Racing Commentary: Zafonic's legacy runs short of glory: The 2,000 Guineas winner's brief career will count against him when matched

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ZAFONIC'S struggles on the racecourse are over, but the conflict on where he will stand in racing's pantheon has only just begun.

Until horses are no longer used for sport there will be debate about the colt's merit, between those who remember either his awesome win in the 2,000 Guineas or his spluttering defeat in the Sussex Stakes.

The odds are that Zafonic will be refused admission to the elite, not because he was not good enough or because he was beaten, but owing to the brevity of his career. Those who already look down - such as Mill Reef, Brigadier Gerard and Nijinsky - all lost, but doused the bad days with enduring excellence.

The sobering statistic concerning Zafonic is that when his retirement was announced at the weekend at the course where he made his first appearance, Deauville, it ended a racing career of less than a single year.

In other sports, a staggering individual effort such as the colt's destruction of the track record in the Guineas would be enough to earn lasting esteem. Beamon's long-jump and Spitz's gold medal haul were snapshots in sport that did so, but racing is a forum where those who are regarded as first must also last.

Zafonic, of course, will be remembered fondly by his connections. Andre Fabre, his trainer, had mixed feelings when he learned the horse would not be asked to compete again after bursting blood vessels at Goodwood last month.

'I'm very sad in one way, but I'm happy that he's going to be retired because with a horse of his ability there should not be a risk of reopening the wound,' Fabre said from Deauville. 'It's sad that his career ended so early because he was a real champion.'

The Chantilly trainer has had plenty of time for reflection since Goodwood, and in the darker moments he is close to reproaching himself for Zafonic's demise. 'If I had to blame myself for anything it would be that perhaps I didn't give him enough time to mature at two,' he said. 'The race in the (Prix) Morny in that type of (soft) ground may have been wrong, but the card is there and we have to race these horses.'

Medical opinion has it that the easy going may have caused Zafonic's problems in the Sussex Stakes. 'Most of the vets think the horse didn't like the ground and the stress that was imposed by those conditions made him bleed or aggravated the bleeding,' Fabre said. 'They're the same as humans. They bleed if you force them too hard.'

Zafonic's stud valuation may be less than that of stallions retired in the boom years of the 1980s (some of whom raced even less frequently than the French horse), but his backers are still keen to maximise the product.

'The vets say that his bleeding problems cannot be inherited,' Fabre said. 'For me, he was improving physically every week, his action was much better, more powerful and aside from his physical ability I must say that his temperament was wonderful. He was a real gentle giant.'

Like many trainers, Fabre is as likely to express a preference for one horse as a mother is to choose between twins, yet there is a suggestion that Zafonic is near the top of his list of favourites. 'I don't compare my horses but I can tell you he was a champion,' he said. 'He beat the track record at Newmarket and I can't imagine a much better horse over a mile.'

Fabre sent out yet another Group winner at Deauville yesterday, when Bright Moon proved too good for a field which included John Dunlop's Spring and Oakmead, from Peter Chapple-Hyam's stable, in the Prix de Pomone, but generally it was a rewarding weekend for travelling British and Irish horses.

Lester Piggott, who last weekend, on College Chapel, recorded his first win at Deauville for eight years, was again triumphant on the French coast on Saturday when partnering Michael Grassick's Danse Royale to victory in the Prix de Psyche, while yesterday's winners included Knock Knock, successful in Belgium for Ian Balding and Richard Hannon's Pips Pride, who gave Steve Raymont the biggest win of his riding career in the Grosser Preis von Berlin at Hoppegarten.

The Heinz '57' Phoenix Stakes at Leopardstown was a benefit for Robert Sangster, who saw his colours fill the forecast via Chapple-Hyam's Turtle Island and Las Meninas, who is trained by Tommy Stack. The task for the winner, who was ridden by John Reid, was made easier by the late withdrawal of the ante-post favourite, Risky, for whom the ground was too firm.

A neat completion to the weekend was the announcement that Turtle Island would next go for the Prix Morny, the race that 12 months ago announced the Group-race arrival of Zafonic.

LEOPARDSTOWN (Heinz 57 Phoenix Stakes - Group One): 1. TURTLE ISLAND (J Reid) 7-4 fav; 2. Las Meninas 10- 1; 3. Fast Eddy 11-4. 9 ran. 1 1/2 , 3 1/2 . (P Chapple-Hyam, Manton). Tote: pounds 2.70; pounds 1.40, pounds 2.30, pounds 1.60. Reverse Forecast: pounds 13.70. Straight Forecast: pounds 20.03. Non runner: Risky.

(Photograph omitted)