In victory or defeat, or even when life has thoroughly kicked him in the teeth, Luca Cumani has treated any number of impostors just the same. When, a few years ago, he and the Aga Khan fell out, and the engine room was thus removed from his Bedford House stable, the Italian's reaction was to equip the remains of his string with brand-new exercise rugs, and ride out with them, head high as ever. When times are hard, paint the front door.
Cumani, 52, an elegant, urbane and proud Milanese who learned his training trade in Newmarket with Henry Cecil, is a man with two Derbys, from Kahyasi and High-Rise, on his c.v. and did not enjoy life among the also-rans.
But then they do say that form is temporary, class is permanent, and the lean seasons ended here yesterday as 8-1 shot Falbrav put his 14 rivals to the sword in the 106th Eclipse Stakes. The imposing bay five-year-old, ridden by Darryll Holland, struck the front more than a quarter of a mile from home and although the 6-4 favourite, Nayef, reduced three lengths of daylight to three-quarters of a length on the long run up the finishing hill, victory was cosy enough. Fast-finishing Kaieteur, at 100-1, snatched third from Olden Times, the South African challenger, Victory Moon, and a weakening Islington, the quartet covered by less than a length.
Falbrav, who is owned jointly by Italian Luciano Salice and Japanese Teruya Yoshida, can now be counted a genuine Group One globetrotter. This success was his fifth at the top level in a fourth country; he joined Cumani from a training compatriot back home after taking the Japan Cup in November.
"He just grew too big for Italy," Cumani said. "But I wish I'd had him since he was two. He made an immediate impression; he is the heavyweight boxer who believes he is the greatest, full of confidence and power both mentally and physically."
The demeanour of Falbrav, a son of Fairy King, as he led the pre-race parade, his presentation and hard, muscular condition were entirely commensurate with his new-found status as a performer. And in the race, he floated and stung.
"It went perfectly for me," said Holland, on his second Eclipse winner after Compton Admiral four years ago. "I had a perfect position, I just had to wait and once I got there we were always going to win. The horse found another gear as soon as I asked."
But Falbrav's run for home had Cumani on tenterhooks. "This was his best performance, he absolutely routed them," he said. "Perhaps he was in front sooner than ideal, but the gaps had come and Darryll had to take them. Not in my wildest dreams did I think he'd do it like he did, but the last three furlongs were the longest of my life. For sure, we dropped out of the Premiership," Cumani added, "but we got promoted back today."
The only horse eligible for the £1m bonus attached to the Eclipse was Nayef, who had taken the first leg of the inaugural Summer Triple Crown, the Prince of Wales's Stakes at Royal Ascot. Falbrav had finished fifth that day after little fortune in running; yesterday, during some argy-bargy in the straight in the second-largest Eclipse field on record, it was Nayef who was luckless, when interference from the Godolphin pacemaker, Narrative, cost him momentum just as he was starting his run. Jamie Spencer, Narrative's rider, earned a five-day suspension.
"There were a lot of runners," said Nayef's philosophical trainer Marcus Tregoning, "but you can't expect it to go your way every time and he's run a fine race."
The next pit stop on the Group One middle-distance circuit is the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot later this month, a possible target for both yesterday's principals, depending on how they emerge from this tussle. The International at York in August is the alternative.
The Eclipse is the season's first élite clash of the generations and yesterday the three-year-olds disappeared without trace. The first of the Classic crop home was Hold That Tiger in ninth. The Godolphin team is still stuck on 99 Group or Grade One winners after Grandera came in eighth, though there is another chance for the century with New South Wales in today's German Derby. Yesterday started worse for the Blues, though; the filly Romantic Liason suffered a heart attack and died after the opening sprint.
If the top purses were handed out for courage instead of class, David Elsworth-trained Persian Punch would have breached the £1m barrier a long time ago. As it is, Jeff Smith's 10-year-old brought his earnings to a shade under £875,000 with a typically gutsy effort to gain the 17th victory of his 57-race career, the two-mile Esher Stakes, by a short-head.
It was Persian Punch at his indomitable best. Cover Up went a length up a furlong out but, with the target to aim at that is oats and drink to him, the giant chestnut, ably aided and abetted by Martin Dwyer and the collective will of the faithful in the stands, clawed back the deficit and, with one final thrust, put his muzzle in front on the line. His connections were almost speechless as their hero was cheered into the winner's place. "The horse of 100 lifetimes," Smith said.Reuse content