White flags are waved on the Knavesmire as Ghaiyyath leaves star rivals gasping
A quarter-century ago the ancient Knavesmire turf was scorched when the Juddmonte International fell to Halling, the first truly great horse to race for the boys in blue. Countless star names have subsequently flown the Godolphin flag but the latest champion of York's most coveted prize is something different. Ghaiyyath is the brute in blue.
He does it his own way, a way that perhaps no other horse in training could manage at such a lofty level. That was clear in the Coronation Cup and then again in the Coral-Eclipse but it was never more obvious than here in his crushing of the fabulous foes left waving white flags of surrender.
They all tried and they all failed. As Ghaiyyath's devouring stride took him further and further up York's home straight, Magical, Lord North and Kameko all attempted to throw down a challenge. William Buick heard them but never saw them. Ghaiyyath was remorseless and relentless.
"He’s the best I've ridden, without a doubt," said Buick, who, like trainer Charlie Appleby, had never previously won the International. Nor has either man ever won the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, yet in Ghaiyyath they have a brilliant beast who surely deserves a second crack at Flat racing's supreme championship. That, though, is for the future. First, we should bask in the immediate past.
Magical did best of those who tried to catch Ghaiyyath, but although he was driven some way from home while ploughing a lone furrow up the centre of the track, there was never a moment when he looked like folding.
"At Godolphin we've always strived to get great horses like Ghaiyyath, and for him to deliver on each occasion this season has been fantastic for everybody," said Appleby.
"William has again given him a perfect ride from the front. He said he could hear the others coming to him, so he thought he had better give him a squeeze – and when he did he took off. Once he hits that second gear he is relentless. He won't lie down. He is an exceptional galloper."
At Longchamp last October he galloped too hard, too soon, eventually finishing 33 lengths behind Waldgeist. The desperate conditions did not help. There was, however, more to it than that.
"The one lesson we have learned came in the Arc," said Appleby. "From our draw we made him go forward and on soft ground we went a stride or two too quick. We then saw the result. This time we have purposely just let the horse do it himself.
"The option of the Arc is there again, although in his last two starts we've seen how good he is over ten furlongs. There are plenty of options but, of course, I would love to go for the Arc. It's the race we would all love to win. We didn't run in it last year to make up the numbers. Hopefully, we might have a contender."
Bookmakers believe he is a serious contender. None offers more than 6-1 for a race in which Enable and Love fight for favouritism at around 3-1.
"I let him get into his rhythm and then he does the rest," said Buick. "He has this amazing high cruising speed, but I thought what was evident today was the kick he had a furlong and a half out. He completely put the race to bed, finished it off and stamped his authority.
"He can do things that other horses don't do. He gives you confidence. His comfort zone is different to other horses. He can sustain his speed and then finish off a race with that turn of foot at the end. I haven't ridden many horses who can do that."
But will do he it in the Arc?
"I think he is a different horse compared to last year, but he wouldn't want to go to Paris if the ground is like it was last year," cautioned Buick, adding: "He stays a mile and a half but his form would suggest he is now better over a mile and a quarter."
The Irish Champion Stakes was another autumn jewel mooted for Ghaiyyath. Magical will no doubt have it on her agenda, while Leopardstown is very much the aim for Lord North, whose trainer John Gosden said: "He found the ground a little loose. When he was asked to quicken he was spinning his wheels a little but he has finished off well to be third and we're delighted."
Gosden would surely be less delighted to have Ghaiyyath as a rival to Enable and Stradivarius at Longchamp.
"The winner is great," admitted Gosden. "If you let him bowl in front you'll never see him again."
They certainly never saw him here.
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