Racing: Motivator prepares to take on Azamour

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The Independent Online

Whither now, Azamour? John Oxx's colt laid solid claim to be the best horse in Europe in the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes on Saturday and opponents will now have to form an orderly queue in an attempt to tip the crown.

The Irish Champion Stakes and perhaps the swatting of the only category not to have produced a pretender to take on the monarch is almost certainly next. The Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe has already been mentioned in dispatches, but Parisian autumns are prone to coming up with the soft ground which is perhaps Azamour's only enemy.

So it may not be France but the United States and the Breeders' Cup Turf at Belmont in October that sees Azamour's swansong.

Indeed, we are lucky to have Azamour at all this season. When the Aga Khan has a successful three-year-old he is as likely to put them away as a swig of mineral water. We must rejoice in this aberration of policy.

The one element that was meant to harm Azamour on Saturday was his inability to see out the 12-furlong trip. In reality, his class allowed him to accomplish the distance best of all. The four-year-old appeared to win easily, a vision confirmed by his wellbeing at his Co Kildare digs yesterday. "He is in absolutely wonderful form. He flew home on Saturday night and is in great shape," Caitriona Oxx, wife of the trainer John, said. "He trotted out and acts as if he has not even had a race."

It must have been a quite dispiriting bulletin for those behind the other outstanding horses in Europe this year. Azamour blew the dust off the record books in the 55th running of the King George, breaking a Newbury distance record which had stood for over 50 years.

Next up for Azamour at Leopardstown is a meeting with Motivator who, though he forfeited his unbeaten record in the Eclipse Stakes, his seconds have not been cowed. The Derby winner has been given time off since his Sandown surrender and connections have observed a horse turning from a relative weakling into Charles Atlas. They expect him to be the one kicking sand now.

"He has done particularly well," Harry Herbert, racing manager to Motivator's owners, the Royal Ascot Racing Club, said yesterday. "I have never seen a horse look better as a physical specimen. He is nicely covered, his skin looks amazing and he looks magnificent standing in his box.

"By giving him this break we are hopeful of a successful autumn campaign. Azamour will have everybody quaking in their boots but that is what it is all about - there are no hiding places from these horses. Ireland and then on to the Arc is the preferred option."

Team Motivator may have lost nothing in hyperbole, but soon they will be up against some serious customers. Oxx is a figure who looks mildly ecclesiatic or clerical and, in keeping with learned figures, he knows his place. The quiet man is proof that you do not have to become a fool if you win a couple of decent horse races. In addition, unlike the vast body of trainers, he has something to say outside the topic of horseracing.

It is rather odd to categorise Oxx as a coming man at the age of 55. But, this century he has already delivered us the millennium wonder Sinndar, the first horse to win the Derby, its Irish equivalent and the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in the same season, as well as Alamshar, who won the Irish Derby and King George two years ago. Now the baton is carried by Azamour.

Also there is the jockey Michael Kinane, who may have lost a little physically over his 46 years, but there is no diminution in his big-race nerve. The character with the barbed-wire ginger eyebrows was happy to sit off a burning pace at Newbury on Saturday and allow the theatre to evolve in front of him.

Kinane would not be ideal as a children's entertainer, but rather more effective when engaged as a rider on the most emotional of occasions. He is principally fired these days by the thought of having been fired, the urge to prove Ballydoyle wrong for sacking him two seasons ago. It is a sentiment he managed to convey brilliantly to Azamour.