Racing: Zafonic bogged down by feet of clay: Lofty views of the Guineas winner are brought to earth as he is felled by Bigstone

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The Independent Online
HE CAME, he saw, he capitulated. Zafonic's return to British shores after his staggering 2,000 Guineas success removed much of what had gone before when he dribbled home seventh in the Sussex Stakes yesterday. The awesome beast of Newmarket may now be travelling down the spiral of paper champions.

Arazi last season and Commander In Chief this summer have suffered by falling from the lofty pedestals erected for them by others, but rarely has there been a hollowness to match the one felt on the Sussex downs yesterday. Excuses for Zafonic were thick on the ground, but the naked truth was that last season's champion two-year-old had galloped from wonder horse to fallible giant in under two minutes.

In the parade ring Zafonic dragged his lad round with customary arrogance, but on the way to post came the first glimmer of unease as the colt appeared to forget he was supposed to be in harmony with Pat Eddery.

There was still no assistance forthcoming when the stalls snapped open. 'He just didn't fire and was in trouble a long way out,' Eddery said. 'He just cannot handle this sort of ground.'

The good to soft going headed the initial list of mitigating circumstances for Zafonic, but for Andre Fabre, the colt's trainer, that was not enough.

'The ground played a part but wasn't enough to explain the run,' he said. 'To finish behind good horses is not so bad, but he was such a long way away there has to be something wrong.

'When there is nothing wrong with legs or the tactical side and a horse blows out like that there must be something else. My first feeling is that he ran like those horses who bleed in America.' That notion was later confirmed by the racecourse vet.

Fabre has not felt comfortable keeping Zafonic simmering at race readiness since the Guineas and feels the pot may be burned dry. 'I was worried because he has been such a long time off the course,' he said. 'It makes it difficult to train a horse, especially a colt, because they need to run. I don't regret running him because horses belong on racecourses.'

Fabre counted out another possibility, one that has been doing the rumour rounds, that Zafonic has a wind infirmity. 'The horse is a hard puller and he roars in the mornings,' he said, 'but there are no breathing problems.'

Zafonic's future will unfold after tests this morning, and he will continue to command more newsprint than yesterday's Sussex Stakes winner, his fellow French challenger, Bigstone.

Without Zafonic's failure, the victory of Elie Lellouche's colt over the 1,000 Guineas winner, Sayyedati, would have dominated the day, but here a marvellous performance was almost ignored.

The achievement was not lost, however, on the winning jockey, Dominique Boeuf, who, like Lellouche, was recording his first success in Britain. His victory celebration was so frenzied he almost fell from the saddle.

Bigstone is now likely to take a route once planned for Zafonic, the Prix Jacques le Marois followed by the Breeders' Cup; his trainer's remarks revealing how a hero has fallen. 'We were not confident of beating Zafonic,' Lellouche said, 'but we will not be afraid in the future.'

The anticlimax also muted the fanfare for First Trump's fourth consecutive victory, in the Group Two Richmond Stakes. His trainer, Geoff Wragg, like Fabre, has a problem, but the more pleasant one of deciding between six furlongs or a mile as the optimum distance for his colt.

William Hill expect First Trump to manage a mile and make him 16-1 joint-favourite for the 1994 2,000 Guineas. But future champions were not on the minds of those at Goodwood yesterday. They were still recovering from the one that had just gone.

(Photograph omitted)