ASCOT, England // It was a finish to a race that could scarcely have been written as a film script. After 19 furlongs in the Gold Cup yesterday, Frankie Dettori and Mickael Barzalona were suddenly locked in a riveting struggle for supremacy on Godolphin mounts.
As the two flashed towards the winning post, the elder statesman just managed to emerge victorious as his mount, Colour Vision, edged out Opinion Poll by half a length.
The drama did not end there. Dettori had been carrying his whip in the wrong hand and as the 41-year-old rider strained every sinew to defeat his young rival, Colour Vision barged into Opinion Poll, and the Ascot stewards demanded an inquiry.
Relief and joy in equal measure spread through the Godolphin camp in the winners' enclosure as the result was announced. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, cheered alongside Princess Haya.
"I think we saw two brilliant horses. To finish first and second is a great thing," Sheikh Mohammed said. "The Gold Cup you have to wait a whole year to prepare a horse for. When they were finishing so close together it made your blood boil!"
For Dettori, the overriding feeling was of vindication. Sheikh Mohammed had given the Italian the option to ride either horse on the morning of the 48-hour declarations. As an illustration of Dettori's anxiety before the race, he rang the clerk of the course at Ascot on the morning of the race to check the state of the going. There was never any chance he could reverse his choice of mount.
"I had a very difficult decision," Dettori said, having ridden his 46th winner at the Royal Meeting. "Two great horses and two great warriors and I only finished best by a short margin.
"It has been a very hard week and I'm glad this one came up. Me and Mickael are friends but you are by yourself when you are out there and you want to win for yourself."
It was the first Group 1 victory for the Dubai-based operation since Monterosso led home Capponi in the Dubai World Cup in March.
Simon Crisford, however, underlined that Godolphin live for the big occasions.
"I don't think at any time Frankie was going to get beaten," Godolphin's racing manager said. "Especially when he saw Barzalona range up alongside, it seemed to give him extra strength.
"The Ascot Gold Cup is one of the highlights of our year and everybody is absolutely thrilled. These banner races around the world are what matter to Godolphin, and the Ascot Gold Cup is the cream of the cream."
Silvestre de Sousa set a sedate pace on Gulf Of Naples, owned by Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed. Fame And Glory, ridden by Jamie Spencer, was pegged in on the rail by Barzalona, while Dettori stalked the pace.
Little changed until the field swung out of the turn and into the straight. Barzalona was still several lengths adrift but set about catching Dettori until he ranged up outside the final furlong for the denouement. Gulf Of Naples stayed on for fourth. Fame And Glory was seventh.
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