Air Express on time for Peslier

AT ASCOT
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Forget Frankie Dettori's magnificent seven, and concentrate on Olivier Peslier's wonderful one. It was the French champion jockey's turn to win the rider cup here yesterday as he and Air Express hung onto the afternoon's feature race, the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, by a fast-diminishing whisker from Rebecca Sharp.

Even allowing for the fact that Rebecca Sharp could be considered unlucky - Michael Hills had to switch her from behind a wall of horses to make her challenge - it was a consummate demonstration of Peslier's silky skills. He was left in front sooner than he had wanted as Allied Forces, Bijou D'Inde and Bahhare dropped away in the straight, but he kept Air Express going sweetly for just long enough to make the colt the Group One winner his trainer Clive Brittain had always believed he could be.

Kieren Fallon galvanised Faithful Son past Bahhare to take third place. But his rusty-looking 2,000 Guineas-winning stablemate Entrepreneur and the favourite Revoque, both on reputation-retrieving missions, were disappointing, finishing only seventh and eighth of the nine runners.

It was a welcome return to the top level for Clive Brittain, who has never been afraid to tilt at windmills. Air Express, who carries the colours of Mohamed Obaida, had won two of the second division 2,000 Guineas - the German and Italian versions - earlier in the season and had run a blinder when runner-up in the St James' Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot over yesterday's course and distance, the day before Rebecca Sharp sprang a surprise in the Coronation Stakes.

But he had failed in Goodwood's Sussex Stakes, and with interest focused on Entrepreneur and Revoque, and Dettori's mount Allied Forces, was almost the forgotten horse. Brittain, 64, who had funded his training operation, set up 25 years ago, by shrewd punting, said: "I knew this was a Group One horse, and if I hadn't given up betting when I started training, I would have lumped on.

"At Goodwood, he hated the camber of the course and drifted down the slope, and the horses who had stayed balanced sprinted away from him. But everything went to plan today."

The trainer paid Air Express, a son of Salse, the compliment of rating him above his high-class miling filly Sayyedati (though below superstar Pebbles), also owned by Obaida. The colt may make the trip to Los Angeles for the Breeders' Cup Mile, but Brittain also favours the valuable seven- furlong Hong Kong Bowl at Sha Tin in December. He said: "A stiff mile is just about as far as he wants to go, and I thought Olivier gave him a dream of a ride. We thought his style would suit the little horse."

Air Express was changing his legs in the closing stages and Peslier, ever the perfectionist, was self-critical. He said: "I did not want to lead until inside the final furlong, but the other horses were struggling and mine came there very easily and I had to go. We only just made it to the line as the filly challenged, but he found just enough to hold her and I was sure I had won."

Peslier went on to score a 2,249-1 treble, from four rides, with two 14-1 winners. Jo Mell was the impressive winner of the Festival Handicap for Tim Easterby, and Wenda gamely inched home in the Blue Seal Stakes to give Brittain a double.

Dettori's mission impossible on the anniversary of his famous seven-timer proved just that, and those who bet on a repeat misunderstood the magnitude of his achievement last year. The writing was on the wall for the Italian in the first race, when even he could not persuade King Sound to finish better than third.

But after six defeats, consolation came in the final race, the Magnificent Seven Gordon Carter Handicap, in which he rode Sheikh Mohammed's Jaseur to victory on a special golden saddle imported from Japan. The cheering started as he hit the front more than a furlong out, and the irrepressible Dettori treated the delighted onlookers to his famous flying dismount.

He said: "It was beginning to be a bit of a sad afternoon, but I'm glad in the end I could do something for the public who stayed behind." Dettori did a bit more earlier, when the saddle he used a year ago was auctioned to raise funds for a charity that helps the children of Aids victims in Africa. The saddle fetched pounds 34,000.

The opener, the Cumberland Lodge Stakes, produced a spirited battle through the last furlong between the two high-class three-year-olds Kingfisher Mill and Romanov, with the former prevailing by a head under an excellent ride from Mick Kinane.

Winning trainer Julie Cecil has always thought the world of lord Howard de Walden's home-bred chestnut, but admitted that she was flying too high when she pitted him against the best in the King George at the course in July.

Today's Ascot card, page 15

Two stories of Frankie Dettori

Ascot 1996

2.00: Wall Street 2-1 won

2.35: Diffident 12-1 won

3.20: Mark Of Esteem 100-30 won

3.55: Decorated Hero 7-1 won

4.30: Fatefully 7-4 won

5.00: Lochangel 5-4 won

5.35: Fujiyama Crest 2-1 won

Ascot 1997

2.00: King Sound 10-1 3rd

2.35: Russian Revival 13-1 4th

3.20: Allied Forces 19-2 6th

3.55: Tumbleweed Ridge 12-1 last

4.30: Noisette 19-2 3rd

5.00: Atuf 14-1 2nd

5.35: Jaseur 19-2 won

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