Racing: Washington defeat fails to dismay O'Brien

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The Independent Online

If only the black-and-white result is taken into account, George Washington's third place behind Caradak and Killybegs in yesterday's Celebration Mile could be considered disappointing. But viewed in more three-dimensional shades of grey, the charismatic, mercurial colt's return to action after a three-month injury-enforced break was probably every bit as satisfactory as it could have been.

Certainly, his trainer Aidan O'Brien thought so, and more. Post-race, the intense Irishman could hardly contain his pleasure and relief of having the 2,000 Guineas winner come back safe, sound and sane. Much is always expected by the public of a superstar, but those closest to this one tend to ignore the hype and take a more pragmatic view.

This Goodwood comeback represented first steps, both in terms of the rehabilitation of an athlete with the potential to harvest far greater prizes over the next few months and a getting-to-know-you exercise between him and new jockey Mick Kinane, Kieren Fallon's replacement.

George Washington's arrogance and feistiness has been well-documented but his temperament held up well. Apart from some pawing and reversing while being saddled, and a moment's token resistance as he was led towards the stalls, the strong-minded bay behaved with sense and increasing maturity.

O'Brien had been granted permission to use a mounted stablemate as an escort for his lordship from parade ring to course, before another, his pacemaker River Tiber, took over comfort blanket duties on the canter across the Sussex Downs to the start.

So far, so good, but perhaps too good. For as the stalls opened, George Washington, the 5-6 favourite, forgot that he was a racehorse and stood still, Hamlet-style. It was only for a couple of beats, but he was left four lengths and, detached from the field, ran into Kinane's hands with the choke out. River Tiber was a dozen lengths clear turning to the straight, but his pursuers had more or less ignored him. Asked for an effort a quarter of a mile from home, George Washington put his head up and veered slightly left, but then remembered his job and engaged his mighty stride to close on the leaders before ring-rustiness told. He was a length and a quarter adrift at the line, with the first two split by a short-head.

"It wasn't about winning today, it was about doing things right, and I was delighted with that," said O'Brien. "The start was unfortunate, but Mick was trying to get him to relax. We had the pacemaker in there to give a consistent true gallop. We thought the field would follow the pacemaker and George would follow the field, and that didn't quite go to plan either.

"He was always going to be fresh, and what we were afraid of happening, did happen. It was really only in the last furlong that he got going but I would much rather have seen him finishing than not finishing."

Before the race the son of Danehill, who had not raced since finishing second in the Irish 2,000 Guineas 92 days previously, looked fit enough, but with enough left to work on. "He tore muscles from the top of his pelvis," said O'Brien, "and had five weeks box-rest. This was the first time he'd galloped off the bridle since he last raced and with this run under his belt he'll ready for it, and hopefully he will be OK tomorrow. We won't need a pacemaker next time."

It may seem churlish to exclude the winner of a Group 2 contest in favour of a loser, so all credit to Caradak, who brought further cheer to the Godolphin team, and to his rider Frankie Dettori. The Italian had most of his racing trophies stolen when his house was burgled at the weekend. "I expected the two good horses to come through," said Dettori, "but they didn't, so me and Michael [Hills, on Killybegs] made the best of our way to the winning post. Mine is a tremendous battler."

But the real delight of the weekend for Sheikh Mohammed will have been the display by his US-based Bernardini in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga on Saturday night. The colt established himself as the best dirt three-year-old, with a devastating seven-length rout in the Grade 1 contest.

Chris McGrath

Nap: Good Man Again (Cartmel 3.30)

NB: Croon (Epsom 4.00)