STRIKING THE RIGHT NOTE

20 October 2002

Persian Punch’s courage and Tout Seul’s rags-to-riches tale provide a welcome tonic after a bruising fortnight

That’s a bit better. After its very public pelting from the Panorama programme two weeks ago, racing came up with two heart-warming stories at Newmarket: old Persian Punch sticking out his chesnut head for the 16th win of his illustrious seven-season career and the two-year-old Tout Seul winning the £150,000 Dewhurst Stakes for an enthusiastic syndicate who had shelled out a mere £12,000 for him a year ago.

If everyone in racing was as honest as Persian Punch we would never have had a problem. This was his 53rd race and, as always, he did it from the front. Win or lose, Persian Punch is going to make it hurt. Sometimes, as happened two weeks ago at Longchamp, he can’t weaken his rivals enough before the final sprint. But yesterday we could see other jockeys’ arms pumping two furlongs out. Martin Dwyer fairly hurled the massive nine-year-old down the hill and although Boreas came through to attack in the final furlong, the winning was never in him.

Owner Jeff Smith was generous in his tribute to the skills David Elsworth has at keeping old campaigners going but the trainer was having none of it. “I am an impostor really,” he said with all that flair for untutored eloquence he used to show in his Desert Orchid heyday, “it is the horse who does the running. I know he had a hard race in France a couple of weeks ago, but he always has a hard race. He is very fit and just keeps going.”

Tout Seul’s connections must have thought it was their colt who was an impostor after his clear-cut defeat of leading fancies Tomahawk and Trade Fair in the Dewhurst got him only a 20-1 quote for next year’s Two Thousand Guineas. Not that this bunch of “over the moon” racing reprobates could have cared a fig for the opinions of bookmakers or anyone else.

The trainer’s daughter, Eve Johnson Houghton, had persuaded them to run “for a bit of fun”, and their horse had just won the most prestigious two-year-old race of the season, taking his total to five victories and two seconds from seven runs to log up over £300,000 of prize money.

Bookmakers are not sentimentalists and their disparagement of Tout Seul’s Guineas chance is mostly based on his defeat, in receipt of 6lb, by Somnus at Redcar on his previous outing. But that race was over six furlongs; yesterday’s seven-furlong trip was run within a second of the track record and without him we would be hailing Tomahawk as yet another top horse from the Aidan O’Brien’s academy. If O’Brien’s name rather than that of 62-year-old Fulke Johnson Houghton had been against Tout Seul, the bookies would be singing a very different tune.

But Johnson Houghton was winning the Dewhurst with Ribofilio 11 years before the great Aidan was born. True the Classic-winning years of Ribero and Ribocco seem an age or two ago, and Johnson Houghton’s last Group One winner was Ile de Bourbon, back in 1978. But no trainer has campaigned a two-year-old better this season. Fulke still has the slow, slightly baffled smile of the glory days. It is possible he has kept some of the secrets too.

The rest of the day kept up the heart-warming theme. Miss Fara ran out the Irish challenger Direct Bearing in the last strides of the Cesarewitch’s two-and-a-quarter-mile slog to confirm just how Martin Pipe can make fitness pay on the Flat as well as he does with jumpers.

Storming Home beat the Godolphin pair – Moon Ballad and Noverre – to win the Champion Stakes for Michael and Barry Hills. And Golden Silca finally came good in her 12th race of this, her fifth season. Horses with heart, it was enough to restore the faith.

Storming Home was also notable for being the first horse to win a Group One race adorned with white cheekpieces. The idea of these, pioneered up north by Richard Guest and Ferdy Murphy last year, is to close out backward vision without the more claustrophobic apparatus of blinkers or a visor. Trainer Barry Hills has always been a mixture of the traditionalist and the progressive; the equipping of Storming Home with the cheekpieces was definitely in the latter category.

Yesterday the colt ran straight and true to follow his previous success when similarly clad. The contraption may not be beautiful but they make a difference. Even the Jockey Club accept that. From next month they have, like blinkers and visors, to be declared officially. It may not always be fast, but it is progress.

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