owners, were absent on Saturday. It might not have been the immediate thought of many in the grandstand, but the Godolphin winners were actually good news for the locale. Sheikh Mohammed and the boys had promised that all their prize money would be diverted to the New York disaster fund. Others made similar undertakings. In the event, $2.7m (£1.92m) was raised, $2.5m of it from the Maktoums alone. Sheikh Mohammed had already contributed $5m to a similar fund to aid New Yorkers.
With André Fabre's Banks Hill another emphatic winner, there have now been 21 European winners at Breeders' Cups, a third of them provided by British-based animals. Those that follow will now be aimed at this earlier week in the calendar for the foreseeable future. There are higher profile sporting events Stateside in the traditional slot, the first week in November, and so the meeting has been brought forward. This, inevitably, will lead to a collision with Newmarket's Champions' day.
The Americans have become increasingly afraid of the Europeans, more respectful. Maybe in time they will even stop referring to the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe as a prep for the Turf. Certainly any sense of superiority has long since fled the jockeys' room.
"Both Godolphin and Coolmore have made purposeful efforts to attain American dirt breeding and come over here and learn what it takes to win," Jerry Bailey, America's leading rider, said yesterday. "Now they have done that. I thought they were pretty dominant yesterday."
Chris McCarron, who won a record fifth Classic on Tiznow, added: "The Europeans take the worst of it coming over here. They're really to be commended for running Sakhee on dirt. They're really to be commended with each and every horse they bring to the United States."Reuse content