This was all proved here on Town Moor in the Doncaster Cup yesterday. Millenary had dead-heated with Kasthari in the Group One contest 12 months ago. This time he kept it all for himself and he did so most thrillingly, gliding to the front with a serenity which belied his eight years. The light is not yet dying.
This was a triumph also for the brinkmanship of jockey Richard Quinn, who held on to Millenary for as long as he could before popping in to the lead at the end of an 18-furlong journey. Yet Quinn recognises it has to be this way when he meets up with this particular trouper, that he has to adopt the SAS motto every time he throws his leg over his well-seasoned partner.
The mission, which he also accepts, is to keep Millenary as near as possible to a complete sensory shutdown in a race, to preserve his energy for the other end of the event. Thus it was yesterday, even if there was an unwitting conspirator unsettling the partnership.
Early on, High Action and Cover Up splashed away at the front, while the formidable shape of the favourite, Distinction, kept them covered. Out at the back was an old horse seemingly less than enthused by the exercise set him.
Millenary was slightly detached and apparently resenting both the effort of competition and the driving rain in his face. Yet the faithful could console themselves with the thought that we had seen this illusion before, when he came from last to first in the Lonsdale Cup at York last month.
"Down the back, about a mile and a quarter out, I heard the truck that was following us splashing through the puddles," Quinn reported. "That just kept setting my fella alight a little bit and I kept wishing he would just bugger off.
"They made it a proper gallop and, five out, they had me stretched a little bit. But, two and a half out, it felt like I was coming good and they were starting to stop."
Distinction appeared to hit a patch of quicksand at this point, allowing Kasthari and then Sergeant Cecil a piece of the action up front. Yet, while their muddy hooves slogged away, there was another tiptoeing easily in behind. Millenary's blinkered head poked easily into the lead inside the final furlong and he danced away for a three-quarters of a length success.
Millenary is now a very different beast from the disenchanted animal we saw at the start of the campaign. It seemed his time had come.
"He really is in cracking form now, though he certainly wasn't at the start of the season and, at one time, I had almost despaired of him," 66-year-old Dunlop admitted, adding that he had rarely enjoyed the denouement of a race as much. "Richard sat, sat, sat so long that I had no idea if we were ever going to go at all. But then he picked up beautifully. He's a grand old horse."
And so a dreary afternoon had been illuminated by a greybeard, one which has now completed 34 starts and earned over £700,000 in prize-money. The odyssey is not yet over and Millenary may have yet again suspended a retirement date we have been anticipating since he showed a liking for the Ridings air when successful in a St Leger run when the millennium was still relatively new.
"He had every right to win because he was the only Classic winner in the field," Quinn added. "He's got class and a turn of foot. That sets him apart from a stayer."
NB: Cheap N Chic