Scenic the master blaster in fastest show on earth
Australian sprinter holds court as royal meeting plays host to cosmopolitan festival
Wednesday 17 June 2009
The notion that Gladiatorus might open proceedings here yesterday by proving himself the best horse in the world – in conformity with official ratings – barely lasted a furlong. Inside the hour, however, Scenic Blast had made a perfectly credible case as the fastest thoroughbred on the planet; and, soon afterwards, Mastercraftsman was suggesting himself to be among the bravest.
This is still the place to come, in other words, to measure global standards – and the odds were that Richard Hannon would himself be setting some of his own, in the car park afterwards, when toasting Paco Boy and Canford Cliffs. Richard Hughes rode both those winners for his father-in-law, and then followed up on Judgethemoment. Even that remarkable achievement, however, could not define a day rounded off by the 33-1 success of Strike The Tiger, whose only previous start had been in a claimer at Churchill Downs. This most English of arenas has now become cosmopolitan in a far more meaningful way.
The thunderous exhibition of Scenic Blast will reverberate across the oceans. Since the pioneering success of another Australian speedball, Choisir, in 2003, it has become increasingly obvious the biggest fish among our own sprinters have been operating not so much in a small pond, as a puddle. But none of the five overseas raiders to have exported the King's Stand Stakes in six years has made a bigger splash than Scenic Blast.
He has all the brutal speed and prowess of Choisir, but embroiders those dimensions with a brilliance seldom found over the bare five furlongs. Steven Arnold, having his first mount on these shores, did not dare ride him with quite the restraint he had shown on home soil. As it was, in sweeping to the front before the furlong pole, Scenic Blast had the race settled in a trice and only his indolence thereafter enabled Fleeting Spirit to confine the formal margin to three-quarters of a length.
Dan Morton, his young trainer, will not try to emulate Choisir by turning out Scenic Blast in the Golden Jubilee Stakes on the final day of the meeting. But they will be sticking around for the Darley July Cup at Newmarket, and while Saturday's race may yield stronger opposition than they found here, Coral's offer of 3-1 resembles a private mint.
Morton expressed decorous gratitude to all those who have helped since his horse took up lodgings in Newmarket, though everything briefly threatened to unravel when the horse's paperwork was found to be incomplete on arrival at the racecourse. Some hasty nocturnal faxes from Perth were required for his participation to be confirmed, but ultimately it turned out that there would be no other way of stopping him.
Aidan O'Brien, a rather more familiar face here, is producing another masterpiece in Mastercraftsman. Like so many of his champions, this colt just gets better and tougher with racing, and he rallied bravely for Johnny Murtagh to salvage the St James's Palace Stakes after Delegator, having cruised in his slipstream, led inside the last. This race is a showcase for stallions and O'Brien's patrons at Coolmore Stud have few better measures of their trainer than the fact that he has now won it for them six times in 10 years. "He's like all the great horses I ride for Ballydoyle – they never know when they're beaten," Murtagh said. "I committed him early enough, but when Delegator came to him, you could see my horse put his head down."
Delegator might yet be worth trying in the July Cup himself. Mind you, much the same had been said about Paco Boy, who exploited the implosion of Gladiatorus – which was perhaps accelerated by undue haste in his young rider – to win the Queen Anne Stakes.
Hannon blamed his previous defeat at Newbury not on the distance, but a foot infection. Funnily enough, a similar debate will now be ignited over Canford Cliffs, whose leisurely six-length success in the Coventry Stakes was one of the most arresting juvenile performances here in recent years. "If he was one of Aidan's, he'd be 4-6 for the 2,000 Guineas," Hannon grinned.
As things stand, Stan James make him 8-1 favourite but this precocious, energetic Tagula colt may struggle to last a mile next year. "He's the best I've ridden by far, a freak," Hughes declared. "I gave him a half-spin one morning, and I've never seen anything like it in my life. This horse shouldn't have won today – I've never known a horse pull that hard, and still win."
It is in settling so well, of course, that Scenic Blast conserves his acceleration. Arnold admitted afterwards that he had played his hand rather too soon, but all that was immaterial to his compatriots as they squeezed on to the rostrum and raucously pledged a night of revelry. No doubt some patrons took a supercilious view of the cheery pandemonium, but nowadays Ascot does not want to confine its variegation to millinery.
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