Forget World Cup disappointment, savour awesome new star Solow

Solow and jockey Maxime Guyon win the G1 Dubai Turf at the Dubai World Cup Carnival. Photo: Dubai Racing Club/Andrew Watkins

The Dubai World Cup meeting was all going so well until they ran the Dubai World Cup. Seriously though, we should file away Prince Bishop's win in the $10 million feature in the “things happen” tray for now and focus on a meeting that still produced a strong candidate for world champion racehorse in 2015.

The G1 Dubai Turf winner Solow is not just a brilliant horse but has a back-story far more interesting to ponder than banging on any further about how the World Cup can throw up winners with unconvincing profiles, and how they should never have ripped up the Tapeta. For, at the same time as Solow showcased the skills of French trainer Freddy Head, he reminded us of the occasional folly of mankind and the truism that horses can make fools of us.

This Freddy Head, the one who has developed Solow, is the same trainer who ran this extraordinary miler in the G2 Prix Vicomtesse Vigier over two miles in the Longchamp mud last May. That's like making Leonardo da Vinci take a job as a newspaper cartoonist or casting Luciano Pavarotti in “The Phantom of the Opera.” What on earth was Head doing exposing such a finely talented horse to a slog?

The answer is both 'relying on impression' and 'referencing the stamina implied by his charge's staying pedigree.' Faulty impression, as it turned out. But, the bizarre deviation in Solow's celestial career trajectory is the key to understanding him as an athlete – and to appreciating what kind of a force he could prove.

Some rare horses can accelerate off top-class fractions; other rare horses can sustain a strong effort off a top-class fraction. This son of Singspiel can do both -- but he is deceptive in the impression he creates. At maximum effort, the isolated impression is of a strong-running horse, a stayer, a bit of a workman even. But you would only think that if you hadn't seen the part of the race that came before.

I hesitate to compare Solow to Frankel, obviously. He's not in the same league, in all probability, but he has a similar aspect to the way the great horse delivered his unparalleled power. In fact, recently I received a phone call from one of the most knowledgeable judges of horse flesh in the sport who asked the question: “Do you have any sectional times which prove that Frankel could actually accelerate?” 

I answered politely while thinking “You have to be absolutely kidding me!” Frankel tore off some of the fastest sectionals ever, including some in the 2012 G1 Sussex Stakes that led to disbelief among the small, but growing band of devotees here in Britain and Ireland who are attuned to their importance in dissecting Thoroughbred excellence.

The point is that my interlocutor was referring to Frankel's rather deceptive stride pattern. He had such otherworldly sustained pace that he built incredible momentum seemingly without the flash-and-dash of some stalk-and-pounce types. He did it all so easily that it looked effortless and thus deceived the watcher into thinking it was just that.

Solow isn't so smooth as Frankel, but if you watch this video of the Dubai Turf, at about 1:34 you can see the side-on shot of Solow in full stretch. He has an enormous stride, tearing into the race and seeing him gain speed deceptively well, at just the same point his rivals are accelerating too. But see what happens when Maxime Guyon stops asking him and waves to the crowd in joy at the feeling received: the 5-year-old barely loses momentum. It's an awesome display.


Of course, the race formerly known as the Dubai Duty Free also had an impressive winner 12 months before. That horse, the Japanese star Just A Way, ended up as the highest-rated horse in the world, according to the Longines World Best Racehorse Rankings. Unfortunately, he did not create the same impression again, nor reach the same heights in terms of form, because – just like Prince Bishop in the World Cup – he had the platform of cutting down horses who had gone off too fast.

Solow's victory in the Dubai Turf was approximated in quality by the Aga Khan's 4-year-old filly Dolniya in the G1 Sheema Classic, and even surpassed in emotional capital by the magnificent pair Sole Power in the G1 Al Quoz Sprint and Brown Panther in the G2 Dubai Gold Cup. These last two veterans were rightly lauded all round.

But, wait a minute. How is it exciting when an 8-year-old wins a turf sprint and a 7-year-old a turf marathon, but victory for Sole Power's contemporary Prince Bishop in the World Cup leads to disappointment?

The answer is that Sole Power and Brown Panther had reached the same level before; their wins were accompanied by expectation. Prince Bishop's World Cup win was surprising to most because he could not even win lesser events on the Dubai domestic scene.

While Prince Bishop was favoured by the run of the race, it remains to be seen whether the current generation of U.S. dirt stars can ever take the World Cup where it wants to go. These are the horses that can't sniff two minutes in the Kentucky Derby anymore, and that don't exist in the same numbers, nor have the same kudos, as when Cigar and Silver Charm were winning at the end of the last century.

But let's not be down when there's Solow. The World Cup meeting produced the highest-rated horse in the world in 2014. It's my bet that it will do so again.

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