Hero steps up to give Cumani cheer

Troubled trainer looks to greater glory at Goodwood

An unlikely hero has emerged from Luca Cumani's depleted ranks to carry the stable standard this summer. The former smart sprinter Arkad-ian Hero, reinvented as a miler, will be pitched in against Europe's élite in the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood on his first try at the new trip since his change of direction.

An unlikely hero has emerged from Luca Cumani's depleted ranks to carry the stable standard this summer. The former smart sprinter Arkad-ian Hero, reinvented as a miler, will be pitched in against Europe's élite in the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood on his first try at the new trip since his change of direction.

A bold show by the massive five-year-old in Wednesday's Group One contest, centrepiece of this week's five-day festival on top of the Sussex downs, would be a tremendous boost to Cumani's season. The year had a torrid dawn for the Newmarket-based Italian when the best horses under his care were removed by their owner, the Aga Khan, in January. Thirty of them went, including Daliapour and two Royal Ascot winners, Kalanisi and Dalampour.

Cumani, with two Derbies and numerous other prestigious races on his CV, is a man accustomed to playing at the top of racing's Premiership, and mid-table mediocrity, let alone dicing with relegation, galls. "The trouble was," he said, "when the horses went the timing was so bad. The sales were over and there was no time to regroup. And without the right players you can t stay at the top."

The Aga Khan's reason for his spat with Cumani - dissatisfaction with the trainer's procedures over accidental positive drug tests - have been well documented, and the trainer bears the horses he lost no grudges. Daliapour, in particular, will always be one of his favourites.

A presence at the top is more than a matter of just the prize money; as important is the perception of a training business in the eyes of owners. Those patrons other than the Aga Khan have remained loyal, but new ones will be needed to keep squad numbers up.

Cumani did not send a single runner to Royal Ascot, but his campaign has shown signs of a revival since that nadir. Endless Hall, winner of a Group One race in Italy, showed himself a horse of underestimated ability by giving weight and a beating to Beat All at Ayr, and an autumn campaign beckons.

But before that Arkadian Hero has the chance to put the spotlight back on his trainer's talent and revive morale in the Bedford House yard. Cum-ani admits he has been playing it wrong for two years with the horse, who has not tackled a mile since he came in among the also-rans behind King Of Kings in the 1998 2,000 Guin-eas. The son of the Arc winner Trempolino, he is a strong, powerful individual, looks like a sprinter and ran like one in his Classic, but in Group One company was not fast enough for the minimum trip and always only a nearly horse over six furlongs: third in the Haydock Sprint Cup and twice fourth in the July Cup.

He showed his appreciation of not being taken off his feet by the best speed-merchants with an impressive, win when stepped up to seven furlongs in the Criterion Stakes at his local track, Newmarket, early this month, producing his sprinter's burst of acceleration to extricate himself from trouble and cut down his admittedly inferior rivals. It was Cumani's first domestic Pattern winner of the season.

"I had always thought that he probably did want further than six furlongs," said his trainer, "but he had been doing well enough as a sprinter, so we didn't dare change what had been a fairly successful formula. It was a bit of a blind alley, though, and after the Duke of York Stakes in May, when he finished fourth, running on, the decision to change direction was made."

Cumani acknowledges that Arkadian Hero and his young Irish jockey, Jamie Spencer, face a huge task on Wednesday against last year's winner, Aljabr, and other possible rivals such as the Eclipse winner, Giant's Causeway, and the star filly Crimplene. The chestnut has been looking the part on the Newmarket gallops but then, says his trainer, he always does: "He has always been an ebullient horse and has never lacked belief in himself. He didn't need confidence. But what that race did was to give it to me."

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