If ever there was a case for not judging a book by its cover when it comes to talent in a racehorse, Attraction was surely it.
The Mark Johnston-trained filly always commanded plenty of attention, such was her ungainly, almost bandy-legged stride – but equally there came to be little doubt about the ability and engine she possessed.
And that was perfectly illustrated on May 2, 2004, as the Duke of Roxburghe’s pride and joy powered up the Rowley Mile at Newmarket to silence any remaining doubters in the 1000 Guineas.
It was a superb training performance from Johnston – who won the 2000 Guineas 10 years earlier with Mister Baileys – as Attraction had not run since the July of her juvenile season, having sustained a pedal bone injury, an absence of 299 days. It was also the blisteringly fast filly’s first run beyond six furlongs.
Sundrop challenged late, but Attraction – who also had the requisite guts to go with her class – and Kevin Darley would not be denied and were still half a length up at the line, to reward her supporters at odds of 11-2.
Hathrah was the same distance back in third, with 4-1 favourite Red Bloom fourth.
Johnston said: “It’s absolutely one of the highlights of my career.
“She is really one of the highlights of my career in every way, but going to that Guineas was a unique experience for us – the big question was would she stay and she was coming back from a long lay-off with a pretty serious injury.
“But we were very confident that if she stayed she would win – and she stayed and she won. That was the first jump up from six furlongs to a mile, but she made all and got it well.”
Darley also rode Shamardal to a brilliant victory in the Dewhurst for the Johnston yard that year and remembered: “It was a very memorable year, to have two horses come along like that in one season was phenomenal.
“Both were blessed with so much natural speed, they were very similar. It’s uncanny really that you get two horses like that, a colt and a filly, come along at the same time and they were very similar in character.
“You always felt like you were going that stride faster than you wanted to be, but you also knew when push came to shove the pair of them would put their head down and run through a brick wall for you.
“Nine times out of 10, horses that go off in front like that do get closed down, especially in the bigger races where it is a lot more tactical.
“I always used to think it was great riding Mark’s because you could go out there and have the confidence to do what you thought was right.
“Because of all the pressures that go with the big races, everybody is a little bit afraid to play their hand, but with Mark’s all those pressures were taken away because you knew if nothing went on, you could let yours bowl along with confidence and know they will keep going.”
Attraction went from Newmarket to the Curragh for victory in the Irish 1,000 Guineas and then confirmed her champion status in the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot – a performance both her trainer and jockey nominate as the best of her brilliant career.
Johnston said: “I think it’s her best performance. The Duke always joked had Kevin not waved his arm in the air passing the line, she would have broken the track record. I don’t know whether she would have done, but I do think it was her best performance. She was basically in command throughout.”
If ‘will she stay’ was the big question from the critics before Newmarket, the naysayers found a new one for Ascot.
Darley recalled: “All the different variables kept getting thrown up with her, like the first time she ran round a turn in the Coronation at Ascot, what should she be like over a stiff mile round a turn – and for me, if anything, she was better. She gave me a proper feel that day.
“It sort of broke the race up a little bit for her. You can often get a breather into them around a turn, so she used her natural speed from Swinley Bottom up to the turn and I was able to get a breather into her and then once I kicked off the turn, that was just a great feeling.
“I might have overdone it a bit with the celebrations that day – I did get a telling off from the Duke of Roxburghe, I think she was just off the track record and he said if I’d not been messing about celebrating she’d have broken it!”
Her final Group One success of four during that unforgettable year came in the Sun Chariot back at Newmarket, beating Chic by a neck.
Darley said: “On a track like Newmarket everyone is looking for a lead because it’s such a big, open space. I forget where we drawn, but the stalls were in the middle of the track and I’d walked the course and thought the ground was better on the far side.
“Obviously you’ve got the marker poles you have to keep straight to (from the stalls), so my intention was to jump, go straight to the marker poles and as soon as I got there I was going to go over to the far side.
“They all thought ‘we’ll follow Attraction’, but because I went straight for however long it is and then made a beeline for the rail on the right-hand side, everybody wondered ‘where is he going’ and I probably pinched a couple of lengths that won her the race.
“Racing is so full on these days you tend to forget the great horses that we’ve seen, but in these difficult times it’s perhaps good to look back and think ‘yeah, we didn’t do so bad’.”