How success became a Cliche

Sue Montgomery reports on the Gold Cup winner and Ascot's fallen hero
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The defeat of a public idol always tends to overshadow the performance of the usurper. And when Classic Cliche lowered Double Trigger's colours in the Gold Cup at Ascot on Thursday, the post-mortems tended to be about how the favourite could have lost rather than why the winner won. Perhaps Jason Wea- ver could have ridden Double Trigger more forcefully, but through my raceglasses Classic Cliche, who was always travelling easily, would have triumphed whatever tactics had been employed on the favourite.

Classic Cliche is not likely to steal racegoers' hearts like Double Trigger, who provoked an outburst of cheering as he led the field past the stands on the first lap. Classic Cliche is a plain-coloured bay, not a flashy, golden-maned chestnut. He is trained by Saeed Bin Suroor and Sheikh Mohammed's Godolphin team, who in terms of personality and chattiness are the antithesis of Mark Johnston. He wins his races in conventional style, rather than by setting off in front and defying any horse to get past him.

But make no mistake, his effort on Thursday was of the highest order. Double Trigger, the de- fending champion, had already proved himself a top stayer, but his big heart and reserves of stamina were no match for Classic Cliche's class. Michael Kinane, the jockey of the meeting, was seen at his best - with his horse switched off in the pack, he sat with his hands still and waited, resisting the temptation to be drawn into a slogging match up the Ascot hill. He did not pounce until the final furlong.

This epic Gold Cup provided a pleasing sense of history appropriate for the most traditional of British racing occasions. The four-year-old, last year's St Leger hero, became the first Classic winner since Ocean Swell, who took the 1944 Derby, to follow up in the Gold Cup. This is the paradox of the great race, first run in 1807. While it nearly always provides the best spectacle at Royal Ascot, it has lost its status as a target for the elite and is now perceived as a dumping ground for horses not fast enough to win over shorter trips.

Since Ocean Swell's victory 51 years ago, the only Derby winner to contest the Gold Cup was Blakeney, second in 1970. Classic Cliche is the ninth post-war St Leger winner to take part; last year's runner-up, Moonax, was the first since Bruni ran fourth 18 years before. The race is also now the kiss of death in the commercial world of breeding, where speed is prized ahead of stamina - the last Gold Cup winner to become champion sire was Alycidon 40 years ago.

It is welcome news that Classic Cliche is to be given the chance to show his talent over shorter distances, with the Prix de l 'Arc de Triomphe as his autumn target. Three horses have completed the double since the Arc was first run in 1920: Massine (1926), Caracalla (1946) and Levmoss (1969), although Ard- ross came close 14 years ago, beaten a head by Akiyda.

Classic Cliche's win is unlikely to prompt a wholesale assault on the Gold Cup by the top middle-distance runners - though a first prize of pounds 120,000 is not to be sneezed at - but horses are much more versatile than we generally give them credit for, and Classic Cliche proved on Thursday that class can prevail at any distance. Sheikh Moham- med has already altered many training perceptions, notably with his Dubai experiment, by sending his filly Balanchine to beat the colts in the Irish Derby, and by the trend-setting first-time-out success of Lammtarra in last year's Derby.

Classic Cliche, who is physically only just reaching his prime, has already competed with the best over 10 and 12 furlongs, and it is to be hoped the Sheikh's adventurous policy with his Gold Cup winner bears fruit.