Racing: Lahib profits from Selkirk's ill-fortune

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The Independent Online
OH TO be given a second chance. If John Reid could have another play with the cards he was dealt on Selkirk, the finish of the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes would have taken on a very different shape.

Lahib and Willie Carson might still have kept on clear to the winning post but you can bet that Selkirk would have been maneouvred wide in the straight to allow his big, biting stride full room to operate. The fact that Selkirk eventually struggled round to take third, two and a half lengths off second placed Brief Truce, says wonders for his guts but little about his misfortunes.

Hindsight is everything. We have hours and hours to re-run the videos. John Reid had a few moments of early strategy and then split seconds of decision- making as the race hotted up. In hindsight his decisions were wrong.

But you weren't to know it at the time. A blazing gallop set by Lahib's pacemaker Hamas, so fast that he took both last year's Guineas winner Mystiko and Brief Truce's own pacemaker Sharp Review off their legs, Reid deciding that the place to be was saving breath at the back.

Sure Willie Carson was already hunting up the leader ready to grab command once the post came in sight. But Selkirk's two biggest rivals, the fillies All At Sea and Marling were both also into the waiting game.

Ten runners is not an enormous field but it can still give you plenty of galloping flotsam just when you least want it. For John Reid the troubles began early. At the start of the turn, he was suddenly tightened up between Second Set and the fading Sharp Review. His size and power shrugged that off. The other problems wouldn't be so easy.

For as Reid swung Selkirk into the straight, he had Marling inside him and Brief Truce ahead on his left. His best route was to follow All At Sea through but that didn't account for the fading Hamas now hanging left, his own game over. Instead of finding room to gallop Selkirk was pinned between Hamas and Brief Truce.

We are talking about milli-seconds and about contact sport, and at this moment Michael Kinane on Brief Truce was under no obligation to give the favourite any aid. Squeezed for room, John Reid now had no option but to punt his luck for a split outside All At Sea and before he got to the filly's quarters Brief Truce was blocking him yet again.

We are talking about 300 yards, 18 seconds from the line. In desperation Reid abandoned everything and pulled his partner back and behind Brief Truce. Lahib was home and hosed but with tremendous resolution Selkirk buckled down again and got past All At Sea to get third money for his connections.

Selkirk's next target may be the Breeders Cup Mile whereas Brief Truce will definitely pitch for the 10 furlong Breeders Cup Classic, at three million dollars, the richest prize in the game.

Lahib is an unlikely American traveller. His target has always been the Champion Stakes in three weeks time, yesterday's race was, at pounds 208,000, an extremely lucrative bonus. It was also fulfilment for a horse who has had to undergo surgery on both his knee and on one of his testicles, that last personal indignity shared also by Selkirk.

But on a day when autumn sunshine salvaged a lovely afternoon from the muddy gloom of Friday, Lahib pulled off one other achievement. All his life he has been plagued by a problem which affects few of us. It has seemed impossible for so beautiful an animal to match ability to appearance. Yesterday's performance against the cream of Europe's milers with little Marling a battle weary seventh, was proof that he's now as good as he looks.

Lahib's time of 1min 44.5sec was two seconds faster than the Fillies Mile winner Ivanka and a full three quicker than Desert Secret took to edge out Geisway in the Royal Lodge Stakes. Yet none of those performances, nor the splendid northern victories of Sharpalto and Quick Ransom in the handicaps, should cloak the need for a serious re-think of this well intentioned, grandiosely titled, and now un-sponsored Festival at Ascot.

It was an idea of the Eighties. To pour energy and cash into creating a British autumn raceday to match the Arc and the Breeders Cup. In that context yesterday's 15,000 crowd (2,000 down on last year) is final proof that it doesn't work.

Far better to accept yesterday as just a cracking afternoon's racing and to inject all the grand titles and high powered promotion into a day which needs a relaunch and is at a far more suitable time for a Festival. It's called Derby Day.

Epsom should load all its goodies into one super card that first Saturday in June. Yes not just the Derby, but the Oaks and the Coronation Cup, a big mile and a quarter handicap and a top sprint down that fastest five-furlong chute in the world. At one bound you have the biggest racing event of the year. Derby Day is great again.

Why not? We have the cards. Unlike John Reid we have time to play them too. Our excuses won't deserve to wash.