Racing: Make way for Armiger

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The Independent Online
ATTITUDE can be everything. And when it's coupled with ability the sky is the limit. That's why Armiger is heading for the stars.

Yesterday's Racing Post Trophy was only the second race of his life, but the way he destroyed a top-class field for this last Group One event of the season made words like 'next year's Derby' more than just inventions on bookmakers' betting slips.

It's one thing for a horse to have the speed and power to move up to his rivals. It's another for him then to want to run all the way to the line. That's what Armiger did yesterday. Six long lengths Ivanka was behind at the line, with the third horse Zind another four lengths away in a finish that was more of a rout from a furlong out.

The situation was hardly one tailor-made for a novice who had never seen a racecourse until 30 September. There was immediately an aggressively fast pace set by the freshly blinkered Noyan, Newton's Law and Wahem. It was the sort of early attack that could put a beginner right out of stride. Not Armiger. Right from the start Pat Eddery had a real horse beneath him.

So fast was the pace that several jockeys were showing the pushing shoulders and lifting elbows of effort even before the turn. Noyan had beaten off his other two leaders as they straightened up, but already it was Armiger who was going best behind him. Eddery's body was still in the upright position of restraint as his chestnut partner came through towards the front accompanied by Steve Cauthen on the filly Ivanka, the only other runner in the 10-strong field who had the legs to make a battle of it.

Fully 500 yards out Armiger was already in front with a long stretch of Yorkshire grass in front of him, and a tough and experienced filly who had taken a top race at Ascot last time beside him. Eddery's body tilted forward just a fraction. Cauthen slapped the whip once hard and back handed across his filly's flank. The signs were there to see. The colt had Ivanka beaten.

Running to the furlong pole he already had two lengths clear advantage, and that alone would have amounted to an impressive performance. But what happened next might prove it to be a mighty one, for up all of those last 200 yards Armiger's flowing, biting stride never faltered. He galloped clean away from Ivanka all the way to the post.

It's something you only see very occasionally. The greatest single example was the peerless Mill Reef, who in every single one of his victories was increasing the distance between himself and the second horse as they ran towards the line. It means above all else that the horse really loves to race.

He must be a beauty to own, and for Prince Khalid Abdullah he is the third part of an astonishing triumvirate of top two-year-olds completed by the Grand Criterion winner Tenby and the brilliant Dewhurst victor Zafonic. Any one of these colts would be something to have Classic dreams about all winter. To have three such at this stage is unprecedented in recent times.

Zafonic is the most brilliantly speedy of the three, so much so that Ladbrokes won't offer more than even money for him for next year's 2,000 Guineas, but both Tenby and Armiger are Derby types and have to be the major contenders as we look ahead to Epsom next June.

There's no reason why Armiger should not stay the mile-and-a-half since he is by the Arc de Triomphe winner Rainbow Quest out of a Northern Dancer mare. Like the other two Classic contenders, he was bred by his owner, proof that it's not necessary to scour the yearling markets to find the champions of the future.

What's more you don't necessarily need the white rail paddocks of Kentucky which had become an almost obligatory nursery for the Classic colt. Armiger was bred at his owner's Berkshire stud, and he and Tenby spent their growing days munching the green grass of Kildare at the new Abdullah set-up in Ireland.

Of course it's a long way to next year's Classics and Armiger has one ugly piece of history against him. In four runnings to date no winner of the Racing Post Trophy has ever won a race afterwards. If Armiger fails too, the curse will be bad enough to scare an army.

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