Racing: Boutin bemused by Arazi

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The Independent Online
AFTER 24 hours of thought, Francois Boutin yesterday gave his evaluation on Sunday's third successive defeat for Arazi. He said he was puzzled.

The French trainer may be the last man in the sport to be befuddled by this season's offerings from the 'world champion racehorse' of 1991. Boutin reported that Arazi was barely out of breath after his defeat at Longchamp, entirely inappropriate when you consider this tiny colt has caused more huffing and puffing among observers than any other thoroughbred of modern times.

Boutin, who said there was no sign that the hock injury that Arazi suffered recently had recurred, is still juggling options for the horse, including the Prix du Rond Point on Arc day. But the overpowering suggestion is that the colt who at one stage was thought to be taking equine performance to a new level has gone. That the high expectation he engendered in winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last November has now perished.

Arazi's crime has been to betray the quick allegiance many offer to horses who produce an outstanding performance. Allen Paulson, the colt's joint-owner, was moved last year to say Arazi was not just the best horse he had owned but the best horse anyone had owned.

Few at the time questioned this assessment, even though the chestnut had done only half the job by winning in America. The historical lesson that outstanding juveniles rarely reproduce their form the next year was again ignored.

There are those that believe the 105 seconds that shaped Arazi's colossal reputation may also have destroyed him. Paul Cole, who saw his own champion, Generous, demeaned in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe last year, considers the going in Kentucky might have told indelibly on the horse.

'That ground at Churchill Downs was lethal and I don't think that did any of the horses any good,' Cole said yesterday. 'It was packed tight and my little filly (Culture Vulture) refused to race on it. I would be very careful about running a horse there again.'

While Arazi appeared to have the complete Identikit for future success, there was a chink even then. The colt ran on medication at Churchill Downs to ease the impact on his weak knees (he subsequently underwent an operation) and the sport's lore tell us that a horse has to have physical soundness and brilliance in equal measure to make an impact in his Classic year.

'These horses are put under extreme pressure,' Cole said. 'You've got to be totally sound to put your best foot forward.'

This is a theme backed by Ian Balding, the trainer of one of the few to establish enduring supremacy, Mill Reef. 'Soundness makes a big, big difference. There are animals, like Lochsong (Saturday's Ayr Gold Cup winner), that are brave enough to put up with unsoundness but they're not all like that.

'Arazi's Breeders' Cup performance was quite astonishing, but when you have surgery like he has it's no help to you at best.'

Balding's evaluation of Arazi is stark. 'He was an absolutely brilliant two-year-old, but he had an operation to his knee and he hasn't trained on,' he said. 'It's not surprising, it happens frequently.

'I think it's ridiculous to build two-year-olds up into something out of this world, because if they're that much better than their contemporaries at that stage, it's touch and go whether they'll train on to do it again. It's unlikely.

'The only brilliant two-year-old that trained on to be better at three that I can remember was Mill Reef. He was most unusual when you think he won the Coventry at Ascot, the Gimcrack and won over five furlongs, and was hailed the next year as the best mile-and-a-half horse in Europe. It just doesn't happen these days.'

Balding considers there may be another already trapped in the cycle of hype. 'I wouldn't expect Lyric Fantasy (Richard Hannon's filly) to be as good next year compared with her contemporaries as she is this season. Unless she's an absolute freak the others will catch her up.

Balding's epitaph on Arazi's career is one that was unthinkable 10 months ago. 'Arazi is just an ordinary, rather moderate horse this year. I can't imagine why everyone spent so much time on him.'

(Photograph omitted)

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