Racing: Washington is just capital

Ballydoyle maestro O'Brien steals show with champions of today and tomorrow
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The Independent Online

George Washington, once a riddle wrapped in an enigma inside a mystery, emerged here yesterday with perfect clarity as simply the best miler in Europe. Since winning the 2,000 Guineas impressively back in the spring, the feisty pride of Ballydoyle had suffered injury, defeat and insults about his character, but those aspersions and doubts are now laid to rest.

"He's grown up great in every way," said his trainer Aidan O'Brien after the colt's nonchalant, decisive defeat of old rival Araafa in the divisional title decider, the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes. In the preliminaries George Washington, the 13-8 favourite, was the object of every eye. Apart from a moment's token defiance, when he declined to be tacked up in the confines of the saddling boxes, he was perfectly amenable, allowing O'Brien to deal with his pre-race toilet in the open air with his pacemaker and comfort blanket River Tiber standing by.

And butter continued not to melt in his mouth at the other possible flashpoints, the parade ring, the parade in front of the stands, the starting stalls. In the race itself Mick Kinane settled him behind the strong gallop set by River Tiber, took closer order in the straight as Killybegs and then Araafa took over in front and cut down the leader inside the final furlong to win by two and a quarter lengths, barely off the bridle.

The only heartbeat moment came when Court Masterpiece, ultimately third, threatened to block Kinane's manoeuvre off the rails, but George Washington's change of gear and sheer pace took him into the clear in a matter of a couple of strides. "He was an absolute gentleman today," said the veteran jockey. "It was a proper run race and I was able to do what I wanted when I wanted. He was barely out of a half-speed and is an exceptional horse." That, too, is the view of O'Brien, though he was reluctant to wax too lyrical. "I don't want to be accused of hyping him," he said of the three-year-old, "but everyone saw it today. He's been a brilliant horse since day one and he has it all still, and more. It's his pace that makes him special, and his stride, and his movement. Mick was able to ride a Group One race just like a piece of work." There was a slight sting in the tail for the O'Brien stable; Seamus Heffernan, on the second string Ivan Denisovich, earned a 14-day ban for improper riding after an incident on the home turn, in which six-placed Librettist, ridden by Frankie Dettori, was forced wide.

The incident led to a dispute between O'Brien and Dettori. O'Brien pleaded with stewards' secretary Adrian Sharpe after the officials decided Heffernan's action was deliberate. Dettori boiled over when O'Brien tried to talk to him ."It's out of order," the Italian said. O'Brien continued to plead with Sharpe and said: "They've given Seamus two weeks for doing nothing. All he did was hold his position. Frankie stated it was foul play on our part and that we ganged up on him, but that was not the case." Asked if he would appeal, O'Brien said: "What's the point?"

George Washington will next attempt to demonstrate his powers in Kentucky's Breeders' Cup Mile next month before he retires to stud. There will be scant chance of a horse like him, whose brilliance is managed on a knife-edge, delighting his public for a further season.

"There is too much risk," said O'Brien. "If he had an accident, then you'd lose the wonderful genes that make him what he is, and which we want him to pass on to the future generations, forever." In the world of human athletics a mile, or its metric equivalent, is regarded as the blue riband distance, but horses generally have to run further than that before they are considered true greats, so to be hailed as champion over eight furlongs is an accolade with qualifications.

George Washington is by the late Coolmore resident Danehill, whose talents on the track were expressed over sprint distances. Danehill also sired the winners of both the juvenile features here yesterday, the O'Brien-trained colt Admiralofthefleet and Jeremy Noseda's filly Simply Perfect. Two-year-old colts who win over a mile tend not to be the stars over that distance the following year and after Admiralofthefleet's workmanlike success in the Royal Lodge Stakes talk was of the Derby, rather than the 2,000 Guineas.

Simply Perfect provided some consolation in advance for Araafa's trainer Jeremy Noseda as she battled past Treat to get a Group One success on her CV in the Fillies Mile, a reliable pointer to elite performers of the future. She had to survive a stewards' inquiry after crossing her rival and prompting histrionics from Jamie Spencer. "I knew I was clear of him," grinned winning jockey Darryll Holland, "and I told him afterwards Steven Spielberg was on the phone."

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