Racing: Oratorio cuts down Epsom hero

Eclipse Stakes: Ballydoyle colt lowers Motivator's colours as Dettori breaks collarbone in fall
Click to follow
The Independent Online

The result may have been to the stupefaction of most of the sell-out crowd who had flocked to see an unbeaten Epsom hero continue his royal progress, but Oratorio's performance was no great surprise, apparently, to O'Brien. "We were always confident that he was a top-class horse," he said, "it's just that we'd been disappointed in him in each race up to now. And it's taken us a little time to figure him out. He's idle, and can take any amount of work. He's the sort of horse who would come back from a race heavier than he went. And I'm not sure we've ever had a tougher or sounder one."

Considering O'Brien won the 10-furlong contest five years ago with the so-called iron horse Giant's Causeway, that may be considered praise indeed. Certainly, on a hot, sticky afternoon Oratorio was the coolest customer in the preliminaries, slouching round the parade ring with his neck horizontal and ears almost flopping as famously feisty Motivator's head carriage became increasingly tense and peacocky.

Once the stalls opened, Oratorio's laid-back attitude meant that Kieren Fallon, in his saddle, was the first at work as Johnny Murtagh let Motivator bowl on. The 50-1 outsider Hazyview took over after a quarter of a mile and gave Motivator what seemed a perfect lead into the straight, and when the favourite hit the front two furlongs out with his rider motionless, a huge roar of approbation arose from the stands. But that was as far as the script went to order; almost immediately Murtagh went into drive position and although Motivator went clear there was no semblance of the effortless dominance he had displayed at Epsom. Oratorio began to engage top gear and stay on up the hill. Once he drew level with his rival, Fallon's cheeky look to his right at Murtagh told the story.

"As soon as I got clear of the pack in the straight I was confident I'd take him," Fallon said. "I always thought that if this little guy gives his best, we could do it. A mile and a quarter with an uphill finish was always going to suit him. He's lazy but he's tough and will keep giving." The Italian challenger Altieri wove through the pack to finish a creditable two-and-a-half lengths third without remotely threatening the two three-year-olds, and Hazyview plugged on for fourth. Second-favourite Starcraft, who had behaved appallingly in the paddock, was a disappointing second-last.

Oratorio had finished 25 lengths tenth in the Derby. Yesterday, the Motivator camp were gracious in defeat, proffering not excuses but reasons for the eclipse of their star. For Murtagh, the fast ground was the main one. "He picked up in the straight and cruised to the leader but a furlong out he changed his legs and threw his head in the air," he said. "I think what he wants, basically, is cut in the ground and a mile and a half." Motivator is now dicing for favouritism for the next elite middle-distance test of the season, the King George at Newbury later this month, with Azamour. There is a precedent for a reputation redeemed; Reference Point bounced back from Eclipse defeat to take the greater prize. "He may be off his pedestal," said the vanquished one's trainer Michael Bell, "but he may yet get back on it - a furlong out we were hailing a champion.

"He hasn't run a bad race. To be beaten half a length in the Eclipse is no disgrace. Maybe he was just in front for too long, I don't know. The race went pretty much to plan, but he was just picked up by a good horse. I'm disappointed, obviously. But not distraught."

Like Motivator, Oratorio was a Group One winner as a juvenile and, before and after his Epsom effort, had been placed in the Newmarket and Curragh Guineas and the St James's Palace Stakes at York. A return to a mile now beckons, in the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood. "The big-race atmosphere brings out the best in him, wakes him up," O'Brien added. "All he does is eat and sleep at home. He is an amazing horse."

This Eclipse Stakes was an ill-starred one for Godolphin in the build-up, with a career-ending injury to Shamardal - who had trounced Oratorio at York - in the 48 hours before the race. The blues' luck did not change on the day; stable jockey Frankie Dettori broke a collarbone in a horror fall from Celtic Mill in the opener and faces weeks on the sidelines.