Racing Commentary: Zafonic to be Abdullah's Brave avenger: A brilliant 2,000 Guineas winner will attempt to finally fulfil his owner's dream of American renown

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The Independent Online
ZAFONIC filled Khalid Abdullah's head with warm thoughts with his record-breaking win in the 2,000 Guineas on Saturday, but it is to be the colt's main purpose in life to remove from the owner's mind a regret which has grumbled for seven years.

It was in 1986 that Abdullah's Dancing Brave, the brilliant horse with whom Zafonic has now earned comparison, frittered away a portion of his reputation when defeated in the Breeders' Cup Turf at Santa Anita.

That deflating memory needs exorcising from the Saudi owner's recollections, and he may have found the horse and the appropriate year to do it. For the 10th Breeders' Cup Series in November is back at the Californian course founded by 'Lucky' Baldwin, a prospector who made his fortune in the Gold Rush.

Abdullah's immediate reaction that the Breeders' Cup Mile was to be Zafonic's ultimate test suggested that he had dreamed of these events since his colt won the Dewhurst Stakes last October.

A behemoth among sprouting horses that day, Zafonic was thought by many to be a fast-developer who would be exposed as others matured. This idea found no favour with a man a little closer to the colt, his French trainer Andre Fabre. 'I always thought exactly the opposite,' he said yesterday. 'That he was really backward and needed to fill out and that he was not overgrown at all. He was very childish when he was a two-year-old.'

And very irascible as a three-year-old, according to some reports. But as the field cantered to post on Saturday, Zafonic looked as relaxed as a basset hound on a fireside rug. Up in the stands, Fabre was similarly collected as he watched the race from the press gallery. While paid observers attempted to detect signs of frailty in Zafonic, the horse's trainer was otherwise occupied.

Sitting on a bench, his grey suit pinched by a binocular-strap, worn in the uncomfortable bandolier manner peculiar to racing, he checked the previous day's results from Maisons-Laffitte. 'After a certain point there is nothing the trainer can do,' he said. 'It's up to the horse and jockey.'

This was not natural territory for the trainer as back home, in racing-sane France, he shares an uneasy relationship with the media. 'France is not really a country where racing is loved like in England,' he said. 'They know very little about horses and they are not helped very much by the press.'

Fabre prefers the British appetite for racing and particularly the attractions of Newmarket. 'I love the racecourse,' he said. 'It's one of the places in the world where a good horse is appreciated by the public and the professionals.'

The professional assessment of Zafonic yesterday was that he had earned a place among the Guineas elite with a run which cut almost half a second off the previous best Classic time, set in 1948 by My Babu.

Richard Dangar, the Jockey Club's Flat handicapper, rated Zafonic's performance at 130, the equal of Dancing Brave's mark in 1986, and second only to El Gran Senor since the international classifications were introduced in 1977. 'It is exciting when a horse who is the top juvenile goes on to win his Classic in such exemplary style,' Dangar said.

British audiences will again have the chance to appreciate Zafonic's style this season, as the colt will return to these shores after a break.' He's had to travel and that always takes a lot out of horses, so we will give him more of an interval than horses that run at home,' Fabre said. 'He will certainly run again in England. It could be in the Sussex (Stakes, at Goodwood on 28 July).'

Zafonic may even be tried over the increased distance of 10 furlongs, though such a question will not be posed in the immediate months. 'Personally I think that should be left to later in the season, for a lot of reasons,' Fabre said. 'Because he is a proven miler, because those races are very popular for making stallions and and it is safer later. Give him the time to strengthen.'

Strength is already with Abdullah, whose armoury may be further improved when one of his three Derby hopes, Armiger, runs in the Chester Vase tomorrow. The other two Epsom aspirants, Tenby and Commander In Chief, run at York next week, when the former is expected to prove himself superior by one trainer at least. Peter Chapple-Hyam, who saddled the runners-up to Tenby and Commander In Chief at Newmarket last week, evaluates Tenby as much the better horse.

As he will have to be to justify yesterday's manoeuvres in the market, when the colt was cut to as low as 5-2 with Ladbrokes, following the liabilities created by Zafonic.

This may be the only occasion that liability and Zafonic will figure in the same sentence, and in six months' time his owner expects him to stake his claim for racing greatness at 'Lucky' Baldwin's course.

(Photograph omitted)

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