Talismanic’s a lot more than just a pretty face
While Arrogate may have been the most photographed horse at Del Mar last month in the build up to his Breeders’ Cup Classic defence, there can be little doubt that he was run a close second by Talismanic.
A double-figure price for the Turf, Godolphin’s four-year-old son of Medaglia D’Oro wasn’t generating too many column inches from the assembled racing writers, despite the storied international record of his trainer Andre Fabre.
With his striking white face and four matching socks, the world’s turf photographers were belatedly catching on to what their French confreres had long known: Talismanic is one stunning racehorse.
What had previously been a low level of fandom among a small number of devotees is now threatening to break out into full-blown cult status, with plenty of itchy Twitter trigger-fingers anxiously awaiting his appearance for trackwork this week for #TalismanicTuesday.
Fabre himself was early to point out what a popular horse he was in the yard, not only for his markings but his sympathetic nature.
Ahead of the 2016 Prix du Jockey Club, in which he ran a fine fourth behind European Champion three-year-old colt Almanzor, Fabre told the Racing Post: “He has a fantastic personality and everyone loves him, so it would have been hard for Mickael [Barzalona] to desert him.”
Fast forward 18 months and Talismanic will be making only a second racecourse venture without Barzalona, with Maxime Guyon taking over for the suspended rider in Sunday’s G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Vase (2400m).
A mile and a half has long looked his ideal trip and Fabre has been planning overseas adventures for some time, despite having dabbled with going up further in trip for the 2,800m Prix Maurice de Nieuil (G2) back in July.
What that Saint-Cloud success demonstrated above all else was that fast ground could prove an asset, if and when Sheikh Mohammed and his trainer decided to send Talismanic on his travels.
The gamble of attempting the LONGINES Breeders’ Cup Turf around the tight turns of Del Mar paid off spectacularly, with Barzalona utilising his rail draw, cutting every corner and powering clear of Beach Patrol and Highland Reel to announce a true international breakthrough.
Talismanic was now more than just a pretty face.
“He has taken the racing and travelling really well,” said Fabre after arriving in Hong Kong on Friday. “He was looking good and happy when he came back from Del Mar and although I haven’t seen him here yet - I will see him tomorrow - the people looking after him are delighted with him. He is a relaxed quiet horse who takes things very well.”
Talismanic (GB) on the All-Weather on Saturday, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club
Plenty of connections were playing down the importance of an inside berth in the Vase after Thursday’s draw but Fabre was unable to conceal his pleasure at the number one stall picked out by Godolphin representative, Lisa-Jane Graffard.
And with 2015 LONGINES Hong Kong Vase winner Highland Reel well capable of winding up the pace from the front, France’s perennial champion will be keen that Guyon doesn’t allow Ryan Moore to get too far out of sight up front.
Fabre said: “I think stall one is an advantage again because when you are drawn wide the bends come quickly and catch you out. I am very happy with the draw.
“It looks, on form, that Talismanic and Highland Reel are the horses to beat. It could be a tactical race between the two and I hope we are not too far from wherever he is.”
The team travelling with Talismanic have kept to a very similar regime as in California, which means the work-watchers and photographers haven’t seen much of the undoubted power concealed underneath the colt’s distinctive skin tones as he has ambled around the Sha Tin all-weather.
Which leaves his looks and his cheeky character, tongue out and as laid back as a they come. Vincent Champion rides Talismanic every day and the former show jumper knows him better than anyone.
“I’ve ridden him ever since he arrived in the yard as a yearling,” says Champion. “In the past I have also done Manatee and they are both great characters. Talismanic is very easy to be around, with an exceptional temperament, very kind and calm. That said he is a male but he is very easy to become attached to.”
Champion knew from early on that Talismanic possessed plenty of raw ability.
But that in itself - even under the guidance of someone with Fabre's record - doesn’t automatically lead to Breeders’ Cups and meetings of the stature of the LONGINES Hong Kong International Races. What doesn’t surprise him is the way Talismanic’s popularity has soared.
“He is recognised by everyone and stands out from the string wherever he goes in Chantilly,” says Champion. “He often goes out at the head of the string and is a bit like the mascot.
“From his very first race it was obvious he was a good horse. His real strength is that he is so calm. When you ride him you can drop your hands and he won’t pull at all. But winning the Breeders’ Cup was unbelievable. I never expected to be associated with a horse like that and win races like that.”
That calmness has stood Talismanic in good stead for the rigors of a return trip from France to California and then, less than a month later, off again to Hong Kong.
“On his first voyage he took in all the people and the atmosphere but here he behaves just like he is at home,” says Champion.
The man long trusted by Fabre to oversee such raids abroad is travelling head lad Richard Lambert, 33 years in the yard’s service and known occasionally to let the emotion of a big win get to him.
Three years ago when Guyon guided Flintshire to LONGINES Hong Kong Vase glory, Lambert ran down the track to embrace groom Annelie Ackermann. The catalogue of celebrations was extended last month at Del Mar when cameras captured him sinking to his knees and pounding the floor.
For those who see his calm professionalism day in and day out in France and beyond, such occasional lapses are as surprising as they are uplifting
“When you win a race like that you can’t hold it all in, it’s not possible,” says Lambert. “It is really the culmination of a lot of work, not for me personally but for the whole team. For Vincent who looks after him every day, for the head lad (Jean-Pierre Lambert, no relation and recently recognised for his leadership in the Fabre yard at the Godolphin Stud and Stable Staff Awards.)
“We’re just the last couple of links in the chain. We’re the lucky ones who can come away and represent the stable. When it happens, you just have to let it go.”
Talismanic goes into Sunday’s race no longer as just a poster boy but as a legitimate threat in the world’s top mile and a half races.
And if you see Lambert hugging Champion, you will know that a lot of hard work went into the victory behind the scenes in Chantilly, long before they ever boarded the plane.