Doctor toughened bylong road to the top
Friday 27 June 2008
By Chris McGrath, Racing Correspondent
Instinct suggests the present crop of three-year-olds to be a vintage one. The photograph dividing Henrythenavigator and New Approach in the 2,000 Guineas is already acquiring the hue of immortality, while the unbeaten filly Zarkava is considered a meteor in France. But they will be properly measured only when leaving the sanctuary of their own generation, and for now a little more respect for their elders might still be in order.
True, it is already difficult to think of an older miler that might beat Henrythenavigator in the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood next month, but fresh detail should emerge on Sunday – and with pleasing symmetry, too – about the relative state of play over a mile and a half. Any remaining differences between New Approach and the horses he beat at Epsom will presumably be settled in the Irish Derby at the Curragh; but a revised standard will promptly be established by the older horses converging, the very same hour, in the Grand Prix de Saint Cloud.
Though Soldier Of Fortune is favourite to build on the foundations he laid in the Coronation Cup at Epsom, the best gauge in the Paris field is perhaps Doctor Dino. This remarkable alloy of mental and physical steel has spread his last seven starts across six countries, never missing the frame, and has unmistakably improved with every mile of his odyssey. But his trainer, Richard Gibson, weighs his words with care when he assesses his next challenge. "I think this is the best race run over a mile and a half since the Arc," the expatriate Englishman said yesterday. "Anywhere in the world."
And he should know, because no thoroughbred in training has gone to greater lengths to evaluate global standards than Doctor Dino. Funnily enough, the six-year-old has himself discovered new horizons of late, trying Sunday's distance for the first time only last December, when he won the Hong Kong Vase. He was then third in the Sheema Classic in Dubai, before finally seeking honour in his own country, winning the Grand Prix de Chantilly just down the road from Gibson's stables.
The fact that he is once again racing on home soil does not mean that his passport has been mislaid. "There's not that much for a horse like this in the spring and early summer," Gibson explained. "He was very unlucky in Dubai, where he had a very bad draw and was last into the straight. He was in front three yards after the post, and I was spitting. Everything was wrong for him in the race here, too – he hates that sort of slow pace, but he got up because he is so brave.
"I think he'll be ideally suited by the fast ground and fast pace on Sunday, and that he's proving worthy of a much higher rating since going over a mile and a half. Whoever wins will have real bragging rights, because they're all there, all the best [older] horses."
Blue Square make Doctor Dino 5-1 third favourite, behind Soldier Of Fortune on 10-11 and Getaway, who already seemed to be struggling with the track when hampered at Epsom in the Coronation Cup, on 3-1. "I must admit I'm slightly perplexed by the way Getaway is still being hyped," Gibson observed. "He was a stayer last season and has not yet won a Group One."
Youmzain, three times a runner-up at that level, looks tempting at 12-1, while the other British raider, Lucarno, is 20-1. Whatever happens, Doctor Dino will forever be cherished by his trainer for putting him on the map – almost literally. "We have had him since a yearling," Gibson said. "And he cost nothing, €30,000 (£21,000). Since then he has won €2m (£1.4m). We've got only one major league horse in the barn at the moment, so it's important he keeps us involved at this level.
"I so admire his athletic prowess, and he has this exceptional appetite to go with it. He's so receptive to training, just thrives on it. Really, he's a Jonny Wilkinson of a horse."
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