If there was a notion that one of the smallest fields on record might have diminished the 56th King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes, it was firmly blown out of the water by the unfolding of events here yesterday. Massed ranks of horses are not a prerequisite to raise the hairs on the back of the neck; all it takes is three top-class ones, enough sub-plots to keep Shakespeare himself busy and a denouement that unfolded like high-speed chess.
The winner of the £425,850 prize, by half a length, was the French-trained 5-6 favourite Hurricane Run, with Electrocutionist, for Godolphin, second and Japanese raider Heart's Cry another half-length third. But the bare result cannot do any justice to the underlying drama in this crucible theatre.
In Hurricane Run's saddle was Christophe Soumillon, replacing the beleaguered Kieren Fallon for the André Fabre-trained colt's owners, the Coolmore axis. Soumillon, the brilliant, confident young Belgian was not only following a hard act but had his own monkey to deal with, having infamously failed to shine on board Ouija Board in the Eclipse Stakes on his last venture onto the Group One stage in this country.
Electrocutionist pulled out stiff yesterday morning in Newmarket after being cast in his box overnight and his participation was confirmed barely an hour before the off, with the caveat that he would be pulled out at the start should Frankie Dettori felt anything amiss. The terrible fate of Horatio Nelson in the Derby was still fresh in the memory but, as it was, the five-year-old's action to post was a fluid joy to watch.
The Godolphin pacemaker Cherry Mix still held the call on the final turn to the short run for home, but behind him the plot was thickening and a collective gasp of consternation arose from the audience, for the first of the five pursuers in trouble was, apparently, Hurricane Run.
Last year's Arc winner, closer to the pace than usual early on, started to drop back with Soumillon at work and with nowhere to go as first Dettori and then Christophe Lemaire on Heart's Cry legitimately held him in place on the rail.
Dettori caught his hare inside the two furlong-marker, but no sooner did Electrocutionist's white face show in front than Heart's Cry went past. The pair set to a duel to which the shades of Grundy and Bustino would have nodded approval, with Electrocutionist lugging left-handed off the far rail as he began to rally, and eyeball his rival.
And there, suddenly, into the gap, came Hurricane Run, answering from nowhere demands from Soumillon that were stringent and urgent enough to earn a six-day ban for whip misuse. And, all out, the four-year-old confirmed himself the middle-distance king again.
There was no time at the business end for Soumillon to give his familiar, cocky, number one index-finger salute before the line was safely passed, but it was there afterwards, and the horse deserved it.
The jockey's reactions were of delight, but also of relief for, as he found out at Sandown, the line is fine between getting it superbly right and horribly wrong.
"I didn't want to be the bad guy who messed up," he said, "but today I was the good guy. I had no choice but to be where I was; I let him jump from the stalls and he took me there. I did not want to upset his rhythm so I let him stride. I knew the others wanted to keep me in so I did not battle for that position either.
"When the horse was short of room and stopped I let him do what he wanted and just played cat and mouse and waited. Then the room came and I knew this horse has such good acceleration that he could get there."
The Godolphin team were magnanimous in defeat by, simply, a better horse. "No excuses, he gave me everything he had," said Dettori. "The Japanese horse went by me and mine showed great determination to get back up. But Hurricane Run had a dream run on the rail and came and beat us both."
And over all, in the winner's enclosure, hung the shadow of the spectre of the player who was not there. "My first thoughts were for Kieren Fallon," said Fabre, winning the great summer showpiece for the first time. "We owe him a lot, as it was he who found out the best way to ride this horse."
Although Fallon cannot ride in Britain after the High Court upheld the decision of racing's authorities to suspend him pending his trial on conspiracy to defraud charges, he is not banned elsewhere and is likely to be back in Hurricane Run's saddle for the tilt at the Longchamp double in October. Today he will be in action in Turkey, riding a horse called Bors in the President's Cup in Istanbul.
And his men are standing by him. "We will be helping him every step of the way," said Coolmore boss John Magnier. "It is up to the lawyers now, but it is far from over. The whole thing is like Alice In Wonderland." Whether a fantastic fairy-tale or a bad dream he did not specify.
BETS OF THE DAY
Regal Velvet (Ascot 4.25) should find compensation from her narrow seasonal-debut defeat, when rather unlucky and ring-rusty against fitter rivals.
If Paradise (Ascot 2.40) has a poor win record, but if the forecast rain arrives he could go well at a price.