Magazine article The Spectator

Battle of the Oldies

Magazine article The Spectator

Battle of the Oldies

Article excerpt

Who could have predicted that what is likely to turn out as the best finish of the season would be fought out between two substitute jockeys who are 101 years old between them? The Coral Eclipse Stakes, the first contest of the season between the three-year-old Classic generation and older horses, is always a fascinating race. This year it was a corker.

With Michael Kinane suffering from a bad back, Aidan O'Brien had turned to George Duffield, who at 53 is the oldest man in the weighing room, to partner Giant's Causeway. Sir Michael Stoute, forced to find a substitute for the injured Kieren Fallon on Kalanisi, went for 48year-old Pat Eddery. Neither could have made a better choice.

The hefty Giant's Causeway is a horse who needs cranking up and O'Brien's instructions to George Duffield, the jockey told us afterwards, were: `Whatever you ask him for, he'll give you. Go when you straighten up and let them come for you.' He obeyed the instructions to the letter, going past the Derby second Sakhee soon after the last turn and setting sail for home. But entering the last furlong, Eddery drove Kalanisi, in the Aga Khan's famous red and green silks, up to the leader. It looked like another triumph for the Aga. The last sight in the world any jockey wants to see at that stage is Pat Eddery, determination in full motion, coming upsides. But the old grey fox has seen it all before, including that, and he was not conceding. Fifty yards out, Pat had Kalanisi's muzzle in front but Duffield and Giant's Causeway out-gritted them. Just before the line the Irish horse got his head back in front for an epic victory.

As the crowds applauded them back, Duffield was sportingly pointing at his mount, as if to indicate that victory was all down to the horse. It was his triumph too, but the courage shown by Giant's Causeway did seem to me to cast doubt on the argument that the horse is not, by nature, a competitor with an inbuilt will to win. Sir Mark Prescott, to whom George Duffield is stable jockey and who has forgotten more about racing than I will ever know, once argued that while a greyhound is propelled through the pain barrier to supreme effort by the desire to sink its teeth into the tantalising white bottom of the hare it is chasing, and that while the desire for stardom and riches will drive on human athletes, the horse has no such motivation. But I find it hard to believe that Duffield's driving of Giant's Causeway would have received the response it did unless there was some inbuilt desire to win in the animal as well. …

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