Racing: Fallon relishing role in saddle as character of George Washington is put on trial

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The Independent Online

Nobody could ever have envisaged the twists and turns since taken by both horse and rider since Kieren Fallon last rode George Washington, in the Irish 2,000 Guineas last year.

The horse, such a paragon of thoroughbred virility on the racetrack, infamously proved a failure at stud and was sent back to Ballydoyle in disgrace. By then, of course, the stable jockey had been charged with conspiracy to defraud, told that he must stand trial at the Old Bailey, and had his licence to ride in Britain suspended. And, as the icing on the cake, he was banned worldwide for six months after failing a drugs test in France.

Whatever the outcome of his trial, which finally begins later this month, it has already been a heartbreaking experience not just for Fallon, but for the whole sport. This weekend, more than any other since his return in June, showcases the prodigious talent at stake.

At Leopardstown today, in the Tattersalls Millions Irish Champion Stakes, Fallon rides Dylan Thomas for the first time since they won the same prize last year. And tomorrow he renews a cherished partnership when George Washington contests the Prix du Moulin at Longchamp.

Despite George Washington's patchy record since they were parted, he remains a most bewitching horse and this race is certainly the most intriguing of the weekend.

In every respect – not least in terms of narrative – he has the perfect foil in Ramonti. This horse remains Godolphin's lone Group One winner of 2007 and Sheikh Mohammed will be making gold statues of him if he can again beat the Ballydoyle icon. Of course, he was only able to do so at Ascot because his opponent was so rusty, and his own rider so merciless. But he put up a slicker performance at Goodwood last time and Frankie Dettori can be lethal if allowed to control the pace round the bends at Longchamp.

One of the men who knows the horse best is adamant that George Washington should have won when tried over a stiff 10 furlongs, at Sandown on his latest start, but surely the return to a mile will play to his strengths.

He hung fire before running on, admittedly, when making his comeback over the straight mile at Royal Ascot, but he did something very similar when returning from a lay-off at Goodwood last season. If he retains all his old magic, the only horse who will ever get George Washington off the bridle is George Washington himself.

Time to celebrate Dylan Thomas

Many observers of the racing scene affect a weary disenchantment with its mores and priorities. But one of their favourite tenets – that top-class colts, with future stud fees to protect, are campaigned with a peculiar blend of timidity and cynicism – can no longer stand unchallenged.

After his failure at stud, very little is at stake in the long term for George Washington. To all intents and purposes, he can be treated as a gelding. Dylan Thomas, in contrast, must retire to Coolmore with as seductive a CV as possible. Yet he has peeled off the gloves and taken on all comers, even to the extent of getting his ears boxed by Authorized and Manduro. Whereas George Washington has raced only twice this season, today Dylan Thomas contests his sixth Group One race since the spring.

True, that hardly compares with Yellowstone, who today contests his ninth Group race of the season in the Man O'War Stakes in New York. And his perseverance over 10 furlongs seems to reflect an obstinate belief that commercial breeders remain reluctant to send their mares to stallions who were best over a mile and a half – despite the example of Coolmore's own exceptional young sires, Montjeu and Galileo. Dylan Thomas has still made only three starts over the longer distance. Arguably unlucky not to win the Derby last year, he made handsome amends in the Irish version, and earlier this summer outclassed his rivals for the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes.

Because he met a disappointing field there, he was rather damned with faint praise and the chances are that he may meet the same fate today, when facing only five rivals – including his own pacemaker. Finsceal Beo is by no means certain to stay, while Red Rocks has been given a break since Royal Ascot and his main target is the Breeders' Cup.

Some persist in the fanciful notion that Dylan Thomas is not the most committed in a battle, but he has been guilty of no more than swaying wearily in trying to match the acceleration of Manduro at Royal Ascot. And he made a perfectly honest effort against Authorized last month, meeting traffic in conditions that certainly suited the winner better. Last year he wore down no less a mare than Ouija Board in this race, and it is high time he was celebrated for his pluck, consistency and quality. Granted fast ground, he has every chance of getting even with Authorized and Manduro in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe next month.

Hellvelyn has speed for top honours

Britain's contribution to a top-class weekend of racing is the Betfred Haydock Sprint Cup, where Sakhee's Secret is hot favourite to follow up his outstanding performance in the July Cup at Newmarket. He will be very hard to beat if repeating that form, and his astute trainer will doubtless freshened him up in the meantime.

He is the most likely winner, but those seeking more attractive odds should get a good each-way interest from Balthazaar's Gift, who can show abnormal ability when the cards fall right, and Hellvelyn (3.10). This improving young sprinter had more in hand than the narrow margin implied when winning a listed prize at Beverley last month, and had previously tanked along before getting tired on his belated comeback in the July Cup.

Northern Empire (2.05) lost his way after being placed in Group company as a juvenile and his promising debut for a new stable suggests that he is now handicapped to strike in the opener. Another colt long overdue his second career success is Olympian Odyssey (2.35), who was third in the 2,000 Guineas last year and shaped nicely on his return from a break last time.

Channel 4 is also at Kempton, where two Group races are run on the sand but the most valuable prize is a handicap, the Totesport London Mile. Councellor (3.25) is a tricky customer but ran his best turf race for a while last time and looks good value returning to the course and distance of his success in March.

Sanders to exploit Spencer's absence

By winning the first three races at Chepstow yesterday, taking his score to 129, Seb Sanders drew level with with Jamie Spencer at the top of the jockeys' table. At precisely the stage when his challenge was widely expected to ebb away – not least by the bookmakers, who still have Spencer at long odds-on – Sanders is proving more stubborn than ever.

The notion that he will struggle for winners during the autumn, just as he did when they last duelled for the jockeys' title two years ago, takes little account of a significant change in the landscape since. Floodlit meetings are scheduled three or four times a week these days and last night it was Spencer who did the double shift, heading to Kempton after drawing a blank at Newbury. He knows that he could lose ground when taking important rides overseas – as he does today, partnering Red Evie in a Group One race at Leopardstown – and also that Sanders can turn his lack of glamorous opportunities to his advantage. The championship is decided by quantity, not quality, and Sanders will often have the chance to make hay at small meetings while Spencer is trying to harvest more competitive prizes.

Diabolical additionto Sheikh's spree

Another day, another few million dollars. Sheikh Mohammed's dizzying spending spree continued this week when he bought one of the leading young sprinters in the United States, Diabolical. He has also bought an interest in Distorted Humor, the sire of another recent purchase, Any Given Saturday. It seems safe to say that nobody in history has ever spent as much on horseflesh, in so few weeks, as the Sheikh has done this summer. And he will doubtless find reserves to top up his spending at the big yearling sale in Keeneland, which starts on Monday.