George Washington was one of those horses who captured the public's imagination. It was not merely down to the fact that he was an outstanding juvenile, winning the Group 1 Phoenix Stakes and the Group 1 National Stakes, nor that he was one of the most impressive winners of the 2000 Guineas in years, putting his rivals to the sword with a scintillating turn of foot. George Washington had personality, and personality goes a long way.
When he was retired to stud at the end of the 2006 season, we didn’t think that we would hear much of Gorgeous George until his yearlings hit the sales ring. However, a lack of potency resulted in the Danehill colt’s return to Aidan O’Brien at Ballydoyle to resume training as a four-year-old, his place at stud going to Holy Roman Emperor, another son of Danehill.
Bulletins from Ballydoyle about George during the early part of the 2007 racing season were cautiously positive without being boisterously bullish, and the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot in June 2007was ear-marked for his return to the racetrack. He appeared calm in the pre-parade ring before the race, but his strength in the betting ring was at odds with his trainer’s cautious optimism.
George Washington faced an arduous task by any criteria. Not only was this his seasonal debut, his first race for seven and a half months, but it was also his first since he had been released from the breeding shed. There was no way of knowing if this character, with the brilliance of the North Star but the temperament of a 19-year-old actress, had even retained his appetite for racing. On top of that, he was taking on the very best of the older milers from the previous season, among them Lockinge Stakes winner and runner-up Red Evie and Ramonti, Sandown Mile winner Jeremy and Prix d’Ispahan runner-up Turtle Bowl. Odds of 10-11 about George were, in hindsight, very short indeed.
George was keen in the early stages of the race, too keen. The eight runners filed right across Ascot’s straight track and, from his draw in stall eight, right on the far side of the field, Mick Kinane struggled to get him tucked in. He looked in trouble a furlong and a half out when the jockey asked him to quicken and the response was limited at best. Even so, the field were not getting away from him. It looked like Jeremy had shown a race-winning turn of foot, but he began to drift towards the far rail, forsaking ground as he went. Ramonti, who had led from early, was boxing on, Turtle Bowl was closing on the near side, and George Washington himself was beginning to make inroads.
Fifty yards from the line, you couldn’t have named the winner. Then Ramonti produced one final surge under a ban-inducing Dettori drive, and his superior strength and race fitness saw him home, by just a short head from Jeremy, with Turtle Bowl another short head back in third and George Washington a head further back in fourth place. You couldn’t have thrown a horse blanket over them, given that they were spread right across the course, but you sure as hell needed every pixel that you had on the photo finish camera.
George Washington almost pulled an unlikely victory out of the embers of certain defeat to get his backers out of jail. But even if he had, he was never an odds-on shot.