Somehow you don’t expect a talented genius to be the sort of person who spends the evening sitting by the fire in their slippers. They tend to work hard, play hard and have more than their fair share of eccentricities.
The same can also be said of equine geniuses. George Washington was one such horse.
No one can deny the horse had a mind of his own – the adjective psycho was used to describe him more than once. After losing his opening career race he went on to glory as a two year old, with a convincing victory in the Phoenix Stakes at The Curragh the highlight. However in the subsequent National Stakes his moodiness showed again when what should have been a shoe-in became hard work.
Oft compared to a recalcitrant child there was no doubting his physical ability, his problems laid in his head. The one redeeming factor in his juvenile career was another "factor" – the Fallon factor. Arguably another flawed genius he seemed to be able to connect and related to the horse and the horse with his rider.
The big test was going to be the 2006 renewal of the 2,000 Guineas. Setting off 6/4 favourite there was no doubt he was the best horse in the race, seemingly the only thing that would beat him was his temperament.
Initial portents were not good as he played up in the saddling area, however once in the parade ring he was as good as gold, almost smiling at the watching racegoers. Going to post like a lamb, he left his rivals standing in a near faultless display to take the race as easily as he wanted to. However as soon as the race was over big bad George was to return as he steadfastly refused to go to the winners enclosure – much to the chagrin of the Jockey Club members and the stewards.
His next appearance was on unsuitable heavy going at The Curragh where he was also said to be carrying an injury, followed by the Celebration Mile at Goodwood where naughty George was once again to the fore. Headstrong going to post, he virtually refused to come out of the stalls, and once racing he expended too much energy fighting with his new rider Mick Kinane. It was only at the end of the race that he actually consented to race properly but had left it far too late.
Next was the Queen Elizabeth at Ascot. As at Newmarket he refused to be saddled in the saddling boxes but, again, once saddled he seemed to be aware he was in the presence of Royalty and he behaved impeccably. Apart from a brief moment, where it looked as though he would be boxed in, the result was never in doubt and he beat a high class field to be crowned the champion miler.
His final race of the campaign was the Breeders Cup Classic at Churchill Downs, over a new trip of ten furlongs. After the race there was debate as to whether the dirt or the distance beat him but he tried and he lost nothing in defeat.
A contented life at stud awaited him.
That should have been the end of the story – but we are talking George Washington here and George does not play by the book.
Putting it bluntly, George fired blanks and none of the ladies he covered managed to come into foal. So it was announced in the spring of this year that George was returning to the racecourse.
Even more questions greeted his return, not only was his temperament in question. Would he concentrate on his racing having spent time at stud?
His reappearance was the Queen Anne at Royal Ascot and he was on his best behaviour in the preliminaries. In the race itself the bad George was back, taking too strong a hold and when he did eventually consent to play ball he had, once again, left it far too late.
Next was a step up to ten furlongs in the Coral Eclipse, this time with his work rider Seamie Heffernan on board. In the preliminaries he behaved as good as gold but as soon as he was released onto the course he tried to take off. After a frantic fight Heffernan managed to take control and then steadied him to post. The race turned out to be interesting with Notnowcato arguably stealing the race by taking a lone course along the stands rail. On the far side George had an intense battle with the Derby winner Authorized only going down by a neck. It was clear he could get the ten furlongs.
Next up was the Prix Du Moulin at Longchamp, back to a mile and reunited with Kieran Fallon. He ran his usual hold up race running on at the end and he finished third.
Then came last Saturday, a second attempt at the Breeders Cup Classic. Conditions at Belmont Park were sloppy. Ironically, sloppy actually relates to a firm going as the horses tend to run on the harder substrate rather than the dirt. This was shown by the winning time only being a fraction of a second outside the 25 year old track record.
It was clear that George Washington did not like the kickback and Mick Kinane took him wide to avoid the worse of it. In the home straight George sadly broke down with a serious leg fracture and was humanely put down.
Sad as it is to lose such a great horse it seems appropriate that George Washington lost his life on the racecourse – I somehow think living out his dotage in a field would not have been to his liking.
How appropriate also, that a horse named after, arguably, the greatest US President should end his days in the biggest race in that country.
There mus be a big void at Ballydoyle one that will be hard, if not impossible, to fill.
Farewell George – you were a flawed genius but we shall miss you.