A FORMAL AFFAIR

1 October 2006

Winning the Cambridgeshire, weaving your way through a 30-strong field stretched wide across the Newmarket straight, is normally one of the most demanding tasks a jockey ever faces. For Jamie Spencer, an impressive four-length winner on Formal Decree, the only real difficulty came in the paddock.

Mind you that was quite hairy enough. Circling behind the other runners, Formal Decree suddenly got clear of his stable hand and Spencer found himself rocketing round the horsewalk as if he had come out of trap six at Walthamstow. “I only had my big toe in the iron,” he said cheerfully afterwards, “for a second or two I wondered where I might end up. But in the end all was well.”

Spencer only came in for the ride when his intended Cesare was withdrawn on Friday and he was substituted for Formal Decree’s declared rider Dean McKeown because Jamie’s mother-in-law Lynda Ramsden has a share in the three-year-old. “Fair dues to Dean for allowing me to ride the horse,” said Spencer, “I will be giving him a few quid as he has been a true gent.”

Mother-in-law Ramsden actually trained Formal Decree before she retired last season and handed responsibility to Richmond-based Alan Swinbank. This fourth win of the gelding’s burgeoning career is unlikely to be the end of things. “He is bred to make a nice four-year-old,” said Lynda’s astute husband Jack Ramsden, “He is something to look forward to.”

As predicted the annual cavalry charge was led by in-form Kerrin McEvoy on the favourite Smart Enough. But the McEvoy hot streak, which continued with a Godolphin double on Satchem and Army of Angels, never looked like holding the power Formal Decree unleashed a quarter mile from home.

“I was nearly last early on and in a bit of trouble,” Spencer said, “but the lovely thing about him is that you give him a squeeze and he responds every time. I got a beautiful lead from Ted Durcan on Pinpoint and then my horse really took off. I have no doubt he will win Group races over a mile and a half on top of the ground. He is only halfway there now.”

A race earlier Spencer experienced very much the other side of the racing coin when the remarkable Red Evie hacked home last in the Sun Chariot Stakes. So finished the most extraordinary climb of the whole season, Red Evie’s seven-success sequence starting in a tin pot event at Yarmouth in March and progressing via Royal Ascot and Glorious Goodwood to land the Group One Matron Stakes at Leopardstown last time. But all good things come to an end and Spencer’s elbows were pumping worriedly after only a furlong.

With Red Evie not firing and with last year’s winner Peeress withdrawn, the field seemed clear for Ireland’s globetrotting Alexander Goldrun to add to the laurels she has won as far afield as Hong Kong. But on the rain-softened ground neither she nor the award-winning Soviet Song ever looked like pegging back the nine-length revelation that was Spinning Queen.

This filly’s only previous attempt at a mile this season was when sixth to Speciosa in the 1,000 Guineas on this course back in May. So the received wisdom was that Spinning Queen could not risk making the running and give her talented “hold-up” rivals a target. But “received wisdom” has never meant much to Barry Hills, who first held a trainer’s licence back in 1969 and saddled Rheingold to be one of the most impressive of Arc de Triomphe winners in 1973.

“We got the script right today just because the others were all hold-up animals,” he said. “She had a good draw and got the rail. The plan was to let her do her own thing. The Breeders’ Cup is something you could consider. If you get a filly that is improving they can go on and do a lot of things. She has got better for racing – she is more relaxed than she used to be.”

Barry’s jockey son Michael emphasised the need to think in terms of equine athletics rather than form book mathematics. “It is a funny time of year,” said the winning rider, “and some of the others have had hard seasons. We made a new plan – to make the running – and it worked. We found something to make her happy,” he continued before adding one final piece of what can always be received wisdom, “a happy horse is a good horse.” Formal Decree would say “Amen” to that.

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