Although he won the Dante and finished third in the Derby as a three-year-old, it wasn't until Moon Ballad raced on the dirt at Nad Al Sheba in Dubai in the spring of his four-year-old season that he began to look like a truly top class individual.
After making all in the Maktoum Challenge on his first spin on the desert dirt in February 2003, he duly repeated the feat in the Dubai World Cup itself, coming home five lengths clear of his closest pursuer, the Todd Pletcher-trained Harlan’s Holiday, with the high class pair Nayef and Grandera behind in third and fourth places. However, impressive though the son of Singspiel looked in Dubai, it was always likely to be a different story when he lined up for the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot in June that year.
There was much against him at Ascot. He was back on turf for the first time since he had been beaten, as favourite, by Storming Home in a weak Champion Stakes at Newmarket eight months previously. Three wins from four starts on dirt, he had won just two of his six starts on turf. It wasn’t that he was ineffective on turf, it was just that he probably wasn’t as good on it as he was on dirt.
Competition was strong. We didn’t know how good Rakti was then, we didn’t know that he would win the Champion Stakes on his next run or that he would subsequently win four Group 1 contests, but he had landed a Group 1 prize in Italy on his last start before the Prince of Wales’s. Moon Ballad’s old adversary, multiple Group 1 winner Nayef was also in the line up, as were Islington, Grandera and Falbrav. This was a proper Group 1 contest, and odds of 2/1 about Moon Ballad were plenty short.
The other element that was against the Godolphin colt was that he probably wasn’t going to have it all to himself up front. The only one of his five wins up to that point that hadn’t been gained from the front was the first of them, his second ever run, when he had tracked the leaders through the early stages and went on three furlongs out. In the Dubai Cup, the Maktoum Challenge, the Select Stakes and the Dante, he had more or less made all.
The presence of Nayef’s pacemaker, Ekraar, in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes was always going to present a problem for Frankie Dettori and Moon Ballad. Sit in behind and Moon Ballad could pull for his head, take the pacemaker on and he would probably be going too fast. Frankie chose the latter course of action. He led easily enough for the first three furlongs of the race as Ekraar missed the kick, but soon he was pestered by the pacemaker, and was always travelling a stride quicker than Dettori wanted. The writing was on the wall when he came under pressure just before the home turn and, by the time they reached the two-furlong pole, the game was up. Moon Ballad faded to finish ninth of the 10 runners behind Nayef, who powered clear to beat Rakti by two and a half lengths. Moon Ballad didn’t win again in three subsequent attempts.