Marcus Tregoning looked across his trial grounds yesterday, towards the old Derby gallops of Farncombe Down, the downland terrain on which Felstead and Windsor Lad, the Blue Riband winners of 1928 and 1934, were prepared. There were swallows skimming the grass and Tregoning's mind was on another horse and another flying machine. His mind was on the animal which has made his career.
Win, lose or draw in the Eclipse Stakes at Sandown on Saturday, Nayef has done his job gloriously over four seasons at Kingsdown House, bringing victories, riches and, most significantly of all, prestige, to his trainer. "He's been fantastic for the yard," Tregoning said. "There's no doubt that he's been a boost and the amount of business we attract here now has been down to the strength of Nayef."
That Tregoning survives is evidence that there is hardness behind his benevolent exterior. For 14 years he was the man behind Dick Hern in more than one sense, assistant to the old-school trainer and wheelchair pusher after the Major was part-paralysed in a hunting accident. When Hern died, Tregoning at once was given an ambiguous legacy, the great opportunity to take over at Kingsdown, the less appealing prospect of being compared with his mentor.
While some of Hern's training techniques have doubtlessly been reproduced, the man-management is somewhat different. On arrival yesterday, Tregoning was quickly out with the teas. If Hern had done this, which he never, ever did, you would have sent the beverage to the lab for analysis.
The new man was in pink shirt, fawn waistcoat and blue trousers and we were soon in a red, former Royal Mail van, with the bespectacled figure of Tregoning at the wheel. All it needed was Jess on the passenger seat and a visit to Mrs Goggins to make the village picture complete.
Kingsdown House is actually out of Lambourn village itself, on the rim of the Valley of the Racehorse. Its horses, as is usual for a Monday, had a gentle workout yesterday, only just outside the range of the hum from the M4.
Nayef, tall and bandaged all round, worked second in the string behind Day Fort, his lad Fred Storrar at the controls. He seems to get taller every day. "He's a lot stronger," Tregoning added. "Last year he was 16.1 and a half and I knew he'd grown a bit, but he's 16.3 now. He's always been crying out for time. There's a possibility that he's only just become the finished horse."
That spells peril for the 26 other horses which were declared for the Eclipse yesterday. Among their number was a choice of pacemakers for Nayef. Expect Izdiham to be the final selection.
Among the dangers to the 9-4 favourite is Islington, one of three representatives for Sir Michael Stoute, the most successful current trainer in the Eclipse, with four wins. Grandera is in there for Godolphin and Aidan O'Brien has three entries in Alberto Giacometti, Balestrini and Hold That Tiger, the latter two the most likely to run. Jeff Smith yesterday produced the £20,000 supplementary fee to add Norse Dancer, the Derby fourth, to the field.
But it is Nayef who will be the buzz horse of the race, the beast who once again pulls Tregoning into a limelight he is only just beginning to handle. "The more you climb, the more you bare your arse", remains one of his favourite maxims.
The trainer will be able to tolerate any celebrity at Sandown though, as it will mean he has won. The Eclipse is a contest about which Tregoning has mixed memories following Hern's victory with Nashwan in 1989, a race in which the chestnut was set a such a shuddering task that he was never the same horse again.
The Cornishman recalls Nahswan's physical perfection, as it is also evident in his half-brother. "I went out to see him [Nayef] as a yearling in Dubai and he was the most outstanding horse," Tregoning said. "I always felt he would have topped the sale at any sales in the world. He was a multi-million pound yearling to look at.
"We lost him a bit from two to three because he started growing. He went a bit weak on us. But he's come all right in the end. I'm very happy with him. He's won his race extremely well at Royal Ascot [the Prince of Wales's Stakes] and I think he's in just as good form now."
The story has already been long, but it is not yet over. The King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes looms after Saturday and Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum has yet to register an opinion about whether Nayef races on at six. "If he comes out of this season sound anything is possible," Tregoning says. "And he's the soundest horse I've ever trained. I've been so lucky."Reuse content