100 Greatest Races: `It was not a war. It was a stunning fusion of two natural forces in a wholly artificial context' The top ten Fantastic Light v Galileo, rd 2 James Willoughby recalls an eagerly anticipated rematch that elevated the status of both participants.
RACINGtoo often draws on war for metaphor. It is an easy allusion to make, but it is too often unsuitable. While epic battles end with the degradation of one side or another, the best races result in the ennoblement of both.
A case in point is the Irish Champion Stakes of 2001. The meeting between Fantastic Light and Galileo at Leopardstown that September afternoon elevated both horses in status, irrespective of who passed the post in front.
It was a spectacle borne out of the competitive nature of the thoroughbred. That would hardly distinguish it from the other races in this series, however, and, in truth, there were other elements critical to its composition as a highly theatrical event.
Like all good drama it had context. Fantastic Light and Galileo had already met in the King George at Ascot, with victory going to the latter. However, while the winner had skimmed the rail all the way, Fantastic Light had been forced to cover extra ground around weakening horses on the home turn. Moreover, in so doing he had expended vital energy in a rapid burst, leaving him with little in reserve for the finish.
In the circumstances, the two lengths that Galileo had over his rival at the finish looked flattering, and a rematch between the pair at Leopardstown was sure to be a close-run thing. And that wasn't theonly reason to expect something special.
Twelve months previously, the Irish Champion Stakes had staged a precursor to this latest clash between Godolphin and Ballydoyle superstars. On that occasion, an artful use of pacemakers by the Aidan O'Brien stable had seen Giant's Causeway get through along the inside rail to win, while the Saeed Bin Suroor-trained Best Of The Bests was forced wide and finished only third.
This time both concerns were fielding pacemakers; Give The Slip for Godolphin and Ice Dancer for Ballydoyle. Their use - and misuse - was to prove pivotal to the outcome.
Whatever anticipation had accumulated around the race soon intensified when the stalls banged open. The inexperienced P aul Scallan rousted Ice Dancer with such urgency that he took off into a clear lead, soon absenting himself from the race as a tactical entity.
Fortunately for Godolphin, Give The Slip's experienced pilot Richard Hills wanted no part of this unproductive scenario, and he calmly allowed his mount the opportunity to fulfil a carefully ordained role. Approaching the home turn, Give The Slip was guided off the rails and allowed the stalking Fantastic Light and Frankie Dettori the precious opportunity to charge up the inside.
So roles were reversed from the previous year. This time it was the Ballydoyle runner who was forced into covering extra ground, and the position of the home turn at Leopardstown in the hottest part of the race magnified the advantage. It was immediately evident to the onlooker that Galileo would have a massive task in trying to run Fantastic Light down.
In the face of such a well-conceived plan, Mick Kinane on Galileo was rendered helpless. Watching the video again, it really does seem that he was prepared for the coup de grace, but there was little that he could do.
The events of the home turn mirrored a game of chess, in which sound tactical positioning during the opening leads to a killer move deep into the game. As soon as Dettori had claimed a favourable pitch behind his pacemaker, the strategic advantage was bound to accrue to Fantastic Light.
RESPONDINGto the urgency of his plight, Kinane threw Galileo into pursuit. His mount came barrelling off the apex of the bend with such vigour that he elicited a huge roar from the crowd.
Galileo even managed to get almost upsides inside the final furlong, but Fantastic Light had sufficient momentum to hold him by a head under a strong, right-handed drive.
The final furlong was played out to such rapturous support from the partisan crowd that it seemed there was the danger of anticlimax at the imminent acknowledgement that their champion had been defeated. True to the reputation that the love of horses runs deep in the Irish psyche, however, both horses were given a hearty reception as they trooped into the winner's enclosure.
The depth of the encounter was not lost on either Dettori or Kinane who, in the light of their vast experience, could reasonably be assumed to have become inured from such occasions. Both described the experience of being involved in such an epic contest in glowing terms, drawing attention to the unwavering determination of their mounts in a drawn-out finish.
Dettori summed it up thus in his recent autobiography: ``I'd done my job to the best of my ability, but if the horse doesn't want to do it too you are wasting your time. You have to give the credit to Fantastic Light, who was a hero that day.''
As ever, the reaction of the public provided the best testimony of the lasting impact of the race. There were many letters to the Racing Postfrom readers simply overjoyed to have been affected by such a moving occasion. And many said that the defeated Galileo had only enhanced his reputation in their eyes.
``Galileo has epitomised everything that is good and exciting about racing,'' wrote Jonathan Hoar from Poole. ``If Frankie Dettori had not ridden the race of his life, he would still be unbeaten.''
The Irish Champion Stakes was not a war. It was a stunning fusion of two natural forces in a wholly artificial context; it was something for us to celebrate because we had the idea; it was as good as it gets; it was a horserace.
How the race affected me
Frankie Dettori, who earned a lasting place in racing folklore with his `Magnificent Seven' at Ascot in 1996, brings infectious enthusiasm and unique box-office appeal to racing. Now 34, he remains Godolphin's retained rider, last year winning his third jockeys' championship
MY GAME PLANwas to stalk Galileo, then pull out inside the final furlong and nail him on the line. The evening before the race I discussed tactics with Sheikh Mohammed and Sheikh Maktoum. They wanted me to jump out in front and steal first run. I thought it madness, but my argument fell on deaf ears.
There was no late change of mind from the boss - thank goodness! It helped that Richard Hills, who rode a blinder on our pacemaker Give The Slip, agreed to stay a little off the rail, so I had a choice of passing him inside or outside.
Ice Dancer, a 200-1 outsider, took us along at a spanking pace, but Richard essentially controlled the race in second, with me tracking him, and Galileo behind us. As the pacemakers weakened, I dived through on the inner with just under two to run. When I saw Galileo arrive on our outside, I thought we were beaten.
We hooked up for the last two furlongs, two great champions racing head to head, nostril to nostril - a bit like that famous duel between Seabiscuit and War Admiral.
Fantastic Light was just too brave for Galileo. He relished the battle more and, when Galileo couldn't get past him, it broke his heart. I knew we'd won, but I was so drained mentally and physically that I didn't have the strength to punch the air.
Irish Champion Stakes
Leopardstown, September 8, 20011. Fantastic Light 9-4 2. Galileo 4-11f 3. Bach 20-1Winning owner: GodolphinTrainer: Saeed Bin Suroor Jockey: Frankie Dettori Distances: hd, 6lAlso ran: Give The Slip (4th), Ice Dancer (5th), Siringas (6th), Chimes At Midnight (last). 7 ran.
Epic encounter: Fantastic Light and Galileo (5) immersed in the second of their two clashes, in which the former gained revenge but the runner-up lost nothing in defeat
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|Publication:||The Racing Post (London, England)|
|Date:||Feb 11, 2005|
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