04/14/2006 12:00AM

These two may live up to their heroic names


NEW YORK - Within the next few weeks, George Washington and Horatio Nelson will embark on 3-year-old campaigns that could propel them into the hallowed halls of racing history, thus ensuring that John Magnier's Coolmore operation was not being overly optimistic in naming them after two of the world's most revered heroic figures.

George Washington, the man, needs no introduction. The father of his country and its first president, he was in private life a gentleman farmer and horse breeder, occupations that led him to write, "I know of no pursuit in which more real and important services can be rendered to any country than by improving . . . its breed of useful animals."

That quote might serve as the motto of John Magnier, whose Coolmore racing and breeding empire extends beyond his native Irish borders into Europe, America, and Australia. Brought into that empire for 1,150,000 guineas ($2.1 million), George Washington the Thoroughbred proved himself considerably more than "useful" last year, as victories in a pair of Irish Group 1's - the Phoenix Stakes and the National Stakes - earned him Europe's juvenile championship.

By the world's best sire, Danehill, George Washington owes his talent just as much to his dam, Bordighera, an Alysheba mare who is also the dam of Grandera, the winner of two major 10-furlong Group 1's, the Prince of Wales's Stakes and the Irish Champion Stakes. "All I am I owe to my mother," President Washington wrote, a sentiment his equine namesake would do well to remember.

For Thoroughbred George lacks one essential ingredient for greatness that General George possessed: temperament. Possessed of great speed, George Washington the horse has been described by his trainer, Aidan O'Brien, as "naturally energetic." That is, perhaps, an understatement. At a workout at The Curragh last Sunday, he gave rider Kieren Fallon a hard time before finally settling down for a modest six-furlong exercise that failed to impress work watchers. His price for the 2000 Guineas was summarily eased from 9-4 to 5-2, although he remains the favorite for Newmarket's May 6 mile classic, in which he will run without benefit of a prep race.

Like their equine namesakes, the human George Washington (1732-1799) and Horatio Nelson (1758-1805) were contemporaries. Last year, the British celebrated on Oct. 21 the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar, the naval engagement off Spain's Atlantic coast in which Lord Admiral Nelson's fleet massacred Napoleon's combined French and Spanish fleet, thus ensuring Britain's naval supremacy for the next century while paving the way for Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo. What makes Trafalgar especially poignant is that Nelson himself died in the battle, the victim of a French sniper's bullet.

"England expects that every man will do his duty," was the signal Nelson flew on his flagship, HMS Victory, just before the Battle of Trafalgar commenced. On June 3, not only England but Ireland as well will expect Horatio Nelson to carry the day in the Epsom Derby, for which he is the current 5-1 favorite.

Handsome and compactly built, the Thoroughbred Horatio Nelson is, like George Washington, a son of Danehill. Out of the Sadler's Wells English Oaks winner Imagine, he appears to be better suited to distances beyond a mile and has the temperament for it. "Horatio is very straightforward and professional," said O'Brien.

Last year his victories in the Group 2 Futurity Stakes and the Group 1 Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere earned him an International Thoroughbred Racehorse Rating as the second-best 2-year-old colt in Europe, behind stablemate George Washington. Timeform, however, disagreed, rating George Washington at 118p (meaning the horse is likely to improve) and Horatio Nelson at 123+.

There is reason to believe that Timeform has gotten it right, but we will not begin to get a line on Horatio Nelson until he sets sail in the Ballysax Stakes on April 23 or the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial on May 14, the two races O'Brien used to prepare both Galileo and High Chaparral for victory at Epsom. O'Brien has said that Horatio Nelson could still run in the 2000 Guineas, but George Washington is in that race, and it is unlikely the two big names will ever be pitted against each other.

The perfect scenario for Horatio Nelson would be victory in the Epsom and Irish derbies followed by a win in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. Whatever the outcome of Horatio Nelson's 3-year-old season, Coolmore's modus operandi always incorporates one of Lord Nelson's most famous sayings: "First gain the victory, and then make the best use of it you can." The racecourse accomplishments of Horatio Nelson and George Washington will surely be parlayed into lucrative stud careers, bringing to mind what General Washington said before reluctantly accepting his election to the presidency: "I had rather be on my farm than be emperor of the world."

In terms of potential, either of Coolmore's appropriately named 3-year-olds is capable of ruling the Thoroughbred world, sooner from Epsom, Newmarket, and Longchamp, later from down on the farm.