Slipping saddle fails to shorten Mozart's stride

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The Independent Online

The betting implied that Mozart had no worthwhile opponents in the Nunthorpe Stakes here yesterday, and after a 57-second sprint down the Knavesmire, the money-buyers who had backed him duly lined up to be paid out at 4-9. What few of them realised, though, was that while 10 opponents were no match for Mozart, he was almost beaten by the lead and leather on his back.

It was an awkward jump from the stalls which presented Mick Kinane with one the most uncomfortable challenges of his long career. Mozart's saddle slipped backwards just as he was getting into his stride, and for the next minute Kinane would have to concentrate not simply on winning one of the season's major races, but on staying connected to half a ton of thoroughbred moving at more than 40 miles an hour.

That he did so was a testament to Kinane's instinctive horsemanship, while the fact that Mozart could still win by two lengths, in a time barely a second outside Dayjur's course record, was final proof that he is a sprinter of rare quality.

Having been victorious in his last three races, two of them Group Ones, over seven, six and now five furlongs, Mozart has little left to prove, in Europe at least.

The only possible challenge now is the Breeders' Cup Sprint, over six furlongs on dirt and around two bends, in New York on 27 October. Coral offer odds of 10-1 against him, and rate three US-based sprinters as likelier winners, including Kona Gold, their favourite at 11-4. Stravinsky, O'Brien's Nunthorpe winner of 1999, found the Sprint a challenge too far, and Mozart's connections may yet decide to retire him to stud instead.

By the time Mozart returned to be unsaddled, gravity had almost done the job by itself. "It was serious riding, and he must be a serious horse," Aidan O'Brien, his trainer, said, "because all the weight was in the wrong place. It was back on his kidneys instead of on his shoulders, so I'd say for Mick it must have been like riding a camel. It was an awful disadvantage to him, so obviously he's a very fast horse. I wouldn't imagine he'd race here any more now. It will be America or nothing."

Kinane emphasised how close he had come to disaster. "At 9st 7lb, there's a lot of lead in there," he said, "and it had gone so far that a fraction more and I'd have been gone. He jumped awkwardly, he wasn't balanced and it threw all the weight back. I didn't think I'd see the finish and it was an incredible performance, because I could tell from his action that he was finding it difficult."

O'Brien could have been forgiven for walking into the winners' enclosure on auto-pilot after the Lowther Stakes, but this was one of the few significant events this week which managed to squirm free of his grip. Sophisticat, his runner in the Group Two contest, could finish only second to Queen's Logic, who quickened well in the middle of the track and is still unbeaten after three outings, including the Queen Mary Stakes at Royal Ascot in June.

As is traditional after the Lowther, Queen's Logic was swiftly promoted to the top of the betting for next year's 1,000 Guineas, and since two of the previous seven winners of the race – Harayir and Cape Verdi – have gone on to win the Classic, the top price of 14-1 on offer with Ladbrokes and Hills might have some superficial appeal. There is a speedy fizz about Queen's Logic, though, which suggests a mile could stretch her stamina, and plenty of time too for other serious Classic candidates to emerge.

She certainly stands every chance of ending the season as an unbeaten Group One winner, however, since the Cheveley Park Stakes at Newmarket will be the next, and final, race of her season.

Queen's Logic, following the ill-fated Bint Allayl in 1998, was completing the double of the Queen Mary and the Lowther for the second time in four years for her trainer, Mick Channon. "It's always easy to say it when she's won, but we thought that she would improve," Channon said. "She's improved at home, she's got a great attitude, and she's always been a lovely mover. I made up my mind several years ago that I wouldn't ask a filly to carry a penalty in the Cherry Hinton, and if you give them an extra couple of months then hopefully they'll come back more mature."