The garden and car-park parties are over, but, for horse-racing enthusiasts at least, the celebrations are just beginning. There was no outstanding single performance at Royal Ascot last week, no one display to get the smoke signals, jungle drums and cliff-top beacons announcing the arrival of a great one. But fanfare was deserved by Fantastic Light's victory in the Prince Of Wales's Stakes. And it is a beauty that this is a noise we should hear trumpeted again from towers around the world.
Fantastic Light's was a big win for Godolphin. Sheikh Mohammed buys what he thinks are the best horses, and he expects the same from his human colleagues. He spares nothing for his thoroughbreds and he does not spare his staff. They earn a sheikh's ransom, and the crown prince of Dubai does them an extra favour by not giving them time to spend it.
The pressure to succeed is immense, and it becomes most crushing when the enemy is encroaching. The Godolphin entourage grinned and clapped every time Aidan O'Brien welcomed back a Coolmore winner last week. If things go completely cactus-shaped, they could probably form a fair repertory company.
Fantastic Light's victory was the great release. No matter that Kalanisi was damaged in the contest and Observatory pulled too hard to make himself a legitimate contender, it was a warming win. You could imagine the valve spinning on the Godolphin kettle as the pressure escaped.
"Coming off the bend I thought 'oh shit, I'm going to get boxed in'," was Frankie Dettori's post-match report, slightly out of keeping with the company at the Royal meeting. Simon Crisford, Godolphin's racing manager, followed up with: "The lip was beginning to drag on the floor a bit."
There is now, however, the promise that we can once again follow Fantastic Light around the globe, much as we did last year, when it was easy to decry his status as the Emirates World Series champion with the likes of Dubai Millennium, Giant's Causeway and Montjeu setting fire to tracks around the world.
There are areas in which you can criticise Godolphin, principally when it comes to their near kleptomania with the best two-year-olds around. But a beauty of the operation is that they always keep a few older horses for their needs and our great entertainment. Thus we now have Fantastic Light, who looked so improved for a winter out there under the monarch's gaze that it would not be difficult to imagine him as another Singspiel, Swain or Pilsudski.
These horses, like the great Americans of recent years Cigar and Skip Away, occasionally get beaten but that does not detract from their allure. Breeders might like unbeaten horses, but spectators admire a more honourable animal, the one that takes them all on and comes back for more even if he is vanquished.
Fantastic Light is another to monitor. "The horse has come out of the race all right and it's all systems go for the Eclipse the week after next. The King George is the plan after that," Crisford said yesterday. "What we saw at Royal Ascot was a career-best performance. That was encouraging."
Fantastic Light may now be able to emerge from the stair cupboard and accept the acclamation denied him last year. "In all fairness, there is only enough space at the top of the pyramid for the chosen few," Crisford added. "With the likes of Dubai Millennium, Montjeu and Giant's Causeway around, Fantastic Light got pushed down the scale.
"I never normally say this, because I don't believe it is much of a factor in this game, but he was a bit unlucky last year. In the Breeders' Cup Turf he was trapped on the inside all the way round and then finished on their heels full of running. There were a couple of other occasions when it all went horribly wrong. In the Coronation Cup, for example, everything stacked up against him.
"He has won in Dubai, Hong Kong, America and his Group One in England. He is a good traveller and he takes his racing very well. He has progressed and matured into a top-class contender. He's the sort of horse which holds the operation together."
He is also the sort of horse who holds together the future for others far less reliant on his actual performance.Reuse content