Mass was abruptly cancelled in a Mayo village yesterday when the priest got hold of a ticket to see the county's Gaelic footballers seek their first All-Ireland Championship in half a century. That was his story, anyhow, but it would have taken a man of unworldly resolve to drive past the Curragh on the sunny afternoon when Teofilo and Holy Roman Emperor squared up for the right to be called the best young colt in Ireland.
It is commonplace in racing for such showdowns to raise more questions than they answer, but the Laing O'Rourke National Stakes was settled with pleasing clarity. Teofilo won decisively, the pair clear, and is transparently qualified to maintain the recent litany of champions to have won this race - among them George Washington, Dubawi, Refuse To Bend, Hawk Wing, Sinndar and King Of Kings.
Having only scrambled home from another Ballydoyle colt on his last visit here, Teofilo was this time escorted by a pacemaker. A level pace ensued, Teofilo bounding along in his slipstream, while Kieren Fallon settled Holy Roman Emperor on his heels.
The stage was set, both colts ideally placed to play to their strengths. The hefty, unyielding galloper took command two furlongs out under Kevin Manning, and Fallon launched his glitzy little fireball after him. Entering a seventh furlong for the first time, however, it was already apparent that Holy Roman Emperor would not be able to cut down Teofilo with his usual conceited air.
Instead he was already probing for fresh reserves, and it soon became obvious that he lacked stamina to mount any kind of challenge, Teofilo maintaining an advantage of a length and a quarter to the line. "He's learning all the time," Manning observed. "The last couple of races were a bit messy but he was very professional off an even pace today. He was always on top, and going away at the line."
John Magnier was quick to congratulate Jim Bolger - the trainer and indeed breeder of Teofilio - and little wonder. If he was disappointed to see his own colt beaten, he could console himself that Coolmore Stud has opened up another goldmine in Galileo, the young sire of Teofilio.
"If he wants to be the next Triple Crown horse I'm not going to stand in his way!" Bolger exclaimed. "Judging by the way Galileo got three or four of them home in the St Leger, we'd be expecting Teofilio to get a mile and a half anyway. But the Guineas will be his priority."
Bolger has been immoderate throughout in his praise of this horse, satisfied that he is superior even to St Jovite, who lost his unbeaten record in this same race in 1991, but ran away with the Irish Derby and King George the following summer. "He's the best I've had - after that, I don't know," he reiterated. "I expect him to go all the way."
Bolger will now take him abroad for the first time, either to Longchamp for the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardère or to Newmarket for the Dewhurst Stakes. What makes Teofilo such a rousing prospect is that he is entitled, by every measure, to make an even better three-year-old. As Manning put it: "There's plenty more horse there." He is 13-2 favourite from 14-1 with the sponsor for the Stan James 2,000 Guineas.
Aidan O'Brien, trainer of Holy Roman Emperor, was magnanimous when asked if he had any excuses. "Afraid not," he said. "The winner's very special - a big, rangy horse, but with strength and a good step on him. You wouldn't mind dropping our horse back, even to five furlongs, but I definitely would not take anything away from the winner."
He had been foiled with another odds-on favourite the previous day when Kastoria pounced on Yeats in the Irish St Leger, and plans to go for the Melbourne Cup are now in abeyance. "Two and a half miles at Ascot in high summer was Yeats's Derby this year and it may be that he wants a little break," O'Brien said. "We'll know more in a few days."
And perhaps he would be happy enough to trade both the prizes that eluded him for success in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot on Saturday. George Washington is 6-4 favourite with Ladbrokes, from Librettist on 3-1. Court Masterpiece is 5-1 and Araafa 6-1.
O'Brien made do with the two Listed races on yesterday's card, Ivan Denisovich being indebted to a ride of vintage bravura from Fallon, and Brave Tin Soldier lining himself up for a possible crack at the Middle Park Stakes. Things could have been worse, then. It is not as if O'Brien supports Mayo.
Nap: Munaddam (Folkestone 4.00)
NB: Cross The Line (Kempton 4.50)Reuse content