Racing: Washington takes top billing in Irish drama

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The Independent Online

On a day when much attention will be claimed by the resumption of racing at Ascot, it falls to the most theatrical colt of recent years to remind everyone that a great actor is bigger than any stage.

George Washington could hardly find a less flattering environment than the Curragh, with its fatigued stands and heavy ground, and it does seem remarkable that an animal of such precarious temperament is being exposed to what could prove a brutish test in the Boylesports Irish 2,000 Guineas.

Certainly he showed a pronounced instinct for melodrama when beating a stronger field in the equivalent Classic at Newmarket. Having hurtled through the pack on the bridle, he made his resentment plain when Kieren Fallon had the temerity to give him a slap, and then refused to enter the winner's enclosure. There is never a dull moment with George Washington, and doubtless he will again have Aidan O'Brien chasing him round the saddling boxes like Benny Hill.

O'Brien affectionately ascribes his champion's behaviour to "arrogance". Others retain darker suspicions, and the truth will unquestionably be revealed today. It was quite plain at Newmarket that a mile is the absolute limit of George Washington's stamina, and the going was very firm there. He must deal with a colt proven in taxing ground, and it is hard to be confident about his response unless he can outclass Decado on the bridle.

In a sense, both Ascot and George Washington must treat today as a necessary ordeal, qualifying each to gild the other in more suitable fashion next month. Assuming George Washington emerges unscathed, he is likely to head for the St James's Palace Stakes at the royal meeting, by which time the new grandstand will have effaced the scars of construction that apparently linger today.

Indeed, this meeting is being billed as a dry run for an official reopening on 20 June. Finishing touches are still to be applied to the £200m redevelopment, and entry is by invitation only, but the course is certainly entitled to public patience. The 20-month schedule of the project was nearly as ambitious as its architecture, yet silk toppers will unquestionably be back at Ascot when hard hats remain de rigueur at Wembley.

The turf laid in the new straight has thirstily absorbed the deluges of the week - it is softer on the round course - and it seems reckless to anticipate any draw advantage in the Totesport Victoria Cup. Keep an eye on the Walter Swinburn-trained Pinpoint, who could return for the Royal Hunt Cup over an extra furlong next month, by which time his stable will hope to be in better form.

A far more interesting proposition is the fillies' handicap, where Astronomia has the chance to prove not only that Frankie Dettori still recognises his spiritual home, but also that it is premature to be writing off Godolphin after their sluggish start to the season.

After all, they have had only 11 runners in Britain and not too much should be read into their disappointments at York last week as few horses were at home on the appalling ground. Equally, there will be legitimate fears of a problem in the stable if Astronomia (next best 1.50) cannot run a big race. Twice fourth in Grade One company in Australia, she looks on a lenient mark.

Television punters will be on more familiar territory at Haydock, albeit the heavy ground there is becoming a little too familiar. Only eight contest the £100,000 at stake in the Totepool Silver Bowl, and the ground represents the sole reservation about Sir Gerard (3.45). He looked uncomfortable on fast going when just getting up on his return at Beverley, but nobody could be dogmatic about these extreme conditions. All things being equal, his patient trainer, James Fanshawe, will coax further improvement from him.

Sir Gerard's rider, Jamie Spencer, need have no concerns about the ground in the race that follows. BOLLIN MICHAEL (nap 4.15) cruised through the mud at Nottingham last Saturday and has been treated with bizarre indulgence by the handicapper, who has put him up just 6lb. Against exposed rivals, it is worth taking the chance that this race does not come too soon.

The most lamentable consequence of the recent deluges is the pathetic opposition to Hurricane Run in the Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh tomorrow. In the absence of David Junior, he faces just two rivals, and Irish racing is certainly indebted to his owners for running an Arc winner as well as George Washington over the weekend. They also have a strong hand in the Irish 1,000 Guineas, where O'Brien saddles five, but there is a pleasant possibility that they may have to make way for Sir Mark Prescott - a trainer long overdue the Classic that would seem within the grasp of Confidential Lady.

Chris McGrath

Nap: Bollin Michael (Haydock 4.15)

NB: Astronomia

(Ascot 1.50)