Sakhee finds greatness in defeat

Breeders' Cup: Arc hero beaten in a thriller but nothing can eclipse Johannesburg, Fantastic Light and Banks Hill
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The Independent Online

The record books will tell us that Breeders' Cup XVIII was a great moment for the European runners, an occasion when they equalled their previous best display at racing's Olympics here at Belmont Park.

The record books will tell us that Breeders' Cup XVIII was a great moment for the European runners, an occasion when they equalled their previous best display at racing's Olympics here at Belmont Park.

Those who supported the travelling contingent and were witnesses to a dramatic afternoon in the Empire state, will, however, also remember a snapshot of frustration to accompany the glorious big picture.

The brilliance of Johannesburg, Fantastic Light and Banks Hill meant that this was Europe's best day at a Breeders' Cup since 1991, when Churchill Downs in Kentucky also saw three winners from across the Atlantic. Yet the final moment, the final stride, was a sickener in the gathering darkness yesterday as the bonny little Sakhee was caught and passed on the post by America's Tiznow in the Classic.

Twice now the big horse has frustrated Europe. Twelve months ago Giant's Causeway too was repulsed. His Irish connections yesterday suffered the ignominy of watching their dual Derby winner, Galileo, labour home in sixth.

We can feel for him at the end of a long season, but it was Sakhee with whom it was easiest to sympathise. "We went a good half length up but then the other horse just came and beat me," Frankie Dettori said.

"It was on the nod, but he doesn't know he got beat. He's a proper champion. To think just two weeks ago he won the Arc and then did this first time up on the dirt coming to America. It shows what a great horse he is. People said Sheikh Mohammed was mad to run him on the dirt, but you never argue with the boss. He is always right."

There was, on the other hand, hardly a single anxious moment for Dettori in the Turf as Fantastic Light took the contest in the manner of a model racechorse. Which is exactly what he has become.

The five-year-old was never worse than fourth, clamped on the rail, until he made the decisive pounce in the straight. Ballydoyle's Milan became a valiant pursuer, but he ran out of real estate as Fantastic Light, his head twisted to one side with the effort, lasted home.

"He lost a little bit of concentration when he was well clear," Dettori reported. "I could feel Milan coming and I thought 'keep going a little more'. He's a great superstar with a devastating turn of foot."

Johannesburg, who had cut a swathe across Ireland, Britain and the Continent this season, was nothing less than sensational in the Juvenile. He travelled sweetly behind the lead set by the supposed wonderhorse, Officer, gathered himself in the straight and then bore down on the leading bunch like a wolf on the fold. He is now 3-1 with Ladbrokes to return to the United States next spring and relieve them of their most hallowed prize, the Kentucky Derby.

"This horse was six for six and I think the Americans overlooked him a little bit," Mick Kinane, the winning jockey, said. "I was always in control. He was going so well that I was afraid I might be going too well. When I pulled him out he went whoosh. He was gone. He was a general while they were the officers."

Johannesburg's victory was rapturously received by a lively Irish presence in the 52,000-strong Belmont crowd. Kinane was equipped with a tricolor as he returned for the debrief with Aidan O'Brien. "He has been a serious horse from day one," the trainer said. "He shows so much speed that you had to worry about the trip, but he got it well. He's a natural in everything he does. He can do it on the turf and the dirt so all our options are open. We can take him anywhere."

Banks Hill was especially meritorious as she was just one of three horses on the entire card not running on medication. She showed it makes sense not to do drugs. She won by five and a half lengths to provide André Fabre with his third Breeders' Cup success after In The Wings and Arcangues. As she powered clear there was no response from a field which included Ed Dunlop's Lailani. Her winning streak is over at seven.

"I started to think there was one more turn because I didn't hear anyone coming," Olivier Peslier, Banks Hill's jockey, reported.

There were the disappointments, principally of Noverre in the Mile and Mozart in the Sprint, who did not even fail with glory like Sakhee. But the Breeders' Cup XVIII will best be remembered as a day when three European horses won with an uncommon majesty.

The bagpipers of the New York Police Department played "Amazing Grace" to the 52,000-strong crowd before racing started. That was made to look most appropriate by Johannesburg, Fantastic Light and Banks Hill.

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