Donn's Articles » Duel on

Duel on

You can’t beat the duel. Frazier v Ali, Borg v McEnroe, Denman v Kauto Star. There is nothing quite like toe-to-toe combat to send the ratings soaring.

Arkle used Mill House as a springboard to greatness. Without Alydar, Affirmed’s Triple Crown would not have been as heroic as it was. Without Bustino, Grundy would have been just another King George winner. And so it is correct that the marketing bandwagon should seek to extract the duel and present it as such at every available opportunity. One such opportunity exists this week and the spotlights are on: Dawn Approach v Toronado, another Duel on the Downs.

Comparisons with the King’s Lake/To-Agori-Mou saga may be a little wide of the mark, mind you. It was in the Irish 2000 Guineas at The Curragh in 1981, after all, that that particular rivalry began, not at Newmarket. And immediately there was needle, as King’s Lake won, got thrown out by the stewards on the day, and got reinstated later on appeal, which was probably the catalyst for Greville Starkey’s two-finger salute when To-Agori-Mou exacted his revenge in the St James’ Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot.

In the Sussex Stakes, which proved to be the decider, 32 years ago on Wednesday, it was the Irish horse who got home by a head.

No, the Dawn Approach/Toronado rivalry has much more in common with the Henrythenavigator/Raven’s Pass battles of 2008 than it does with anything that happened in the early 1980s. First and fourth respectively in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket, the Aidan O’Brien and John Gosden horses finished first and second respectively in the St James’ Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot, before heading on to Glorious Goodwood to duel on the Downs.

The similarities between that rivalry of five years ago and the Dawn Approach/Toronado rivalry of today are uncanny, all the way down to respective positions in respective races, and respective nationalities of respective protagonists.

It is worth noting at this point that Henry got home by a head from Raven’s Pass at Goodwood.

Declaration Of War is a player, but he doesn’t fit with the duel theme. So it’s two-nil to Dawn Approach, but Toronado is getting closer. It looked like the duel was on in the 2000 Guineas when the pair of them moved up between Leitir Mor and Glory Awaits. Indeed, it looked for a few strides as if Toronado was proving to be the stronger, before the turbo kicked in on Jim Bolger’s horse, and he came clear, as the Richard Hannon horse floundered.

The Derby has no real place in this narrative, besides the fact that it speaks volumes for Dawn Approach and his trainer that he was able to go back to Royal Ascot 17 days after his Epsom strikeout and put up the best performance of his life. It was one of those lose-and-you’re-zero-win-and-you’re-hero situations, and the coin landed on Hero.

Dawn Approach had to put up the best performance of his life too, because Toronado put up the best of his, and it was enough to get him to within the bob of a head of the Guineas winner. Watch the race as many times as you like, watch it from side-on, head-on, close-up, worm’s-eye, you still can’t know for certain how it would have panned out without the scrimmaging.

Here’s what you can say without equivocation: both horses were inconvenienced. Dawn Approach was bumped twice by the concertinaed Magician, and Toronado was knocked out of his rhythm by the hampered Dawn Approach. Either horse would have won had he managed to evade the trouble, but that wouldn’t have been fair.

They were inseparable through the final 200 yards, and they were even inseparable at the pull-up, both horses having given their all. If the winning line had been positioned a half a stride before the winning line or a half a stride after the winning line, it is possible that Toronado’s head would have been down and Dawn Approach’s would have been up, and that the score would now be one-one. But the winning line at Ascot is where it is, and we are now where we are. The outcome of some of the top sporting events in the world have been decided by millimetres and fractions of seconds. Did you see chalk dust? Two-nil.

A lot is probably going to depend on who gets the run of the race on Wednesday. Dawn Approach has drawn stall four, Toronado has drawn seven, widest of all. The draw is not as big a factor in the seven-runner Sussex Stakes as it will be in the Betfred Mile on Friday, and an outside drawn might even be an advantage, it gives Richard Hughes options, but, on balance, you would probably prefer to be drawn inside rather than outside.

A bigger factor in the determination of the outcome, however, is the magnitude by which each horse has progressed since Ascot. It is probable that both will have progressed, they are both mere adolescents with, respectively, nine and six runs on their cvs.

There is a sense that Toronado enjoyed a smooth run to Ascot. He hadn’t raced since the Guineas, and Richard Hannon was able to train him from then with the objective of bringing him to the boil for the St James’s Palace.

Dawn Approach was different. He had been to Epsom and back just two and a half weeks before Ascot. Indeed, Jim Bolger’s initial thought after the Derby was that Royal Ascot would probably come too soon. There may be more progression to come from Dawn Approach from Ascot and, in that sense, in a fascinating encounter, the Irish horse may just prevail again. Probably by a head.

©, 29th July 2013