In a six-horse field, a split-second decision forced on Dubawi's rider, Frankie Dettori, undid the blues' pre-race plot. From his number one stall, the pacemaker Blatant hared off along the stands rail, but Dubawi, from the six box, was trapped wide as Philip Robinson on Rakti, on his immediate inside, elected to run his race down the centre of the course.
As Rakti began to come to the end of his tether, Dettori tracked back across the course to join Starcraft, by then the clear leader. But his little bay partner, dwarfed by the mighty chestnut bulk beside him, was by then always second-best in that particular battle. The stiff, tight-lipped body language in the Godolphin camp spoke volumes.
"The plan had of course been to follow the pacemaker," said the organisation's racing manager, Simon Crisford. "And we had even been aware that Rakti might go down the middle. It was all very unfortunate. We're not trying to detract from the winner, but we felt we didn't quite get the rub of the green today." Dettori was more forthright. "I was on the best horse and I got beat," he said. "I was taken across, I stayed put and it was a costly mistake. I wish I could ride the race again."
If there was a silver lining for the Sheikh, it was that the result was the sort of international victory that is so dear to his globetrotting heart. The New Zealand-bred Starcraft is owned by a Brisbane-based former pro punter, Paul Makin, is trained by the Newmarket-based Italian Luca Cumani and was ridden by a Frenchman, Christophe Lemaire.
It was the massive five-year-old's second Group One success in the northern hemisphere, to add to the three he had already notched up in Australia. But he is unlikely to meet Dubawi again in the Breeders' Cup Mile in New York next month; he is not at this stage entered and Makin doubts the value of putting him in the race. "It's fairly expensive to enter and I'm not sure what it would do for his CV anyway," he said. "I'd rather go to Dubai next spring and take the money off the Sheikh."
The most heartfelt cheers of the day came early in the piece, for Ouija Board after the opening Princess Royal Stakes. Last year's dual Oaks and Breeders' Cup heroine returned to the winner's circle to a tremendous reception from the faithful, but one tempered hugely by relief from those closest to her, for the race had been more or less make-or-break for the brilliant filly after an injury-plagued year. "It was either a case of she'd win as she did," said her owner-breeder, Lord Derby, "or it was the moment that a champion retired."
Happily, it was not the latter, as the elegant dark bay showed much of her old magic. Dettori, on a dream chance ride that went as smoothly as his nightmare later did not, shadowed his field on the outside, eased to the front two furlongs out and needed to apply only a couple of reminders as he drove the four-year-old clear. In second place, two and a half lengths behind, came Ouija Board's erstwhile partner Kieren Fallon on Briolette, for his retaining Ballydoyle stable.
Ouija Board's next entries are at Longchamp a week today, notably in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, in which she finished third last year. But whether she takes part depends on her wellbeing over the next few days. "Paris remains a possibility," said her trainer, Ed Dunlop, "and she's in the filly race, the Prix de l'Opera, as well. But if we aren't happy with her, we won't hesitate to decide against going there."
A repeat in the Filly and Mare Turf at Belmont Park, for which she is now 5-4 favourite with most bookmakers, at the end of next month is Ouija Board's prime target. "Everything has gone very smoothly in the past couple of weeks," added Dunlop, "but it has been a long time coming back with her and there have been plenty of problems. But those who have sat on her recently have all said she's felt as good as ever."
The afternoon's second Group One contest, the Fillies' Mile, has been a reliable spotlighter of future high-class talent. Yesterday's narrow winner, Nannina, who beat Alexandrova a short-head, has the 1,000 Guineas inked in.