When Galileo won the Derby, Irish Derby and King George in the space of seven weeks earlier this year, most punters were sure that they had seen the horse of the season. Now that the handicappers have had a chance to assess Sakhee's six-length exercise canter in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, however, it seems that Galileo must improve once again if he is to finish the campaign as the highest-rated horse in training. Sakhee is now Timeform's idea of the finest thoroughbred on the planet.
It has been a remarkable turnaround for Sakhee, who three months ago was something of a forgotten horse, unraced since finishing fourth in the 2000 Eclipse. When he won his first outing for more than a year, beating Aldwych in a Listed event at Newbury in July, the racing world was more interested in the rivalry between Galileo and Fantastic Light.
Two races and 13 lengths later – he won the International at York by seven – the son of Bahri is 3lb ahead of the pair of them in Timeform's ratings. "We've rated him on 136," Chris Williams, Timeform's middle-distance handicapper, said yesterday, "although some might think it should have been higher because of the margin of his win. That makes him the same as Helissio, who won the Arc by five lengths, but since then we've had Peintre Celebre and Montjeu, who were rated 137."
This is all excellent news for the Arc itself, as it tries to defend its status as the most significant race of the season in the face of stiff competition from the Breeders' Cup. While the American event will continue to grow in importance, the last few years have clearly been vintage ones for the race in the Bois de Boulogne. In addition to those four winners, it is also worth recalling that Sinndar, who won the race 12 months ago, beat none other than Sakhee in the Derby at Epsom.
"Sakhee will certainly be one of the top horses of recent years," Williams said, "and that puts him in front of Galileo and Fantastic Light, who are both on 133. Point Given [the leading three-year-old in the United States until he sustained a career-ending injury] is also on 133, along with Tiznow, last year's Breeders' Cup Classic winner, who would be on that mark on his best form from last season. But of course, where they are at the end of the season all depends on what happens later on this year."
In order for a horse to advance its rating from a place in the mid-130s, though, it needs to race against, and beat, others of a similar calibre, and beat them comfortably too. "You need them to finish clear if you're going to rate them any higher," Williams says, and the horses who stand most chance of advancing seem to be Galileo and Fantastic Light, both of whom are due to run in the Breeders' Cup Classic. Sakhee seems likely to run in the Champion Stakes at Newmarket, for which he would start a very short-priced favourite, rather than the Breeders' Cup Turf, in which his owner, Sheikh Hamdan al Maktoum, can rely on the estimable Mutamam.
The strength of the opposition to the European runners in New York later this month took a knock on Sunday when Tiznow, who beat Giant's Causeway in last year's Classic, could finish only third in the Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap at Oak Tree. "He didn't put in his normal, hard-trying effort," Chris McCarron, his jockey, said. "He picked it up too little, too late." Coral eased Tiznow to 8-1 from 6-1 for the Classic, while Aptitude, who won the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont on Saturday, is 4-1 from 7-1.
Fantastic Light's run on 27 October will be his last, after the announcement yesterday that he will retire to Dalham Hall Stud in Newmarket. "He's an outstanding champion, great looking and with an excellent pedigree," Sam Bullard, the head of nominations at Darley, said yesterday. "The speed and tenacity he showed to win his races was a thrill to see."
Also off to stud is Morshdi, winner of the Derby Italiano and Grosser Preis von Baden. The son of Slip Anchor suffered an injury to a near-fore tendon during preparation for the Arc.
Channel Four are claiming an Arc victory themselves after securing an audience of 1.7m for Sunday's coverage, 400,000 more than watched the BBC's coverage 12 months before.
* Lester Piggott will return to the saddle next month at the age of 66 for a veterans race in Melbourne. Rivals to Piggott, whose third in the race last year he described as "just a warm up", will include his old adversary Geoff Lewis and Tony Cruz.
* Lingfield's card tomorrow is subject to an 8.30am inspection today. The round course is waterlogged in places.Reuse content