Mick Channon: 'People are frightened to run a horse, to get beaten'

Ahead of Sunday's race, the trainer tells Chris McGrath why his three-time Arc runner-up Youmzain is a champion in his eyes

You can hardly call it the secret of his success. After all, Youmzain has won just one of his last 21 races, over four seasons. During the same period, equally, he has finished second in three consecutive runnings of Europe's richest race, and he retains every right to win it at last when he returns to Paris on Sunday.

Mick Channon accounts for the seven-year-old's competitive longevity in characteristically earthy terms. "It's like the young bull and the old bull, looking across the valley at a field of cows," he says. "The young bull says: 'Let's run over there and shag one of those cows!' The old bull says: 'No, let's walk over, and shag them all'."

Channon grins expressively. There was a time when these same gallops were owned by the monarch herself, and the horses trained by the formidable Major Hern, a stickler of the old school. It has since become a familiar miracle that Channon, modestly dismantling the mystique of his second vocation, should have matched his achievements in football by restoring West Ilsley as a home of elite thoroughbreds.

Yesterday morning he watched Youmzain complete his preparations for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe with one last, uphill breeze between silken tresses of dew. Below, wreathes of mist clung to folds in the Berkshire downland; above, contrails feathered the pale autumn sky. The glow in the old horse owed more to his own health than the cold sunlight. "He's got that rich colour, isn't he?" Channon said. "Last year everyone was raving about Sea The Stars, and he was a big, imposing horse. But Youmzain was two boxes away and looked different class."

He promptly deprecates that judgement with another biologically involved analogy. An opinion, it would seem, is not the only thing we all have. Channon is gloriously free of affectation. Affection, though, is another matter. You can hear it in his Wiltshire rasp, as he pardons those punters who long ago gave up on Youmzain. From time to time, no doubt, he has shared their exasperations himself. But the one thing they should not doubt is the horse's appetite, which has sustained a career that began before many of Sunday's rivals were even born – and won him more prize money than both Dylan Thomas and Zarkava, who beat him in 2007 and 2008 respectively.

"Ever since we put bits of steel into their mouths, and chimpanzees on their backs, there's never been a horse fast enough," Channon said. "All this business – 'he doesn't try, he's a dog' – it's a man-made thing. With that high cruising speed, the way he comes into the race, you think you'll win easy. But when he gets his head in front... They're almost herd animals, it's just like a game. Some of them aren't that way. But he's lasted. What would you rather have?"

The rest of his career makes it far-fetched that Youmzain would have won three Arcs, but for Dylan Thomas, Zarkava and Sea The Stars. Doubtless he could have found others to follow home instead. But when Channon insists there is more to sport than simply coming first, he is speaking from the heart. Remember how he famously persevered with Southampton, through thick and thin. After excelling in two walks of life united only by the imperative to win, he is entitled to have his protest heeded now.

"Listen, I want to win every race I run in," he said. "But it's not something you can plan. It's something that happens. And all I'd say is to be very careful, because we're in danger of going money-mad. People are frightened to run a horse, to compete, to get beat. And it's not just racing, sport in general is going that way. It's down to you in the media, making it all about winning. That shouldn't be the be-all and end-all. You try hard, and if you don't win, you ask how you can turn it round next time. Is it mental, physical, tactical? If we're not careful, we'll push ourselves away from being competitive."

Channon had spent the previous couple of days at the yearling sales in Ireland, seeking the next Youmzain – for whom a place at stud finally beckons, in France. ("He wouldn't be appreciated by breeders here," Channon scoffed. "They're that far up their own arses.") In bloodstock terms, Youmzain himself was a steal at 32,000 guineas. But that is another of the marvels about Channon. Tomorrow, at Newmarket, he seeks a second Group One success for Music Show, who cost just 15,000.

He restocks every autumn with 40 to 50 yearlings. "And they're all supposed to turn into something in the next 18 months," he said. "Then you get something like this horse, something that comes through the system, and survives. Just about the only time in his life Youmzain was ever lame was the day he was going to Godolphin. He failed the vet. That was a good day for West Ilsley. He's quite a character. He's his own man, has his own little ways and quirks. But he loves going to work every day."

Much the same might be said of Youmzain's trainer, especially in the couple of years since he lost a cherished friend in a motor accident he was himself lucky to survive. Little wonder if Channon can see the bigger picture, to the extent of being "glad" the Longchamp stewards allowed Dylan Thomas to keep the race after that excruciating 2007 inquiry. "You never heard me whinge," Channon emphasised. "According to their rules, though, Youmzain should have been given the race. Not according to my rules. If you ask me, once you're first past the post – well, you've got to commit murder to lose it.

"You're talking about horses running as fast as they can, about fatigue, about jockeys throwing everything at them. And you expect them to run in straight lines? Yes, I've been kicked out for far less, in France. But I'm pleased Youmzain didn't get it. He'd have gone to stud otherwise, wouldn't he?"

He paused, perhaps pondering everything this horse has meant to him. "It's not that I didn't want to win," he said. "But you want to beat 'em proper."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

SharePoint Administrator/Developer (C#, VB.NET, VISUAL STUDIO 2

£35000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SharePoi...

European HR Director, London

£80000 - £95000 per annum: Charter Selection: A leading Global organisation Ja...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit