Racing: Collier Hill claims the Vase to give farmer a field day
Monday 11 December 2006
If there was to be a subtitle to the Hong Kong Vase here at Sha Tin yesterday it would have to be the Lady and the Tramp.
Ouija Board, the classy dame in question, did not even get to run in the Group One contest after a recurrence of shin problems on Saturday and so failed to apply a satisfactory conclusion to her near-perfectly choreographed career. However, there was an improbably celluloid result to a race collected by the proletariat Collier Hill, who, at the age of eight, has swept up racing's food chain from former bumper and hurdles horse to globetrotting Group One winner.
The eight-year-old still carried the title of Dr Freeze when he first came to the attention of the Cumbria farmer Russell Hall. The owner decided he preferred the name of a field he leased to a tenant farmer, Collier Hill.
After a change of identity there seemed to be also a change in ability. Alan Swinbank, the North Yorkshire trainer, resuscitated Collier Hill so successfully that the gelding started running in prestigious foreign races.
The Irish St Leger last year was followed by the Canadian International in October. Collier Hill had been dehydrated for much of the week, but then so had a few others who had travelled to Hong Kong for the former colony's most prestigious day's racing.
In the first part of the 2,400-metre race, Collier Hill's chances looked forlorn. Yet, when others started to tire, Dean McKeown's mount came on strong. "When he saw daylight, he surged forward," the jockey reported. "The one thing this horse does is respond off the bridle. The more you ask him, the more he finds."
Ultimately McKeown found there was only a short-head in hand of the fast-finishing Kastoria for John Oxx, Michael Kinane and Ireland, but that was just detail. A further portion of the £2.2m Collier Hill has earned in prize money will now return to Hall's 300-acre sheep farm east of Carlisle. Perhaps the jolly farmer can use it to repair the wall which runs through his property and has received little restoration since it was built by a constructor named Hadrian.
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