THE PINATUBO STORY
The story of the 2020 Flat season is not original, it is in fact a sequel, the follow on from the most dynamic and discussed juvenile for a quarter of a century, a blockbuster released last summer which ended not with a full stop but with an ellipsis, three dots that proposed a bigger quest and question to come.
Each and every story has its clichés and its characters, and its cliched characters. Whether it’s literature or movies, there are six archetypes that have core customs and designated duties in the narrative, all pushing or pulling on the central character, identifiable in our 2020 story, even though it’s a sport and not a script.
The latest significant scene having just played out, let’s apply the character types and traits to the Pinatubo story – or the Pinatubo sequel – to see how and why the adventure is developing and, crucially, the way in which it might all play out.
THE PROTAGONIST: PINATUBO
The star of the show. No protagonist, no plot, no story. All other roles are defined in relation to the protagonist, the hero whose action and actions propel the narrative forward.
First things first, enough of the trite talk of ‘others having caught up’ to Pinatubo. Physically or even temperamentally, others in Pinatubo’s generation may have made meaningful progress since last year, but to suggest they’ve ‘caught up’ is to be kind to Pinatubo and miss the point of precisely what they’re supposed to be catching up to. The bottom line is that Pinatubo hasn’t been within 8lb – or approximately 3½ lengths – of his juvenile high so far this season, and that’s on him.
And that was the cliff-hanger question at the end of the first episode, of whether we were dealing in an outstanding two-year-old or an outstanding racehorse? The answer, so far at least, is the former, but the plot twist is that, even three races and three months in, we still can’t be categorical about it. That’s because of what happened last Sunday at Deauville, firstly for the simple fact he won, and secondly the ‘f’ word: not form but finish.
Setting aside the restrictions of his relationship with Lope Y Fernandez then and now, there was a detectable difference in Pinatubo’s finish, compared to Newmarket and Royal Ascot. It’s easy to think it was the lesser trip, or the lesser Group 1, or a combination of both, but what if the change was in him rather than circumstance.
According to the on-screen clock, his final 200m (of 11.90 secs) was faster than his stablemate Royal Crusade (12.19) in the Group 3 six-furlong event, or the handicap over that trip, and Pinatubo was only one-tenth of a second slower than Earthlight’s closing split, which was also over a furlong shorter. It might be something, it might be nothing, it might be everything.
Sequels tend to be darker than the original, and our cliched protagonist meeting adversary is a storybook cliché in itself, but there are signs, and there is hope, that Pinatubo’s superpowers might not be a thing of the past.
THE ANTAGONIST: PALACE PIER
Often a background presence to begin with, operating in secret, the antagonist has one part to play: to battle, to undermine and to neutralise the protagonist. A creator of conflict.
The antagonist can be one character or a group of characters, the latter more pertinent for Pinatubo, as there’s a host of horses in the way of his goals, rather than a single adversary, but, for now, Palace Pier is cast as the chief antagonist.
As a threat that emerged from the relative shadows, via low-key races at Sandown and Newcastle, before revealing his true self only at the dramatic denouement of the second act, at Royal Ascot, Palace Pier fits the profile of a classic antagonist. The mid-way plot point of the St James’s Palace Stakes is a trope of the story-telling genre, vital to the narrative structure, as defeat and despair for the protagonist results in self-examination and a change in outlook and/or direction, as has happened with Pinatubo.
The ‘false protagonist’ is a literary device that may apply to Palace Pier, in that his work in relation to Pinatubo is done, and that the real ‘big bad’ is still awaiting Pinatubo down the line. Their paths may never cross again, as there are alternate avenues for both from now on, but it’s worth stressing that the BHA’s assessment of Palace Pier at Royal Ascot, of 120, is still well below where Pinatubo was, though a mark that low (relatively speaking) probably undersells Palace Pier.
THE DEUTERAGONIST: WELL OF WISDOM
Usually seen in the company of the protagonist, lending a helping hand and plotting against their rivals, the deuteragonist’s most common incarnation is the sidekick, who adds depth and direction to the hero’s journey.
Batman had Robin, Holmes had Watson, Frankel had Bullet Train, and now Pinatubo has Well Of Wisdom. He’s probably a Group 3 horse in his own right, but Well Of Wisdom’s new-found power is in empowering Pinatubo, and they hit it off immediately at Deauville on Sunday. In some ways, this is less about Well Of Wisdom and Pinatubo and more about Doyle and Buick, and the confidence that having an ally gives Buick, which transmits to Pinatubo.
Pinatubo is an invaluable instrument that can make the sweetest music, so long as Buick plays all the right notes, and having Doyle as conductor to some extent takes the pressure out and puts the rhythm in, the formula for freedom of expression. The introduction of the deuteragonist might just be the best thing that has happened to Pinatubo the protagonist.
THE TERTIARY CHARACTERS: KAMEKO, WICHITA, SISKIN, MOHAATHER (amongst others)
They typically vary in function, but the common denominator is their influencing the protagonist, occasionally in a positive way but more often than not acting as an instigator or cause of crisis. To drive the story, a tertiary character can develop into a near-antagonist themselves.
Kameko and Wichita have already had a bearing on Pinatubo, as temporary setbacks in his story that have sent him down a different path, in the short term, and you get the feeling that one or both of Siskin and Mohaather will at some point encounter the protagonist in a consequential clash.
A live production, in real time, the Pinatubo story is in motion, no pre-programmed climax, and any one of the above – or one or two besides – could steal the show by outshining Pinatubo in the autumn deciders. The mystery of the tertiary characters is all part of the tension that turns a sport into a drama.
THE ROMANTIC INTEREST: THE BREEDERS’ CUP
You’ll recognise the romantic interest by the protagonist’s strong reaction to them, and the will-they-won’t-they chemistry acts as a significant sub-plot that relates to the resolution.
Picture the end scene: Keeneland, Kentucky, and the afterglow of Pinatubo walking off into the sunset having conquered America.
There’s a certain romance to the Breeders’ Cup, anyway, but launching an assault on it with the highly-vaunted, highly-decorated Pinatubo, the pride of Britain, adds an extra layer of lustre. The flirtation has already begun, via Charlie Appleby, who introduced the idea of the Breeders’ Cup Mile as a spectacular swansong for him, doing so during the defeats no less, in the belief that a mile around Keeneland and the ability and agility of Pinatubo would be a match made in heaven, the love story within the bigger story.
Lexington is an exciting end game for Pinatubo, and therein lies the romance, of a British hero on an American mission. It’s an ambition that ads to the story.
THE CONFIDANTS: VICTOR LUDORUM AND EARTHLIGHT
Often a best friend, occasionally a mentor, the character of the confidant can be a critical relationship for the protagonist, assisting in subtle or sympathetic ways, but generally sharing the same goal.
Pinatubo is just one part of a holy trinity for Godolphin, the supercharged sons of Shamardal, along with Victor Ludorum and Earthlight. They’re all cut from similar cloth, and might combat in the same races in a different world, under different ownership, but there’s plenty of prestige and prizes to go around.
All the same, to some degree, Earthlight and Victor Ludorum have ploughed their own furrow while simultaneously clearing a path for Pinatubo to shine in the spots that suit him, as recently as Sunday, when Earthlight bypassed the Prix Jean Prat for an easier reintroduction, debatably bolstering him but definitely benefiting both.
And what’s good for the horse is good for the trainer. Not that Charlie Appleby needs any guidance on preparing a Group 1 winner, or a Breeders’ Cup winner, but imagine what it’s like having Andre Fabre on the same side.
So that’s the story (so far) of Pinatubo: where he’s at, what’s at stake, and who else is in the mix, friends and foes. The characters are straight out of the narrative textbook, for their flavour and their function, which adds to the familiar feel of a traditional tale being told, all of the story-beats hit, centring on the protagonist, from the awakening to the ascent, from the adversity to the advancement, and possibly the acclaim in America.
Enable, Stradivarius, Ghaiyyath and Love are all myth-makers, in place or in process, but the story superseding even them this season is the parable of Pinatubo, for the quality as yet unveiled and the questions as yet unanswered. 2019 was the year of Pinatubo. 2020 could still be, too.