People often react to great sporting performances by saying they have to be seen to be believed.
In the case of Sacred Falls' extraordinary victory in the Group 2 DHL Global Hawke's Bay Guineas at Hastings on Saturday, even seeing it isn't enough. Sacred Falls was the hot favourite on the back of his three impressive wins at his only three starts to date. But if it was possible to place bets while races were in progress, those odds would have increased dramatically almost as soon as the gates opened.
The undefeated O'Reilly colt stumbled, his head almost hitting the Hastings turf. As he struggled to regain his balance, the rest of the high-class field left him in their wake. He was at least six lengths adrift, and all hope seemed lost.
Sacred Falls quickly managed to make up that deficit, however. He devoured those six lengths and charged up into a position just back from midfield. But that was only a small part of the huge mountain he had to climb to keep his unbeaten record intact. The sprint he needed to produce to make up that lost ground must have taken its toll.
When the time came to fight out the finish, he was going to have a lot less left in the tank than his rivals. Sacred Falls would have to produce a second sprint while the rest of the field were only on their first. His proven quality may have still taken him close to victory in much lower grades, but common sense said that surely this had become too great an ask.
Common sense was wrong. Sacred Falls produced a second devastating sprint, and no other horse in the field could match it. He effortlessly swept to the lead and opened up a commanding break. He was eased up by rider Leith Innes and pricked his ears before crossing the line. His powerful surge down the home straight to the finish was breathtaking enough in itself, but the fact that it came after his disaster at the start made it a performance beyond belief.
The fact that he was still able to win, and to do it so easily, makes this one of the greatest performances in Hawke's Bay Guineas history, and the most remarkable performance seen at Hastings in a long time.
Innes, who has ridden the likes of globe-trotting superstar Starcraft and New Zealand Derby winner Wahid, had no hesitation in declaring Sacred Falls, who's now won four out of four, the best horse he's ridden.
Trainer Tony Pike said the next target would be the Group 3 Sarten Memorial at Te Rapa on Labour Day. The main target is the Group 1 2000 Guineas at Riccarton - a race many who saw Saturday's performance may now see as a foregone conclusion.
The connections of runner-up Southern Lord must be wondering about what might have been if their tremendous gelding had been born in almost any other year.
Southern Lord ran a great race for second to Sacred Falls in the Westbury Stud Challenge Stakes at Ruakaka, and he was even better at Hastings on Saturday. If it hadn't been for Sacred Falls, Southern Lord would have convincingly won two stakes races in a row and would be heading to Christchurch as one of the favourites for the 2000 Guineas. Instead, it looks like second is the best he can hope for.
Outsider Silverdale finished strongly to take third after being the last horse around the home turn.