Racing: Dettori upstaged by Rakti revival

Ascot Festival - Supporting role for leading rider on penultimate day of drama for the old course
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The Independent Online

Next spring, when they auction Ascot memorabilia discarded by the Royal race- course as it embraces the 21st century with a major redevelopment, one coveted item will already be decorating Frankie Dettori's home. It will be as familiar to the Italian there as it has been during his 17 years riding here: the "First" position post in the winner's enclosure, presented to him after yesterday's feature event, the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes.

It could scarcely be passed into more appropriate hands than those of the man who recorded his "Magnificent Seven" here in 1996, together with a litany of major-race successes. His challenge to claim this 50th running of the "QE2", and his duel with Kieren Fallon for the jockeys' championship, were always destined to dominate the penultimate day of racing at Ascot before the place is razed to the ground.

Which just goes to prove how injudicious it is to arrive here with preconceptions. Of that illustrious pair there was only peripheral evidence in this mile championship event. Instead we witnessed the spectacle of Rakti, given a tactically astute ride by Philip Robinson, emerging dominant. It provided for Michael Jarvis, the 66-year-old who has been training since, well, before some of the competing jockeys first drew breath, what can best be described as a popular rather than a fashionable victory, despite his 1,000 Guineas, French Derby and Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe wins notched up during a career which began in 1968.

Jarvis's concern was not so much that his charge would not finish - the five-year-old is, after all, more familiar with 1m 2f events - more that he would not start. But here he behaved impeccably, and when he galloped with ominous ease past the Godolphin pacemaker Blatant entering the final two furlongs, his rivals' jockeys were already reciting their excuses.

Lucky Story, trained by Mark Johnston, who had decided against the participation of his star filly Attraction because of unsuitable going, belied his 16-1 odds, strove valiantly to close on Rakti, but finished second, half a length adrift, with Frankie Dettori in third on the second favourite, Godolphin's Refuse To Bend.

"Ratki loves Ascot, but he is a horse of moods and I was delighted to get here today and find that he was in one of his better ones," reflected Jarvis. "He can get very wound up at the races. He's like an elastic band. You know he is going to snap, and it's just a matter of waiting and praying. It was a relief when everything went smoothly. I thought he had the speed to win a top-class mile race, but when you are good at 10 furlongs it's difficult to say categorically that is the thing to do. This was always going to help his stallion potential enormously if he could do it."

All manner of superlatives were directed at the son of Polish Precedent, including the suggestion that this triumph made him the world's best miler. "If he keeps this sort of form, he would be one of the best horses in the world," declared Jarvis, who may well aim the horse for the Breeders' Cup Mile in Dallas at the end of next month. However, the Newmarket trainer is only too aware that form is an elusive quality. As James Fanshawe, trainer of Soviet Song, the 5-2 favourite here, will confirm. The Sussex Stakes heroine could only manage sixth, thus confirming the adage that fillies don't win this event - only one of her sex has been successful since 1976. "It may have been a harder race than we first thought when she won in Ireland last time," said Fanshawe. "Today was probably just one race too many."

Although Refuse to Bend's failure disappointed Dettori, there had been an element of consolation with victory in the the opener aboard Godolphin's Perfectperformance. It was, perhaps, apt that Dettori should claim this race, The Hackney Empire Royal Lodge Stakes. That's the Hackney Empire: "Where Theatre Lives", according to their publicity. If any one individual encapsulates the crowd- entrancing art of the entertainer on this beloved stage, it is the exuberant Italian.

Though this racecourse within Berkshire's affluent acres and the East End theatre would not, it must be thought, enjoy a natural affinity, the institutions are both undergoing a rebirth of kinds. The Empire has been preserved after its future was once in jeopardy. Meanwhile, the curtain is dropped today at Ascot for two years, while it undergoes a £185m redevelopment.

The Royal Lodge often yields valuable evidence in the identification of next year's Classic winners. The chestnut, a half-brother to last year's 1,000 Guineas victor, Russian Rhythm, is 20-1 for both the 2,000 Guineas and the Derby.

In the absence of Godolphin's guiding light, Sheikh Mohammed, his trainer, Saeed Bin Suroor, maintained an inscrutability on the subject of future plans. In contrast, John Gosden could not have been more positive about Playful Act, his winner of the distaff equivalent, the Meon Valley Stud Fillies' Mile. She is a best-priced 12-1 favourite for the Oaks, but will go to Epsom via the 2,000 Guineas.

The filly won in the colours of the late Robert Sangster. The only pity is that the breeder, who died earlier this year, was not present to witness this victory on a day when we could only chorus: "Here's to you, Mr Robinson".