Racing: Brittain to tilt at St Leger with Hattan

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The Independent Online

For decades now, the Newmarket trainer has been treated a little bit as a joke for his attempts at missions impossible with apparently overfaced runners. The antidote to this idea is that jokes do not win all the Classics bar the Derby or a race at the Breeders' Cup series. If laughter is in order it should be cascading out of the mouth of Brittain himself. The latest Carlburg foray into the lion's den is likely to be affected by Hattan, who remains in a Leger which may be less populated than the running of 1999, when just nine went to post.

The Chester Vase winner and Derby sixth holds an entry in the Group Three Winter Hill Stakes over a mile and a quarter at Windsor tomorrow and, if he shows a measure of contentment there, a Doncaster pennant will be pasted to his trunk.

This may be something of a sentimental journey for Brittain, as it will remind the veteran of the one he has taken, from stable lad to Classic-winning trainer, during which the first glittering stop was with Julio Mariner, in the Leger itself, back in 1978.

"That was a tremendous day, from the moment my old guv'nor, Sir Noel Murless, gave the best turned- out award to Julio Mariner," Brittain said yesterday. "But we did go there thinking that we would win. We were very, very confident. Again, he was a horse that had run in the Derby, but we managed to win a moderate conditions race with him and I knew that come Leger time we were going to have a racehorse."

In 1992, the trainer did it again with a filly to compare with any other in the modern era. "User Friendly was something special," Brittain added. "She won the Epsom Oaks, the Yorkshire Oaks, the Irish Oaks and then she took the boys on in the St Leger and beat them. Then she was just beaten [by Subotica] in the Arc. I wasn't tilting at windmills with her. The windmills were bending over towards me."

Now it is the turn of Hattan to attempt to elaborate on the record. On most recent form he should be wearing a sombrero on the Blackpool sands as he was last seen when finishing last of five behind Gamut at Newmarket seven weeks ago. That effort though may have been the result of a previous exertion. It is not uncommon for horses to endure the beastliness of a Derby and take some time to regain equilibrium.

"He just got overexcited at Newmarket and sweated a lot. He ran as though he was on overdrive," Brittain said. "I always thought, as he was going through the season, that he would be a Leger horse. It takes a long time to recover for most horses after they come back from the Derby.

"He's had a month's swimming since then and that's put him right back on song. With that in mind, if the ground's soft at Doncaster, he'll have no problem. We took him to Lingfield with Warrsan for a racecourse gallop over a mile and a quarter the other day. They worked extremely well. Hattan galloped extremely fresh." Clive Brittain likes the St Leger for reasons more than it was a personal launch site. He, like many others, despairs at the race becoming increasingly marginal as speed becomes an ever greater god. "If we continue to take away the stamina from the families then we are going to be in trouble," he said. "In 20 years time we might end up with horses who are unable to go beyond a mile."

Hyperion's selections for today's other meeting. Bath: 5.15 Shermeen 5.45 Gilt Linked 6.15 Uncle John 6.45 Redwood Star 7.15 Will The Till 7.45 Mpenzi.