14 September 2008

Classic victory, particularly a St Leger success, should be a lot more than one horse running faster than the others. It certainly was when Frankie Dettori and Conduit ended racing’s longest-running jinx by finally putting the world’s oldest Classic on the crowded honours sheet that belongs to Sir Michael Stoute.

For Conduit, the drama had begun not when the Doncaster starting gates banged open at 13 minutes past three, but from the moment he was born at the Ballymacoll Stud in County Meath in the early hours of March 23rd, 2005. For it was soon clear that while the little chesnut foal was going to get up, his dam Well Head never would. If the set of spindly legs was going to make it into the paddocks and on to the racetrack it was going to have to be with a foster mother.

“It was a long day and night,” said an elated Allanah Gilbert as she stood by Dettori, Stoute and Peter Reynolds, who has masterminded Ballymacoll Stud since the death of owner Lord Weinstock in July 2002. “We didn’t have that much milk stored and the foster mare did not come until 10pm, but I will never forget bottle feeding him through the day and how upset he was trying to get to his mum.” At Doncaster, Dettori was taken away to do yet another turn for the huge crowd basking in a long-belated warm sunny afternoon. But Allanah’s warmth was of a deeper kind.

It is fitting that Conduit should win the longest Classic, for his has been a lengthy tale a-winding ever since the hairy-heeled, brown and white, equine wet nurse came stomping in to take him as her own. His first victory, at the third attempt, was in a lowly Saturday night race at Wolverhampton a year ago this month, which added one vital win to the total with which Jamie Spencer tied the jockeys’ championship.

This year his last-to-first triumph at Epsom on Derby Day was visually even more astonishing than New Approach’s success in the big race itself. By contrast, his two subsequent races, second at Ascot and first at Goodwood, obviously didn’t impress Ryan Moore enough. The stable jockey opted for one of Stoute’s two other St Leger runners, Dr Freemantle.

Conduit is a quality colt, although at the walk the front legs have a dainty, almost mincing look about them. His sire, the brilliant 2003 Arc winner Dalakhani, did not mince, but was very light across the ground and Conduit has clearly taken quite a bit from his father. So has Dettori for that matter, although Dettori senior’s thousands of winner in Italy and over here never actually stretched to a St Leger. Frankie was winning it for the fifth time and the third time in the last four years. Things may have been lean for his Godolphin team, but he is a pretty good player to come on as a substitute, and Conduit more than you could hope for in a “spare ride.”

The blue silk Ballymacoll jacket was carried atop the 1983 St Leger winner Sun Princess for their original owner Sir Michael Sobell and yesterday the Italian body inside them was always oozing with confidence as he settled in the middle of the pack, whilst the Ballydoyle pacemaker Hindu Kush took the field along beside the ludicrous 200-1 outsider Maidstone Mixture with the third Stoute runner Warringah a close third.

Maidstone Mixture’s bubble was burst long before the turn, but the giant, white-faced, Warringah had quite a cut early in the straight before Enroller and a wide-fanned group of others joined the attack. The Aidan O’Brien trained favourite Frozen Fire was closing, but you could not say he impressed. You could certainly say it about Conduit, and for a few brief moments even more about the Oaks winner Look Here.

But the Doncaster straight is a harsh examiner and the match-winning strength soon drained from Look Here’s slender frame and it was left to the twice-raced Unsung Heroine to launch an unavailing attack as Dettori cruised to the front. There was a flicker of worry as Conduit jinked right a furlong out but there were three long lengths in it as the clock came up with 3 minutes 7.92 seconds on the line with Look Here third, Hindu Kush sticking on to be 4th with Frozen Fire only 7th one ahead of a weakening Dr Freemantle .

Dettori went into crowd-hugging, sky-thanking, flying-dismount mode and the big bags under Michael Stoute’s eyes dripped warm tears of relief as well as joy. “I’m thrilled,” he said, “and I will really enjoy keeping him in training next year. But I am sorry for Ryan [Moore] because he has really brought Conduit along.”

The Classics will come soon enough for Ryan, but he won’t begrudge Allanah Gilbert her moment. “Of course I am biased,” said the 23-year-old, originally from Christchurch, New Zealand, “but all the time Conduit was with us and every time he has run I have remembered the worry we had with him. He has really repaid us.”

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