Racing: King's raw energy harnessed by genius

2,000 Guineas
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The Independent Online
By Richard Edmondson

IT WAS a persistent if unworthy thought on Saturday that it might be nice if Second Empire takes a while to recover from injury and Saratoga Springs runs poorly in York's Dante Stakes.

If bad fortune does affect those two colts, it will almost certainly increase the prospects of their stablemate King Of Kings running in the Derby. And if Saturday's extravagant 2,000 Guineas winner can show that staying power is housed alongside speed and class in his sleek body, then his name will never again seem like hyperbole.

Should King Of Kings run at Epsom, he will inevitably behave badly in the preliminaries. He will probably sweat up, throw his head around and rear repeatedly on his hind legs. For every other horse this behaviour is a warning hooter. For King Of Kings it means he is on good terms with himself.

Anyone who applies the rules of paddock judging would not have supported the Irish colt with counterfeit. He snorted his way around the oval with an asylum look, scattering connections as he wheeled wildly.

This equine grenade was escorted out of the preliminaries by his trainer, Aidan O'Brien, and cantered to the start in the soothing company of Jimmy Too. He was loaded early. King Of Kings had not had a chance to become lonely and fretful. Earlier in the day his fellow passengers on a private plane from Ireland had been 12 attendants.

Until the stalls opened, King Of Kings had done just about everything wrong. After that it was the complete opposite. The pennants stiff above the hospitality tents showed the wind was blowing down the straight course. But it was not as if the Ballydoyle colt and Michael Kinane needed any assistant propulsion. The dark blue silks, Thunderbird tight against the Irishman's torso, could be seen slicing through the pack. Once he had hit the front King Of Kings decided the parade was over and declined to disappear into the distance. He had done this to bad horses in the past. Now he was doing it to the best. "He made lovely progress through the race even though they went a real good gallop," Kinane reported. "I wanted to come with a long, steady run and it worked out perfectly. He's a very high-class horse."

He is trained, on the circumstantial evidence of this single afternoon at least, by a pretty high-class human being. Aidan O'Brien's dreamland is not being in the centre of a media huddle, but he answered every query with thought in the aftermath. Each autograph hunter was accommodated and each signature was followed by a thank-you. From the trainer. Some fellow trainers might like to take note.

Like his namesake Vincent, the man who built Ballydoyle's greatness, there is little loud about O'Brien. He looked a vulnerable figure on Saturday, his blotchy face poking out of the top of a huge, blue gaberdine. It seemed he was on his way to boarding school.

The callow exterior hides an expert though and who would dare disbelieve whatever he tells us. O'Brien informed us that his Istabraq would win a Champion Hurdle and was similarly bullish about King Of Kings.

No decisions have been taken but it appears likely that King Of Kings' next contest will be his domestic Guineas later this month. By then we should know more about his Derby prospects.

"When a horse has enough speed to be a Group One sprinter you would certainly have to worry about a mile and a half," the trainer said, "but this horse has so much ability it seems he can do anything. He would probably be going slower than this in the Derby wouldn't he?

"He's a showman and what he does before a race is just his way of showing his natural energy. If you watch him walking around the parade ring he looks at and takes in everything. He stares at every single body. He's matured a lot mentally, he's really grown up. He was only a child last year, now he's a man.

"He's pure class and he finds life easy. You can't see him quicken, you don't see the stride lengthen. He makes ground on horses without seeming to. He can be five lengths behind a horse and the next thing he's beside him and you haven't seen him changing the gears."

King Of Kings has been considered a star from the moment he hit the ground. His early keepers talk about a horse with unnatural presence. His current stewards, the Ballydoyle old guard who have worked with some of the most celebrated names on the turf, speak of a colt who works like no other ever has over the Tipperary lawns.

Now there is more to come from both King Of Kings and his siblings. The Habitat mare Zummerudd has been wedded to Sadler's Wells, the Classic winner's sire, and full brothers and sisters are on their way to the racecourse. There is much family pride to uphold.