HORSE RACING: Lammtarra joins the greats

PRIX DE L'ARC DE TRIOMPHE: Longchamp witnesses history as a horse with a lion's heart is crowned the new king of racing

WHEN they talk about the great horses, Lammtarra will now have to be included. Ribot, Mill Reef and Nijinsky can expect a new companion in the pantheon following yesterday's historic Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.

It will be something of a family reunion as Lammtarra, the most inexperienced horse ever to win an Arc, triumphed in Paris 25 years to the day after his father, Nijinsky, surrendered an unbeaten record. As the chestnut colt completed the mighty trinity of the Derby, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes and Arc there was the reminder of another, more poignant, anniversary. It was 12 months ago this weekend that Alex Scott, Lammtarra's first trainer, was shot dead in Newmarket.

Lammtarra's life, in a competitive sense anyway, may also be sadly short- lived. He is now on course for the Breeders' Cup Turf, which will be the fifth, and almost certainly last, assignment of his twinkling career. On the road to the pantheon he will reside, pleasurably, and pass on his seed of greatness, in either Newmarket or Kentucky.

Lammtarra's snapshot and brilliant career was not even a dream in the spring. As he wintered in Dubai with his Godolphin workmates the sustenance brought to him was not hay and oats but rather grapes and fruit as he recovered from a life-threatening respiratory illness. "He was almost dead," Sheikh Mohammed, the head of Godolphin, said yesterday. "He must be one of the greats to come through that sickness and do this."

This core of steel is what Lammtarra will be remembered for. There have been faster horses, more flamboyant horses and horses with greater charisma, but for competitive strength at the highest level he has no peer.

Godolphin knew this and Lammtarra's greatest asset was never going to be underplayed yesterday. Lanfranco Dettori pushed his mount into a challenging position from the outset, just in behind the pace-making Luso. The latter's partner, Cash Asmussen, apologised for not carrying the field along for longer as Lammtarra swept to the head of affairs over half a mile out.

In the straight, Lammtarra was under the whip but this was a manoeuvre of encouragement rather than desperation. The hawks launched from behind, but only Freedom Cry got to the leader's burnished withers and this galvanised rather than discouraged Lammtarra. By the time Dettori raised himself in celebration out of the saddle he had three-quarters of a length to spare.

Of the other British runners Balanchine finished 10th on almost certainly her last appearance, Luso 13th and Strategic Choice 14th. Last year's winner, Carnegie was sixth.

Walter Swinburn, who lost the ride on Lammtarra after winning the Derby, said Balanchine was never travelling well but saluted his former partner. "I was always fighting a losing battle on Balanchine," he said. "All my emotions about Lammtarra went away back in July. Now I am thrilled for the horse.

"I had reservations about the ground, but he has come into this race with a better preparation than he had for the Derby and King George."

This was posted as a British win, the first in the Arc since Carroll House in 1989, but the detail did not bear scrutiny. Lammtarra, an American- bred horse, is owned by a Dubaian, trained by a Dubaian (Saeed Bin Suroor) and ridden by an Italian. The reception for his victory was not typically British as Dettori blew kisses to a crowd in full Continental roar.

The noisy peak came when the jockey executed his now familiar circus exit from the saddle. It was hardly typically Dubaian, either, as Sheikh Mohammed embraced Dettori in an uncommon display of pleasure.

"I am stuck for words for the first time in my life," the jockey said before disproving his initial statement. "This horse is a lion. He is so tough and hard and he does not want to lose. He has been a little bit immature but now he stays, he gallops, and he fights."

Simon Crisford, the Godolphin racing manager, added: "He has to be some horse. He had to show great courage to overcome his illness and to undergo such a hasty preparation for the Derby. He was more immature then, like a little schoolboy, but now he is the ultimate racing machine."

The machine, sadly, will be switched on just one more time, it appears. Belmont Park in a month's time is likely to be the last time the newest recruit to history's very top team parades his talents.

PRIX DE L'ARC DE TRIOMPHE

1. LAMMTARRA L Dettori

2. Freedom Cry O Peslier

3. Swain M J Kinane

Also: 4. Lando; 5. Pure Grain; 6. Carnegie; 7. Partipral; 8. Gunboat Diplomacy; 9. Carling; 10. Balanchine; 11. El Tenor; 12. Tot Ou Tard; 13. Luso; 14. Strategic Choice; 15. El Sembrador; 16. Sunrise Song.

16 ran. 3/4, 2, 11/2, 21/2, 1/2. (Winner trained by Saeed Bin Suroor, at Newmarket, for Godolphin). Pari-mutuel: 3.10; 2.20, 3.90,4.10. DF: 29.10. Time: 2min 31.8sec.

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