Elite division eludes Lammtarra

Richard Edmondson finds that the horse who battled to success faces a fight for recognition
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Lammtarra's retirement on Tuesday came with the assertion that he had nothing more to prove. For some, though, nothing could be further from the truth.

With the chestnut's stirring deeds - a Derby, King George and Arc - still fresh in the mind, there are some who insist he has by no means earned a place in the pantheon.

Peter Savill, Celtic Swing's owner has even used the dirty word of workmanlike to describe the colt, and suggested he should be returned to the track next season to further prove his mettle. In addition, the respected handicappers at Timeform believe Lammtarra can be elevated to the most exalted company only by an outstanding performance from a horse he has beaten. They have positioned him on a relatively plebian mark of 134 in their ratings.

"The final rating depends on how the placed horses in the Arc get on," Chris Williams, Timeform's senior Flat handicapper, said yesterday. "If Freedom Cry [the Arc runner up] wins the Breeders' Cup Turf then we can look at Lammtarra in a better light. But Lammtarra cannot compare with some of the great champions of old. If we call him great, then we have to mention Freedom Cry and Pentire [the King George second] in the same breath." Lammtarra is also expected to be classified as just an ordinary Arc winner in the official International Classifications and is likely to be placed behind Bahri, Pennekamp and Celtic Swing.

Ian Balding, the trainer of Mill Reef, the only other horse to have completed the big treble, also believes his colt proved more in terms of longevity and versatility. Geoff Lewis, Mill Reef's jockey, has a kinder assessment of the new horse. "He must be a great horse to achieve what Mill Reef did and I wouldn't dream of comparing them as they did it in different eras," he said. "People seem to remember the spectacular horses like Sea Bird and Ribot and unfortunately he is not going to be remembered as good as them. That's rather sad, seeing what he has achieved."

Here lies the crux. Lammtarra's capacity to succeed while expending the least possible energy will be held to his detriment by many and he will struggle to be remembered as an impressive figure. All the horses that glue themselves to the public consciousness have had flamboyance about them: Nijinksy for his instant acceleration, Shergar for his wide-margin victory in the Derby (though he arguably owes his celebrity more to a sorry demise) and, in another code, Desert Orchid, whose colouring and extravagant fencing masked the fact he was someway behind his predecessors in National Hunt's top branches.

This, however, does not wash with those who developed Lammtarra, nor does the suggestion that he harboured a mental problem which hastened his retirement. The Godolphin team, under whose aegis the colt ran, even tried to retract any mention of the word temperament that came with their initial press release on Tuesday. Others have an explanation for the colt's apparent recalcitrance at home and on the racecourse. "He would just stand there at the beginning of a piece of work and you would have to lead him in, but I would call that a characteristic more than a sign of temperament," Ed Dunlop, former assistant to Lammtarra's original trainer, Alex Scott, said yesterday. "He was certainly a very kind horse and you could get in his box and he would be no bother."

Walter Swinburn, who rode Lammtarra in the Derby, also defended the horse's attitude and ability. "The way he behaved was just him," he said yesterday. "Good horses do it in different ways, but there seems to be this fixation with horses who have an immediate turn of foot, like Sir Ivor and Nijinsky. There are other ways of doing it like Reference Point and this horse, and everyone seems to forget that Shergar was basically a galloper who ran them into the ground.

"Lammtarra was ill and then he had interrupted preparations before the Derby and the King George, so the only time he had a really clear run in was before the Arc. It takes some horse to do that and, whatever others say, the boys in the weighing room know he is something special. They call him a freak. You can't knock the horse and I promise you we won't see another one like him for a few years.''