20 May 2007

The most inspiring of all qualities in a thoroughbred is the visible will to run past the horse in front. Yesterday’s Newbury Lockinge winner Red Evie is the absolute embodiment of it. Which is a good thing as she hardly resembles a racehorse otherwise.

Not only is she barely more than pony size, 15.2 hands (5 ft 2 in) at the shoulder, but she is also narrow and awkward enough in her slower movements to discourage all but the most heedless of punters. And just to complete the camouflage for this brilliant start to her four-year-old season, there was the small matter of Red Evie’s gallop last Saturday.

Ridden by trainer’s wife Georgie Bell, she was incapable of pegging back Cool Panic, whose main claim to fame is having at one time been lead horse to the stable’s Derby winner Motivator. Jamie Spencer watched the gallop but also knew the score, having been part of five of Red Evie’s seven-race victory sequence last season. “It looked terrible,” he said. “But Mrs Bell said the filly was fine. And she was right.”

Proving it was the greatest of all this extraordinary mare’s achievements. Her winning run had begun last March in a modest maiden race at Yarmouth and by the time she had won Leopardstown’s Group One Matron Stakes six races later she had racked up a full 31lb of improvement. But her final run had finished in last-place ignominy.

This comeback run was her first against the colts, who were headed by Godolphin’s new Italian import Ramonti and the French challenger Passager. And on the female side there was the considerable force of the trail-blazing 1,000 Guineas heroine Speciosa and last year’s Lockinge winner Peeress, who was 11-8 favourite to win again.

Trail-blazing was what Speciosa did again at Newbury. She towed the eight-runner field all the way to the two-furlong marker with Passager closest, Ramonti out wide and testing the sockets of Dettori’s arms, and Peeress and Red Evie stacked up behind them. This was just a prelude. The final 400 yards would see five times the action of the rest put together.

First Speciosa hung left and weakened like some galloping flotsam as Peeress swept through to challenge Passager for the lead. The dreams of favourite backers only lasted a moment as a three-way sprint developed between Passager, Red Evie and Ramonti. It was a dramatic, fully-stretched final furlong and the result records there were only heads between them.

But the inspiration of Red Evie was that there is an almost tangible determination in that outstretched little neck. The others were all driving hard, Passager just ahead to the left, Ramonti closing to the right. But somehow you knew that Passager would not be able to resist nor Ramonti overtake. This was commitment on the hoof.

“She is such an amazing filly,” said Michael Bell afterwards. “She does absolutely nothing at home. If you had seen that last bit of work you would not have backed her at 66-1. But she saves it all for the racecourse. “When I was saddling her, I could feel her beginning to shake a bit. She knew that this was different. It was tempting to retire her at the end of last year but whatever happens we are going to have a lot of fun with her, probably with the Queen Anne Stakes next.”

This has been a week when the Derby and Oaks favourites Passage Of Time and Authorize have taken the headlines with a functional victory in the first case and a hugely impressive in the second. The confirmation of Dettori’s place in Authorize’s saddle will ensure that the jockey’s unavailing quest for that elusive Derby victory gets racing the sort of publicity it deserves.

But deep down none of this yet rates alongside the inspiration that Red Evie showed yesterday. Here is the ultimate racing version of the Ugly Duckling. The small plain filly that everybody first either neglected or patronised but again and again she has shown that quality immortalised in the lines from the John Masefield poem Right Royal: “Prepared to burst her heart to pass – that other horse on the sea of grass.”

A watchful observer yesterday was the official Jockey Club handicapper Dominic Gardner-Hill, who last season saw Red Evie regularly defy his handiwork. “Last season,” he said with head-shaking admiration, “she was my biggest nightmare. Looks like she is at it again.”

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