On the bald statistics of the record books Halling is a unique animal. Since the inception of the Pattern race system in 1971 no other horse has won British Group One events twice such as he has done in the International and Sandown's Eclipse Stakes over the last two years. The compelling evidence of the eye does him no ill service either. Halling's appearance is always glorious and his performances similar, a blend of high cruising speed and devastating kick.
The five-year-old won the best-turned-out award again yesterday. As he circled the parade ring, eyes rolling aggressively in their sockets, it seemed someone had taken the trouble to put henna in his mane. This leggy figure physically outshone the likes of Bijou D'Inde, of the soup-bowl hooves, and First Island, who displays a staccato high-heel step, a sort of hen-night totter.
When the stalls opened a rigid echelon quickly formed, with Halling and Bijou D'Inde at the head of affairs ahead of Spectrum, Grape Tree Road and First Island. This was the line for most of the journey, an unchanged wagon train winding across the plain of the Knavesmire until Lanfranco Dettori, on the leader, decided to make the pace a little more uncomfortable. "When I pushed at about a furlong and a half out he [Halling] just changed his lead and off he went," the Italian reported. "I had a look round and I saw the race was finished."
Halling veered to the centre of the course, just as he had done last year, as if showing both sections of the crowd what a clever boy he was. There were three lengths back to First Island and a further length and a half to Bijou D'Inde.
On returning, Dettori was at his theatrical best, grimacing, raising his index finger and punching towards the heavens, playing his audience as skilfully as a countryman might at La Scala in his native Milan. "This horse is so versatile," he said. "He relaxes, he's got pace and a turn of foot. He's fantastic and I was basically just a passenger today."
This race meant more than most to Dettori as his father, Gianfranco, won it on Wollow 20 years ago. Dettori jnr's report to the winner's owners, Godolphin, means Halling may now step up in distance and take in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, though Newmarket's Champion Stakes may be the favoured option. "But the programme definitely won't include the Breeders' Cup Classic," Simon Crisford, Godolphin's racing manager, said. "The dirt fazes him. He trains very well on it throughout the winter, but when a push comes to a shove in championship races he resents it. I suppose he could go for the Turf in Canada as a mile and a half around Woodbine should suit him well."
The International was sponsored by Khalid Abdullah and the man from Juddmonte got some of his money back when Dushyantor collected the subsequent Great Voltigeur Stakes. The victory of Henry Cecil's colt did not carry much authority, however, and he is by no means yet a definite starter for the St Leger. The funds from the Group Two event were not enough to haul Cecil back in front of Godolphin's Saeed Bin Suroor, who had taken the lead in the trainers' championship in the previous race.
The most grateful winner of the afternoon was the tiredest; Walter Swinburn, who piloted Yom Jameel in the Melrose Stakes. Swinburn has yet to regain full fitness after his six-month lay-off and his legs betrayed him in the closing stages. "My thighs just turned to jelly," he said. The poor beasts that competed with Halling will know how he felt.Reuse content