IT was billed as “the hottest duel of the year” but of course it did not work out like that.
The field for Germany’s top race, the Group 1 Grosser Preis von Baden, had shrunk to four by the time the runners entered the starting stalls and the two main protagonists were Gestüt Auenquelle’s five-year-old Torquator Tasso, 2021 winner of the Arc, and Gestüt Park Wiedingen’s three-year-old Sammarco, winner of his last three races including the German Derby.
The other two runners were both four-year-olds: Alter Adler, winner of the top race here at the spring meeting, and Mendocino, runner-up to Alpinista in the Grosser Preis von Bayern last November but coming off a break of three months after three below-par performances in the spring.
Spice was added to the mix by the jockey bookings, as Rene Piechulek, Torquator Tasso’s regular partner, was committed to ride Mendocino, who is not only trained by his partner in real life, Sarah Steinberg, but also owned by Stall Salzburg (Hans-Gerd Wernicke), by whom he is retained. Frankie Dettori had been booked for the Arc winner, who started at odds-on.
It was obviously going to be a tactical race with no likely pace. Alter Adler had made the running before, and soon led here, but he was a reluctant leader, and they went very slow for the first mile.
Torquator Tasso was always a close second, Sammarco not far behind in third, while Piechulek was happy to sit in last place on Mendocino. As they came round the final bend, Dettori moved Torquator Tasso up to challenge Alter Adler, with Sammarco now taking closer order.
The trio were in line two furlongs out and came very close, with Sammarco appearing to give Torquator Tasso a bump; however the latter took a narrow lead at the distance, but then Mendocino suddenly came into it on the outside, going seemingly best of all.
Torquator Tasso did not give up without a fight and kept on gamely but Mendocino had the better speed and nailed him in the final stages to score by a head. Sammarco was a length and a quarter back in third and Alter Adler just half a length behind.
It was immediately clear that the first two would meet again in the Arc in four weeks’ time and Torquator Tasso’s owners quickly booked Dettori to ride him again in Paris.
However, Dettori had a date with the stewards first, and they gave him a 14-day suspension for overuse of the whip. The Italian thought that he would have to miss the Arc, but soon discovered that the suspension would end on October 1st, the first day of the Arc meeting, and that he would be free to ride on the second and main day of the ParisLongchamp fixture.
The other pair are likely to meet again in the Preis von Europa in Cologne in a fortnight.
Germany now has two plausible contenders for the Arc; both are by the late lamented sire Adlerflug, whose progeny are usually well suited by soft ground.
On overall form, Torquator Tasso is the better horse, but Mendocino must also be respected. Torquator Tasso was clearly unsuited at Baden-Baden by the slow pace, and he never had any cover.
Mendocino won on merit; it was a brilliant ride by Piechulek, a brilliant piece of training by Steinberg, and a pretty good call by the owner as well.
The bookies have pushed Torquator Tasso out to 10/1 for the Arc with Mendocino still available at 50/1. He may yet surprise us all.