Racing: Choisir lays bare flaws in British sprint contingent

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The Independent Online

There has been developed, in places in the British psyche, a way of dealing with Australian success. It was manifested in a glorious photograph in The Independent last winter as the Aussie cricket team celebrated yet another Test victory. Unfurled in the background was a banner sheet with just a single word: "convicts".

This is just part of a stereotype, which leads to the haughty conclusion that it is not in the Antipodean nature to over-complicate: Sheilas, lager, cork-stringed hats, bedtime, not necessarily in that order.

When you are getting slaughtered, this view lends a sense of cerebral superiority.

What the attitude does dismiss is that simple is wrong, which, as we learned at Ascot this week, is fallacious itself. Paul Perry brought over the speed machine Choisir from Newcastle, near Sydney, to rewrite history, winning twice at the Royal meeting. It was, as the pigeon-holers might suggest, a snatch committed after the journey rather than being the cause for it.

As the huge chestnut form of Choisir, dressed daintily in a white bridle, crashed up the Ascot straight not once but twice - in the King's Stand Stakes and then the Golden Jubilee Stakes - he highlighted a great weakness in British runners, especially sprinters, when it comes to international competition. They are not trained to evacuate the gate quickly enough. It is a fact laid bare at the Breeders' Cup every year.

Choisir made all twice, and it could be that he will still be around to claim another belt in the July Cup at Newmarket. Perry was satisfied with his horse's condition yesterday. "He's pulled up fine," he said. "He's really well this morning."

Choisir became the first horse since Diadem in 1920 to complete the double at the Royal meeting and Johnny Murtagh, who rode the colt to both victories, told Perry "he could win everything" if he left the horse in Europe.

Perry has entered the son of Danehill Dancer for the July Cup, but he will let the horse recover before considering his options. "It's a bit early yet to be thinking about that. He's in the July Cup and that's probably the only race for him really," he added. "I'd just give it a week now and see how he goes."

One product of Choisir's achievements was that Australia attained more victories at the meeting than Ballydoyle and Godolphin lumped together. That was a hair away from an impossibility at the start of the week. Without Dubai Destination, Godolphin would have been nothing and it seems Aidan O'Brien also needs a superstar to awake his yard from its torpor. Come in High Chaparral.

Choisir apart, it was not difficult to identify the main winner. Mark Johnston was the leading trainer for the second consecutive year with five winners. Johnston's greatest achievement was to make it look as if his horses had some sort of natural edge, the defining quality being an ability to run from near the front and then bulge out their chests when the opposition arrived.

If Johnston does have a system it is beautifully simple. He tends to buy big, powerful horses, feed them well and train them hard. The beam of torchlight under the sheets is tolerated at Kingsley House, where the inmates are fed overnight on a high-protein diet.

Room service around the clock is the only luxury. Johnston was the first trainer to take two-year-olds up on to the bleakness of Middleham's High Moor, the Guantanamo Bay for racehorses. They exercise in the spartan environs without bandages. If anything returns from the wolves up there in the blast they usually make it as a racehorse.

There is no hypocrisy in the workplace from Johnston, who flogs himself and those around him as much as the horses. He knows that the only person who did well in racing with short cuts was Teasy Weasy Raymond.

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