Racing: Ballydoyle takes glory in Morny

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The Independent Online
WHEN STRAVINSKY won a maiden race at York last Thursday and immediately stormed clear in the 2,000 Guineas betting, too, it seemed only fair to point out that there is a world of difference between a field consisting of horses without a win to their name and another, eight months hence, containing the best three-year-olds in Europe.

When his Classic odds shrank still further on Friday morning, down to as little as 4-1, the derision duly increased. On the face of it, this scepticism is reasonable enough, but a possible flaw in the logic became apparent yesterday when Aidan O'Brien, Stravinsky's trainer, proved once again that he inhabits a parallel world with rules of its own.

Orpen, who ran for the first time less than a month ago, took little more than a minute to bridge the gap between maidens and the highest grade by winning the Group One Prix Morny at Deauville.

Working out the order of merit at Ballydoyle can be a little like assessing the ups and downs of the Communist-era Kremlin according to who is standing where on the Red Square balcony, but most experienced Aidan-ologists seem to agree that Stravinsky is the best of the latest gang of two-year-olds. His price for next year's Guineas may react accordingly this morning.

Orpen's success - he beat the British runners Exeat (John Gosden) and Golden Silca (Mick Channon) on rain-softened ground - was particularly good news for those who enjoy an old-fashioned power struggle on the British turf.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Robert Sangster used to set off for the Keeneland Sales with Vincent O'Brien and enough cash to fill an Olympic swimming pool. But since he was blown away by the oil money of Sheikh Mohammed and his brothers, no-one has threatened to challenge the domination of the Maktoums.

Yet now it seems that Michael Tabor and John Magnier, with the able assistance of another man called O'Brien and the same invigorating grass and gallops of Ballydoyle, are going to give it a very good shot.

They are still at stage one, which involves spending obscene amounts of money at the major sales to build up a rich pool of breeding stock. Group Ones are already coming their way as a matter of course, though, and in O'Brien, they have harnessed the most extraordinary talent of his generation (and probably the next two or three as well).

Unlike the modern-era Sangster, what's more, they have no need or inclination to sell their best juveniles to Godolphin.

Unfair though it may be, punters have also warmed to the arrival of Tabor as a major player, because though his fortune was acquired through the sale of a chain of betting shops, he punts like we all would if we had his money.

So while it seems strange to be defending the bookies in what appears to be an open-and-shut case of cowardice - and 4-1 about Stravinsky winning anything next year is strictly for the sad cases - it is hard to know what else they could have done.

It was pointed out a couple of days ago that El Gran Senor - who was, as it happens, one of the last great Sangster standard-bearers - was a 10-1 chance for the following year's 2,000 Guineas even after he had won the 1983 Dewhurst Stakes. Well, perhaps he was, but what is also worth remembering is that he did actually manage to win the Classic not many months later.

Tabor himself is presumably on - Stravinsky was backed from 16-1 before he had even run at York - and the same owner-trainer combination won this year's Guineas with King Of Kings (who was himself at short odds from the middle of his juvenile campaign).

Many wise old punters will jeer, but ask them to lay Stravinsky personally at 10-1 or better and the noise would probably stop.

Ballydoyle versus Godolphin will be a fascinating contest over the next few seasons. The Dubai operation is still growing, and can easily absorb reverses like Kayf Tara's failure to show behind James Fanshawe's Arctic Owl in the Prix Kegorlay at Deauville yesterday.

Best of all, and despite what you may have heard about the decline of British racing, this is still the battleground which matters.