Leopardstown's Ireland The Food Island Irish Champion Stakes (Ire-I, Sept. 8) delivered all its pre-race hype and more as Godolphin's Fantastic Light took his revenge on Susan Magnier and Michael Tabor's Galileo in a toe-to-toe slugfest over the final three-eighths of a mile.
Where Fantastic Light had driven to the lead late only to be outgamed by Galileo in Ascot's King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes (Eng-I), here, under an aggressive ride by Frankie Dettori, he hung on grimly through the lane as Galileo and Michael Kinane threw everything at him. Galileo suffered his first defeat in seven races by a head, but even 17,000 partisan Irish fans roared their approval of a great racing spectacle.
Dettori nearly "fell over backwards" when he heard the strategy hatched by Sheikhs Mohammed and Maktoum.
"They wondered why we had to follow Galileo when we know our horse is a good horse, he stays a mile and a quarter well, and he's got a five-pound pull (in the weights) from the King George. Our horse knows how to fight; he's been in a few fights before. He just got tired in the (12 furlong) King George."
Galileo's pacemaker, Ice Dancer, set off at a scorching pace, leaving Godolphin's Give the Slip to be the de facto pacemaker, with 5-year-old Fantastic Light third, just ahead of 3-year-old Galileo in the field of seven. On the turn for home, Richard Hills let Give the Slip drift off the rail allowing the 9-4 Fantastic Light the inside passage. Galileo, the 4-11 favorite, came three wide to launch his bid and may have gotten even with his rival with a furlong remaining, but Fantastic Light kept pulling out a bit more to hold him safe in the $922,423 race.
With Point Given retired, Coral Eurobet makes the Irish Champion protagonists joint 3-1 favorites for the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) ahead of 8-1 Albert the Great and Lido Palace. Galileo and Fantastic Light sit atop the Emirates World Series standings with 18 points each after the fifth leg.
Neither Fantastic Light nor Galileo is expected to race again before the World Thoroughbred Championships at Belmont Park on Oct. 27. The latter, and European champion sprinter-elect Mozart, will be given a spin over the fibresand track at Southwell before their departure, a route taken with Classic second Giant's Causeway last year.
Mozart was paid a huge compliment when Nuclear Debate demolished a field of 12 to win the Stanley Leisure Sprint Cup (Eng-I, Sept. 8) over six furlongs at Haydock Park by three lengths, pulling away over the final furlong under Gerald Mosse. Trained in France by John Hammond, Nuclear Debate was beaten two lengths by Mozart in York's Nunthorpe Stakes (Eng-I) last month and now heads for Longchamp's Prix de l'Abbaye de Longchamp (Fr-I) on "Arc" weekend. Robert Chester's 6-year-old would have been the favorite for the Abbaye last year but was ineligible until a recent decision opening the straight five-furlong race to geldings.
Godolphin completed a dream weekend when course specialist Slickly went wire-to-wire to capture Longchamp's mile Prix du Moulin (Fr-I) by three lengths over Banks Hill and Hawkeye. The 5-year-old had been purchased from France-Galop president Jean-Luc Lagardere two years ago and started at 4-1 under Dettori.
Sheikh Hamdan's Mutamam lost the services of regular rider Richard Hills when he was called to Ireland, but managed to repeat last year's victory in Kempton Park's Milcars September Stakes (Eng-III) under Philip Robinson. The Alec Stewart trainee, fourth in the Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) last year, could end up at Belmont next month, but first he will undertake the Canadian International (Can-I) at Woodbine Sept. 30.