Turf Story: Illuminating
Photo: Mike Corrado
Fantastic Light scores a confident win in the Breeders' Cup Turf.
Published in the Nov. 3 issue of The Blood-Horse
The biggest surprise of the Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) popped up three days before the race was even run. The Maktoum brothers of Dubai shocked just about everyone Oct. 24 when they announced Fantastic Light would tackle the World Thoroughbred Championships' longest grass test instead of the Classic (gr. I).

Newsday called it "a change of pace that baffled the Thoroughbred world." Daily Racing Form called it "a wicked curveball." And there were a flood of other news reports from around the globe that questioned the decision, which also sent the brilliant Arc de Triomphe (Fr-I) winner Sakhee to the Classic in Fantastic Light's place.

Neither Godolphin Stable star had ever competed on dirt. But to most eyes watching at Belmont Park, Fantastic Light looked like he was handling the track's sandy surface much better than his stablemate. Godolphin racing manager Simon Crisford continued to describe Fantastic Light as Godolphin's Classic hope after Sakhee entered the Breeders' Cup picture. Meanwhile, trainer Saeed bin Suroor pointed out the talented Rahy horse would like the Classic's 1 1/4-mile distance better than the Turf's 1 1/2-mile route.

The contradictions were baffling. But Fantastic Light silenced the host of Maktoum critics on Oct. 27 with a powerful drive on the final turn that carried him to a course record finish in 2:24.36. Jockey Michael Kinane, hard in pursuit aboard Rothmans Royals St. Leger (Eng-I) winner Milan, knew in his heart that Godolphin's handsome bay horse and his jockey, Frankie Dettori, could not be caught.

"I was hoping that the ground would open up and swallow Frankie," Kinane said. "I would have had to sprout wings to get him."

Immediately following Fantastic Light's ground gobbling rush, Sakhee just missed winning the Classic, capping off Godolphin's most successful afternoon of Breeders' Cup racing ever. Also carrying the royal blue silks to victory was 11-1 longshot Tempera, who defeated another Godolphin runner, Imperial Gesture, in the Juvenile Fillies (gr. I). All of the stable's earnings, including Fantastic Light's $1,112,800 share of the Turf purse, were donated to the NTRA Charities-New York Heroes Fund to benefit victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

"It's been a great day for us," said Suroor, a former policeman.

The Maktoums had won the Turf three times before. Pebbles was their first success story, edging Strawberry Road by a neck in 1985 on her way to an Eclipse Award. In the Wings was next, rallying to defeat Canadian Triple Crown winner With Approval in 1990. Then came Daylami, who drew away by 2 1/2 lengths in 1999 and stole another Eclipse from the American grass contingent.

But Fantastic Light may go down in racing history as the most brilliant. In addition to this country, he has run in England, France, Ireland, Hong Kong, Japan, and the United Arab Emirates. On the 5-year-old horse's impressive résumé are victories in the Hong Kong Cup (HK-I) and Man o' War Stakes (gr. IT) in 2000, and the Prince of Wales's (Eng-I), Food Island Irish Champion (Ire-I), and Tattersalls Gold Cup (Ire-I) Stakes in 2001. This year, he has scored four victories and recorded two seconds in six starts.

"You can take him anywhere, and he always gives you his best," Crisford said.

The earner of $7,486,957 may go in the Japan Cup (Jpn-I) next and try to improve on his third-place effort in 2000. Then he will become a stallion at Sheikh Mohammed's Dalham Hall Stud in England, according to Michael Goodbody, an adviser to Fantastic Light's breeder, Sheikh Maktoum.

One year ago, Fantastic Light was just another horse in the herd in the Breeders' Cup Turf. He was bumped on the first turn, then checked by Dettori behind the leaders in the race's final 20 yards and wound up fifth in Kalanisi's victory parade.

"It wasn't a very fast run race," said Crisford prior to this year's Breeders' Cup. "Fantastic Light was sitting a little bit too far back. This time, tactically, there won't be a mistake."

Suroor also expressed confidence, saying the key to success would be "to keep 'Fantastic' close to the front and in a good position." In addition, the trainer talked about Fantastic Light's improvement this year both physically and mentally.

"In 2001, he's a different horse," Suroor said. "He grew a lot, and he is stronger than last year. He also grew in his mind. He is more focused in his races and his work is very honest. He is a professional now, and he has run his best races this year."

In the days leading up to the Breeders' Cup, Fantastic Light was widely admired by horsemen who crowded along Belmont's outside rail to view the morning workouts. A flashy five-furlong work in :59 4/5 on Monday of Breeders' Cup week signaled his readiness to run. It also was a significant improvement over his sluggish seven-furlong move in 1:32 1/5 on Oct. 23.

"That's a beautiful horse," said trainer Bob Baffert, who caught a glimpse of the Godolphin star while he was jogging past the clockers' stand two days before the Turf. Fantastic Light held his head high, and his ears were pricked. Dapples gleamed on his strong hindquarters.

Before this year's Breeders' Cup appearance in New York, Fantastic Light had enthralled racing fans in Europe with his exciting duels against Galileo. In the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes (Eng-I) in July, Fantastic Light drove to the lead late, only to be outkicked by Galileo. But the Godolphin star turned the tables on his rival in the Sept. 8 Irish Champion Stakes. Fantastic Light raced in third early, just in front of Galileo. Then Galileo launched a three-wide bid and appeared to draw even with only a furlong remaining. But Fantastic Light grimly fought back to prevail by a head and hand Galileo the first defeat of his career.

The Breeders' Cup Classic was supposed to be the rubber match that would settle once and for all which horse was the best. Then the Maktoums' stunning change in plans sent Fantastic Light to the $2-million Turf to take on other foes. Exactly why the brothers from Dubai made that choice was not clear. They remained at home, leaving their various representatives to explain the unexpected move. According to Suroor, Sheikh Hamdan, who bred Sakhee, "would like to see his horse run in the Classic." According to Crisford, the Maktoums were trying to achieve an unprecedented feat of major importance internationally with Sakhee, and Fantastic Light had to step aside.

"We're anxious to try and do the ultimate," Crisford said. "No Arc winner has ever won a Breeders' Cup Classic. If Sakhee pulls it off, he'll go down in the record books as one of the greats of all time."

So Sakhee was sent to tangle with Galileo, who didn't offer much competition in the Classic while finishing sixth. Fantastic Light, meanwhile, faced Michael Tabor and Sue Magnier's Milan along with nine other challengers. The Godolphin standout was heavily favored at 7-5. The second choice was the almost white gelding With Anticipation, who had victories in the Man o' War Stakes and Sword Dancer Invitational Handicap (gr. IT) to his credit this year. A disqualification had dropped him from first to second in the United Nations Handicap (gr. IT). Also in the field were Hap, a multiple graded winner on grass who seemed to prefer a distance shorter than 1 1/2 miles, and Timboroa, a $180,000 supplemental entry who had captured the Turf Classic (gr. IT) at Belmont in his most recent start.

Continued...

Turf Chart, From Equibase

Most Popular Stories