King George

Shades of Shergar as Aga rules again with Alamshar

Eddie Fremantle
Sunday July 27, 2003
The Observer

Alamshar produced an exemplary performance to trounce a smart field in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes at Ascot, winning by three-and-a-half lengths from Sulamani, with the Derby winner, Kris Kin, a further two lengths away in third to give the Aga Khan his second winner of the race following Shergar in 1981. Johnny Murtagh always had Alamshar in the ideal position, tracking Nayef's pacemaker, Izdiham, into the home straight. Murtagh said: 'The horse did a great job. It was a very uncomplicated and easy ride for me.' It looked that way from the stands as Alamshar, close up as Willie Supple on Izdiham slowed the pace in the middle part of the race, quickly went clear of his field when sent to the front early in the home straight.

Sulamani came from the rear to be a worthy runner-up with his jockey, Frankie Dettori, blaming the lack of a strong pace and the 12lb weight concession his four-year-old had to concede the year younger Alamshar, saying: 'Maybe things will be different later in the season.'

Kris Kin was unable to get into the argument but kept responding, steadily, to Kieren Fallon's urgings. It is safe to say that the Alamshar who finished third to him at Epsom was not the Alamshar we saw either here, or when winning the Irish Derby at The Curragh. Murtagh was surprised, saying: 'He has made amazing improvement.' There looks as though there is plenty more to come from the horse his trainer, John Oxx, calls a 'little machine.'

Asked to compare the winner with his 2000 Derby and Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe victor, Sinndar, who, like Alamshar, he trained for the Aga, Oxx said: 'It is very hard but I have never had a horse who put in a performance like this. You couldn't have expected it.'

Certainly, connections shared punters worries that Alamshar would not handle the softening conditions and that explained his slide from ante-post favouritism to a starting price of 13-2 but, after walking the course, Oxx was happy the ground was good. As the rain began to fall in the winners' enclosure, he said: 'It can rain all it likes now.'

Another problem has been an ongoing back problem that has meant Alamshar needs physiotherapy every day and occasional treatment from a chiropractor. As one who has been on the osteopath's couch only recently, I can vouch how difficult this can make life, something Oxx confirmed: 'He has this little problem that takes a lot of work. We are trying to build up his strength. Although he has had muscle and skeletal problems, he has wonderful limbs, conformation and action.' The Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown on the first Saturday in September is next on the agenda.

The Aga would not be drawn on whether Alamshar would meet his French Derby winner Dalakhani, whom he beat at The Curragh, in the Arc at Longchamp in October. However, he was rewarded for his sportsmanship with a one-two in Ireland, so may be prepared to sanction a rematch. Delighted that a horse from 'one of the oldest bloodlines in our family' had put in such a fine performance, The Aga said: 'What is important is the continuity of our breeding capacity. This is as good a year as we have had.' The breeding operation is so far advanced that it is many a year since the Aga has had to buy a racehorse.

With three-year-olds first and third, those of us who, following the Eclipse, felt that the Classic generation would be found wanting, were left with egg on our faces as the principals from the Sandown race trailed in. Falbrav (fifth) confirmed the form with Nayef (seventh), Izdiham (ninth), Victory Moon (10th) and Grandera (11th) but Alamshar was in a different league.

William Hill quote him as 5-2 favourite for the Arc (from 5-1) with Dalakhani next best at 7-2.

River Belle showed a bright turn of speed to come from last place two furlongs out to win the Group Three Princess Margaret Stakes under Fallon and her trainer Alan Jarvis rates her the best filly he has trained since Imperial Jade, runner-up behind Al Bahathri in the 1984 Lowther Stakes.

A different sort of filly from Imperial Jade, who was all speed, River Belle promises to stay a mile and at 14,000gns from Doncaster Sales, she was a bargain. The usual form after races like this is for representatives of the big bookmakers to flutter pieces of paper bearing ante-post prices for next year's Classics but it was hard to find them, perhaps because of River Belle's unfashionable connections. Paddy Power and Ladbrokes eventually furnished quotes of 40-1 for the 1,000 Guineas.

That looks a price more than fair as I suspect 12-1 would have been on offer were she trained by a Stoute or O'Brien, although a line through the second Rosehearty, makes it look as though River Belle is some way behind the runaway Newmarket Cherry Hinton winner Attraction.

One man who was impressed was the jockey, who, Jarvis says, chose her ahead of 'four or five others in the race'.