NO matter how hard we try, comparing elite athletes from different generations doesn’t get any easier.
Who knows how George Best might have fared up against the likes of Messi and Ronaldo had he been born 40 years later.
What would the career of Don Bradman have looked like in the era of Bazball, and was he as good as Brian Lara?
As much as we’d like to dig up and revive Brigadier Gerard, get Frankel on the treadmill for a few weeks and then pit them against one another to see who’s best, we aren’t able to.
Improved use of science and new technologies mean that most sports are unrecognisable from their roots in the last century.
The same is true of horse racing, a sport which has more variables than most, from the ground to the pace of a race and the amount of weight a horse has to carry.
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Having said all that, the similarities between Paddington and Giant’s Causeway are striking.
I’ve been fortunate enough to see Ballydoyle’s latest sensation in the flesh for each of his last three runs, at Royal Ascot, Sandown and Goodwood.
In winning the Sussex Stakes at the latter, he became the first horse since the Giant, as Aidan O’Brien calls him, in 2000 to have won the race off the back of St James’s Palace and Eclipse victories.
Sadly, I was too young to see Giant’s Causeway, the original ‘Iron Horse’, in person.
But having watched the video of every one of his wins a handful of times, I can appreciate this was a horse whose top-class ability was only surpassed by his will to win.
I mean, you have got to be pretty special to be one of the cherished few to have a statue erected in your honour at Ballydoyle – at the top of O’Brien’s driveway, no less.
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If Paddington continues at his current rate, they’ll be chiselling out a lifesize sculpture of him, too.
Chiselled being the optimum word, because this is a horse who knocks the eye out every time you see him, even in a field of good-looking Group 1 horses.
He was incredibly impressive when he won the St James’s Palace Stakes, when bolting clear of Guineas hero Chaldean by three lengths.
Giant’s Causeway never did anything of the sort as a three-year-old, with his biggest winning margin in five victories just three quarters of a length.
He was a street fighter – if he was a human he would be the kind of bloke who would purposely knock your pint over in a pub to start a scrap.
Paddington, meanwhile, is more graceful, twinkle-toed and likely to knock you out with a sophisticated upper cut as opposed to smashing a bar stool over your head.
That was, until, he went to Sandown for the Coral-Eclipse, when he was forced to dig deeper than he’d ever done before by the top older filly Emily Upjohn.
It was then that the comparisons between him and Giant’s Causeway – who defeated Kalanisi by a head in the same race 23 years ago – started to be made.
And they ratcheted up a notch again at Goodwood earlier this month, when Paddington made all of the running in Somme-like conditions in the Sussex Stakes.
Frankie Dettori served it up to him a long way from home on Inspiral – subsequently an easy winner of a Group 1 in France – but Paddington fought her off still had enough in the tank to beat a last-gasp French challenger to win by just over a length.
This was Giant’s Causeway all over.
Being forced to kick it into top gear around half a mile out on testing ground would have broken many top three-year-olds, but not Paddington.
And it was after this race that O’Brien, who doesn’t like to compare his stars if he can avoid it, addressed the question on everyone’s lips.
He said: “They are similar, though Paddington is much quicker than the Giant was.
“He’s tactically quick and can quicken twice as well, like we saw today when the French horse came up to him.
“The Giant was tactically quick and was dour after that. He wanted to win so much.”
And it’s that ability to quicken up in a race more than once which marks Paddington out as something special.
Is he more special than Giant’s Causeway?
Well, he won the Irish 2000 Guineas and the Iron Horse was turned over in that, a few weeks after he’d also finished second in the English Guineas.
But as the season went on, Giant’s Causeway got better and better, beating old rival Kalanisi in today’s big race, the Juddmonte International, before following up just a couple of weeks later in the Irish Champion.
He won six Group 1s in all and should have ended his career with a famous win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic… but for legendary jock Mick Kinane getting his whip caught in his reins close home, he probably would have.
So Paddington is firmly on his way – but if he truly is to be the next Iron Horse, he needs to pass his biggest test yet at York.
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