A divisional title is not usually decided so early in the piece, but at Newbury yesterday Paco Boy laid down a formidable marker in the season's first top-level contest for older milers, the Lockinge Stakes. The five-year-old, now in his full physical prime after earlier problems, scored a relatively narrow victory but in so doing oozed that ephemeral quality, class, as he demonstrated the instant, devastating acceleration invariably associated with champions.
Paco Boy, the 8-11 favourite to see off his eight rivals, took an over-enthusiastic hold of his bit in the early stages as the outsiders Stimulation and Prince Of Dance towed the field down the centre of the straight eight, but soon settled in Richard Hughes's hands and thereafter it was clear he was galloping supremely easily.
Hughes had the luxury of being able to switch position to achieve his optimum run through, and for a heartbeat going to the final furlong it seemed that he might have overdone the confidence as Ouqba, out of his eyeline on the far side of the pack, got first run on the attack to the line. But only for a heartbeat; one shake of the reins, one flick of the whip and Paco Boy cut down the leader in six electric strides. His three-quarters of a length winning margin was a gross underestimation of his superiority and the first two were nearly four lengths in front of Lord Shanakill.
"He is just explosive," Hughes said, "and all you can do wrong on him is to get there too soon. The zip he has can take him past any horse, but you have to save it for the very end."
Anyone who has ever tried to run for a train with a stone in a shoe will empathise with Paco Boy, who spent much of last season footsore. After running fourth in last year's edition of yesterday's race he was found to have an infected hoof, and it says much for his resilience as well as his talent that he was able to compete so well at the highest level afterwards.
Now, with his physique mature and his mind no longer compromised by the notion of discomfort, he has shown what he can really do, and his next target will be a repeat Queen Anne Stakes victory at Royal Ascot next month.
"He's a better horse this year than last," confirmed Richard Hannon, "and he'll be hard to beat. I train 200 horses and it's rare to find one like him."
The Classic generation get to strut their stuff again today at Longchamp, where 16 line up for the French version of the 2,000 Guineas, including Paco Boy's stablemate Dick Turpin, runner-up in the real thing on the Rowley Mile 15 days ago. The Alain de Royer-Dupre-trained Siyouni will lead the home defence.
However she fares, there was no Classic double in the States last night. Lookin At Lucky, sixth when favourite for the Kentucky Derby, made amends in the Preakness Stakes for trainer Bob Baffert, with the Churchill Downs winner Super Saver only eighth.