Racing: Autumn Glory brings a lustre to dirt

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All-weather racing started life as merely a stopgap, to fill the holes when winter weather knocked jump racing out of the calendar and out of the betting shops. It was despised by purists, but it has thrived and taken on an identity of its own, and will provide nearly 30 per cent of British Flat fixtures this year.

It has created a new economy within the game, one around which artisan trainers and jockeys have built their working lives. But perhaps it was inevitable that the specialists had to play a supporting role yesterday as the traditionalists swallowed their pride for a reward of £29,000. Autumn Glory is trained by Geoff Wragg, whose late father Harry had, 50 years ago to the day, sent out Darius to win an Eclipse Stakes. "We'll go wherever there are good prizes," said Wragg, pragmatically.

Autumn Glory, who carries the Derby-winning colours of the Moller family, beat Court Masterpiece, trained by Ed Dunlop for Maktoum al-Maktoum, a neck, both horses making their dirt debuts. Two and a half lengths behind came Gay Kelleway's charge Vortex, previously 10 times a winner on the surface.

In the winner's saddle, though, was one familiar with the journeyman circuit, Steve Drowne. He rode a fine tactical race on a horse unpromisingly drawn 12 of 12, breaking smartly and establishing a pitch just behind the pace set by Vortex's hare Lygeton Lad and Bahiano. In the short straight Drowne said "go" a furlong out and Autumn Glory always had plenty in reserve to hold Court Masterpiece. Vortex, trapped wide on the final turn, gallantly grabbed the minor place by inches from Babodana and Mac Love.

"This is a proper horse," said Drowne of the five-year-old. "I knew I could kick him forward from the start to get a position, because I knew I could switch him off again in a couple of strides. I wasn't absolutely sure this would suit him, because he's a big, long-striding animal, and although he's a good horse on quick ground, he's a very good horse indeed when it's soft. He coped with it OK, but he didn't really bounce off it. But he has attitude and class, and that got him through."

The victory was some, but only some, compensation for Drowne for his runner-up spot on the Roger Charlton-trained Avonbridge in Thursday's July Cup to his regular mount Pastoral Pursuits. "That was one of the races of the season," he said. "Maybe three of these today would have made up for it, but Roger has always been good to me and I can't regret sticking to him. I hope Avonbridge can get me back on the Group One track in the Nunthorpe."

Wragg was even less convinced that Autumn Glory, although already twice a Group Three winner, could take the prize. "He likes a straight mile on soft ground," he said, "so this was always a bit of an unknown step, even though he works at home on an all-weather surface. But all credit to him. He is a lovely, kind, generous horse who does most things right, and is pretty classy."

The Prix Messidor at Maisons-Laffite now beckons for Autumn Glory. Court Masterpiece, touched off by Vortex at Newmarket on their previous meeting, heads to Goodwood, either for the Sussex Stakes or the lesser glory of the Lennox Stakes. Yesterday's favourite, the Sir Michael Stoute-trained Chic, finished seventh and was slightly hampered in the closing stages.

"We weren't too unhappy," said Chris Richardson, representing the Cheveley Park Stud whose colours she carries. "It was her first run for 280 days and she got a bit tired. She has all the right entries at Group One and Group Two level."

At York, the Aidan O'Brien bandwagon kept rolling. After the Eclipse Stakes with Oratorio and wins with two smart juveniles, Ivan Denisovich and Horatio Nelson, at Newmarket during the week, the Ballydoyle representative Mullins Bay and Kieren Fallon were far too good for their rivals in the day's most valuable contest, the £97,500 John Smith's Cup. From being one of five in line abreast two furlongs out in the 10-furlong handicap, Mullins Bay, the 4-1 favourite, drew clear to win by three lengths from Crow Wood (7-1), with Realism (12-1) third and James Caird (20-1) fourth.

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