Nuclear power settles debate for sprint title

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The Independent Online

Rare indeed is the horse who can cruise amid the frenzy of a Group One sprint, rarer still one who can then quicken in an instant and seize the prize. Nuclear Debate did both in the Nunthorpe Stakes here yesterday to prove himself the fastest horse in Europe, but even as he was led towards the winner's enclosure, his trainer's sense of triumph was tinged with frustration. John Hammond knows that he has a champion racehorse, but no easy races in which to run him, and there is nothing that anyone can do about it.

Rare indeed is the horse who can cruise amid the frenzy of a Group One sprint, rarer still one who can then quicken in an instant and seize the prize. Nuclear Debate did both in the Nunthorpe Stakes here yesterday to prove himself the fastest horse in Europe, but even as he was led towards the winner's enclosure, his trainer's sense of triumph was tinged with frustration. John Hammond knows that he has a champion racehorse, but no easy races in which to run him, and there is nothing that anyone can do about it.

Nuclear Debate's problem is that he is a gelding, and thus prohibited from running in the Prix de l'Abbaye at Longchamp in October, which would have been a logical target for any other Nunthorpe winner. Nor are there any alternatives, either in France, where Hammond is based, or England. Instead, he may be forced to clock up the air miles with a trip to either the Breeders' Cup in November, or Hong Kong's valuable invitational events a month later.

"Maybe he wouldn't be the horse he is if he hadn't been gelded,'' was Hammond's philosophical take on the situation. "But we haven't got a lot of choices now, so I really don't know where we'll go with him. Last year he went to Hong Kong [and ran poorly] after a long campaign, but he's had a much lighter season this year, so hopefully he'll run a different sort of race if he goes there again.''

It will be of small consolation to Hammond, but the realisation that the first true champion sprinter that France has produced for many years cannot run in that country's most important sprint may persuade the authorities that it is time to change the Abbaye's conditions. For this year, though, it will probably be up to horses like Bertolini and Pipalong, who finished second and third yesterday, to uphold the form on his behalf.

There are no such problems, however, for Enthused, the winner of the Lowther Stakes, whose future could include all manner of tempting possibilities. Two of the last six winners of the Lowther have gone on to take the 1,000 Guineas nine months later, which is a better record for winner-finding than many of the so-called Classic trials in the spring. It would be no great surprise if Enthused were to make it three out of seven at Newmarket next year, since in yesterday's victory she displayed speed, courage and, best of all, an utter refusal to lose.

Enthused was giving 3lb to Khulan, who was a hot favourite for yesterday's race having won a maiden at Newmarket's July meeting in impressive style, and she also lost a couple of lengths with a slow start. Enthused's problems really started, though, when Johnny Murtagh brought her to challenge between Khulan and Romantic Myth a furlong from home. Khulan drifted across, stopping Enthused at a vital moment and, apparently, putting paid to her chance. Having been steadied and brought inside, however, she quickened again, and Khulan could almost have been standing still as Enthused swept past in the final 100 yards.

Enthused is not a large filly - as Sir Michael Stoute, her trainer, put it, "she doesn't lack an inch, she probably lacks two'' - but her small frame houses plenty of talent and character.

"She's got real natural ability,'' Murtagh said. "She's a high-class filly, everything is so easy to her, she doesn't know she's doing it. I was going for a gap between Richard Hills and Kevin Darley, and Richard moved over a little bit, but I just eased her back onto the inside and when I gave her one backhander and asked her to quicken, she quickened very well and the race was over in a matter of strides.''

As for Enthused's Classic potential, Murtagh was emphatic. "She's the best two-year-old I've ever ridden,'' he said, and you could tell that he meant it. And so could the bookmakers, most of whom now quote Enthused, who is expected to run next in the Group One Cheveley Park Stakes at Newmarket on September 26, as the 8-1 clear favourite for the 2001 Guineas, although stablemate Regal Rose is on the same mark with Hills. Khulan is a 16-1 chance with Ladbrokes, and it is 20-1 bar.

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