Racing: George delights O'Brien despite Darjina defeat

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The Independent Online

So Kieren Fallon thinks that Dylan Thomas is the best horse he has ever ridden? Good as he is, he is probably not even the most talented animal Fallon has ridden since Friday. The point is that Dylan Thomas – unlike his namesake, and unlike his rider come to that – is untroubled by the convolutions that often complicate greatness. George Washington, in contrast, yesterday contrived to get himself beaten for the sixth time in seven starts. In the process, however, he confirmed himself a more compelling creature even than the one whose metronomic consistency had been rewarded, the previous day, with a fifth Group One win.

George Washington's showdown with Ramonti in the Prix du Moulin at Longchamp had so much equilibrium that it almost seemed impertinent for the local filly, Darjina, to emphasise her own quality by beating them both. As usual, however, George Washington proved reluctant to permit any other horse centre stage.

Unraced for two months, he handled the preliminaries a good deal better than has often been the case, instead reserving his impatience for the race itself. Despite the efforts of a pacemaking accomplice in Archipenko, George Washington was too keen and fresh early and Fallon, riding him for the first time since the Irish 2,000 Guineas last year, had to find cover towards the rail. That left him a long way off the pace, and Frankie Dettori set an awfully distant target when sending Ramonti past Archipenko off the home turn. Christophe Soumillon, in contrast, had Darjina in Ramonti's slipstream and was ideally placed to shadow Dettori's move. Already winner of two other Group One prizes this season, she scarcely required that kind of head start, so the way George Washington made up maybe five lengths on the protagonists, once finally breaking clear in the straight, represented breathtaking evidence that all the old fires still burn.

It would be unchivalrous not to recognise the class of the winner, who was meeting colts for the first time. Ramonti has been a rock to his stable this year and this was another very game effort, but Darjina quickened decisively a furlong out and went two lengths clear. Alain de Royer-Dupré may now train her for the Sun Chariot Stakes at Newmarket.

George Washington was still another length away at the line and Aidan O'Brien, his trainer, agreed that Fallon had been hopelessly marooned by the way the race developed. But he disclosed that the colt's training schedule had been briefly interrupted after his run at Sandown in July, and was " delighted" by what he had seen. Certainly this was a less equivocal performance than the one he produced after another lay-off at Goodwood last summer.

"He was coming back after a break," O'Brien said. "He had a little hold-up after Sandown, and was just ready to race again. It was important that he had a good experience.

"In an ideal world, he would have had a stronger pace, but from here on hopefully the better the race, the better the pace is going to be. Kieren was over the moon with him. While the way the race worked out for him wasn't ideal, he didn't abuse him. He's shown that he'll be something to look forward to. He's ready for the last quarter of the year."

The defence of the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot this month is one obvious target, and above all the Breeders' Cup. Of course, his infamous failure at stud last winter has necessarily required his relegation among the commercial priorities of his patrons, who also have Excellent Art to consider.

Both Fallon and O'Brien were rather pointedly doing their bit after Dylan Thomas became the first horse to win the Irish Champion Stakes twice at Leopardstown on Saturday. "This is a very important race, very prestigious for future stallions," O'Brien said. "It is often fast ground, over a mile and a quarter, and I would say it is probably the most important race for stallions in Europe."

And, yes, Fallon suggested that Dylan Thomas was the best he had ridden. Be that as it may, his genes should certainly confer physical rigour as well as class, and fast ground would make him a formidable opponent to Authorized and Manduro back over a mile and half in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.

Another Ballydoyle candidate, Soldier Of Fortune, has his rehearsal in the Prix Niel back at Longchamp on Sunday, though for now it seems that Peeping Fawn is unlikely to go for the Arc.

O'Brien has now won the Irish Champion Stakes five times, but an even more instructive measure of his stature among modern trainers is the fact that this was the third time this season that he has saddled the first three home in a Group One race. Indeed, Fallon's only concern in the race had been the way Duke Of Marmalade and their pacemaker, Red Rock Canyon, were slipping clear while he was still stuck behind Maraahel. As things turned out, he had rather more cause for anxiety when Soumillon and Dettori did something very similar yesterday.

Chris McGrath

Nap: Billy One Punch (Folkestone 5.20)

NB: Mexican Bob (Bath 5.10)