Racing: McPeek enjoys second sight of Hard Bucks

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The Independent Online

Sheikh Mohammed briefly picked up his binoculars as the field streamed into the straight. He scarcely needed to have troubled himself, and duly put them down again almost immediately. No need for viewing aids here.

The only belated excitement was whether, in the slipstream of the triumphant Doyen, his Godolphin stablemate Sulamani could get up for second to complete a remarkable one-two for the stables they refer to as "The Boys in Blue".

In fact, despite running a fine race, with the prevailing fast ground apparently against him, Sulamani just failed to overtake the American visitor Hard Buck.

The Sheikh, and other members of the ruling Maktoum family of Dubai and their acolytes - with their team of over 200 horses worldwide and whose Godolphin operation have harvested this race four times previously - could afford to be magnanimous about losing that runners-up position.

Certainly, the Sheikh loves to win, any prize, but the man who makes a habit of garnering the world's leading showpiece races, places that desire only marginally above his wish for the development of international competition.

He couldn't have been more delighted for Kenny McPeek than the Kentucky trainer himself in his own far-sightedness.

Some will submit that this wasn't a classic renewal of the marvellous inter-age race, first introduced in 1951, and they may be correct. But that will not trouble the 41-year-old McPeek, who, in his twenties was supposed to start work as a stockbroker in New York, but went to Belmont Park racecourse instead. Hard Buck's £165,000 second prize is not to be sniffed at. It sound even better in hard bucks. But mostly, he will be thrilled that his initiative has paid off.

American sportsmen - golfers apart, and even them sometimes - have often been parochial in their thinking, but McPeek had no qualms about this transAtlantic adventure with the Brazilian-bred five-year-old. It was six years ago, that he read some articles about major European courses and races. "I saved them all and thought if I ever get the chance, I'm going to go there. What's there to be scared of? Why not go? It's not life or death - it's just a horserace. It's fun, and I don't have anything to lose.

"The logistics of coming here are quite complicated and so much depends on the help you can get. We have been wonderfully looked after," he said.

The horse, purchased by McPeek himself, having travelled two and half hours outside Rio de Janeiro to find him, was partnered by Gary Stevens, who appeared in the movie Seabiscuit, and just briefly, he must have believed that his mount, already winner of the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup earlier this year, would establish himself in a similar starring role.

But once in the straight, there was only one victor, with Frankie Dettori accepting the almost hysterical acclaim of the faithful well before the line. Yet, Hard Buck, generously priced at 33-1, stayed the 12 furlong valiantly and McPeek maintained: "I am very proud of what we have achieved and we will be back. From the moment I first saw this horse I was sure that he was up to winning in the best company in the world, and I am delighted with what he has done here."

McPeek had an interesting tactical strategy that appeared to have more in keeping with a New York police precinct than a British racecourse. "I told Gary to keep an eye out for Doyen and the plan was for Hard Buck to try to eyeball him, but he just came past us and swept away. What a fantastic horse he is."

The trainer, who stabled the runner-up at Geoff Wragg's Newmarket yard, added: "We shall look at the Arc [Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, for which he is around 20-1] and the big races in Germany. If he is in the same form in 12 months' time as he has been in the lead-up to this race today, we shall certainly be back. This is a good race for us to target."

McPeek has now saddled his charges to finish second in the Kentucky Derby, the Kentucky Oaks, the Breeders' Cup and now here. "I would like to think that one of those races has my name on it somewhere," he reflected.