Brittain's mission is to stretch Causeway

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Vincent, the champion police horse, will jump through a hoop of fire to entertain the crowd at Ascot this weekend, which sounds like quite a trick. It is not nearly so impressive, though, as the one which Giant's Causeway will attempt to pull off in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes on Saturday, by winning his sixth Group One event in a row. If he succeeds, he will join Mill Reef, one of racing's greatest icons, as only the second member of the Half A Dozen Club since the Pattern system was introduced.

Vincent, the champion police horse, will jump through a hoop of fire to entertain the crowd at Ascot this weekend, which sounds like quite a trick. It is not nearly so impressive, though, as the one which Giant's Causeway will attempt to pull off in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes on Saturday, by winning his sixth Group One event in a row. If he succeeds, he will join Mill Reef, one of racing's greatest icons, as only the second member of the Half A Dozen Club since the Pattern system was introduced.

While the two horses' winning streaks would then be equal, however, the manner in which they were achieved could hardly be more different. While Mill Reef was a great champion, with pounds in hand of almost all of his contemporaries, it is the brute force of Giant's Causeway's character, and his apparently limitless reserves of courage, which have got him home in a series of tough races. As Clive Brittain, who will send his filly Crimplene in against Giant's Causeway this weekend, pointed out yesterday: "He never gives himself an easy race because of the way he battles. But then you can only go to the well so many times, and in the end there's got to be a day when it's empty."

That is the fascination for the thousands of spectators who will make their way to Ascot. They desperately want Giant's Causeway to win, to be able say that they were there when history was made, but they know that it must get harder for their hero with every race. There is no sense of certainty, a feeling that he need only turn up to win. To complete his set of six, Giant's Causeway may have to battle as even he has never battled before.

Godolphin certainly seem to think he is beatable, having supplemented Best Of The Bests for the race at a cost of £25,000, even though Giant's Causeway saw him off in the Irish Champion Stakes last time out. And Brittain too is typically confident ahead of a race he won as recently as 1997 with Air Express.

Crimplene had compiled an impressive run of her own in Group Ones before her latest start in the Prix Jacques le Marois, having won the Irish 1,000 Guineas, the Coronation Stakes and the Nassau Stakes. She could finish only fourth in the Marois, however, having become upset before entering the stalls.

"The stalls handlers were flicking a whip at her," Brittain said, "though Philip [Robinson] said that all she needed was a few more seconds to gather herself and then she would have walked straight in. He said she was covered in sweat from that moment on, and she'd also had a hardish race in the Nassau over a mile and a quarter eight before, and it could well be that she hadn't shaken off the effects of that."

After a few weeks' rest, though, Crimplene appears once again to be the filly she was in high summer. "She's in good heart now and she worked very well on Saturday," Brittain said. "She's as fit as I can get her and seems very keen and enthusiastic, which is all I can ask, and she'll go there with a very good chance. But it's going to be a really good race. If the intended runners all turn up it will be the race of the year as far as the milers go."

Other horses with a definite chance among the 14 names left after yesterday's five-day declarations include Distant Music, last year's top juvenile, and Bachir, who was the last horse to beat Giant's Causeway when he won the Irish 2,000 Guineas in May. Indian Lodge, the winner of the Group One Prix du Moulin last time out, will also have solid claims, particularly if the going eases.

"Indian Lodge worked well yesterday morning and I'm looking forward to running him on Saturday," Amanda Perrett, his trainer, said yesterday. Distant Music, though, is not certain to make the race, despite recording his first success as a three-year-old at Doncaster's St Leger meeting when he pipped Valentino. "There is no decision yet," Teddy Beckett, racing manager to Khalid Abdullah, said yesterday. "The horse has been fine since Doncaster, no problems."

Some punters may feel that the appeal of Ascot's Festival of Racing has been diluted since the meeting was expanded from one day to two, but Saturday's card is still extremely strong, with a second Group One, the Fillies' Mile, to support the QEII. Sixteen runners were declared for the race yesterday, among them Flight Of Fancy, who is trained by Sir Michael Stoute and owned by the Queen. An easy winner on her debut at Salisbury, Flight Of Fancy has already persuaded some super-optimists to back her for the 2001 Oaks, which is all of nine months' distant.

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