23 April 2006

The sap running on the warmest day of spring is meant to make us concentrate on young horses and Classic trials. Instead the day was stolen by the nine-year-old Mubtaker at Newbury and by 40-year-old Carl Llewellyn, who triumphantly opened his account as a trainer by also riding Run For Paddy to win the Gala Casinos Daily Record Scottish Grand National at Ayr.

In longevity terms it is hard to exaggerate Llewellyn’s achievement. Jump racing ages you quickly – in my case I was washed up at 28 – and anyone after 30 is really trading on borrowed time. Yet this year Llewellyn has been attacking the fences with the panache of youth and yesterday’s heroics were gained at the end of a prolonged duel with the 7-1 favourite Ladalko, ridden by Ruby Walsh, just about the most complete practitioner to ever drive a horse over fences.

In fact it was a three-horse battle running to the last as the 50-1 chance Royal Emperor was still in front. On the run-in it looked as if Walsh and Ladalko would give the Irish champion compensation for Cornish Rebel’s short-head defeat last year but Llewellyn had a rather more direct hand of history on him than Tony Blair ever did at Stormont. Gathering 33-1 chance Run For Paddy with all the experience of more than 20 years in the saddle he threw him over the line to put himself into the record books.

Llewellyn actually took over officially from Mark Pitman at Lambourn’s Weathercock House three weeks ago but he has been centrally involved all season and while he has previously insisted he would continue as a jockey this victory is surely the perfect time to bow out. With the adrenalin still running all he wanted to talk about was the race – “I wasn’t sure I had won or not,” he said, “but I have now won the Welsh, English and Scottish Nationals and ironically the closest I got here was second to Willsford, who was trained by Jenny Pitman at Weathercock House.”

In Flat-racing terms Mubtaker is even more senior than Carl Llewellyn, indeed if you take the traditional seven times calculation he is 63. That’s as old as me and while it gives some slight hopes for my chances in the Marathon this afternoon, Mubtaker’s victory was against Group performers and was achieved with his admirable mixture of class and enthusiasm. What’s more Mubtaker remains a full horse and at this stage such fully equipped specimens usually prefer the idea of the breeding shed.

It was his sixth success at Newbury and after Martin Dwyer struck for home two furlongs out the old horse had to dig deep into his reserves to hold off Munsef and Maraahel as his early-season fitness began to fail. It was Mubtaker’s 13th win in a 29-race career which began way back in October 1999 when he finished second at Deauville trained by the then French-based David Loder.

The summit of his racing was being beaten just three quarters of a length by Dalakhani in the 2003 Arc de Triomphe with the likes of High Chaparral and Doyen behind him. “I used to think that we could find him a job at a small jumping stud,” said trainer Marcus Tregoning afterwards. “But now I have become so fond of him that I don’t want him to leave.”

Mubtaker’s race, the Dubai Tennis Championships sponsorship of what was the John Porter Stakes, preceeded two Classic trials duly won by the favourites. The filly Nasheej stuck on well to hold off Short Dance in a photo finish for the Dubai Duty Free Fred Darling Stakes and the colt Red Clubs was an authoritative winner of the Lane’s End Greenham Stakes from the Aidan O’Brien Ballydoyle raider Marcus Andronicus.

There was plenty to like about the way Nasheej answered Ryan Moore’s vigorous calls over the last quarter mile and you could appreciate the view that she may need more than the extra furlong of the 1,000 Guineas to be at her best. “She may not be good enough to win the Classic,” said trainer Richard Hannon with his usual cheery candour, “but this is a Classic trial and we will go and have a shot.”

Red Clubs’ trainer Barry Hills reserved his options between the English and French 2,000 Guineas but was impressed with the professional manner Red Clubs got rid of his rivals. With no pace in the race Michael Hills was stranded in front but his partner settled sensibly at the head of affairs and then kicked decisively two furlongs out. The Hills father-and-son team also have the Craven Stakes winner Killybegs for the 2,000 Guineas. “It would be difficult to choose between them,” said Michael, “but I am happy to have the choice.”

The most quizzed trainer at Newbury was Tregoning and not just because Mubtaker’s victory was followed late in the day by the gigantic Oaks candidate Makderah hanging on in the first division of the maiden. The big question to Tregoning was how 2,000 Guineas second favourite Sir Percy had come out of his impressive Newbury work-out the day before. “He is in great form,” said the trainer. “He was a bit fresh yesterday but he then ate all his feed overnight and walked out nice and cool this morning. We have to go for the Guineas but I am more sure than ever that he will get the Derby trip.”

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