Racing: Magnificent Dettori puts Doyen on route to join true champions
Monday 26 July 2004
It is hard to imagine now, but Saturday's King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes was posted as a sub-standard version of racing's all-aged summer championship. Sub-standard, though, for just over two and a half minutes, the time it took Doyen to suggest he might be the next behemoth of the turf, the time it took to marvel at his capacities.
Doyen was simply magnificent. He did everything right. He consented to Frankie Dettori's messages when he would like to have gone faster. He found the space when asked for the discovery, and then he bounded clear. Cleanly and decisively in a way which captures the imagination in a championship contest.
Doyen now follows the rich line of Lammtarra, Swain and Daylami which has established a substantial King George vein for its Godolphin masters, and the uplifting news is that the latest heir by no means pales in comparison with his forebears. It was a gratifying announcement for all those who deal in racing dreams.
Doyen is on the production line from the flashiest factory. Godolphin specialise in graduating talented older horses to become brand leaders across the globe. The latest to go through the scrubbing, washing and buffing is no different. Doyen was a colt waiting to happen last season, when his surge through the ranks was halted only when he hit the equine monoliths. He screamed promise.
In the winter in Dubai, he was, as his former trainer André Fabre had warned, not a model horse to deal with. He was still young, immature and unprepared for competition at its most rarified. "He was lost," Simon Crisford, the Godolphin racing manager, said.
Doyen, though, has now been discovered. It was not too much of a clever operation either. Godolphin have the riches, patience and experience to understand that nothing prepares horse better than nature. The colt was left alone and allowed to step forward from the echelon himself. Doyen did so first in the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot, the first spurt. Saturday was the gusher and now there is no more charismatic horse in world racing.
Doyen, and this often happens with the mighty, won twice. He was also the victor in the catwalk parade of the paddock. Not by poise or calm it must be said. The four-year-old was a bulging powder keg of a performer, and the fuse was fairly low.
His eyes suggested madness and any insects in his vicinity buzzed away swiftly. Doyen fly-kicked his way around the saddling area as if the devil was on his tail. Races can be planned, but rarely does the reality unfold as it did at the weekend. Ted Durcan set the early perfect storm on the pacemaker Lunar Sovereign, and the perfection was that it was not a storm at all.
The Godolphin outrider started off in leisurely fashion and then cranked up the show on the turn into the straight. This rhythm allowed Doyen to be placed at his best. He was always just off the lead, tanking along, his neck arched like a sea horse. Two furlongs out, came the tsunami. Two furlongs out, the fuse reached the munitions.
Doyen went three lengths clear of the American horse, Hard Buck, but the manner as much as the statistic impressed. The attractive animal spread himself low over the turf and stretched, while Dettori waved his stick but did not apply it. It was an afternoon when the jockey reached his 2,000th winner and one more in the King George.
His odyssey continues and it may be that the greatest lies ahead. Dettori has always been a jockey of distinction, but there have been occasions when the occasion itself has been too much. Saturday was different.
He did not hustle Doyen, he did not rush. When the horse was in the clear, there was no inclination either to beat and make sure. Dettori knows that things are only getting better. He kissed his fingers and thanked the heavens, either for this solitary huge success or the life fate that has been prepared for him.
The Italian can look forward to an immediate future which includes the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown, a race which would demand a step down to 10 furlongs. On the evidence of Saturday, there would be few considering that an imposition for Doyen.
"Doyen's in good form and now we will have to make and finalise plans for him in the next few weeks. We may well go to Ireland and we wouldn't be worried about dropping in trip," Crisford said yesterday. Expectations are not going the same way.
Indeed, team Dubai is feeling understandably rosy as the emphasis switches to the late-season senior section in which they have been so proficient in seasons past. The two-year-olds have performed, as have the Classic horses, and now we have Doyen, and to a lesser extent, Saturday's third, Sulamani.
"The King George is always a hard race, but they have come back safe and sound," Crisford added. "Sulamani is fine, and hopefully now we can find some suitable options for him in the next few months."
If the excellence of the victor was a surprise, then the secondary astonishment was the effort of the American horse, Hard Buck, who showed ability and toil to hold off Sulamani for the runner-up spot. It came at odds of 33-1.
So emboldened were connections by this effort that there are thoughts of returning to Europe for the the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp at the beginning of October.
"He's great this morning and he came out of the race very well," Ken McPeek, the trainer, said yesterday. "The Sword Dancer Handicap at Saratoga on 11 August is a possible American target. We were delighted with his run as a kind of first experiment. We were really pleased. "But that winner was something else. He was really something."
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