Harbinger bows out at very top
The curtain came down officially yesterday on a career that was, at the top level, as brief as it was brilliant.
It was confirmed that last month's runaway King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes winner Harbinger, currently recovering from a fractured left foreleg in a Newmarket veterinary hospital, would not be risked on a racecourse again.
The injury he sustained during a routine gallop on Saturday morning, a crack at the base of the long bone above the ankle, is neither uncommon nor life-threatening but, given the son of Dansili's value as a potential stallion, any other news about his future would have been in the man-bites-dog category.
The damage to the four-year-old's leg has been repaired with screws and the prognosis is good; his trainer, Sir Michael Stoute, has always stressed that one of Harbinger's best qualities is his calm, sensible mind, which will stand him in good stead in the coming weeks of restricted immobility.
“The surgery was very successful,” reported Harry Herbert, manager of the Highclere Thoroughbred Racing syndicate in whose colours the colt ran, “and thankfully Harbinger is recovering well.
“The decision to retire him is based on his welfare, which is paramount to us all.”
Harbinger, currently the world's highest-rated performer, will start his second career at stud as winner of Britain's premier all-aged middle-distance contest by a record 11 lengths in a record time. And if he does as well as three other high-profile performers injured in training but saved for stud — Mill Reef, Singspiel and the short-lived Dubai Millennium — he will again be judged a success.
He is already a 10-1 shot with one firm, Skybet, to sire a Classic winner in his first crop, which would be three-year-olds in 2015.
Le roi est mort as far as competition is concerned, so vive la reine. In the States at the weekend the magnificent mare Zenyatta took her 100 per cent run to 18, something of a magic number for Turf anoraks, matching as it does the unbeaten record of the 18th-century English giant Eclipse.
That horse, bred in 1764 by William, Duke of Cumberland, the Culloden butcher, has long since galloped out of the pages of history and into those of legend.
After he retired he became a hugely successful stallion, to the degree that 90 per cent of today's thoroughbreds are descended from him in the direct male line.
Those who are include Zenyatta, whose 20-greats paternal grandsire he is (and is, incidentally, one of 4,194,304 names in that particular centuries-distant generation) and Harbinger, 18-greats.
Winning streaks always exert fascination; most, though, are either preceded by or end with failure. Eclipse retired unbeaten, as did another on 18, the Turkish champion of the 1970s, Karayel.
But in the global history of what is the best-documented of all sports, only two other horses have mustered a perfect record of more.
One, the recent 19 for 19 of Peppers Pride, is very much within Zenyatta's reach.
The other, the 54 not out of Kincsem during the 19th century, is not.
There are, of course, multiple wins and multiple wins. Peppers Pride's victories between 2005 and 2008 came in the low-key environment of her home state, New Mexico.
And similarly Camarero, the world winning-streak record holder — he won the first 56 of his 77 races — was the biggest fish in his minute pond; he raced only in his native Puerto Rico.
Kincsem, however, plied her trade at the top level all over Europe, over distances from five furlongs to two and a half miles.