Racing: George the star turn - complete with a tantrum

2,000 Guineas: O'Brien's enigmatic colt dazzles the Newmarket crowd and then turns his back on them
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The Independent Online

It was a gold medal performance, but the top step of the podium remained unoccupied. After treating his rivals with contempt in the 198th 2,000 Guineas here yesterday, George Washington decided his public were not worthy of his notice either. The horse with an ego the size of a planet took the great prize with commensurate arrogance and then refused point-blank to return for the plaudits. Uniquely in Classic history, the winner's circle was empty.

For the colt's trainer, Aidan O'Brien, the road to Guineas glory has been as convoluted behind the scenes as it was straightforward on the track. His main role in preparing George Washington for his day of days has been as psychologist. "The trouble is," he said, "he thinks he's God, so we have to treat him like that. He has always believed he is better than any horse or any person around him, and doesn't see why he can't do what he wants when he wants. He's an alpha male, and a serious one."

The son of Danehill, last year's champion juvenile, is also a serious athlete. Kieren Fallon settled him in the pack as the field of 14, led by Olympian Odyssey broke from the stalls, but only under sufferance, for his hands were full of raw, pulsing energy. Going to the last quarter-mile he unleashed the power, and the result was spectacular. George Washington lengthened his mighty stride and bounded away from his rivals, confirming his self-belief and that of the punters who made him 6-4 favourite.

The winning distance was an eased-down two and a half lengths, with the second favourite, Sir Percy, doing all his best work up the final hill, staying on strongly for second place past gallant 33-1 shot Olympian Odyssey, with Araafa, outrunning his 66-1 odds, fourth. "I would have liked a lead a little longer," said Fallon, "but he wouldn't be contained any longer and got to the front in two strides. He has electric acceleration and power, he has shown it from his first piece of work as a two-year-old.

"This race didn't get anywhere near the limit of his ability; he was doing nothing in the last two furlongs. He is a bit special, this fella, and it would be difficult to say I'd ridden one better. He looks spectacular and it feels every bit as good as it looks."

The two minutes, 26.86 seconds it took George Washington to etch his name in history were not only followed by a flounce of wilfulness, but also preceded. Our hero first took huge exception to O'Brien's attempts to saddle him, bunching his quarters determinedly as he squirmed and backed mulishly away. He went to post sweetly enough, accompanied by his stablemate and minder Frost Giant, but had to be manhandled into his stall. O'Brien and his henchmen Pat Keating and Damien Cirwick had taken the precaution of going to the start, but even they could not persuade their star to take his applause.

"Even though he's very mature physically," said O'Brien, "he's probably only starting to grow up mentally. It has been a real challenge channelling his arrogance so it goes in the right direction. He is not a delinquent, but could so easily have become one with the wrong treatment."

George Washington did not get hot or bothered during his antics and dominated his rivals in the parade ring, every inch the handsome, high-mettled thoroughbred. O'Brien calls him arrogant. Fallon puts the colt's "you-and-whose-army?" attitude more succinctly. "He's just taking the piss," said the jockey.

Epsom does not figure on George's game plan - "he's shown his brilliance over a mile and we don't really want to tempt fate by indulging ourselves with him over a mile and a half" said O'Brien - but is very much on Sir Percy's agenda. The Mark Of Esteem colt now shares favouritism with Ballydoyle's Horatio Nelson - eighth yesterday - and the French colt Visindar. "He's a proper horse," said Sir Percy's trainer, Marcus Tregoning, "who has just been beaten by another proper horse."

Yesterday was O'Brien's fourth 2,000 Guineas in nine years, and second in succession, after Footstepsinthesand. Today, he will go for the double Guineas double, having won the 1,000 Guineas 12 months ago with Virginia Waters, but the Ballydoyle challenge may be reduced to just Race For The Stars with the news yesterday that Fallon's choice, Rumplestiltskin, the ante-post favourite, was showing signs of coming into season.

Neither of the pre-race negatives surrounding George Washington - the flat form of colts from O'Brien's stable, nor the foot injury suffered by Fallon two days before the race - came into the equation in the face of the three-year-old's sheer talent, class and dominance as an athlete. The white-blazed bay cost the Coolmore partners who own him 1.15 million guineas at auction, and is already worth 50 times that. Sometimes you do get what you pay for.

BIG RACE DETAILS

1 George Washington 6-4 fav
2 Sir Percy 4-1
3 Olympic Odyssey 33-1

Ridden: K Fallon

Trained: A P O'Brien

Owned: J Magnier and partners

Distances: 2 1/ 2 lengths, 1 1/ 2 lengths

Sire: Danehill; Dam: Bordighera

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