3 April 2005

It was the perfect name. In warm spring sunshine Stream of Gold won the Stanleybet Lincoln as a classy favourite should and from his back Robert Winston was hoping that the association with trainer Sir Michael Stoute could be a yellow river to fame.

The four-year-old Stream of Gold, a full brother to the Irish Guineas winner Spectrum, was backward last season but his four runs ended with a spread-eagling success at Newmarket. He was allotted 9st in this Lincoln Handicap but when Winston rode him at Newmarket last month it didn’t seem nearly enough. “He felt,” said the 25-year-old afterwards, “better than any handicapper I had ever sat on.”

The jockey’s confidence was so securely placed that a 22-runner race that is famed for multi-chance drama became almost mundane. True, one had the perennial galloping pantomime of the event immediately becoming two races run concurrently as the field split in half. But if you had backed Stream of Gold you would never have worried about your money.

Winston was never troubled for a second. “I was in stall 13,” he said afterwards, “ and people had been going on about which was the better side of the track to choose but I was confident I could win wherever I went.” He chose the stands’ side, tracked the leading pair Cardinal Venture and New Seeker and decided to kick on with a quarter of a mile to go.

At that stage the far side group were slightly ahead, the Gay Kelleway-trained Vortex briefly heading Divine Gift. But when Winston asked his partner to run there was authority in his response. At the line there were three lengths back to New Seeker with Common World coming through to take third from Resplendent One with Vortex weakening to be fifth. If 5-1 favourites were always as good as this we would soon have the bookies bust.

By midsummer Winston will know how much he has made of this greatest chance of his already rather turbulent career. A product of the poor Finglass area of Dublin his affinity with horses began with the sort of rough ponies so memorably pictured around the housing estates in the film Way To The West. “There were all sorts there,” he remembered fondly, “gypsy ponies and burnt-out cars. But I seemed to have the knack of making them run faster than the others. I went to the Irish Racing School and then to Michael Brassil. I owe them a lot. They taught me the basics. Then at 16 I came over to Richard Fahey at Malton.”

Winston flourished in Yorkshire to become champion apprentice in 1999 with 49 winners and has increased his tally every season since, culminating in his first century, 117 winners, last year. But success can be a heady drink and yesterday Winston was at pains to admit his flirt with danger and the role Sir Michael Stoute played in getting him straight.

“Eighteen months ago I was letting things slip a bit,” he said. “Sir Michael had booked me to ride a horse for the Queen at Nottingham when I got myself some bad publicity. But he stood by me. The horse won. He took me aside for a talk at Newmarket and said I was talented but that I had to respect that talent. A man of his stature taking the trouble to say that was just the kick that I needed.”

Trouble returned earlier this year but opportunity again soon followed it. First he was arrested and bailed as part of the City of London Police’s race-fixing investigation. His confident protestations of innocence were heeded by Stoute whose stables he continued to visit of a morning and when Fallon abrubtly jumped ship for Ballydoyle last month, Winston was in position to take what chances were on offer. The first big one came yesterday.

The official line from the Stoute camp is that Michael Kinane will be used in big races when possible with other rides going “to those who are nice to us”.

Last year Winston’s life was crowned with the birth of his first daughter and on the turf he landed his first Group One winner when Magical Romance won the Cheveley Park Stakes at Newmarket. Stream of Gold could be the start of a better time yet.

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