Channon: by appointment, purchaser of racing stables

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FOOTBALLERS THESE days may tend to act like royalty, but the closest most of them get to the real thing is a brief handshake before the Cup Final.

Mick Channon, though, is about to exchange contracts on a property deal in which the vendor is the Queen, and in the process, confirm that he has risen as high in his second sporting career as he did in his first one.

Channon was familiar to football fans in the Seventies as a striker for Southampton and England, who would celebrate each goal with a windmill whirl of one arm. Even then, though, his true passion was for racing, the sport of kings, and in 1990 he started life as a trainer with a few modest horses in Lambourn, Berkshire. Just nine years later, he has 124 horses in his yard, and his owners include members of the all- powerful Makhtoum family from Dubai.

Channon has outgrown his present base, and yesterday announced that he is to buy West Ilsley Racing Stables, near Newbury, one of the most historic training establishments in the country, from the Queen. He will train his horses there from the beginning of the next Flat season in April 2000.

West Ilsley was where Major Dick Hern, perhaps the finest British trainer since the War, prepared turf legends such as Brigadier Gerard, and the Derby winners Troy and Henbit. In 1991, the wheelchair-bound Hern was controvers-ially evicted from the yard, to be replaced by the Earl of Huntingdon, godson of the Queen's racing manager.

Last year, Lord Huntingdon announced that he was quitting the stable because he could not make it pay. But where the scion of the aristocracy failed, though, many will expect the former footballer to succeed handsomely.

"Obviously I am excited," Channon said yesterday. "It is like a progression and I am thrilled. I am very privileged to have the opportunity, and I hope I do the place justice."

He may also hope that finally, he will be recognised not as an ex-player trying his hand at training, but a top-class trainer who used to play a bit.