Poetry in motion: Yeats writes his name in history

Horse becomes the first to win four Ascot Gold Cups
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The Independent Online

The race took little over four minutes to run, but the performance had a resonance across the centuries. For in becoming the first horse ever to win the Ascot Gold Cup for a fourth time, Yeats yesterday broke free not only from 202 years of precedent – the race was first run in 1807 – but from the insular boundaries of the Turf.

Within the horseracing parish, his achievement bears comparison with the three Grand Nationals won by Red Rum, or the day when Frankie Dettori rode all seven winners at this same course, in 1996. But the man who rode Yeats yesterday, Johnny Murtagh, felt entitled to compare his mount to Muhammad Ali himself. "Today Yeats showed everyone that he's the ultimate heavyweight champion," he said.

Brawny as they are, thoroughbreds are fragile too, and it is difficult to keep one sound enough to contest the same race four years running, never mind to have him at his peak each time. Perhaps the most apt analogy of all, therefore, is Sir Steve Redgrave's indefatigable Olympic record of five consecutive gold medals.

For no race in the world presents a more exacting test of stamina for the top-class thoroughbred than the Gold Cup. Once again Yeats won at his leisure. At the end of the two and a half miles, he looked as though he could cheerfully embark on another lap.

Afterwards the Ladies' Day crowd shed all its formality and cheered exuberantly as the champion returned to be unsaddled. Even those more interested in hats than horses had shared a tangible sense of history as Murtagh sent Yeats into a clear lead rounding the home turn. He was never in danger of being caught thereafter.

Yeats is trained in Co Tipperary by the record-breaking Aidan O'Brien, for a partnership headed by John Magnier. O'Brien has produced many outstanding horses in various disciplines, but only his triple champion hurdler, Istabraq, has approached the popularity achieved by Yeats during an epoch-making career.

The horse is now eight years old, a veteran by the standards of Flat racing, and O'Brien expressed doubt whether he could return for another crack at the race next year.

But Magnier was making no commitments one way or the other. "We're not going to rush into any decisions," he said. "We just want to do what's right for the horse now, as well as for the game. It doesn't get any better than this, and we will enjoy today. We're all delighted and proud to be associated with him."

O'Brien, still only 39, was saddling his 28th Royal Ascot winner but remains scrupulously mild in speech and demeanour. "I was so sick all morning, because I really believed this couldn't happen," he said. "History is very hard to change. We knew we had a wonderful horse but usually fairy tales don't come true. The only time I felt pressure like this was with Istabraq, and they are very unique horses."