People always say the same about horses: "If only they could talk... " In the case of George Washington, however, there is not the slightest mystery. We know exactly what he would say, because we have seen a man just like him.
If he could talk, George Washington would have arrived at the starting gate at Newmarket on Saturday, and picked out the unbeaten Sir Percy. "There's not a horse alive that can whup me," he would have boasted to that sweating, coiled colt. "I'm too fast. I'm too pretty. I should have been a postage stamp. That's the only way I'll ever get licked." And he would have turned to Horatio Nelson, his Ballydoyle stablemate, and scoffed. "I'll beat him so bad, he'll need a shoehorn to put his hat on."
In George Washington, racing has found itself a Muhammad Ali - a prizefighter whose brutal ego can only be forgiven because of the ethereal athleticism that sustains it.
You might have to wait many years for the sort of cocksure exhibition he produced before, during and after the Stan James 2,000 Guineas. Remarkably, on a day that electrified the racing year, it was only eight hours later that another colt volunteered for the role of Joe Frazier - and in the very same city that gave us Ali.
The Americans have thirsted 28 years for another Triple Crown winner and will be disappointed if the sensational success of Barbaro in the 132nd Kentucky Derby proves another mirage. He did not feel the whip in stretching six and a half lengths clear, a margin unmatched since Assault won by eight in 1946.
Animals being animals, it is difficult to imagine both colts retaining their present lustre until the Breeders' Cup, which is this year also held in Louisville. Yet there is already a bewitching sense of destiny about their emergence.
Astonishingly, both were bred by Roy and Gretchen Jackson. They still own Barbaro, whose ultimate target would presumably be the Breeders' Cup Classic. George Washington's pedigree would not make him an obvious candidate for that race, either in terms of distance or surface. Certainly he will be kept to a mile for his next start, and it is easier to picture him dropping in trip. But who knows? By November, he might have very little to lose by going after Barbaro in his own backyard.
On Saturday he blew his rivals apart with a single, savage punch. Martin Dwyer, riding Sir Percy, had repeatedly looked over his shoulder during the race, anxiously looking for the dark blue silks of Kieren Fallon. "I couldn't see him," he said afterwards. "But then I heard Kieren whistling at his horse and I knew we were in trouble."
George Washington had been a bear to saddle, backing into trees and rails as Aidan O'Brien followed him around like an elaborately calm parent. In the race, the colt still had a furlong to run after bursting clear and Fallon gave him a left-handed slap to keep him focused. The colt swayed resentfully towards the far rail, his ears pinned flat. As soon as they passed the post, and Fallon left him alone, he pricked his ears. Not even his corner man was allowed to mess with the champ.
Then, infamously, he refused to enter the winner's enclosure. "He doesn't believe any horse or human being should tell him what to do," O'Brien said. "We never had a colt with such a domineering instinct. In the barn he can intimidate other horses just by looking at them. Other horses get out of his way."
Sir Percy bravely crawled off the canvas and saw off the pack. Unsurprisingly, he was yesterday described by his trainer as "a bit tired", but will now head to the Vodafone Derby, for which he is now Coral's 5-1 joint- favourite with Visindar. Olympian Odyssey, third after setting the pace, may also go to Epsom.
As for the winner, he arrived prey to many doubts, not least the sluggish form of the stable. But those who had seen him sparring never had any doubt and he was heavily backed going to post. All credit to O'Brien and his patrons at Coolmore. At 1.15m guineas, George Washington was the most expensive European yearling of his generation - Sir Percy cost just 16,000 - and now he has every right to be marketed as heir to his late sire, Danehill.
Granted that delicate temperament, it would be churlish to complain if he is raced very sparingly from now on. O'Brien confirmed yesterday that he would either go for the Irish Guineas or wait for Royal Ascot, and that ideally he would give him as much time as possible between races. After all, Louisville is a long way off. And what happens there could well end up on a postage stamp.
Going: Good to Firm (Firm in places)
1. GEORGE WASHINGTON (K Fallon) 6-4 fav; 2. Sir Percy 4-1; 3. Olympian Odyssey 33-1. 14 ran. 2 1/ 2, 1 1/ 2. (A P O'Brien). Tote: £2.70; £1.50, £2.00, £7.00. Exacta: £11.00. CSF: £6.58. Trifecta: £346.70.
1. BARBARO (E S Prado) 13-2; 2. Bluegrass Cat 30-1; 3. Steppenwolfer 18-1. 20 ran. 6 1/ 2, 2. (Michael Matz).Reuse content