Racing: Falbrav the best in the world by a mile

Ascot Festival: Cumani's five-year-old routs Queen Elizabeth II Stakes rivals as Holland atones for his Irish defeat

If ever a horse has lived up to his name, it is Falbrav. Yesterday's smashing Queen Elizabeth II Stakes winner bears a moniker that means "be good" in the Milanese dialect of his trainer, Luca Cumani, and owner, Luciano Salice, and, by golly, he is. Although, surprisingly, Cumani's bold assertion earlier in the week that the five-year-old is the best horse in the world underwent slight modification after his imperious display here. "He is the best horse in the world on turf between a mile and 10 furlongs," the trainer said, grinning. If the Italian has his way, the handsome bay will be given the opportunity to add 12 furlongs to that assessment at next month's Breeders' Cup meeting in California.

Falbrav's connections were gambling in dropping their superstar back to a mile, a trip over which he had not won since his two-year-old days, after a season over further, but horses with his class are more versatile than modern perceptions give them credit for. And in truth, from the moment he emerged from the saddling boxes, the massive horse looked nothing but the winner. He has a remarkable, dominant presence and exuded it in the parade ring, on the way to post and, particularly, as he stood calmly at the start on a loose rein under Darryll Holland, monarch of all he surveyed.

His race panned out to perfection; he was towed along by Dubai Destination's pacemaker, Blatant, surged to the front a furlong and a half out, and had plenty in reserve to repel his sole serious challenger, the triple Group One-winning filly Russian Rhythm, by two lengths. Tillerman, with his optimum conditions of a fast pace and fast ground (which produced a clutch of track records and a spate of withdrawals) was a fine third, ahead of Blatant.

"This race was an afterthought," Cumani said, "but with the ground due to ride fast it was a risk worth taking. He has such power and speed, and an extraordinary ability to quicken. But over and above that he is so wonderfully mentally and physically strong, mature and sound, so completely professional, so composed as an individual. I doubt if I will train a better one; I should consider myself fortunate if I do." High praise from a man who has two Derbys and a host of top-level successes worldwide on his CV.

To anthropomorphise somewhat, Falbrav is a horse who seems arrogantly aware of his own abilities and place in the world, and when Salice tried to cosy up to his pride and joy for post-race photographs he was rewarded by a snap of teeth. But once the human kept his distance, the equine ears were again obligingly pricked for the cameras.

This was Falbrav's seventh Group One success and, despite the misgivings about the lesser distance, one of his easiest. Before his journey to the States, the total may be upped to eight; an appeal concerning his controversial second in the Irish Champion Stakes, when he was arguably denied a clear run by the winner, High Chaparral, is pending. "I am not hopeful, but I have no doubt that he was the best horse in the race," Cumani said, "and he does not deserve to have that number two next to his name."

One of Cumani's regrets is sending Falbrav to do battle over 12 furlongs on unsuitable soft ground in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes here in July, but he has no such qualms about the distance in the Breeders' Cup Turf at Santa Anita. "It would suit him there," he said, "as the first four furlongs are downhill and the track is fast and sharp. We would have to supplement him but that, I hope, is becoming less of an issue with a horse who has now won nearly three million in prize money."

Russian Rhythm, taking on colts for the first time, lost no caste in defeat and was given almost as enthusiastic a reception as the winner, the well-backed 6-4 favourite, by the knowledgeable crowd. Her owners, David and Patricia Thompson of Cheveley Park Stud, had already gained pre-compensation in the day's other Group One feature, the Fillies' Mile, with Red Bloom.

The Sir Michael Stoute-trained daughter of Selkirk tackled Sheikh Mohammed's recent high-profile purchase, Punctilious, going to the furlong mark and, although the latter rallied briefly, when the chips were seriously down Red Bloom showed not only superior speed as Kieren Fallon reminded her of the job in hand but also the better battling qualities.

Her target next year will be to follow in Russian Rhythm's hoofprints by winning the 1,000 Guineas. But the juvenile distaff ranks were sadly reduced with the news that the star performer among them hitherto, Attraction, is hors de combat. Mark Johnston's charge, unbeaten in five starts, has cracked the main bone in her left hind foot, and although her life is not in jeopardy, her future as a racehorse is. A decision about her returning to training will be made at the end of the year.

Although it is some time since a horse of any future note won the Royal Lodge Stakes, the last being the subsequent Derby hero Benny The Dip in 1996, yesterday's victor, Snow Ridge, like Red Bloom, oozed class as he swooped to conquer Irish raider Moscow Ballet with a remarkable dash through the last half-furlong, a performance that took the colt, trained by Marcus Tregoning, galloping up the ante-post Epsom market.

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