Racing: Hong Kong Cup at mercy of Falbrav

By Richard Edmondson
Saturday 13 December 2003 01:00

It all began in Parisian springtime and ends tomorrow under a watery blue sky here at Sha Tin racecourse. Falbrav completes the 10th Group One race of his season, he completes his career perhaps gloriously in the Hong Kong Cup.

It has been an auspicious journey, from the Prix Ganay through to the Breeders' Cup Turf at Santa Anita and now, finally, to Hong Kong's most prestigious raceday.

There will be, by natural law, replacements which emerge to plug the rarefied space Falbrav occupies in the sport. The void at Luca Cumani's Bedford House yard, however, will be more difficult to occupy.

"He'll leave a big hole, one which will be very difficult to fill," the trainer said yesterday. "But we mustn't look back, rather think how lucky we were to have had him. Top class horses like him who never have a physical or mental problem are a joy to train. Not many trainers are lucky enough to have a horse who wins four proper Group One races in a year."

It is not quite yet time for the past tense either. Falbrav may be at the end of the most demanding of seasons, but the signature is not on his body. Yesterday he was awesome, awesome enough to astonish his jockey in the morning sun, Frankie Dettori.

"He is one of the biggest horses I have ridden in my life," Dettori said. "He is 550 kilos, but when you sit on him he moves across the ground like a gazelle." Falbrav, it must be added, has looked like something rather more wooden on occasion this week. He moved so slowly down the straight at exercise on Thursday that we imagined Santa might arrive before he did.Yet when he has worked up some sort of speed, the five-year-old has once again taken on the form of the monster we have witnessed all year.

"He's amazing," the trainer said. "He looks as well now as he did at the beginning of the season. He was obviously a bit tired after the Breeders' Cup, but, within two weeks, he was bouncing again." It is dangerous talk, especially with a horse of Eishin Preston's ability around, but the Cup has been billed by some as a match, between Falbrav and his close image, Rakti. Even Cumani has been taken by the theme.

"It looks like a match on paper," he said. "Ratki beat us in the Prince Of Wales [at Royal Ascot], but we didn't have a good passage and we didn't run our best race of the year there either. But Rakti's good and he's a fresh horse. We're coming here with a horse which I believe is still at the top of his game, but nevertheless one running in his 10th Group One race of the year. We would like to stalk the pace and then explode in mid-stretch, as they might say in America."

There is a word which is regularly attached to Rakti and it is not a pleasant one, well not unless you are a racehorse perhaps. "He can be a bit of a bully," Michael Jarvis, the trainer, said yesterday. "He likes to throw his weight around." His rider, Philip Robinson, added: "He's such a big horse that you can't bully him. You just have to keep him happy." Tradition dictates that it is nice to see the persecutor beaten. And so it should be as Falbrav (8.35) takes his final curtain, almost certainly to considerable applause. There are three other Group One international races to unravel. The Mile appears destined for Lohengrin (7.55), while a case in the Vase can be made for Indian Creek (5.45). It will be rude to leave the hosts with nothing and the Tony Cruz-trained Silent Witness (6.50), who has recorded seven straight victories, can make it eight in the Sprint.

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