18 September 2005

One of racing’s most dangerous clichés “the bigger the field, the bigger the certainty” duly came unstuck when star two-year-old Flashy Wings started at odds-on for the 23-runner Watership Down Stud Sales Stakes at Newbury, only to be nailed on the line by the appropriately named Expensive.

With so many runners all around you, a jockey has to take his chances when they come and in truth the cards fell a bit too early for Ted Durcan on Flashy Wings. The hitherto unbeaten filly quickened clear only to find 200 yards of gaping grass between her and the winning post. She kept on well enough but Eddie Ahern got Expensive a clear run along the stands’ side rail and in these sort of circumstances the pursuer has the advantage over the pursued.

Proof that this was an honourable defeat came in bookmakers’ reaction which kept the Mick Channon-trained filly as favourite for next year’s 1,000 Guineas. Of course there is a lot of water to go under the bridge before Newmarket next spring, but trainer Channon, who ran five other fillies in this £200,000 race, remains splendidly undaunted.

“I have no regrets about running her,” he said about pitching Flashy Wings into this race rather than opting for the traditional Cheveley Park Stakes at Newmarket. “I did not want to wait and find the ground had come up soft at Newmarket. We live to fight another day and if the going is good might still go to the Cheveley Park.”

The Ayr Gold Cup drew even more runners but at least no one was pretending that there could be a “certainty” in this 27-strong field. In fact, the finish was so close that no one, including the jockeys, knew who had won as the leaders flashed across the line in two groups separated by the width of the course. Right against the stands’ rail Brazilian rider Val de Souza punched the air in triumph on Majestic Times only for the photograph to show that Seb Sanders and Presto Shinko had inched the verdict from his far-side rival Fonthill Road with Majestic Times only third.

At £70,000 to the winner, the totesport-sponsored Ayr Gold Cup is the richest sprint handicap in Europe and must be unique in the amount of pre-race talk and newsprint that it generates for what becomes little more than 70 seconds of racing time. What’s more it immediately becomes two races being run concurrently on different sides of the track with few spectators, let alone TV cameras, knowing which side to concentrate on.

But the winning connections were certainly not complaining. It was Seb Sanders’ third success of the afternoon, keeping him within 10 winners of Jamie Spencer in the race for the jockeys’ title, and back at Newbury Presto Shinko’s trainer Richard Hannon was already celebrating the success of two-year-old Cool Creek in the Mill Reef Stakes almost an hour earlier.

It was Cool Creek’s ninth race and third victory and the colt is a typical product of his trainer’s no-nonsense approach. It was an afternoon where proven toughness as opposed to over-hyped precocity took the stage and in the whole Flat racing world there are few hardier performers than The Tatling, who took Newbury’s big sprint under Cool Creek’s rider Ryan Moore and put himself in line for another tilt at the Prix de l’Abbaye at Longchamp.

It was The Tatling’s 68th race in this his seventh racing season and only fair reward for finishing within a length of the winner in each of his last four races. Collier Hill is a whole year younger and has run a mere 31 times, but he too is running better than ever as he showed at The Curragh when preventing local hero Vinnie Roe from scoring an unprecedented fifth consecutive victory in the Irish St Leger. Vinnie Roe cut for home in the straight but Dean McKeown and Collier Hill wore him down in the final furlong and resisted the later flourish of fellow raider The Whistling Teal.

In a week which has seen the disappointing announcement that Motivator will be retired to the sultan’s life at stud next season after what will be a mere eight-race career, it was hugely refreshing to have an afternoon to celebrate horses whose job is to race not procreate. The Tatling and Collier Hill (who now tilts at the Melbourne Cup) are both geldings. Not for the first time the vet’s knife has become the punter’s friend.

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