Campaigner for grey rights

Andrew Baker meets the team plotting to break an ancient colour bar
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Early on a bright summer morning the gallops behind Castle Stables at Arundel in West Sussex must be one of the most magical places to be in all England. John Dunlop's string of horses canter up a gentle green hill to a tree-lined collecting ring on the summit. At the foot of the hill the stables nestle behind the majestic bulk of Arundel Castle. Beyond the turrets, in the far distance, the cliffs of the Isle of Wight blink across the grey-blue Solent. "It is," Dunlop concedes with a patrician murmur, "a nice spot."

Dunlop is not, clearly, given to hyperbole. So when he describes one of his charges, Silver Patriarch, as a "nice horse", it should come as no surprise that the animal concerned is regarded - not least by the bookmakers - as the likeliest rival to the odds-on Entrepreneur in Saturday's Derby.

Silver Patriarch certainly caught the eye as he galloped over six furlongs last Friday morning. He is, as the first part of his name suggests, silvery grey, which is not necessarily a good omen for a Derby-bound horse, as the great race was last won by a grey in 1946. But it is not the shade of coat that will count at Epsom, but what is underneath it, and in build and action Silver Patriarch looks the right type.

He was, according to Dunlop, "a bit on the leggy side" as a youngster, but he has filled out beautifully, with a deep strong chest and plenty of heft in the rear, where the power comes from. He is also, according to his work rider, Steve Neighbour, more than adequately equipped between the ears. "He sees a bend approaching from a long way off," Neighbour reported, as Silver Patriarch took a snack of Arundel grass underneath him, "and changes his leg [stride pattern] in time to go round it. Not every horse can do that."

This will come in handy around Tattenham Corner, and the notorious undulations of the Surrey course should hold no fear for the grey, who won a Derby trial around the similarly challenging twists and turns of Lingfield.

There is one more point that sets Silver Patriarch aside from his Epsom rivals, though it has no bearing on his likely performance. He was bred by his owner - not a potentate from the Gulf, but a retired surveyor from Kingston-on-Thames called Peter Winfield.

Winfield was at Arundel to see his pride and joy's workout, and as Dunlop sorted his circling string in the little grove at the top of the hill, Winfield perched on a bench to watch.

"I've been involved with racing for the thick end of 25 years," he recalled. "And this is the most exciting time I have had." The first two racehorses that Winfield ever owned never saw a racetrack, which was, he says, "a blessing in disguise - and very well disguised it seemed at the time".

But he persevered, and John Dunlop bought and trained his first winner, Haddfen, which took an Apprentice Handicap at Brighton, not far down the road from Arundel.

More wins followed, in particular with Montekin, who won the Horris Hill Stakes, and was entered in the Derby when he was injured coming out of the stalls in the Mecca Dante Stakes at York. "A disappointment," Winfield recalled. "But I am philosophical."

Winfield remained optimistic enough to acquire his own brood mare, Early Rising, who has delivered him a string of winners, of which Silver Patriarch, whose sire is Saddlers' Hall, is the latest. "She is now in foal to him again," Winfield said, "so we have a full brother on the way."

Winfield applies the analytical skills that propelled him from office boy to senior partner to his hobby. He has broken down the Derby field into likely and unlikely runners and reckons that there may be as few as 16 starters at Epsom.

"Horse racing is a recreation," he explained, "but I always want to be learning something. It is far more difficult to value a horse than it is to value a property - value is subjective." None the less, Winfield refers to his racehorses as "short leaseholds", an eloquent reference to their cost, fragility and earning potential.

Silver Patriarch has already won far more than the pounds 7,500 stallion's fee that he cost, but it is clear that his owner is not in the game for money - it is barely hinted that one or two extremely lucrative offers have already been turned down for the spectacular grey.

Success on Saturday matters more than the riches that would ensue, but one obstacle looms large for Winfield, Dunlop and the stable star: Entrepreneur, Michael Stoute's odds-on favourite. In the Jeep on the way back down to the yard, Dunlop turned to Winfield and asked: "So what do you think of this Entrepreneur, Peter? Are you an optimist?" "I'm a realist," the owner replied. "He's got to prove he can do it in public."

Back in the yard, outside the office where hang portraits of Erhaab and Shirley Heights, Dunlop's previous Derby winners, the trainer mentioned his stable's charity Open Day - which is today - and then insisted that he did not wish for too much luck at Epsom. "Just our fair share." Winfield wasn't so sure. "Actually, John, I wouldn't mind just a little bit more than our fair share." Only Silver Patriarch knows whether or not they will need it.