Had the 2001 Coronation Cup been held at Churchill Downs, instead of Epsom, for example, we would have seen Mutafaweq set off like a scalded cat, burning up the turf in the process, and tiring in the final eighth, only to concede victory to a fast-finishing stayer such as Millenary. However, it was held at Epsom, and in true British racing and Coronation Cup style, it was run at no pace at all, resulting in a tactical affair. Mutafaweq, resolutely from the front, won.
Here’s a contrasting scenario: last September, ironically the day prior to Summoner’s unanticipated win in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot, the Jockey Club issued a reminder to trainers and jockeys over the role of pacemakers in races. The horse at the centre of attention was Godolphin’s latest star pacemaker, Give The Slip (not Summoner, where the word "star" would be eliminated due to his winning of the race), who had controversially separated Galileo and Fantastic Light on the home turn in an epic Irish Champion Stakes. While he facilitated Fantastic Light’s cause in the race, such tactics detracted from the lustre of his stable companion’s win and, in the King George at Ascot, Give The Slip barely contributed to Fantastic Light’s running of the race, where Galileo poached first run on his adversary. If Jockey Club Director of Regulations Malcolm Wallace felt "uncomfortable" about Give The Slip’s pacemaking roles, then surely more discomfort must have been derived from the Eclipse at Sandown three months earlier.
Tobougg and Black Minnaloushe had pacemakers in Broche and Darwin respectively. With Broche looking as though he had been fed on kerosene and Darwin looking more like Lochsong in behind, they attempted to sprint for a mile and a quarter, making the strung out Group One field looking more like a decimated Grand National field and, by the final furlong, a bunched up Steward’s Cup field. Medicean, showing his class, forged ahead of the pack of floundering horses to win one of the less convincing Eclipse renewals in recent years, due to the close proximity of the pacemakers who, in contrast to Medicean, were not genuine Group One performers.
Another race to be added to the file of strange races was the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes. Summoner, having failed to win a Listed race several weeks prior to the race, bounded clear of Godolphin’s "first string" Noverre in atrocious ground conditions. A slightly embarrassed Richard Hills, who had won on the wrong horse, scored full marks in the Jockey Awareness Stakes, as a Group Three horse, if that, beat the winner of the Sussex Stakes. To Hills, this was nothing new, as he had also won the same race in 1994 on Maroof, who had likewise filled the role of pacemaker.
The pacemaker is not a recent concept. Godophin, in particular, have already won races with their talented pacemakers Cape Cross and Fly To The Stars, therefore fulfilling the notion that a pacemaking horse is not necessarily a bad one, as is perhaps perceived when pacemakers are sent off at long prices for championship races. After all, some horses run best when up with the pace - Give The Slip won the Ebor Handicap from the front and, using that example, it becomes clear that, in Fantastic Light and Galileo, Give The Slip met two horses he simply wasn’t good enough to beat. Essentially, Give The Slip acted as the pacemaker in the Irish Champion Stakes, instead of Ballydoyle’s Ice Dancer who, like Broche had done in the Eclipse, suffered from Scalded Cat Syndrome. If pacemakers are talented or not, providing they are ridden out in a finish by their jockeys, then there should, in theory, be no problem with them.
In practice, there is a problem with them in some parts of the world, namely in Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand, where pacemakers are outlawed - horses must run to their own merits. Perhaps a fair statement, but take a look at France, where their races are notoriously run at snail-pace, with a sprint finish, and compare this with America, where each jockey’s head is a silent clock and each horse is trained to run in rapid fractions. What makes British racing so fascinating is that each race is different - an amalgamation of racing from every part of the world in which each race is different. Pacemakers are just a small part of racing which add to the complexity of racing here as a whole. In 2001, pacemaking re-confirmed that only the biggest stables can rely on their pacemakers to aid their principal hopes and this added to the growing rivalry between the superpowers of racing: Godolphin and Ballydoyle.
While last year’s Coronation Cup lacked a pacemaker, Godolphin still won the race. That race is a microcosm of many lesser tactical races like this, which are run at lesser tracks and involve horses of less ability. Perhaps we find such tactical races more intriguing than ones which are run at a merciless gallop? Such aspects of racing are rarely considered as serious topics, yet tactics can make the difference between a good horse winning or losing. Most importantly, however, it must be noted that some horses (notably Fantastic Light) need pacemakers to be at their best. Mutafaweq, on the other hand, didn’t. So perhaps instead of complaining about pacemakers, or on the contrary, a lack of them at times, perhaps we should be grateful to see racehorses at their best, whether the horse has a pacemaker or not - and who’s to say that Anabaa Blue wouldn’t have won the King George had not a pacemaker run?