Racing: Borgia extends league of nations

Sue Montgomery says the Germans have their best chance yet in Europe's top race
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The Independent Online
The prowess of German sportsmen and women is well documented in most arenas throughout the world. Names such as Michael Schumacher, Steffi Graf, Boris Becker, Bernhard Langer and Jurgen Klinsmann spring readily to mind. But in racing over the years it has been more a case of a black hole than a starless firmament where Germany is concerned.

The last German thoroughbred to make an indelible impact on the the international stage was Star Appeal, winner of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe 22 years ago. And though he was no mug - he also won the Eclipse Stakes that year - he is probably remembered more for his shock 119-1 starting price than for his talent.

But there are signs of an emergence, and it may be time to start taking the best German horses seriously. Two years ago Lando became the first from his country to win the Japan Cup after finishing a rather unheralded fourth to Lammtarra in the Arc. And this afternoon the pride of Bavaria, Borgia, will step out in Paris for the 76th renewal of the great end-of-season showpiece at Longchamp. Borgia is talented and progressive, and a good showing against some of the world's best horses is vitally important to the honour of the German bloodstock industry.

The filly's trainer, the Cologne-based Andreas Schutz, has no doubts as to why Germany has been left behind as a truly effective force in racing. "The older generation of trainers were content to stay within our borders to compete," he said. "Their attitude was that it was better to win money at home than go abroad and be beaten.

"And the old owners stuck to the traditional bloodlines, with the emphasis on mile-and-a-half horses and stayers, while the rest of Europe utilised the infusion of speed from America. But for the past 10 years or so our breeders have been going out into the marketplace more."

Perversely, Borgia, a handsome bay, is solid German through and through. She was bred by her owner, Dietrich von Boetticher, at his Ammerland Stud by Lake Starnberg near Munich. Perhaps, though, a liking for Longchamp will be in her blood, as both her parents ran in Arcs; her sire Acatenango lost little caste in finishing an excellent seventh to Dancing Brave in that vintage race of 1986, and her dam Britannia was beaten five lengths into ninth place behind Carroll House three years later.

Von Boetticher, a lawyer-turned-publisher who once competed at dressage to a high standard, bought Britannia, bred by the Schutz family, before she won her local St Leger. And Borgia is a considerably better runner than her dam.

She became the first filly in 60 years to win the German Derby when she beat the colts at Hamburg in July, and then showed she was ready for today's venture by trouncing the smart British middle-distance pair Luso and Predappio in a Group One race at Baden-Baden last month.

After that performance Kieren Fallon announced that he would be more than happy to make her his first Arc ride. He said: "When I rode her in the German Derby she was almost knocked down twice, had to come right round the field and still stuck her head out and won.

"And when she beat Luso and Predappio -- who are decent horses by any standards - she went by them as if they were standing still. I think this will be a very good Arc, the best for a few years, but I'd say she has a real chance of running a big race. She travels so well in her races and seems to have about 10 gears."

Borgia was the only supplementary entry for the race, which carries a first prize of pounds 448,934, added on Thursday at a cost of pounds 38,000. Schutz, who has been running the family stable during the illness of his father, Bruno, said: "It was quite a gamble, but she is the best in three generations of this family, and may be a very important filly. She has top-class form - she is twice the runner her dam was - and is better now than she was when she won in Baden-Baden. She has yet to race on fast ground, but I do not think it will be a problem."

Borgia is actually one of two German-trained fillies in today's field. The other, the Irish-bred import Que Belle, beat her in the German Oaks, but was considered lucky that day. "If you have a horse as well as she is at the end of the season you go for it," said Schutz, and added, pragmatically: "She is the type to be a better athlete at four, but this year she gets both the sex and age allowances." The Borgia plot is clearly in good hands.