Racing: Causeway braves the Coronation pain

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The Independent Online

There are prettier horses than Maids Causeway, just a few faster too, but, when bravery is the distinction, she is close to indomitable.

There are prettier horses than Maids Causeway, just a few faster too, but, when bravery is the distinction, she is close to indomitable.

Barry Hills's filly ran herself to minor self-destruction in winning the Coronation Stakes here on the Knavesmire yesterday, a journey home to Lambourn in the horse ambulance the reward for her valour.

Maids Causeway will be back after recuperation though and a select list of autumn targets including the Champion Stakes and the Breeders' Cup will be enhanced by her presence.

There is an optical illusion about Maids Causeway which punters have to get over. She is regular paddock embarrassment, getting herself into a sauna sweat as the realisation that combat operations are about to begin hits her. So it was yesterday as the 9-2 shot almost changed colour in the preliminaries.

There was nothing odd about her attitude, however, once the stalls opened. Michael Hills, the trainer's son, soon had his partner at the forefront, crashing away on the inside. It was pugilism on the hoof. Several came to have a nip, but, inside the final two furlongs, the Group One race refined into a match between Maids Causeway and another gallant contender in Karen's Caper.

It was the misfortune of the latter that she managed to poke her face in front, for that ignited the competitive instinct within her rival. Maids Causeway tore a shoe off as the line approached, but ran through the resultant pain to register a short-head victory. Hills swiftly dismounted and Maids Causeway was walked to her lodgings.

The jockey had stopped riding for a stride when a message of distress came from the vehicle beneath him. "I felt something go just before the line," Hills said. "She half faltered. I stopped riding for a split second then I shook her again. We looked like losing it, but, when I asked my filly for one last effort, she came straight up for me.

"She's great. She gets her head down and just wants to win. She just keeps digging in for you. Once she gets upsides with another horse in her sight she does everything to keep her head in front. She's unreal."

The disappointment of the race was the favourite, Damson, the champion juvenile filly in Ireland last season. The little horse was sixth, a second consecutive disappointment, and it may be she did all her running last year.

Barry Hills, though, has a future to look forward to, though he understands he will have to husband a filly who would run through concrete if necessary.

"If you're going to have her in the autumn you can't have her all the time," he said. "All these horses that put up big performances have got to have time to recover. They can't keep pushing it. That's impossible."

In the time between photograph and official announcement Hills was quietly confident, though experience taught him not to be any louder than that. "I thought we'd won but then it's a funny angle here," the 68-year-old trainer said. "I remember Manny Mercer riding a filly called Pitter Patter in about 1952 and he came back in and told [trainer] George Colling that he'd won a neck and he ended up getting beaten threequarters of a length.

"She deserved to get a Group One. She's very, very tough and gives it all. She's pricked her foot and there's some blood, so we'll put a poultice on it and take her back in the horse ambulance. She'll recover. I'm looking forward to running her at a mile and a quarter."

Proprietor pressure means that Maids Causeway may ultimately end up in the United States as her owner, Martin Schwartz, is a native of New York, where Belmont Park hosts the Breeders' Cup series in October. "I've had a lot of thrills in my life, but, other than seeing my children born, this is the top of the mountain," the futures trader, now based in Florida, said. "I don't know what to do to top this.

"Usually I'm a great optimist, but all I felt today was mellow. I've been in the US marines and through top colleges but I've never experienced anything like this. It's beyond belief."