Racing: Rakti the last star before Ascot reopens
Monday 27 September 2004
He can be the horse from hell, but there is also a divine quality about Rakti, the hottest ticket in town following his sublime success in Ascot's Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at the weekend.
If allowed, the five-year-old is little more than a bully. He welcomes visitors to his quarters at Newmarket's Kremlin House stables as you might greet a burglar. If he gets a chance, Rakti will hurt you.
Whenever he runs there is a great sense of fire. Occasionally he self-immolates, such as in the Eclipse, but when he harnesses the great energy which burns inside his monstrous body he is a compelling figure. So it was on Saturday at Ascot. In fewer than 100 seconds, Rakti opened up all manner of possibilities with a top level victory over a mile.
The devil for this devil is now in the detail. Michael Jarvis, who could not be more physically or emotionally removed from his wild beast of a horse, now seems to be sending out hourly amendments to Rakti's future engagements. So where next will we seen the nasty horse in Gary Tanaka's green and yellow colours bearing the incongruous affectation of a pom-pom on Philip Robinson's cap? There should be a skull and crossbones fluttering up there.
England, it seems, can be ruled out as what remains comes too quickly. In addition, the post-race hubris about a trip to the Breeders' Cup seemed to be disappearing with the Sunday lunch yesterday. "The owner is in New York and I spoke to him briefly last night," Jarvis said. "We haven't made any firm decision on the horse's next race, but I think we can say it won't be the Champion Stakes - that would mean him having run three times in five weeks, and I don't think that's on."
The Breeders' Cup this year is all about Lone Star, which refers not to the dearth of talent at racing's self-proclaimed Olympics (nothing could be further from the truth), but rather the Texas venue for the end-of-season north American championships. Jarvis's preliminary homework has hardly emboldened him. "I would have some concerns about the track in America," he said. "Obviously I haven't been there, but with a maximum of 14 it sounds to me as though it is very sharp, like Chester [it is actually a bit tighter] and we all know what happens to outside horses there, so we are in a bit of a quandary where we go next.
"I think the Champion comes a bit quick and I would be worried about the track at the other one. So it's a possibility he might go to Japan or we might even wait for Hong Kong."
It is to be hoped that Jarvis can be persuaded to rethink the United States. There is always a fragrance about members of a European team beating a mighty American corps, whatever the sport, and this year's Breeders' Cup has the piquancy of being held in George Bush's home state three days before the election.
The composition of Team Europe will become much clearer after the extended card of excellence on Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe afternoon at Longchamp on Sunday. While that demolition team is forming another will already be at the wrecking ball at Ascot.
There is much to admire about the racecourse's grand design, not least the new grandstand itself, which will rise like an immense greenhouse out of the Berkshire soil in time for the 2006 Royal Ascot. Even if we will not miss the fading old lady of the present buildings, it seems somehow odd that the stands which have been witness to historic days over the last 40 years are disappearing.
At the same time, Ascot's signature races are being farmed out elsewhere. The King George & Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Newbury is still a concept waiting to be unravelled, while the functionality of Royal Ascot at York is also a foreign notion and that is before they have even worked out how to get people on and off the Knavesmire.
Now it is the time for mementos. Frankie Dettori has carried away the first position post on the not unreasonable grounds that he has used it more often than anyone else recently. Others will be allowed a sod of turf from the winners' enclosure this week. For most, the less tangible comfort blanket of golden memories will have to be the sustenance of the next 21 months.
The sound of hooves at Ascot will be replaced by the echoes of destruction. It will probably feel a very long time until we are allowed to congregate back at perhaps the world's most celebrated racecourse.
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