Montjeu's motionless moment of magic

The King George: French raider brushes his big race rivals aside at Ascot in devastatingly effortless manner

The notion that a horse race has to produce a close finish to be exciting was negated here yesterday. In any sport of individual effort a display of individual brilliance can get the adrenalin pumping like nothing else and as the seven runners in the 50th running of the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes approached the home turn the overwhelming sensation on a sweltering afternoon was the chill prickle of goosebumps.

The notion that a horse race has to produce a close finish to be exciting was negated here yesterday. In any sport of individual effort a display of individual brilliance can get the adrenalin pumping like nothing else and as the seven runners in the 50th running of the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes approached the home turn the overwhelming sensation on a sweltering afternoon was the chill prickle of goosebumps.

It was patently apparent that Montjeu, the 1-3 favourite for the summer's most prestigious contest, was about to deliver a magic moment, but just how magic no one could have guessed. Mick Kinane, back on board the colt who won last year's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, was sitting up like a hussar as he cruised into the straight in pursuit of Daliapour. The cheers began to rise for Montjeu two furlongs out as the crowd waited for the lightning change of gear that is the bay's hallmark.

That it never really came is the awesome part of what was witnessed. For it never had to come. Montjeu won Britain's great showpiece on the bridle, going past Daliapour and away from Fantastic Light as if they were stationary objects, as if he was having a casual canter at home instead of winning a £750,000 Group One race.

For the record, the winning distance was a length and three-quarters. Fantastic Light in turn pulled three and a half lengths clear of Daliapour, with Beat All fourth and the Japanese raider Air Shakur fifth. Montjeu, trained at Chantilly by the Englishman John Hammond, was the first French-based King George winner since Pawneese in 1976.

Montjeu's display was the most imperious in the race since Nijinsky toyed with the previous year's Derby winner Blakeney in 1970. The trickiest moment of Montjeu's afternoon came when, saddled and ready for the fray, he refused point-blank to enter the parade ring until his regular partner at home, Didier Foloppe, mounted him and persuaded him to appear before his public.

Hammond is prepared to indulge such whims. "He had walked round the ring fine in the morning," he said, "but with a horse this good we won't hassle him, we'll just work round his little foibles."

After the caprice du seigneur, the tour de force. Kinane, 41, has no doubts at all about Montjeu's place in his personal pantheon. "He is the best I have ridden, by a long shot," said the man who has partnered the likes of Commander In Chief and Pilsudski in the recent past. "Everything is in slow motion with him. He just does it all so effortlessly. Today he went to the front even sooner than I wanted but he just wanted to point his toe so I let him go on and enjoy himself."

Kinane, who suffered a back injury last month, returned to race-riding only on Wednesday. The carrot of riding Montjeu was the spur to his recovery, aided by the physio team at Old Trafford. The gesture was organised by Sir Alex Ferguson, who has horses in Kinane's retaining Irish yard, Ballydoyle. "Riding is my business," said the jockey, "and making a living from it, riding in the big races, is of course financially important. But it is only when I'm not riding that I realise just how much I miss the actual physical act of not being on a horse. And it's the horses like this one that keep us doing it. He is special. Awesome."

Those present yesterday may thank the fact they braved the nightmare traffic on the M4 and M25, for this was Montjeu's first and very likely only visit to Britain. His next run, if all goes to plan, will be the Irish Champion Stakes in September, followed by another tilt at the Arc - which is now, according to the bookmakers, a one-horse race - with the Japan Cup or Breeders' Cup Turf later options.

The programme planned for Montjeu, who runs in the colours of the Monaco-based Michael Tabor, before he retires next year to join his sire Sadler's Wells at Coolmore, means that racing's tifosi are likely to be deprived of the obvious heavyweight showdown: Montjeu v Dubai Millennium.

Sheikh Mohammed, for whose Godolphin operation Dubai Millennium runs, is working back from the Breeders' Cup Classic, ten furlongs on dirt, as the end-of season target for his star. The races planned for the horse who took the Prince Of Wales's Stakes field apart here at the Royal meeting last month involve a drop back to a mile at five-week intervals, the Prix Jacques le Marois and the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes.

Both he and Hammond are aware of the desire to see the two horses meet, but both are pragmatic about the business of racing, which involves stallion values as much as enjoyment for the public. The Sheikh was delighted with Fantastic Light's run for, even though the colt could not strike a blow at Montjeu, he is not fit to polish Dubai Millennium's shoes at home. "This result would give me confidence if the two were to meet," he said. "Anyway, why did he not come to take us on at the Royal meeting? Let him come to Churchill Downs. We will prepare a feast for him."

Tabor might be keen to have a crack at Dubai Millennium on dirt; those that manage Montjeu less so. "These big races can be a strain on a horse and each has his programme. If Dubai Millennium and ours coincide, so be it. If he's there he's there, if he's not he's not."

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