ASCOT // The best horse in the world was eclipsed at the world's greatest flat-racing festival yesterday, when Gladiatorus was thrashed in the Queen Anne Stakes by old rival Paco Boy at the Royal meeting. A lofty reputation as the highest-rated horse in training preceded the Godolphin runner, and the buzz at seeing such a colt was electric.
The Queen's procession had tantalised the crowd half an hour before racing began, and racegoers were fully expecting a new king of the turf to be crowned in the Group 1 contest. All Gladiatorus had to do was take the lead, just as he had done when winning imperiously at Nad Al Sheba in March when taking the Dubai Duty Free. For the Dubai-born jockey, Ahmed Ajtebi, it was nothing more than a steering job, or so the theory went.
And it all seemed to go to plan. When the gates opened, Gladiatorus leapt out and immediately assumed an authoritative lead, ahead of Aqlaam, owned by Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum. But after a mile, when the field had tracked towards the inside rail, Ajtebi had been caught up. Within a few strides, Gladiatorus seemed to be backtracking, while Ajtebi was pushing sternly on the favourite. It was pretty much the last we saw of the highly-rated pair as they trailed in sixth.
"He wasn't half the horse that I had underneath me in Dubai," revealed a breathless and crestfallen Ajtebi afterwards. "I was pushing so hard from halfway. I don't mind being beaten in the final furlong by a better horse, but this was very disappointing for me." Trainer Saeed Bin Suroor was similarly nonplussed at the flat display. He said: "I can't understand what went wrong so soon after the race. He was running well in training and worked well before the race last time."
Even Frankie Dettori, who rode Alexandros to finish eighth of nine, was disturbed at how his horse ran. "Alexandros did not feel 100 per cent when going to post," he revealed. "In the latter stages of the race it seemed that something was pinching him. I eased him down when he was beaten." The poor display from Gladiatorus and Alexandros echoes that of recent flop Eastern Anthem, another of Godolphin's high-rated charges who performed with credit during the Dubai Carnival.
Winner of three races at Nad Al Sheba, which included the Dubai Sheema Classic on Dubai World Cup night, he struggled badly during Epsom's Derby meeting earlier this month when trailing in sixth, 11 lengths behind the winner Ask. Eastern Anthem runs in the Gold Cup tomorrow, and Bin Suroor will wait and see the outcome of that contest before making any far-reaching conclusions. The connections of Paco Boy were ecstatic, particularly at turning the tables on Gladiatorus, who had beaten Paco Boy into eighth at Nad Al Sheba. "The international classifications might have to be revised now," said trainer Richard Hannon. "He's beaten the best in the world here."
Critics had questioned Paco Boy's ability to stay a truly-run mile after his defeat in Dubai, but Hannon was in a light-hearted mood about it. "I think that he has put a few old jokers to bed! If he didn't truly stay a mile today, then I'll have to live with the fact that he stayed it better than others." Hannon revealed that the winner was unlikely to go to the Breeders' Cup in America. email@example.com