A decade previously, Frankie Dettori had gilded the same meeting with one of the most glorious individual performances in Turf history. On Saturday, the only way he could escape total anonymity was to indulge in an exhibition of self-pity so graceless that the support he found from the Ascot stewards invited ridicule upon British horseracing.
The Queen Elizabeth II Stakes was won by perhaps the most bewitching colt ever trained at Ballydoyle. Unfortunately the sub-plot to George Washington's consummate display has served to exacerbate a needless hostility towards the men who have turned him into a champion.
The British racing authorities are already responsible for one disputed verdict against the interests of this colt's owners, having decided to prohibit Kieren Fallon from riding here unless and until he proves his innocence of corruption charges brought by police. In relative terms, a 14-day suspension for Seamus Heffernan is plainly trivial. Around racing's parish pump, however, it will be treated as a matter of scandal - one way or the other.
Heffernan was on Ivan Denisovich, one of two outsiders also saddled by George Washington's trainer, Aidan O'Brien. The riding of both suggested that their principal duty was to ensure an earnest tempo - something as commonplace at this level as it is desirable. What incensed Dettori was his perception that Heffernan had deliberately forced his own mount, Librettist, to race wide. He was seething on his return, and persuaded the stewards that Heffernan was guilty of "team tactics".
It would be disingenuous for Dettori to pretend that he was entitled to a red carpet when, having started from the widest stall, he rushed Librettist alongside the Ballydoyle pacemakers after three furlongs. And certainly the feeble bump administered by Ivan Denisovich on the home turn did not remotely prejudice Librettist's chance. Dettori's mount readily joined issue two furlongs out, but soon began to flounder and eventually dropped away to finish sixth of eight.
The fact that those behind him included Godolphin's other runner, Proclamation, may have contributed to Dettori's exasperation. Dettori has not ridden a Group One winner in Britain for Godolphin for two years, and it is typical of their season that both Librettist and Proclamation were lame yesterday morning. The entire stable was stricken by sickness in the spring, and earlier this month its standard-bearer, Electrocutionist, dropped dead. Of course many suspect that Godolphin has more endemic problems, and their rivals at Coolmore doubtless watched Sheikh Mohammed's frenzied recent spending at Keeneland with wry smiles.
The Maktoums hardly help themselves, moreover, in their petulant refusal to invest in yearlings by Coolmore stallions. The stud may have lost its bedrocks - Sadler's Wells is ageing, and Danehill dead - but it remains home to two of the world's most promising stallions in Montjeu and Galileo, while George Washington himself may yet prove Danehill's most precious legacy.
Coolmore continues to outperform the Maktoums' own breeding operation, and relations between the two empires were soured further on Saturday. Strong words were exchanged in the weighing room between O'Brien and Dettori. A man of congenital calm, O'Brien was plainly insulted. Whatever the truth of the matter, Dettori seemed guilty of precisely the sort of sulkiness that once threatened the fulfilment of George Washington himself. In the spring, he seemed nearly ungovernable, but O'Brien quietly insisted that all the colt had to do was grow up.
On Saturday O'Brien helped complete the three-year-old's triumphant journey across the genetic highwire. George Washington is the eugenic blend of volatile materials: nature's answer to combustion or fission.
Few Flat champions have had more charisma and, now that O'Brien has squeezed out the cork without the bubbles foaming over, all that remains is to raise a toast in the Breeders' Cup Mile. Of course, when he simmered so dangerously, the wiseguys were all adamant that George Washington would be spirited away to stud. Only the credulous would have entertained the possibility that he could go to Churchill Downs in November as a raging favourite. But then only the credulous would ever have backed Dettori to win all seven races here, 10 years ago. It is typical of racing, a sport sometimes riven with sophistry, that George Washington's celestial performance should have been clouded by suggestions of gamesmanship. For if anything linked the two days, a decade apart, it was the proof that sometimes it pays not to be too cynical.
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