It is one of life’s oldest clichés but no less true for that…time flies by us all.
I was chatting to Johnny Murtagh the other day, always a pleasure, and he summed it up well; "John, when we look back it feels like a long weekend has gone by".
Indeed it does and I find it hard to believe that is was twenty years ago that Montjeu won the King George. The day, however remains carved in my memory and not just because he won.
For me as a racing addicted teenager it was always a mythical race. I was fifteen when I watched that epic contest between Grundy and Bustino and it would have been a fantasy dream for me to think one day I would be going there with the odds-on favourite. But so it was.
Stubbornness was Montjeu's biggest threat
I remember clearly looking at the horse in the racecourse stables early on the day and feeling that he was in as good a shape as he ever had been and pessimist though I am I really didn’t think he would get beat.
Smooth though the race might have been, the preliminaries were anything but. Having saddled him in the old pre-parade ring at Ascot it was soon obvious that Montjeu had decided, as had become his inclination, that he had no intention of going in to the paddock itself. No amount of pushing, pulling or being offered a ‘lead’ by another horse was working.
Jockeys up had been called in the paddock and there was a murmur going round of "where’s the favourite, what’s happened to him?".
The horse was being stubborn but remained cool, the trainer was in a lather. My head man, Didier Foloppe, who rode him every day at home was leading him up on this one occasion. As he took one more turn I gave Didier the wink and next time round legged him up.
Montjeu walked in to the paddock like a kids pony with Didier aboard in his Sunday best, immaculate suit and tie, army polished shoes…...and no helmet! To my great regret no one took the photo, I would have treasured it more than any winning shot, even after a Derby, Arc or King George for that matter. It was a cool moment and one of much empathy between the horse and the man who was such a big influence on his career.
Big fields don't mean great races
To return to this year, many might be a little dismayed at there only being three runners but you don’t need numbers to make a great horse race. To all intents and purposes Grundy v Bustino was effectively a two horse race, quality will always trump quantity.
On this subject I have often though it would be fun to re introduce match racing, with a ‘spread’ on the distances to dictate the sum paid by the loser to the winner. Hey, there are only two fighters in the boxing ring which is often a more exciting sporting spectacle than a formula one race with twenty odd cars. Why not?
Tomorrow’s King George sees last year’s Irish Derby winner and last year’s highest rated three-year-old colt take on probably the finest race mare English racing has seen in living memory.
It will be a proper contest, no stocking fillers or dead wood in here. Solid group one form all round.
Enable’s score sheet is phenomenal, ten Group 1s, two Arcs, two King Georges and a cool £10 million in the bank. Physically she’s an amazon, like one of those long legged, loose limbed female four hundred metre runners who turn our heads every four years at the Olympics. You know the ones, with thigh bones to die for. Quite simply she’s an outstanding athlete.
Yes, maybe it would be better were her two opponents not coming from the same stable but I believe trainer and owners are too sporting to adopt ‘team tactics’ to try and get her beat.
If she wins I am sure John Magnier, Michael Tabor and Derick Smith will be the first to doff their hats to this truly remarkable race mare. We all love a champion.