MINNOWS BITE BACK

29 September 2002

Where Or When and Soviet Song take centre stage as big boys are forced to play second fiddle

The earth moved at Ascot yesterday and this time it was not the hole which mysteriously appeared in the course on Friday. These shocks were to the grand, accepted order of things. Terry Mills, Epsom’s earthiest hero, sent out Where Or When to beat Hawk Wing in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes and the Ascot Fillies’ Mile was won by Soviet Song, owned and bred by the 10,000 members of the £169-a-year Elite Racing Club.

“You cannot imagine what it means to us to win a Group One race. I can die a happy man now,” said 63-year-old Mills before dropping one of his classic cockney malapropisms, “my heart is going ten to the dozen.” It is almost 40 years since Mills got demobbed, bought his first lorry and set about making his fortune out of what is politely called waste disposal; just 40 days since he exploded about “silver spoon stewards” after Where Or When got impeded at Goodwood. But it never paid to laugh at what he was doing.

Where Or When’s whole career is a perfect tribute to his trainer. Bought for just 26,000 guineas as a yearling, shared with his long term friend, bookmaker John Humphreys, the hard-faced chesnut was winning for the fifth time in 13 starts and taking his earnings to over £270,000. Hard work to make ten times your money, that’s just how Terry would like it.

And let there be no hint of patronising here. John and Terry turned down a seven-figure offer for Where Or When 10 days ago just because the team back at Loretta Lodge were so certain that the horse was in such heart that he was a real threat to whatever Godolphin and Ballydoyle threw at him at Ascot.

These turned out to be Best of The Bests and Hawk Wing respectively and this time Where Or When’s 7-1 starting price gave him a bit more credence than the 50-1 and 66-1 tilting-at-windmill assessments when he lined up and got duly trounced by Hawk Wing in the 2,000 Guineas and the Derby. He also got turned over by Rock of Gibraltar at Ascot. But Epsom’s best horse, indeed their best miler since Jimmy Reppin won this race in 1969, was on a roll. And Godolphin and Ballydoyle were going to get the worst of it.

If Hawk Wing had excuses when inched out by Grandera at Leopardstown, there could be none this time. Once again Sholokhov’s brakes or Paul Scallan’s speedometer were unable to set a pace anything closer than a suicidal six lengths clear of the pack. The sweated-up Best of The Bests took over in the straight with Hawk Wing once again going easy enough to at last justify his sky-high home reputation. For a moment, as Best of The Bests crumbled to finish last, it looked as if Hawk Wing would cruise home. Then Where Or When attacked on the outside. It was never much of a fight.

Whether it is mental or physical, something seems to hurt Hawk Wing when he is put under pressure. As Kinane asked, his head came up and sideways under strain. The big horse stuck on to keep second place from Tillerman but on the outside Where Or When had his head set as hard as a Terry Mills lorry in those early days. Two lengths was the decision. For Hawk Wing’s superstar ambitions, it was a knock out.

Mills and Humphreys might rejoice in being “little fish” compared to the great monsters in the owning game, but they are real sharks compared to the host of true minnows who cheered on Soviet Song in the Fillies’ Mile. For instead of such recent Fillies’ Mile victors as Hamdan Al Maktoum, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Prince Khalid Abdulla here was Don Lewis from Droitwich, Sally Cooper from Sussex and housewife Vivian Elliot, who actually accepted the trophy on her very first visit to see Soviet Song in action. Years ago the late Lord Wigg said he would not think racing had really changed until a working man’s club owned a Derby winner. A cheer was heard from Hades last night.

The happy, bustling crowded atmosphere in the winner’s circle may have been more village fete than Ascot grandeur but it says much for what this old place’s enlightened management has achieved over recent years that welcome smiled from every lip. Soviet Song was not just a good winner, she was an important one.

For in the 10 years since Tony Hill founded the Elite Racing Club, the credo has been to make racing accessible to the ordinary purse. By sensible management and excellent communication they have long delivered their pledge in style. But nothing, absolutely nothing, to equal this. Soviet Song, bred from their own mare Kalinka, trained masterfully by James Fanshawe and ridden with cool aplomb by the Spaniard Oscar Urbina, took on the might of the Coolmore, Cheveley Park and Shadwell breeding operations and put them all to rights. She is now second favourite for next year’s 1,000 Guineas. £169 is not much to pay for a Classic dream.

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