Racing: Dalakhani crushes Arc rivals to join Aga's élite

Prix de L'Arc de Triomphe: Europe's greatest race turns into a one-sided contest as the Irish favourite fails to match surge of French champion
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The Independent Online

There was a crushing expectancy on the fine shoulders of Dalakhani before the 82nd Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe here yesterday, the assumption that he was the dauphin to the French crown of Sea Bird II and Peintre Celebre. The great horse, and we must now call him that, did not let down the turfistes. When it came to pulverising in the race itself, it was all down to the Aga Khan's colt.

Dalakhani's margin of success from the excellent Mubtaker was three-quarters of a length, but bald statistics do scant justice to his awesome display. He was the only horse, at least the only superhorse, in the race.

It was a victory to thrill observers and send spinning the emotions of his jockey, Christophe Soumillon. The 22-year-old wunderkind of French racing had tears streaming down his face on return. "Il est un champion veritable," the rider said. "This is beautiful and now there are other things I want to achieve in racing. I want to bring something to this sport both in France and all over the world. This is just part of that."

It was a more serene Soumillon who had emerged into a parade ring decked with huge plane leaves before the start of play. Dalakhani himself was equally composed in the chill and sunshine, while High Chaparral, his great scripted rival, circled head down.

The French horse's outside draw had been identified as a disadvantage, but that factor dissolved soon after the stalls opened. Dalakhani emerged nimbly and was soon positioned at the rear of the main bunch, coasting along effortlessly.

Dalakhani, in fact, appeared to be in a different contest. While others struggled to keep contact with the race he ambled along at the rear of the pack, appearing able to deliver a viper strike at any time.

Mubtaker and Richard Hills staked it all on the turn into the straight, surging for home. In behind, Soumillon pushed forward the last pile of chips. Hills was not bluffing, but it gradually became clear that the Belgian possessed the upper hand.

Dalakhani's sleek grey form overhauled Mubtaker and left the rest of the field an embarrassing distance in arrears. The immediate burst made a nonsense of the portrayal of this contest as merely a circle around the bare knuckles of Dalakhani and High Chaparral. Much as last year, the Irish colt faltered briefly on the twisting descent into the straight.

It was probably due to a minor injury, but the reason was not as significant as the effect. By the time Michael Kinane's mount was back in full flow, there was just a rush of air where Dalakhani had once been.

High Chaparral looked, simply, slow. It was left to Mubtaker to prevent a complete solo. He did not capitulate and kept within touching distance of the winner, while High Chaparral was a further five lengths back.

"Just for a moment I thought we were going to win it," Marcus Tregoning, Mubtaker's trainer, said. "Then I saw Dalakhani coming. But it was still a fantastic performance. I'm very proud of him. It was a tremendous effort, a nice surprise."

Aidan O'Brien too was vanquished, but he also recognised that losing to Dalakhani was no disgrace. "We were delighted with him," High Chaparral's trainer, said. "When he started to come down the hill he just started to labour. Mick said he was backing off for some reason. Maybe it's something in his shoulder. It looks like he's a horse who prefers going left. His impressive races have been going that way.

"By the time he got going the race was over. But, my God, the winner was very impressive."

Soumillon had formed a congratulatory fist as he crossed the line and heavily expelled a breath, the last bit that had not been taken away by Dalakhani's performance anyway.

The Belgian's mask had cracked by the time he got back. Overwhelmed, he conducted racing's equivalent of the dance of the seven veils. First his goggles went into the bank of spectators, then the helmet.

For the Aga Khan it was a third Arc after Akiyda (1982) and Sinndar (2000). The pleasure, it seems, does not diminish as another colt in green and red colours was added to the monsters that have gone before. "It's difficult to make comparisons but I think this horse has a concentration of unusual talents," the Aga said. "That's what gives him the ability to accelerate when he needs to. He's outstanding. A beautiful mover."

Those who watched this rare autumn flowering may now have just memories to sustain them. There does not seem to be a racing future for Dalakhani if the Aga follows his instincts. "I start from a good breeding operation," he said. "That's the basis of what my family has done for generations."

The implication is that we will not see Dalakhani on the racecourse again. There will be few opportunities ever to witness his like.