Michael Tabor had just introduced the F word into the conversation, so it was important to check he meant it.
City Of Troy’s performance in the Dewhurst Stakes had lit a fire around Newmarket, the course ablaze with the kind of excitement you wouldn’t normally associate when an 8/15 favourite wins. It all stemmed from the moment this two-year-old changed gear and zoomed into the horizon.
Aidan O’Brien, City Of Troy’s trainer, was breathless, so excited he had trouble getting his words out. Ryan Moore, his rider, guards his feelings carefully but here he felt moved enough to use the description ‘rare’ for the colt’s talent.
But then Tabor, one of his joint-owners, came along and made the kind of statement to stop you in your tracks. He mentioned City of Troy in the same breath as Frankel and, suddenly, you realised the enormity of it all.
‘I really think he is our Frankel,’ said Tabor.
City Of Troy and Ryan Moore coming home to win the Native Trail’s Dewhurst Stakes
Trainer Aidan O’Brien and jockey Ryan Moore with Frankie Dettori (centre) in the winner’s enclosure after winning the Native Trail’s Dewhurst Stakes with City Of Troy on day two
Honestly? This was akin to comparing an Under-21 footballer to Lionel Messi or a promising golfer coming out of college to Tiger Woods. City Of Troy has only run three times, Frankel – 14 wins from 14 races over three spell-binding seasons – is the greatest many of us have ever seen.
But Tabor, who celebrates his 82nd birthday in two weeks, was absolutely clear in what he was saying. He spoke at length and knew precisely the connotations, along with the pressure that comes with such statements.
‘I’m not throwing this (comparison) away liberally,’ Tabor stressed. ‘Not at all. I know the way Aidan speaks. We our all optimists and you have to be that way in life – especially in this game. But, believe me, this horse is special. No question. He is special. He is the real deal.
‘Let’s hope he is as popular as Frankel was. He will only get that popularity as time goes on. And hopefully, as time goes on, he will win all those big races and get those accolades given to him. It is easy to talk. But I like to talk before they achieve and that is what we believe.
‘Maybe down the line we will have egg on our face. But I really believe it: this horse could be anything. Aidan was nervous beforehand, about the state of the ground. They say a good horse will go on any ground. And this is a good horse.’
He’s better than that. City Of Troy had last run 91 days ago. He’d left racegoers on Newmarket’s July Course gasping that afternoon when he careered seven lengths away from his rivals in the Group Two Superlative Stakes and received ridiculously short quotes for next spring’s 2000 Guineas – he’s now no bigger than evens for that race.
A deluge on Friday evening had left O’Brien so anxious about underfoot conditions that he had walked the track 35 minutes before the Dewhurst – the race that crowns the season’s leading juvenile – to make sure it wouldn’t compromise him.
There was plenty of danger lurking within the opposition here to take advantage if anything went wrong, not least the Owen Burrows-trained Alyanaabi and Iberian, a fine winner of Doncaster’s Champagne Stakes four weeks ago.
City of Troy’s spectacular Dewhurst Stakes victory spurs comparisons to legendary Frankel
Tabor mentioned City of Troy in the same breath as Frankel, shocking those around him
But Moore bounced City of Troy out of the stalls and dared his rivals to catch him if they could. They couldn’t – and one of the best moments of the flat season arrived when Moore asked his partner to go through the gears a furlong out, the response was both visible and dramatic.
Frankel won this same race in October 2010, by just short of three lengths, before doing things as he matured under the glorious guidance of the late Sir Henry Cecil that led films to be made and books to be written. This is why Tabor’s appraisal carries such weight.
‘You needed tractor tyres to go in that ground,’ said O’Brien. ‘He hasn’t got tractor tyres. What he has is a jet engine. His engine just pushed him through it. He’s an incredible horse. We have never seen him get tired and we have never, ever had a horse like it.
This was O’Brien’s record-equalling eighth success in the race and he added: ‘He’s the best two-year-old we have had. There’s no doubt. Absolutely. He’s by Justify (The American Triple Crown winner); they just keep going. It will the Guineas then, hopefully, the Derby.’
And after that – if he does what they think he will do – it will be history. Racing needs superstars. It most certainly has one now.