Pilsudski saves British esteem

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A day that had been made wretched for Britain by the defeat of Mark Of Esteem in the Mile was rescued by Pilsudski's victory in the Breeders' Cup Turf at Woodbine yesterday.

Pilsudski, the mount of Walter Swinburn, must have recognised the horse he overtook in theclosing stages. Singspiel had travelled with him every step of the way to Canada from Michael Stoute's Freemason Lodge yard and completed a notable achievement for the Newmarket man who has suffered considerable misfortune at the Breeders' Cup.

This has been nothing to compare with the fates' treatment of Pilsudski's owner, Lord Weinstock, however. This was one of the greatest successes of even his notable career, but Arnold Weinstock will not remember 1996 with any great affection. In May of this year he lost his son Simon, with whom he owned his horses, to cancer.

It was also thought earlier this year that Swinburn could be taken from us. In February, at Sha Tin racecourse in Hong Kong, Liffey River crashed him through the running rail and left the jockey with multiple skull fractures. Recuperation has not been swift, but it might now be safe to assume Swinburn is back to his best after this forceful display. "I didn't want to be remembered for falling off in Hong Kong," he said. "It never crossed my mind that I would never ride again." Swain was third for France, and with yet another Newmarket horse, John Gosden's Shantou finishing fourth, it was a clean sweep for Europe. The story had been somewhat different earlier.

It may well have been Mark Of Esteem's last race in the Mile and it was certainly the final occasion that a British horse will go into a Breeders' Cup race with any sense of bombastic invincibility.

Frankie Dettori and the little horse, the undisputed master of Europe, could struggle home only seventh behind Da Hoss in conditions and a setting that could not have been manufactured better for the visitors. There was a glimmer of compensation in the fact that the winner was sent out by the expatriate Yorkshireman, Michael Dickinson, but the overriding sense was of despair.

Mark Of Esteem was certainly no placid lap dog in the preliminaries, but his twitching behaviour was nothing to compare to his stablemate, Charnwood Forest, who behaved as if an invisible figure was attending to his backside with a pike. "He flyjumped going to the start and nearly had me off," Walter Swinburn reported at the bad end of his afternoon. "He did it again when the stalls opened." In the circumstances the colt performed respectably to finish ninth.

Mark Of Esteem tugged Dettori to the start fairly vigorously, but there was very little spunk once the stalls opened. Dettori was later to blame this on the consistency of the surface, the same surface that had been evaluated as perfect all week. "The ground in the back straight is quite a bit softer than on the rest of the track," he said. "It's a shame that we had that variation in the ground, because I knew quite early that we were going to pay the price.

"He didn't really relax to start off with and by the time we came into the straight the old legs were tired and he couldn't kick like he usually does. When I pressed the button there was no response."

A more realistic theory is that Mark Of Esteem's ostensibly facile thrashing of Bosra Sham in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes a month ago had sucked from his fibre more than initially calculated. "The reality is that he probably had a much harder race in beating the filly than we thought," Simon Crisford, the racing manager to Mark Of Esteem's owners, Godolphin Racing, said. "Beforehand there were no signs he was not the same horse, but he clearly hasn't run his race. We haven't seen the horse we know he is."

If Europe's hero had failed then so did America's. Cigar, the horse that won 16 races on the trot, has been proposed to by female admirers and even touted as a future president but yesterday the six-year-old could not put the perfect finish on an incredible career by winning the Classic. He was beaten into third by 20-1 outsider Alphabet Soup and Louis Quatorze. Woodbine was left breathless.