Approaching the Arc

Racing Post, 29th September 2005

Absent friends at Newmarket but a still-resident hero. Motivator was limbering up yesterday morning but Michael Bell was away at the Sales, box driver Roy Thorpe was under the weather, blacksmith Dermot Barry was under the table celebrating the birth of Hugo Barry, and the media, well most of us hacks seem to have forgotten about Motivator.

“That’s the way I like it,” said headman Richard Simpson as I rode beside him on Ruby, the colossal hack, who last week caused his trainer a quick trip to Newmarket “Nick” by knocking over a disgruntled ex-owner in what is splendidly described as “an altercation.” “The press don’t know what good shape Motivator is in,” adds Richard Simpson, “he never leaves an oat and from the way he goes about his work, I promise you he is better than ever. I am going over for the Arc. I have never seen him run in the flesh and this will be my last chance. Pity – what a four year old he could have been.”

This slightly harsher mood of resentment at credit not given and of future chances now denied, adds an edge to a glorious autumn morning with the leaves changing in the plantations on Warren Hill. “Frankie Dettori was quite crabby after he rode him before Leopardstown,” reveals Shane Featherstonehaugh as we trekked back down from the first canter. “He said ‘this is not the horse that ran away from me and Dubawi in the Derby. I don’t think he is right.’ But that’s just the way Motivator is now. He doesn’t really stretch except on the racecourse.”

The second canter up the steeper Polytrack gives a clue as to Dettori’s reasoning. Motivator walks down far more relaxed than the dancing dervish of the early spring, and once he swings up to lead horse Magic Sting in the gallop, his slightly round action free wheels in hardly impressive fashion. “He just goes up to them and that’s all,” says Shane. “But all year we have been training him to relax so we aren’t complaining. He moved good enough at Leopardstown and, best of all, he put his head down when the others came to him.”

So rose the truth that had dared not speak its name. The thing about the Eclipse defeat at Sandown that had most upset Shane and several other members of the team was not merely the loss of Motivator’s unbeaten record but the colt’s apparent lack of fight when Oratorio tackled him. “At Leopardstown he had his head up a bit as the others came to him,” says veteran Chris Conroy, “I said to myself ‘put your head down and fight you little bastard,’ and he did. He ran all the way to the line. He should get a longer lead at Longchamp. He will really get the trip. I think he will take all the beating.”

Amy Weaver, at 24, is almost four decades Chris Cordrey’s junior and only took on her present role as Fitzroy House assistant in January. But like the others she has had Motivator’s season indelibly imprinted into her life and is in a unique position to pay tribute to the absent trainer. “I like the way he set out Motivator’s routine and stuck to it,” she said. “The boss was always open about what the horse was doing, how little work he needed, and I think it has paid off. Look at him now.”

We are walking back towards the town. Autumn is coming, gloves are needed, no more glimpses of trainer John Berry riding out in shorts and gumboots. If the stallion syndication deal goes through, and if a surely much needed re-think is not taken after the Arc, there will be few more glimpses of Motivator before his final shot across the Atlantic in the Breeders Cup. “It’s a pity,” says Amy whose brief career has already spanned spells at Cheltenham, Beckhampton and Mill Hill, North London where she used to ride out each morning after working nights as a dealer in the Clermont Club, “but I suppose that’s racing.”

The business part of it no doubt – but not the thing that will grab the throat this Sunday. That’s about a small group of people using their collective knowledge, judgement, sweat and long term application to get an athlete to the track to do things that can change their and our lives for ever. It’s an opportunity that comes to very few. It’s come to Team Fitzroy and out of it they and we have had Motivator’s Derby Dream. But now there are only two chances left, and you look hard again at the white-starred bay as he turns home into the yard. He joined history at Epsom, but Longchamp is where legends are made.

Back in the box Shane takes the saddle from Motivator and starts to sponge out the girth mark while the colt makes mock threatening lunges with his teeth. Over the years I have been lucky enough to also stand beside Arc heroes Dalakhani, Motivator’s sire Montjeu, that horse’s stable companion Suave Dancer, the superstar Dancing Brave, the great mare Allez France and the little marvel that was Mill Reef back in 1971. It’s a roll call that’s worth repeating because you have to believe that the horse snarling in front of us ranks amongst that company.

He has many of the attributes – fine tactical speed, fully proven stamina, and a good Derby on his shield. He will also have as committed a cheer group as ever crossed the Channel. Roy Thorpe and James Cronin will fly with the horse from Cambridge on Saturday morning. Shane and his lady Louise will go on the ferry in the afternoon – “I have never been to Longchamp, may never have another chance.” Richard Simpson is going, and Dave Murray and blacksmith Dermot Barry despite the appearance not only of Hugo Dermot Barry born Monday, but of a hospital visit for heart treatment a week earlier. Sounds like kill or cure.

The Bell family will be out from school in force. Amy Weaver will have to mind the shop. At 3-30 a.m. on Sunday morning, an hour when some Paris roisterers will at last be considering shut eye, she will be in the yard supervising the departure of eight Sheikh Rashid horses to Heathrow and Dubai.  Amy had to watch the Derby from Doncaster, and the Irish Champion from Goodwood where the death of Motivator’s lead horse Glen Ida underlined the fragility of it all. “But this is my job,” she says, “and this has already been a year beyond believing.”

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