Pour Moi and brilliant Barzalona deliver overdue justice for Fabre
Monday 06 June 2011
As a round pen that can only accommodate a single horse, the winner's circle at Epsom is ruthlessly literal. Uniquely on the British Turf, the placed runners here are banished among the also-rans, unsaddled out on the track. The bare inches that divided the first two in the Investec Derby spanned an emotional and financial abyss. But the marginal nature of Pour Moi's success on Saturday was sooner expressive of the precarious pinnacle he had achieved, than of his superiority over his peers.
Thirteen colts had lined up for the 232nd running of the sport's most venerable race, themselves sieved down from a foal crop, back in 2008, running into tens of thousands. As the one ultimately led into this tiny enclosure, Pour Moi seemed to enter the eye of the needle. Those who watched him do so included a trainer who has now saddled the runner-up four times in five years; and, in the owner of the third, someone who might fleetingly comprehend how you might indeed trade a kingdom for such a horse.
But his ravenous acceleration past the entire field – perceptibly picking up again, when still five lengths down a furlong out – permitted them no doubt that Pour Moi was the best horse on the day. If anything, however, the performance of his rider was still more extraordinary.
In standing bolt upright to salute the stands, even before his mount's nose had intruded between Treasure Beach and the winning post, Mickael Barzalona flourished a signature onto the first masterpiece of what will manifestly become a great career. It was as though even his breathtaking tactics through the race had been inadequate to contain his joyous belief. In yanking back Pour Moi's head, even as he joined Treasure Beach for the photo, he allowed some froth to spill over the simmering pot of his young genius.
The 35-year interval since Empery had last exported the Derby across the Channel had allowed a suspicion to develop that its demands were somehow inimical to the way the French test their horses. Many had been filled with mistrust by the possibility that Barzalona might ride Pour Moi round Epsom the way he had round Saint-Cloud, when pouncing from last to first in his trial. When he duly settled the colt in last place, just 24 hours after his first ride over this bewildering rollercoaster, they saw something closer to effrontery than impudence. The celebration, to that extent, was seamless with the ride.
There could be no greater contrast in the means by which Johnny Murtagh, with all his experience round here, achieved the same ends in the Oaks the previous day. Spooling out docile rivals from the front, he retained just enough fuel to hold Wonder Of Wonders. What both races did have in common, of course, was that Aidan O'Brien saddled the runner-up.
The Ballydoyle trainer will recognise that his employers at Coolmore Stud, who owned both winner and second, will probably see more commercial possibilities in the relative flair of Pour Moi – albeit he is not stabled down the road, at their own yard in Co Tipperary, but outside Paris with a close ally of the Maktoums. Even so, it would be excusable for O'Brien to be privately cursing his luck in the race that so dominates his brief for John Magnier and his partners. He has now had 39 starters since Galileo and High Chaparral won consecutively in 2001 and 2002, but serial podium finishes confirm his approach to be spot-on. It will happen again, sooner rather than later.
And you could not be at all surprised were Barzalona to be in the saddle when it does, depending on the outcome of the inevitable competition for his services in the years ahead. Already Sheikh Mohammed, Magnier's great rival, has been grooming the boy wonder as a potential successor to Frankie Dettori, but Murtagh's resignation from Ballydoyle at the end of last season has left a more pressing vacancy.
Magnier would presumably be tempted by a fresh solution, an old one having backfired last week in a manner that was at once astonishing and unsurprising. The latest evidence of Kieren Fallon's incorrigible capacity for melodrama ultimately saw him prohibited from riding against Native Khan – to whom he had made a formal commitment – by the Court of Appeal, barely six hours before the race. In the event, Recital proved every bit as awkward as in his trial at Leopardstown, and finished a place behind Native Khan, who did not quite seem to get home in fifth.
For now, anyhow, Ballydoyle will continue to rely on the best available. It remains a mystery, however, why one of their own stalwarts does not rank higher in that list. Colm O'Donoghue rode another immaculate race on Treasure Beach, in the most coveted position of all on the home turn and striking for home at exactly the right time.
As for Carlton House, it would be absurd to be disappointed with what was much the best run of his career. The favourite could have had a smoother passage, admittedly, but unlike the winner lacked the brilliance to salvage the situation. He may yet do better again back over ten furlongs.
In the event, it turned out that people had deceived themselves about how this race would finally redress an unrequited craving. It was not the monarch, nor even one of her own subjects, who deservedly saw justice done at last. For it would be ridiculous to pretend that the Queen's role on the modern Turf has been commensurate with that of André Fabre. As it was, the 22-time champion trainer of France defused his intrusion on the royalists' script with consummate diplomacy. "It is a race between horses, not between persons," he said. "Otherwise I would have finished far behind Her Majesty."
Fabre will now train Pour Moi for the Arc, the race he bestrides with seven winners. Another formidable candidate volunteered himself yesterday, admittedly, when Reliable Man preserved his unbeaten record in the Prix du Jockey-Club at Chantilly, Roderic O'Connor and Casamento both fading after contesting the early lead.
Workforce is still around, of course, to measure these three-year-olds against the standards set at Epsom and Longchamp last year, while So You Think is looking a colossus at Ballydoyle. Tomorrow week, moreover, the freak Frankel runs at Royal Ascot. If she loves her racing as much as we have all been told, the Queen is still going to look upon 2011 as one of the best years she has seen.
* Chris McGrath's Nap
Regal Approval (7.45 Windsor)
Drop to the minimum trip looks just the ticket after again travelling strongly over 6f last time.
* Next best
Pegasus Again (8.15 Windsor)
Returned from a break with an eye-catching effort down the field at Kempton.
* One to watch
Indian Trail (David Nicholls) is 11 now, and needs everything to fall right, but the way he hurtled home at Epsom confirmed he will pop up some day off an indulgent mark.
* Where the money's going
Deacon Blues is 10-1 from 12-1 with William Hill for the Wokingham Handicap at Royal Ascot next week.
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