Racing: O'Brien aim is to make a man out of Washington
Monday 29 May 2006
It seems obvious that Jeremy Noseda will add other Classics to the one he won at the Curragh on Saturday, so it must be hoped that he is not too affronted if his breakthrough is neglected. The fact is that Araafa does not have the slightest hope of wresting attention away from George Washington unless he beats him again at Royal Ascot next month.
Imagine a cook in the Great War somehow producing the perfect soufflé on a stove in the trenches. His pride should not suffer too much if everyone remained more interested by the man trying to lob back a grenade before it explodes.
In its frivolous environment, the incendiary talent of George Washington has created one of the most compelling spectacles of recent years. Anyone following his career is learning a lot about horses, and a great deal about Aidan O'Brien.
Those accustomed to the gentle, polite formulae of his post-race briefings will have been struck by O'Brien's vivid analysis of George Washington's egotistical display in the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket. And yesterday, reflecting on defeat in the local version, the trainer was once again moved into sharing precious insights.
O'Brien and his patrons at Coolmore Stud knew that they were looking for trouble when allowing the colt to take his place on Saturday. The ground was described by one veteran rider as the worst he had experienced at the Curragh, and George Washington had strongly suggested at Newmarket not only that he barely stays a mile on fast going, but also that he might resist any task flavoured with attrition.
The wiseguys knew what to expect. George Washington would be scratched at the 11th hour. Indeed, he would never be seen again. His fragile temperament would instead be soothed by a promiscuous stud career.
Yet here he was, yawning as he strolled round the pre-parade ring. When O'Brien appeared with a saddle, he recognised the cue for a few favourite pranks. He refused to enter the parade ring arch, and was led in the back way. Then, once mounted, he declined to leave. The other three Ballydoyle runners tried to shepherd him out, but he surveyed them with mockery. Finally, maximising the humiliation of the helpless champion on his back, he consented to exit the ring in reverse.
Sure enough, in the race he betrayed obvious impatience with Fallon's use of the whip and Araafa, responding to a positive ride from Alan Munro, held him by two lengths. In fairness, George Washington had made a generous move from the rear against a quickening pace. Some felt Fallon set him too much to do, but the jockey was in a no-win situation. He had got there too soon at Newmarket, and needed to conserve stamina here.
The outcome was so predictable that the same wiseguys should hesitate before routinely detecting cynical commercialism in Coolmore. Instead they should ponder O'Brien's animation as he promised that George Washington, far from being hidden, will be campaigned as aggressively as possible.
"George is a teenager who has his own ideas," he explained. "But you can't confront him, can't just give him a clip round the ear. It's not like you could do that and then sit down with him, and explain why you did it, and that if he does it again he'd get another one. With a horse, you'd risk making him resentful. And once you've done that, the show's over.
"That's why we ran on Saturday. We had to catch the bull by the horns. We knew it wasn't his ground, that he would get tired. But he's never been tired in his life. He needed to be shown a bit of hardship, to be given a reality check. And I hope it will be the making of him.
"I was delighted by the way he took the race. He walked out of the unsaddling ring like a man, and he licked the pot clean at home.
"Forget about winning the race. It's not about winning, it's about making the horse. This horse is going to improve for racing and we will take him everywhere he can go, from six furlongs up. I'm looking forward to it."
Nap: Double Spectre (Sandown 5.05)
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