In horse racing, as in the rest of life, anticipation usually far outruns reality. But not last Saturday at Ascot and not again, if the fates oblige, when the runners strain up the Longchamp straight for the Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe in October.
For in a summer in which racing has often become all but invisible on the sports pages, the challenge that the filly Taghrooda laid down to her male rivals in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes was stark and simple enough to grab attention.
And what she did on the track when Paul Hanagan asked her to course down the four-year-old colt Telescope and the Eclipse Stakes winner Mukhadram was something anyone who loves animals or athletes can store in the memory.
For these were horses with real ability and back-stories to match. In the build-up to last Saturday we could at last revel in racing’s ability to intrigue. Telescope was the horse from a Highclere syndicate that famously included Sir Alex Ferguson, but who had never quite delivered on his reputation until a quite devastating seven-length success at Royal Ascot last time out.
That was matched at the meeting only by the way Taghrooda’s John Gosden-trained stablemate Eagle Top had sauntered up a day earlier in what was only the third race of his three-year-old life.
Flat racing, when it works offers an absolute — the very best bred, trained and ridden thoroughbreds striving for the line with no quarter asked or given. There should be no hiding place and there was none on Saturday as Leitir Mor did pace-making duties for last year’s Irish Derby winner Trading Leather, Mukhadram went for home in the straight and Taghrooda finally flashed past the post in a brutal 2min 28.13sec for the Ascot mile-and-a-half.
She had an expanding three lengths at the post but she had needed to work for every inch of them. Two furlongs out she was still a couple of lengths adrift of Telescope and Mukhadram as those two locked-in together, and Paul Hanagan was just the right side of frantic as he gathered his filly for an ultimate effort.
It was not until the furlong pole that she got to the duelling pair but as she drew away from them she did something that only this form of athletics can do — she conjured the past from the present.
Like father…like daughter
Five years on since Sea The Stars stormed unbeaten through a uniquely demanding season, here was his daughter continuing her own unsullied victory roll.
What is more, there is every chance that she will aim to bow out, as Sea The Stars did, with victory at Longchamp, where she will not only renew rivalry with some of Ascot’s principals but is likely to face the English and Irish Derby winner Australia, last year’s dazzling Arc heroine Treve and her sire’s extraordinary German-bred son, Sea The Moon. If the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth was a story to keep racing on the sports pages, this Arc should nearly make the front.
Having both Taghrooda and Sea The Moon in the field from what is Sea The Stars’ very first crop of foals is little short of astonishing. It is as if Usain Bolt had retired after the Beijing Olympics and had a son and a daughter going for gold medals at this week’s Commonwealth Games. It will not be easy for either colt or filly but, wow, they have got some of their father’s stardust.
Taghrooda had her day last week, but wait until you see her brother. Sea The Moon may have won all his four races in the less competitive field of his native Germany, but what he did last time out in the German Derby is almost beyond amazing.
If you haven’t watched it, put “Sea The Moon — Deutsches Derby” into YouTube and prepare to rub your eyes in wonder. Sea The Moon lollops along in front and then runs right across to the stands rails to win by 11 lengths from Lucky Lion, who last Sunday [27 July] beat Frankel’s admirable full-brother Noble Mission.
Perhaps the ground was much faster under the stands rails, but perhaps also Sea The Moon is a freak. Whichever way you look at it, anticipation is off and running.
This column was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (31 July, 2014)