Yesterday must go down not just as one of the more wretched European adventures at the Breeders' Cup, but as one of the blackest anytime, anywhere. It will be remembered for the grotesque sight of George Washington, one of the most charismatic thoroughbreds of recent years, standing on three legs in front of the Monmouth Park grandstand, a paragon of the breed helplessly, hopelessly crippled.
The colt was never going well on a surface reduced to slop by two days of rain, and was coasting home towards the rear when suffering a fracture of the off-fore ankle. His condition was apparent to the horrified crowd, and Aidan O'Brien, his trainer, dashed across the mire to be with his stricken champion. As the track's veterinary officer explained, it was "a hopeless injury so far as repair was concerned", and O'Brien immediately requested that the horse be put down.
The fate of "gorgeous" George Washington is no kind of epitaph to a memorable career, which had originally seemed to end in the equivalent race at Churchill Downs a year earlier. His failure at stud last winter prompted his owners to return him to training, news that was greeted with joy by his admirers. That twist of fortune contains no trace of a bonus now. The calamity placed in due perspective a grim day for the European raiding party, whitewashed for the fourth time in 24 years, and the first since 1998.
Its standard bearer had been George Washington's stablemate, Dylan Thomas, but the rain ruined his chance in the Turf. The Arc winner is best on a firm surface, and he was struggling for rhythm passing the stands for the first time. In the end, with English Channel roaring seven lengths clear, it was left to Red Rocks to plug on for third, with Dylan Thomas eased into fifth. He needs no exoneration, of course: quite apart from the inimical conditions, he had already endured perhaps the toughest campaign of any modern champion.
The other big gun from Ballydoyle, Excellent Art, came closest to success in the Mile, beaten a length by Kip Deville after finishing fast but too late yet again. The race panned out according to the script gloomily written when he was drawn 13 of 14. Dropped in early, Excellent Art had plenty of ground to make up in the backstretch, and had to challenge wide round the final bend as Kip Deville, always handy, stole a decisive advantage. Excellent Art really has been unlucky all season long: he has won one Group One prize, but might well have won five had the cards fallen right.
The tone of the day had been set in the first of the turf races, where the four European runners included Passage Of Time, the favourite, but she could only keep on for third, beaten a length behind Lahudood, while the other Newmarket filly, Simply Perfect, disgraced herself by bolting in the middle of the race.
With Johnny Murtagh powerless, she all but knocked over two rivals in making for the outside rail – apparently recognising the stable complex where she had been lodging all week – and very nearly collided with an outrider and his terrified pony. All concerned were extremely fortunate to escape unscathed.
"She was just lost out there," Murtagh said. "She came in here a few days ago and now she just wants to go home." By the end of the day, she was not alone in that sentiment.