Evacuation day again for racing

Bomb threat curtails the day at Ascot as the spectre of Aintree three years ago returns to haunt the sport

Racing here at Ascot yesterday afternoon survived a precautionary inspection at 12.30pm after a morning of heavy rain. But the eight-race meeting could not beat a coded warning, apparently phoned to Charing Cross Hospital, about the presence of a suspect package within the racecourse grandstands.

Racing here at Ascot yesterday afternoon survived a precautionary inspection at 12.30pm after a morning of heavy rain. But the eight-race meeting could not beat a coded warning, apparently phoned to Charing Cross Hospital, about the presence of a suspect package within the racecourse grandstands.

Although the first race was run the warning caused the rest of the meeting to be abandoned for the day. Racing was suspended just before the second race at 2pm with the crowd being urged to evacuate the stands and make their way out into the paddock or on to the racecourse. The riders for the second race, who were already down at the start, were told about the bomb warning and then ordered to bring their horses back to the paddock.

By 2.35 all the stands and private boxes had been duly evacuated, with the estimated crowd of 6,000 being moved further away into the car parks. Shortly after this the announcement was made that racing had been abandoned for the day on the advice of the police. It was thought the suspect package had been located in the ground floor of the main stand and that the Metropolitan Police Bomb Squad had been summoned to assess the seriousness of the threat.

A discreet search of the Press Room by a steward had alerted journalists to the fact that this might be yet another race-day disrupted by the threat of a terrorist act.

Three years ago the Grand National at Aintree had to be abandoned after an IRA warning was phoned through less than half an hour before the big race. And last Boxing Day, racing at Kempton Park was curtailed by another coded warning, allegedly from Continuity IRA.

Racing is a soft target for threats such as these with large open spaces and a constantly mobile crowd. However, most punters left the course with stoic resignation yesterday, consoled not just by the guarantee of a refund but also by the sight of the new favourite for next year's 2,000 Guineas winning the first race.

Nayef, owned by Sheikh Hamdan-al-Maktoum, had been a doubtful runner according to some reports thanks to the deterioration in the courses official going from "soft" to "heavy".

But this brawny half brother to double classic winner Nashwan stood his ground in the Listed Autumn Stakes over the round one-mile course and, idling in the early stages, moved confidently clear of his five rivals in the final furlong to win by a long-looking six lengths. Nayef's previous victory over Tamburlaine at Newbury, on fast ground, had been franked as genuine by the second's subsequently six-lengths victory at Newmarket ten days ago. With this emphatic win on heavy ground Nayef soon had the bookmakers scurrying for cover as the ante-post bets rained in from telephone and on-course punters alike.

Victor Chandler offered Nayef at 10-1 just after the race, but a bet of £100,000-£10,000 soon saw the colt cut to 7-1. Further wagers began to force the price even lower and the frenzy only eased off at around 4-1. "He's a lovely horse and a beautiful mover with a flowing stride," trainer Marcus Tregoning said after the race. He'll go on anything too as he showed today. Richard Perham, who rides him at work, told me not to worry about the ground and was right."

Nayef will not race again this season and though the 2,000 Guineas is his obvious first target next year, the bookies were also fielding bets on him for the 2001 Derby for which he is now favourite at a general 10-1. Whether such a big, long striding horse can handle the track at Epsom might be open to doubt and there was much less money for Nayef's Derby prospects than for the 2,000 Guineas. "He'll stick to a mile to begin with next season," Tregoning said without outlining the colt's eventual plans. He'll probably stay one mile two furlongs and we'll gradually move him up in distance to see how far he stays."

Because Nayef is a son of Gulch, an American champion, there was some speculation (among Press rather than connections) that the colt might be aimed at next year's Kentucky Derby. The Maktoum family have coveted this race for several years now without coming up with a credible contender.

With Nayef, however, the Dubai brothers look to have a horse who, in racing parlance, "could be anything". We'll have to wait until next spring to find out precisely what.

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