Though King Of Rome was unable to provide Aidan O'Brien with a 13th Group One success of the year in rain-sodden Hamburg yesterday, a dozen top-level strikes at this stage of proceedings is a remarkable achievement.
When Mount Nelson brought up the glorious 12th in the Eclipse Stakes on Saturday, he took his trainer more than half-way towards his all-time record of 23 Group or Grade One wins world-wide that he set seven years ago. At this point in 2001 his score was seven. Yesterday's German Derby was the 31st of the top prizes scheduled in Europe, only a third of the way into the elite schedule with the rich pickings of the North American and Far Eastern autumn schedules to come in addition.
After Mount Nelson's short-head defeat of Phoenix Tower on Saturday, O'Brien's comments about how it was achieved were entirely appropriate, given the best-attended sporting event of the domestic weekend. At Silverstone, 90,000 held their breath every time Lewis Hamilton stopped for tyres and fuel; the importance of teamwork can surely be no better illustrated than during a Formula 1 Grand Prix.
The pits crews have to work as one in the few seconds their man is stationary; behind the scenes in a racing stable the timescale can be longer, but co-ordination is no less vital. Mount Nelson's victory was a masterpiece of planning, for the four-year-old's very appearance on the track was no less perfectly delivered by the back-room squad than was the thrilling denouement by Johnny Murtagh in the saddle.
Motor racing mechanics can replace a wheel in an instant. Those at Ballydoyle had to wait for Mount Nelson to grow a new one after he ripped off a shoe early last year, taking off half his near-fore hoof with it and damaging the bone underneath. Though all is structurally sound now, the evidence of the injury is still visible, rather like a fingernail growing back with slight deformation. The colt, seemingly as tough as his sire Rock Of Gibraltar, was off games for nearly a year and there was no mistaking the pride with which his lad Edmund O'Dwyer received his prize on Saturday.
The man who rides him at home in Co Tipperary, the vastly experienced Pat Lillis, was another singled out for praise. "When I get up in the morning and go out in the yard," said O'Brien, "I sometimes have to pinch myself. It's a privilege for me to be involved with these people who really put their heart and soul into it. And we are very lucky in that every year that goes by, more and more special people are joining us."
The addition of Murtagh ("Unbelievably sharp tactically" according to O'Brien) to the payroll is clearly a move that has suited both trainer and jockey perfectly. The 38-year-old rider, who replaced Kieren Fallon earlier this year, has slotted into the operation as if coated with WD40. The two men have the utmost respect for and delight in each other's abilities.
Unusually for a Ballydoyle horse in a Group One contest, no pacemaker was deployed on behalf of Mount Nelson. "We discussed it and decided it was not necessary," said Murtagh. "I knew I was on the best horse and that if there was no pace I'd outsprint them and if they went a gallop, like they did, I could come with a run from the back." Murtagh also emphasised the team effort but is in no doubt as to the source of the aspiration to excellence. "Aidan is where it starts," he added. "His example makes everyone willing to go the extra length to get the job done and make sure we come out on top on the big days." When O'Brien had that annus mirabilis, the list of winners comprised only three-year-olds and two-year-olds. The policy of the Ballydoyle-Coolmore axis has changed since then and older horses have contributed more than half of this year's haul.
Mount Nelson's carefully-charted success paid a considerable compliment to his contemporary stablemate Duke of Marmalade (another repaying expertise and patience after being successfully bolted together), who is a short-priced favourite for the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes later this month.
As King Of Rome and Murtagh struggled in sixth place yesterday, the 139th edition of Germany's premier contest was taken by Kamsim, who held off late challenges from Ostand and the sole British raider Top Lock. There was success for a Brit abroad yesterday when Percolator, trained by Paul Cole, brought up a four-timer by easily winning France's first juvenile Group contest of the season, the Prix du Bois at Maisons-Laffitte. The daughter of Kheleyf, retained for 2,000gns by her owner when offered as a yearling, has now won nearly £50,000.
And the career of another rags-to-riches filly ended yesterday with the retirement of Turbo Linn after a dull effort in Saturday's Lancashire Oaks. The Alan Swinbank-trained five-year-old, the product of a £500 stallion and a jumping mare, won her first eight races and progressed from bumpers to a Group 2 success.
Nap: Anthemion(Musselburgh 4.45)
NB: Arabian Art (Brighton 4.30)
O'Brien's 12 Group One winners so far this season
Prix Ganay Duke Of Marmalade (J Murtagh)
2,000 Guineas Henrythenavigator (J Murtagh)
Irish 2,000 Gns Henrythenavigator (J Murtagh)
Irish 1,000 Gns Halfway To Heaven (S Heffernan)
Tatt'lls Gold Cup Duke Of Marmalade (J Murtagh)
Coronation Cup Soldier Of Fortune (J Murtagh)Queen Anne Stakes Haradasun (J Murtagh)
St James's Palace Henrythenavigator (J Murtagh)
Prince Of Wales's Duke Of Marmalade (J Murtagh)
Gold Cup Yeats (J Murtagh)
Irish Derby Frozen Fire (S Heffernan)
Eclipse Stakes Mount Nelson (J Murtagh)
O'Brien's 23 Group One winners 2001
French 1,000 Guineas Rose Gypsy (M Kinane)
Irish 2,000 Gns Black Minnaloushe (J Murtagh)
Irish 1,000 Guineas Imagine (S Heffernan)
Oaks Imagine (M Kinane)
Derby Galileo (M Kinane)
St James's Palace Black Minnaloushe (J Murtagh)
Irish Derby Galileo (M Kinane)
July Cup Mozart (M Kinane)
King George VI & QE Stakes Galileo (M Kinane)
Phoenix Stakes Johannesburg (M Kinane)
Prix Maurice Prince Charlemagne (J Spencer)
Nunthorpe Stakes Mozart (M Kinane)
Prix Morny Johannesburg (M Kinane)
St Leger Milan (M Kinane)
National Stakes Hawk Wing (M Kinane)
Moyglare Stud Stakes Quarter Moon (M Kinane)
Middle Park Stakes Johannesburg (M Kinane)
Grand Criterium Rock Of Gibraltar (M Kinane)
Dewhurst Stakes Rock Of Gibraltar (M Kinane)
Racing Post Trophy High Chaparral (K Darley)
Breeders' Cup Juv Johannesburg (M Kinane)
Criterium de St-Cloud Ballingarry (J Spencer)
Gran Criterium Sholokhov (M Kinane)