A fairytale for the ugly duckling

The experts ignored Umistim once. They don't now
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The Independent Online

It may seem a long way, metaphorically and actually, from Sheikh Mohammed's Godolphin operation in Dubai to Sharon Joint's Carwithens Farm in Cornwall. But in terms of emotion the distance between them is just a step down the lane. The same passion and belief burns deep in the heart of the man with 500 racehorses and the woman with one.

To backtrack slightly, the Sheikh's faith two years ago in one of his young unraced colts was such that he was renamed Dubai Millennium with the express hope that he would be good enough to run in and win last month's World Cup, the flagship race in his owner's native country. Which he did.

Joint's moment on the road to Damascus came 17 months ago. The yearling she had thought to be one of the best she had ever bred had failed to attract a bid at the Newmarket yearling sales and, humiliated, she set off with him on the long drive home. Before she had gone many miles her hurt changed to defiance. You missed him, she thought, you missed him, and it's your loss. "I called him Umistim," she said, "I didn't think they'd accept the sodu bit at the end. I wanted him to prove good enough to prove them all wrong."

Which he did. Back at Newmarket on Saturday Umistim, the rejected, the unwanted, will line up for the 2,000 Guineas alongside the representatives of the biggest, flashiest teams in the land. And the fact that he will is not only a matter of intense pride and satisfaction for Joint but a glorious manifestation of the uncertainty that keeps the bloodstock industry afloat.

Sure, the greater investment will, overall, buy the greater success, as the deeds of horses in the colours of premiership operators like Godolphin, the other Maktoums, Khalid Abdullah, the Aga Khan and Coolmore will demonstrate. But because Dame Nature (aka equine genetics) behaves at times so idiosyncratically there will always, even in the mega-moneyed Flat-racing business, be giant-killing acts along the way.

In the bloodstock industry the bulk of the horsepower and the greatest expectations are in a small number of hands. But numerically the vast majority who supply the sport on the racecourse are the little men and women. More than three-quarters of Britain's breeders own four or fewer mares.

Sheikh Mohammed has 350 matrons at his disposal and access to unlimited funds to pay for trysts with the bluest-blooded of stallions. Joint, a one-woman band, has three mares and some years has not been able to afford to cover them. This spring, however, thanks to the exploits of Umistim, the trio are all safely pregnant at their owner's 12-acre holding clinging to the side of a valley just outside Launceston.

Joint bred Umistim's mum Simply Sooty, a flea-bitten white-grey 10-year-old, herself, from a mare called Classical Vintage, bought after a bad fall forced her to give up riding horses in favour of breeding them. "It was back in 1984 and she cost just 3,000 guineas at the Newmarket sales," she recalls. "She was a winner from a good winner-producing family and I didn't think I'd be able to afford her, but the July Cup was being run at the same time as she was being sold and the sale ring just emptied."

Sprint-bred Classical Vintage produced three winners from nine foals before her death last autumn and the earnings of her children in the sale-ring and on the racecourse kept Carwithens Farm ticking over. Simply Sooty, by the sprinter Absalom, was the best; a winner at two and not disgraced against some of the fastest of her generation in the Cornwallis Stakes.

The first colt she produced, by the good commercial sire First Trump, made 25,000 guineas at the sales. The next, by an even better young stallion, Inchinor, was Umistim. And despite the fact that he had inherited his dam's poorly-conformed forelegs - their front feet turn out at ten-to-two - Joint's hopes for the chestnut she helped bring into the world were high.

"He was actually a right little so-and-so as a baby - he bit me when he was only three hours old - but he just had something about him. He was a big foal, and he had an arrogant look as soon as he got up. I really thought he could be a bit special and I think that's why I was so angry after he didn't sell at Newmarket.

"I'd had had plenty of people to see him. I'd put a reserve of only 6,000 guineas on him but I thought it was just a formality. The Irish lads in the stables near me were betting he'd make between 15,000 and 20,000 guineas. But when I was walking him round I realised that no one was bidding for him at all. I couldn't understand why they couldn't see what I could and then that changed to worry that they could see something that I couldn't. I just felt sick."

Before she left Newmarket, Joint made the decision to find the money somehow to send her colt to Richard Hannon, who had trained Classical Vintage. And the rest is in the formbook: Umistim won three of his five races last year, including the Group Three Horris Hill Stakes, and two weeks ago, enjoying the soft-ground conditions, upset the big guns in the 2,000 Guineas trial, the Craven Stakes.

"He was bred to be a precocious six-furlong sprinter, not a Classic prospect," Joint said, "and I'd have been happy just for him to win a couple of nice races to pay his way and make the point. Whether on not he wins on Saturday is not actually important, I'm proud enough of him already; he's tough, he's generous and willing. I know I can be pretty bloody-minded in adversity and it's as if he, too, has just stuck two fingers up to everyone."