Looking ahead to this weekend, Jamie Lynch delves into some of what makes Alpha Centauri the monster she is, and why the Prix Jacques le Marois is such a meaningful target for her.
"Taking on the males is a new challenge, but a challenge is the opportunity for an athlete to rise..."
Jamie Lynch on Alpha Centauri
In a supermarket the other day, I was drawn by an invisible tractor beam to a craft beer booth that was offering free samples. 'So, sir,' said the sanguine salesman, after I'd downed the second shot, 'in one word how would you describe the flavour?' Slightly flustered, thinking I was there purely for intoxication and not interrogation, I dropped my car key due to the sweaty palms, which in turn reminded me that I needed to replenish my Lynx stocks.
And then, like a detective suddenly piecing together a puzzle, it hit me what I had inadvertently stumbled across; a 'Fitzdares Racing Futures' name generator.
All you have to do to feel in with the influential crowd is to take the model of your latest or favourite car, then hyphen up a one-word description of the flavour of the last alcoholic drink you had with your Lynx deodorant of choice. I'm reliably informed that the Impulse range works equally well for women.
Henceforth, in order to make the cut for the '35 over 35' list next year, I shall be known as Octavia Biscuity-Dark Temptation.
It nearly works.
Ah, poor old Fitzdares. They say that bad publicity is still publicity, but try telling that to Gerald Ratner or Gerard Butler (not the actor). If, in six months' time, Sacha Baron Cohen announces a new series entitled Haughty Horsepower then it would all make perfect sense, but it seems, for now, like the list was compiled and the lunch was conducted without the merest whiff of irony, though there's a certain irony in that the privilege of pedigree is indeed the lifeblood of the sport, only it's the horses and not the humans, but family ties have family ties.
Miesque was one of the 50 horses profiled in racing historian Jim Bolus' book Royal Blood: Fifty Years of Classic Thoroughbreds. Electra Niarchos was one of the 35 under 35 on Fitzdares imprudent index. Guessing at influence is akin to guessing at genetics, because the privileged parts may not amount to a significant sum. It's easier to scoff but fairer to sympathise with Electra Niarchos, amongst others, for having an entitlement light shone upon her by the lopsided list, leaning on the family line she's from, in the same way it would have been prejudicial to call out the untried-and-untested Galileo Gal as an impending influencer for the fact she was by Galileo and out of Alpha Lupi, whose grandam was Miesque.
Galileo Gal finished down the field on her one and only start, in a maiden at Woodbine last September. Her year-younger half-sister has done rather more to uphold the domestic distinction, because her year-younger half-sister is Alpha Centauri.
Miesque won the Prix Jacques le Marois in '87 and '88, and her daughter, East of The Moon, the next branch on the family tree that has flowered Alpha Centauri, was herself successful in the race in 1994. Since then, the Niarchos family have landed France's most prestigious mile prize, the Jacques le Marois, a further three times, Spinning World doubling up later in the 'nineties before Six Perfections graced the colours, and the Deauville stage, in 2003.
Fifteen years have passed without the famous blue silks with the go-faster stripes having passed the post first in the Marois, a race with considerable connotations for the French and for the family, explaining the engagement for Alpha Centauri, in preference to last week's Sussex or next month's Matron.
Taking on the males is a new challenge, but a challenge is the opportunity for an athlete to rise, and a rating to rise in her case, a Timeform rating - 127 - that's already uncommonly high for a three-year-old filly in mid-summer, 1 lb higher than Enable was ahead of the King George last year.
In the one-size-fits-all domain of categorical concessions, it's almost unethical that Alpha Centauri will get weight allowances for being a three-year-old and a filly, as there's nothing immature nor feminine about her. A big unit with a big engine, one that's responsive to revving up in any part of a race, as she proved from the middle of the pack at Royal Ascot and the front of it in the Falmouth, Alpha Centauri is low on pressure points and high on threshold, helping her record - in the Coronation - the fastest timefigure by a three-year-old in 2018.
Given her pace and pliancy, along with the fact she's at the peak of her powers, Alpha Centauri really ought to be odds-on for the Prix Jacques le Marois, on her way to emulating Miesque more profoundly in the Breeders' Cup Mile. From Nureyev to Miesque to East of The Moon and Alpha Centauri, the nature of that family has influenced the global game, itself influenced in nurture by the Niarchos family. The history and heritage is equally constructive for Alpha Centauri as it is for Electra Niarchos, and we shouldn't - as Fitzdares have, in some instances, invited us to - confuse what it means to be named with what a name means.
Alpha is the first of a weekend of 'A's, encompassing Ascot and Arlington. There are two types of people in the world: those who don't buy into the Shergar Cup, and those who ride in the Shergar Cup. Its gimmick of a team game just doesn't fit with the foundation of racing as an individual pursuit, but it's one meeting out of roughly 1,500 in Britain per year, only a footnote on a multi-layered menu, easier left than taken offence to.
Things are far more serious over in Arlington, where the 'A' theme is accentuated by the A-Team of Analyze It and Athena, the head boy and head girl in the Secretariat Stakes and Beverly D respectively, the support Group 1s to the Arlington Million. Analyze It is a developing dynamo for the unofficial Lord of the Lawn, Chad Brown, and probably only Aidan O'Brien's Hunting Horn stands in his way in the Secretariat, while the same two powerhouses square off in the Beverly D. Athena was a long-range missle landed by Ballydoyle in the Belmont Oaks, but she faced nothing there of the calibre of Chad Brown's Sistercharlie, who has a few pounds to play with based on Timeform ratings.
Brown saddles three in the Arlington Million itself, though they're second, third and sixth in the betting behind Oscar Performance, winner of last year's Secretariat. As far as the European contingent goes, Century Dream looks tailor-made for whizzing around the Arlington turns, considering his high cruising speed, and he's now in the premier league of milers in Britain, thought that's several lengths off a Champions League qualifier like Alpha Centauri.