24 October 2004

Yesterday’s decisive Group One victory at Doncaster will have 230 joint owners thinking of next year’s Classics

Winter comes and, for all concerned with Motivator, the Classic dream. In Doncaster’s Racing Post Trophy yesterday, only his second race, the bright bay son of Arc de Triomphe winner Montjeu fulfilled all his opening promise and more.

For trainer Michael Bell this first British Group One victory of his career was also a major proof of his decision-making wisdom. After Motivator’s brilliant six-length victory on his debut at Newmarket in August, Bell pulled him out of his intended Royal Lodge Stakes engagement at Ascot to wait for softer ground. That came yesterday, two and a half furlongs out Kieren Fallon put Motivator to the front and from then on the dream was never in danger.

Surprisingly there was no Godolphin challenge in this last major two-year-old trial but Aidan O’Brien fielded two and it was the lesser-fancied Hills of Arran who attacked from the start. Motivator was keen enough early but when Fallon asked him to repel the challenge of first Henrik and then the other O’Brien runner Albert Hall, it was the first time he had been asked to dig deep. Sure there was a moment of strain as his head came up and he lugged a fraction right. But this is a class runner and one suspects he has a heart to match.

“It was a most peculiar feeling,” said Bell, “to be in a race of this kind and to think that I would be disappointed if we didn’t win. But he has always showed a lot of ability. I told Harry Herbert [manager of the 230-strong Ascot Racing Club that own him] that he was a proper horse back in May. The trick then and now is to try and keep him right.” Bell may be a former Guards officer but he is a man of both modesty and delegation and there will be few more buzzing places this winter than his Newmarket base at Fitzroy House.

When a Classic hope wins both his races on soft ground, (the jockeys reported the going “very testing” yesterday), it is necessary to wonder whether he would be as effective on a faster surface and whether, as some were suggesting, the likes of Albert Hall might make up the two and a half length deficit under those conditions. But though Motivator turns one foreleg out very slightly he is an athletic, good-actioned horse, and his trainer’s prudence with him could yield dividends on all but hard going next year. For the Classics the bookmakers have him second favourite (to Godolphin’s Dubawi) in the Derby and at some 16-1 for the 2,000 Guineas.

The way the Motivator’s hand should be played next spring is the sort of dilemma every owner and trainer combination relish. In this instance Harry Herbert, who with John Warren can now be seen to have got a bargain at 75,000 guineas last October, and Bell have got the interesting quandary of whether to risk overwinding the horse for the 2,000 Guineas, which comes round all-too quickly for the Classic generation, or bypass an option which only comes rarely in either an owning or training career.

The one certain winner is Ascot racecourse. In the year when the Berkshire track will be a building site, the foresight seven years ago of offering 230 members the option of special racing facilities and shares in six racehorses looks like more than a diversion, it has supplied the dream.

Fallon’s victory and his subsequent success on Adronikos cut one back from Frankie Dettori who scored only once at Newbury with Descartes, yet another impressive Godolphin son of the late lamented Dubai Millennium. But the lead is still a full 20 winners and so it looks as if the sands have run out for Fallon, who is once again beset by problems in his private life.

But as winter comes so the pace quickens in the jumping world. This could well be the season when Paul Nicholls finally takes his place at the very top of the jump trainers’ tree. Four winners at Kempton, all partnered by Ruby Walsh, were highlighted by the impressive seasonal reappearance of the talented Rigmarole, who is likely to be challenging for major hurdling honours. That too is a winter dream.

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