Rare cause for celebration in Japan after Victoire Pisa wins
Lucrative victory in the desert sparks emotional scenes after race for $10m prize ifts some of the worry following natural disasters
Monday 28 March 2011
It turns out that sometimes $10m will simply remind you how some things are far more precious than money. Sometimes, equally, a load of brown animals running in a circle can offer mankind genuine succour, even in his greatest need. Such were the paradoxes that caused sobbing amid the euphoria, and laughter amid the tears, after the richest prize in Turf history was settled on Saturday night.
Nobody imagined that the Japanese could suddenly forget their grief, simply because a couple of their horses had dominated a race in some remote desert. At the same time, the images that accompanied Victoire Pisa's success in the Dubai World Cup may have encouraged those watching back home that their sense of joy may not be irretrievable, after all. For here was a small group of their compatriots whose limbs still obeyed a physical instinct of celebration, even as their faces crumpled in confusion. They wept, in sorrow and guilt and pride. But their feet still knew how to dance; their arms, how to hug. And they understood that hope was no longer just a word.
Sheikh Mohammed enfolded the colt's owners in a long, emotional embrace. The choreography of his ambitions for his homeland can sometimes seem a little melodramatic – witness the portentous narrative that weighed down the breathtaking opening ceremony – but here was touching evidence of his abiding purpose. Meydan, this impossible racecourse, was so named as "a place of meeting". If some of the cultural incongruities here remain uncomfortable – one enclosure seethed with bibulous westerners, the next with a chaste and exotic Muslim throng – you could still admire what he had in mind. Though his own horse, Monterosso, was third, a Japanese 1-2 had palpably perfected his vision for the night.
The dynamics of the race itself, admittedly, were rather maddening. You would like to think that the jockeys would ride for such stakes as though they meant it. Instead they gave us something Christophe Soumillon, one of the unplaced riders, dismissed as "a go-kart race". It was as if they were still groping through the weird, smouldering half-light of the sandstorm that had drifted across the track earlier in proceedings. The diffident pace, as last year, suggested a culpable vertigo in some of the riders.
Not Shinji Fujita, who hypnotised his pursuers on Transcend and was so able to hold out until deep into the straight. Greatly to his credit, however, Mirco Demuro had taken matters into his own hands at halfway and circled the entire field to join issue on Victoire Pisa. Jamie Spencer was also alert, shadowing the pace on Cape Blanco, but his mount was never equal to the dash for home and was beaten a length into fourth. Gio Ponti finished next, arguably most poorly served by the run of the race, but it was déjà vu for Twice Over. As last year, he was trapped wide and behind and never got involved.
Newmarket's big winner was instead Presvis, who reached a new peak in a remarkable career of global depredations with a customary last-to-first burst for $3m in the Dubai Duty Free Stakes. Luca Cumani's affection for the horse is plainly about rather more than his cut of the earnings.
"He's a funny guy," the trainer said. "If he was a man, he would be a loner. He's not a very social type, you have to train him the way he wants. We play around with him: we try to confuse him, and he tries to confuse me, and we just get along as best we can."
Spencer was unlucky here on Wigmore Hall, opting to play safe on the outside only to get stuck in traffic as Ryan Moore found the perilous inside route parting like the Red Sea. Wigmore Hall flew into third and will now pursue Presvis to another huge pot in Hong Kong.
Conversely the three Godolphin winners on the night will be flown into Newmarket in the next few days, ready for the start of their European campaign. Rewilding's success in the Sheema Classic confirmed that he will be building on his contribution to Mahmood Al Zarooni's first season as Godolphin's second trainer, while Saeed Bin Suroor's Khawlah excelled in beating colts in the UAE Derby under the French teenager, Mickael Barzalona. Khawlah will now go for an Investec Oaks trial.
She only just collared Master Of Hounds, whose bold run seemed to seal a rapprochement between his owners at Coolmore and the Maktoum family, after a six-year cold war. Moore told Aidan O'Brien that his mount had tired after going clear, but the Ballydoyle trainer indicated that the colt could yet drop back in trip for the Guineas. O'Brien may well have his three-year-olds rather more forward than has tended to be the case in recent seasons. "We'd pushed these ones forward a little, because we knew they were coming here," O'Brien said. "But obviously it's very pleasing they ran so well."
His employers at Coolmore will be gratified to hear the decorous compliments he lavished upon his hosts. "Pictures can't do this place justice, or words," he said. "You have to come and see for yourself. We're privileged to have been invited, and the way we've been looked after, I can't say how much it's appreciated."
With enemies like this, who needs friends? Primarily, of course, everyone was lured here by the money – from Japan and Co Tipperary and everywhere else. It is not as if the two Japanese horses had gone past the post together in a companionable gesture of team-work. But while the ends may be financial, the means can in themselves be very fulfiling, and civilising.
"This is all down to the vision of one man," Cumani said. "He has brought the racing world together. Everyone here is delighted for the Japanese. They are totally undeserving of their troubles, and it's great they have something to cheer about. Yes, it's only a horserace, but people round the world will see the pictures from here tonight, and see that it had meaning, that it was something that could really lift people's spirits."
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