On a weekend of heavyweight showdowns, the first certainly lived up to its billing. At the end of yesterday's 114th Eclipse Stakes there was, after a pulsating home-straight duel, just half a length between two of the finest middle-distance thoroughbreds on the planet, the great ex-Australian champion So You Think and Workforce, hero in these parts of last year's Derby and Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.
And along with the tremendous spectacle of two top-class horses eyeballing each other at willing full stretch came huge professional satisfaction for Seamie Heffernan, on board the winner. After riding So You Think to victory on his first outing since his transfer from Bart Cummings in Melbourne to Aidan O'Brien in Co Tipperary, Heffernan was passed over in favour of Ryan Moore for the horse's tilt at top-level glory at Royal Ascot.
In the event, So You Think was beaten there. Now, under Heffernan, one of the linchpins of the Ballydoyle empire and more than once a supersub on the track, his global reputation as a runner and a potential stallion has been restored. And though vengeance was not at all a word in the jockey's lexicon, the moment was sweet, for on Workforce yesterday was Moore.
"I have a brilliant job," Heffernan said. "I'm part of a very big operation, I've worked for them a long time, I'm well looked after. I ride a lot of work on the best horses at home and I get a real buzz from that. But to get the leg up on the track on these big days means a lot."
In terms of their physiques, So You Think and Workforce are indeed heavyweights, both powerful, imposing specimens of their breed. In the preliminaries, as in the race, So You Think – whose muscular dark brown frame made his 18st attendant David Hickey look positively dainty – just shaded it, remaining much cooler and calmer than his adversary as he was saddled up on a sweltering afternoon.
And though the margin of redemption was narrow for the Coolmore partners' colourbearer it was, in the final strides, decisive. So You Think ranged alongside Workforce, who had been towed to the home turn by his pacemaker Confront, a quarter of a mile out, and after a stirring tussle surged ahead in the final half-furlong.
"He won it well," said Heffernan. "I had a perfect lead from a very good horse, it was almost like riding a piece of work. And once I got to him I was always confident of getting by him. I could feel a lot of power under me."
Unlike boxing bouts or tennis matches, two-horse races rarely are, but yesterday the three other runners did not upset the big guns. Last year's runner-up Sri Putra was a distant third, with the top-class filly Snow Fairy a ring-rusty fourth.
So You Think gave O'Brien, who had blamed himself for leaving his charge undercooked before Ascot, his fifth success in the Coral-sponsored ten-furlong contest. "We hadn't actually done much with him since the last day," he said, "as that race set him right. He settled perfectly today – a pacemaker helps everyone and makes it a fair test – and when you have a horse that stays, and has a miler's speed, and settles, the sky can be the limit."
The son of High Chaparral is now favourite for the Arc, but whether he is still around in October remains to be seen. An unprecedented third Cox Plate – Australia's Arc equivalent – back home at Moonee Valley is on his agenda, and quarantine regulations may mean he has to miss a tilt at Workforce's Longchamp crown. Earlier contests like the York International and the Irish Champion Stakes have been pencilled in, but for now the job – a mainstream European Group 1 prize on his cv – is well done.
Today the focus switches to France, where So You Think's stablemate Zoffany, who gave Frankel something of a fright at Royal Ascot, heads the overseas challenge for the Prix Jean Prat at Chantilly, and to Germany, where Brown Panther, a runaway winner at last month's feature meeting, is the sole British raider in, and favourite for, the Deutsches Derby in Hamburg.
Brown Panther, trained by Tom Dascombe in Cheshire, carries the colours of Michael Owen, who knows what it is to win in Germany.