Racing: Desert on song for Channon

Trainer's dream of a first Classic win comes closer to reality as his 1,000 Guineas shot looks hot
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The Independent Online

Coming up to two years after one of the biggest disappointments of his second career, Mick Channon is poised for consolation, with the chance of a second bite of the luscious cherry of a first Classic win. With a decisive success in the Dubai Duty Free Stakes yesterday, his charge Majestic Desert put herself right in line for the 1,000 Guineas two weeks today.

"She could just be the one," said the former footballer, who now trains 230 horses, the largest string in the country. "She's got the class. Now all she needs is luck in running on the big day." And luck beforehand, too. Yesterday was an action replay for Channon in this trial; two years ago he stood in the same winners' circle with Queen's Logic, the champion juvenile from the previous season, only for the filly to succumb to injury shortly before her date with destiny at Newmarket.

The master of West Ilsley is now relishing the opportunity to put the record straight and Majestic Desert, like Queen's Logic owned by Jaber Abdullah, did nothing to disabuse him of that notion, picking off her rivals with a fine burst of acceleration under Kieren Fallon inside the final furlong.

"The great thing about her is her attitude," said Channon. "All during the winter she's been a trainer's dream. Every time we've worked her this spring, we've thought, 'It can't be right, it's too perfect'. But she's showed us today that it was [right]." Fallon is committed to riding Guineas favourite Red Bloom on the Rowley Mile, but that does not concern Channon. "Ours is an easy, uncomplicated ride," he said. "You could put a chimpanzee on her and she'd do it."

Bookmakers diverged in opinion over Majestic Desert: she has been cut to 11-2 with Hills; Ladbrokes meanwhile leave her unchanged at 10-1.

But Channon made no apologies for his enthusiasm. "This is all straight from the heart," he said, "and you can kick my ass later if you want. But this filly is to die for."

The seven-furlong race, in its more familiar guise as the Fred Darling Stakes, has an excellent recent record as a Classic signpost, having spotlighted four filly Guineas winners in the eight previous runnings: Bosra Sham and Wince, who both won here, and Sleepytime and Lahan, who were fourth. The colts' trial, the Greenham Stakes, is much less reliable as an eliminator; the last 2,000 winner to appear in it was Rodrigo de Triano 12 years ago, and the last colt to win both contests was Wollow back in 1976.

But however he fares in the season's opening Classic, yesterday's Greenham victor, Salford City, at least galloped up the betting lists, as short as 5-1 second favourite with Ladbrokes. The market leader One Cool Cat will not appear until the big day, and though the other Irish crack, Grey Swallow, is entered at Leopardstown today, he will not run if the ground is too soft.

Salford City, trained by David Elsworth, belied his inexperience by demolishing his opposition in dramatic style under a confident ride from Johnny Murtagh. Winner of his sole outing as a juvenile, the tall, gangly bay came from last to first, carving his way past rivals to cut down race-fit Fokine by an expanding length and three-quarters. Owner Michael Tabor, better known for his association with the Ballydoyle operation, head-hunted the colt during the close season.

Elsworth is another who is counting the days until Newmarket. "I was absolutely delighted with that," he said, "particularly the way he went through the gaps, like a proper racehorse. He will have learned a great deal from it and it will have done him the world of good physically."

As well as the Guineas, the Derby may be on Salford City's schedule. The Epsom favourite, Yeats, starts his campaign today at Leopardstown, in the Ballysax Stakes that his trainer, Aidan O'Brien, used as a launch pad for his two previous blue riband winners, Galileo and High Chaparral.

One of the final flickers of the jump season, the Scottish Grand National at Ayr, went to front-running course specialist Grey Abbey, giving his rider, Graham Lee - successful at Aintree on Amberleigh House - a famous double. The gallant top-weight was left clear at the last after Granit d'Estruval, winner of the Irish National, came down.