Head hopes for unique feat with repeat victory

Trainer who rode dual Breeders' Cup Mile winner Miesque stands on brink of treble with Goldikova

Freddie Head, astride a grey hack, emerges through the mist and blushing trees. He has a trilby on his head. Honestly, these French. We have Newmarket, with its blasted heath and single, shabby thoroughfare. Here their elite racing stables nestle in a Bourbon hunting forest, among palaces, lakes and parkland.

This one houses a mare on the brink of history, but you would not know it. Yesterday morning even the fitful percussion of a farrier's hammer seemed to obtain the sustaining, staunch quality of some ageless grandfather clock. As the sun broke through, autumn vapours were coaxed from the tiled stables, from the straw muckheap. The Turf can span few greater contrasts than the one dividing this somnolent scene from the sweltering crucible of Santa Anita, where Goldikova has pulled off consecutive wins at the Breeders' Cup. But that's why her quest for the hat-trick, this time at Churchill Downs, lends due substance to its American billing as the Thoroughbred World Championships.

The locals may have eyes only for Zenyatta, risking her immaculate record of 19 wins in 19 starts in the Classic. No horse, after all, has ever won three Breeders' Cup races. Rather inconveniently, however, she may find a precedent intruding barely an hour before she lines up on Saturday week. For Goldikova has looked as good as ever this year, and was yesterday trading on Betfair as 5-4 favourite for the TVG Breeders' Cup Mile.

Head, welcoming a party of British journalists and cameramen, offered a qualified tribute to Zenyatta, who has tended to avoid open competition apart from that extraordinary performance in the Classic last year. "Zenyatta is amazing, too," he said. "But what I can say is that some Group Ones in America are more like Group One and a half [ie almost Group Twos]. They don't always meet together with the best, with the colts, with three- and four-year-olds. But of course she's a champion, you can see that in the way she parades herself. She has a big personality."

He is well qualified to pronounce on greatness, as the only man to have both trained and ridden a winner at the Breeders' Cup. Goldikova and Miesque represent the twin Everests of Head's career in racing: Miesque, herself a dual winner of the Breeders' Cup Mile, was perhaps the best of over 3,000 horses he steered home before retiring, aged 50, in 1997. Remarkably, in fact, it was only in winning the Prix de la Forêt earlier this month that Goldikova claimed outright, with 11, the record she had previously shared with Miesque as Europe's most prolific Group One winner. Seldom does destiny deal its cards with such symmetry. It was in Louisville, for instance, that Miesque won her second Mile.

"She'd been beaten in the Moulin, and the owners didn't want to run," Head recalled. "But [trainer] François Boutin insisted. That was a gamble, when the rest of us weren't so sure she'd kept her form. The ground was soft, too. But she was brilliant. She had that turn of foot. But she did always pull hard. She was a more difficult horse, very tense, very nervous. She wasn't a pleasure to ride."

Goldikova may be more pliant but she, too, particularly responds to the hectic environment of American racing. "The faster they go, the better she is," Head said. "That's why she's so brilliant out there. When they start, they go. Here everyone stops, holds back. She had a very hard draw last year, and was a long way behind in the back stretch. I was a little worried, I must say. But Olivier [Peslier] knew what he was doing."

She quickened twice to pull it out of the fire that day, producing one of the most visually dramatic surges in Breeders' Cup history – in no way diminished by the fact that Zenyatta promptly did something at least as spectacular. And she returns in even better heart this time round, having won the Forêt by relaxing in front – in contrast with last year, when she failed to do so and was turned over at 2-5. "She's going to be favourite, of course," Head shrugged. "But a race is a race. You never know. It's not going to be a cakewalk."

With those tumid lips never far from a smile, and his flowing grey hair, Head has become familiar to the point of caricature in one of the Turf's most cherished dynasties. In his time, remember, he rode Arc winners trained by his grandfather, father and sister. And now he is proving just as accomplished in their métier.

As it happens, Head has never ridden Goldikova in her work. "I haven't the condition any more," he said ruefully. "But I would love to. It's one thing I am thinking about. It's a very hard question, which is more satisfying: to ride Miesque, or train Goldikova? But maybe it is just a bit more as a trainer. You live with her every day. She's part of the family."

Even to the rest of us, who have only seen her brilliance in glimpses, the memory of Goldikova will prove one of the Turf's most enchanting heirlooms. Whether her owners, the Wertheimer brothers, will again keep her in training remains to be seen. For now Head scarcely dares even to discuss the possibility, simply grateful that a contemporary and rival of Zarkava should still be setting global standards.

"They love to see their horses race," he admitted. "The stress of watching, that's their pleasure. She's very sound, and has the will. She hasn't been raced too often. Her life is mostly routine. It's 90 per cent routine, and 10 per cent inspiration. You might never get another like this – or, if you did, perhaps only for a short time. That's what is so special about her. She's exactly the same now as when she was three. Even just cantering in the morning, she has this free, beautiful action, so much gas and energy. All she wants is to run."

Turf account

Chris McGrath's Nap

Grissom (1.40 Musselburgh) Has repeatedly shaped well since changing stable, not least when hampered before managing second at Pontefract last time.

Next best

Twisted (8.40 Kempton) Blinkers and a step up in distance paid off at Wolverhampton last time. He had plunged down the weights during a stint in sprint races and can cope with an 8lb rise now that he goes farther again.

One to watch

Sunny Game (M L W Bell) Took the right turn at Doncaster on Saturday, having reached a crossroads when disappointing on his previous start, forced back by heavy traffic before regrouping impressively in the straight.

Where the money's going

Tony McCoy is 5-4 favourite from 6-4 with Coral for overdue recognition as BBC Sports Personality of the Year.

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
Voices
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Sport
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
sport
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little