Racing: Dano-Mast flies flag for Denmark in Champion

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The Independent Online

If you think that game about naming 12 famous Belgians is difficult, try it with Danes. Kierkegaard, Hans Christian Andersen, Thomas Bjorn, Schmeichel, Molby, two Laudrups, yachtsman Paul Elvstrom, composer Carl Nielsen, Sydney Opera House designer Jorn Utzon, the bloke who invented Lego and... er, that's it.

The identity of Denmark's most famous horse, though, is rather easier as there has been only one. And Dano-Mast, for it is he, will break new ground next week as the first trained in his country to run in a top-level race here. He will arrive in Newmarket on Tuesday with the Champion Stakes four days later his target.

It has to be said that in Denmark, racing does not have the high profile of, say, pastries or mermaids. There are only 300 thoroughbreds in training and only one track, at Copenhagen, exclusively devoted to their needs.

But Dano-Mast's exploits have caught the imagination. "Everyone, not just racing people, knows him now," said trainer Flemming Poulsen, "and he is something of a national hero."

Dano-Mast, a seven-year-old son of Unfuwain, has already flown the red-and-white (the Danish flag is actually Europe's oldest) quite successfully round the world. After mopping up at home in his younger days, he ran a creditable fourth as a four-year-old in the Europa-Preis at Cologne, behind Golden Snake, Yavana's Pace and Catella.

The following season he paid his first visit to France and won the Prix Jean de Chaudenay, and back there last year took another Group Two contest, the Prix Dollar at Longchamp on Arc weekend. "It was when we went to Germany for the first time for that Group One that we realised we had a horse who could step up to better," said Poulsen. "Most owners in Denmark are content to stay at home but luckily Dano-Mast's are outward-looking." The globetrotting spirit of Erik Olsen and Kim Elsas has earned them, so far, more than £300,000 and taken them to Hong Kong and Dubai in addition to their European travels.

Half of the haul came when Dano-Mast was beaten just half a length into third in the Hong Kong Cup last December. After an unplaced run behind Sulamani in the Sheema Classic at Nad Al Sheba in March, a slight tendon injury kept our hero off the track until August, when he trotted up in Denmark's only Group race, the Scandinavian Open Championship.

His only outing since then, a third to Mamool and Black Sam Bellamy in last month's Grosser Preis von Baden, stacks up well. "He was entered for the Arc," said Poulsen, "but that looked a particularly strong race, so we have opted for the Champion Stakes instead. That will be tough as well, but the stiff 10 furlongs will suit him very well. He is best with ground with some give and we will be looking for one of the best English jockeys to ride him." Tough may be an understatement; Dano-Mast's possible rivals include Russian Rhythm, Alamshar, Indian Haven, Vespone and Soviet Song.

The venture is a return to Newmarket for both horse and trainer. Dano-Mast was a 12,000-guineas purchase at the October Sales as a yearling (perhaps appropriately bred and sold by the local racecourse chairman, Peter Player) and 46-year-old Poulsen, who has 15 horses and is currently second in the Danish table, spent some time learning his trade with Luca Cumani. "No-one in my family is involved with horses," he said, "but when I was a little boy I saw a thoroughbred race on TV and thought I would like to be a jockey. I was an apprentice, and rode a few winners, but unfortunately I grew into my big hands and feet and that was the end of that."

Dano-Mast (whose name is utterly prosaic; he is sponsored by a Danish company that makes fibreglass flagpoles) will lodge with Rae Guest while in Newmarket, and will be accompanied by stayer Porsa System, an intended runner in the Jockey Club Cup. In his own jockey days, Guest won a Danish St Leger for Poulsen on a horse called Succeed.

RICHARD EDMONDSON

Nap: End Of An Error

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