The wide chasm that separates American and European horses was in evidence Friday morning, as Godolphin's big guns – Sakhee and Fantastic Light – both turned in pedestrian works over the main track, much to the satisfaction of assistant trainer Tom Albertrani.
Sakhee was the first to work, at 7:15. Albertrani said beforehand he was looking for about 1:01 for five furlongs. Jogging down the stretch, Sakhee did several wheelies, while tossing his head around, then back- and side-peddled across the track. In addition to the new surroundings, he seemed to be reacting to horses coming in the opposite direction, much like Kalanisi did last year, when he tossed his rider on the turf course. But Sakhee quickly got over it, and with Albertrani coming up alongside on the pony, he was fine after that.
With excercise rider Lee Roebuck aboard, Sakhee still seemed to be in a high gallop breaking off at the five-furlong pole. He settled in stride around the turn, but wasn't being asked for anything. Turning for home, after fractions of :26 3/5 :39 2/5, and :52, the son of Bahri switched leads more fluidly than we expected, but still was not being asked to run. Through the stretch, he kept throwing his ears around in all directions, as if he were more interested in checking out the new surroundings. While several observers did not like the way he went, not to mention the lethargic final time of 1:05 2/5, we thought he looked better as he went along, and his action over the dirt was sufficient enough suggest that he could handle the new surface. This is a gorgeous individial, with a refined, regal head, and magnificent presence about him. He bounces over the track, with his head and ears up, and a slight arch to his neck, as if he knows he's something special.
Was this work enough to suggest he can win the Classic? Off the final time, you wouldn't think so, but remember, this horse just won the Arc de Triomphe by 6 lengths two weeks ago. We'll stay in the minority and say this work did not eliminate him from consideration as a Classic contender, although the feeling around Belmont is that he's more likely to run in the Turf. Throwing out the slow time, we're basically saying this work, from a visual standpoint, was not as bad as people think. If he had his mind on what he was doing, he obviously would have gone faster.
Now, if you didn't like Sakhee's work, you sure as heck won't like Fantastic Light's work, which by American standards was more of an open gallop. Breaking off at the seven-eighths pole, Fantastic Light just loped along early, then did pick it up a bit around the turn. But in the stretch, with Roebuck flicking his wrists and throwing a little cross on him, the colt basically shut it down, and there was no extension whatsoever to his stride. Again, however, we will play devil's advocate and say this was not an inability to handle the dirt or dislike for this particular surface. It was all mental. Simply put, Fantastic Light was there physically, but his mind definitely was somewhere else. Albertrani said afterward that the horse, as he's gotten older, has developed a tendency to "stick his toe in the ground" and slow down at the end of his works. This sure wasn't the same horse who dug way down and outgutted Galileo in the Irish Champion Stakes. So, perhaps, his work, like Sakhee's, really doesn't mean a thing, and is no indicator of how he, and Sakhee, will perform on Oct. 27.
Now, if these were American horses, you'd throw them out for the Classic. But, they're not American horses. We're dealing with apples and oranges, and we've seen too many European horses come here and fizzle out badly after tearing up the track with blazing works. So, make of these works what you will. In our opinion, we're still at square one with both horses, and the Godolphin braintrust will no doubt have a tough decision to make next Wednesday.
In other Classic news, Aptitude and Macho Uno will work Saturday morning following the renovation break. Tiznow is scheduled to arrive later in the afternoon. We saw the tape of Tiznow's marathon stay on the racetrack Thursday, and couldn't believe the colt's antics. As wild as they were, and as bull-headed as he was for over 30 minutes, what was even more remarkable was how, just like that, he decided to act like a racehorse, and proceeded to turn in a spectacular work. Chris McCarron just let him do his thing, with no encouragement, and Tiznow just kept getting stronger and stronger. Even on the backstretch, he still was rolling, and blazed his mile in 1:35 2/5, while striding out magnificently. We can't wait to see him on the track at Belmont. Trainer Jay Robbins, however, might not echo those words.