At Newmarket yesterday this big dark bull of a runner put four lengths between himself and a humiliated gang of victims to become evens favourite for that distant Classic. Pat Eddery, his jockey, said in the full flush of flying executive class through the Dewhurst Stakes: 'There wasn't a second when he ran in France last time and there wasn't one today.' Disagree if you can.
It will matter not to the purveyors of racing rhetoric that countless brilliant two-year-olds have been imperceptibly swallowed by the time the Cheltenham Festival arrives, and it may yet be significant that Zafonic would look entirely at home at jump racing's premier meeting. For his age he is a monster, a great overbearing schoolyard tough who could barge his way through a line of tanks, and that is probably the main foundation of his superiority.
The contrast with Arazi is worth making. When that one reemerged bent-kneed with the weight of expectation, it was an ominous sign that his frame had not expanded appreciably, whereas the connections of Zafonic will hope he does not grow much before next spring for fear that he will burst out of his stable. Against the doubt about his almost excessive maturity is the fact that he maintained an even balance (according to Eddery) during his journey down Newmarket's Rowley Mile course.
Eddery will remember that trip almost daily through the off-season. He will recall that Zafonic and Firm Pledge (who was third) looked jaw-wrenchingly uncomfortable with the slow early pace, but more pertinently he will re- live the moment when the erstwhile leader Sueboog disappeared from his vision and became a faint galloping noise somewhere to Zafonic's rear.
One trifling reservation was that Zafonic failed to maintain a straight route as he dumped Inchinor and Firm Pledge, but Eddery had a satisfactory explanation even for that. 'Newmarket's a big place,' he said. 'He was having a look round.' A look at the clock, meanwhile, confirmed that Zafonic's winning time was only fractionally outside the course record, an astonishing feat given the initial tempo of the race.
Inchinor's trainer, Roger Charlton, disclosed that his dwarfed contender had spent the morning with his foot in an ice bucket to reduce some soreness, but added: 'I don't think it affected the result. I reckon mine would win four out of 10 Dewhursts, but he (Zafonic) is in a different class.' Eddery's mount was in a different class, too, to Fatherland (fifth) and Petardia (sixth), both of whom were other worthy guides to Zafonic's abilities.
Exhiliration (and hysteria) aside, it is worth remembering that Zafonic is not being seen as a potential Derby horse because, as Eddery suggests, 'a mile is about as far as he would want to go'. That limitation will prevent him surging into immortality, except as an illustrious miler, though limitations were the last things on people's minds here yesterday.
New buds keep appearing, however dry racing's soil.
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