Racing: Electrocutionist pursues Italian revival

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For a nation that produced one of the greatest horses to grace a racecourse and one of the most influential sires in the thoroughbred's history, and notwithstanding that two of Britain's best operators hold its passports, the profile of Italy on the international scene is more buffo than bravo.

It is 49 years since Ribot retired, undefeated in 16 races; 66 since the entry to stud of Nearco, another unbeaten champion who proved a superlative progenitor with profound influence on both sides of the Atlantic; and 51 since the death of the genius who bred, owned and trained both, Federico Tesio.

Since then, the Italian bloodstock industry has disappeared almost without trace and its racing scene is regarded as Europe's poor relation.

Those from it who have made a mark have had to escape to do so: Luca Cumani and Frankie Dettori; Falbrav and Rakti. When Falbrav won the 2002 Japan Cup he became only the fifth Italian-trained horse to win at the top level away from home since Ribot annexed his second Arc in 1956.

In Britain, élite pickings have been particularly slim. After Ribot, who preceded his Parisian triumph with victory in the King George, have come only Marguerite Vernaut, who won the 1960 Champion Stakes; and Super Tassa, heroine of the Yorkshire Oaks four years ago. Between times the only other Italian victor here was Brook, who won the Hungerford Stakes in 1973 and was awarded the Queen Anne Stakes a year later after the first three home were disqualified.

On Tuesday, Super Tassa's trainer Valfredo Valiani will return to the Knavesmire in search of a double when he saddles his country's latest star, Electrocutionist, in the International. But then, Italian jobs should not be out of place at York; after all, they built the place some 2,000 years ago and named it Eboracum.

Super Tassa started the 25-1 outsider of nine; Electrocutionist, winner of five of his six races, could start favourite for the 34th running of the most valuable of the meeting's three Group 1 contests.

The Red Ransom four-year-old notched his most recent success in the 12-furlong Gran Premio di Milano in June. The drop back to an extended 10 furlongs at a galloping track like York is not considered a problem and, if the forecast is to be believed, he should have his favoured faster ground.

Electrocutionist has been sparking on the gallops since his arrival 11 days ago in Newmarket, where he has been lodging with Cumani. The burst of speed the colt demonstrated in his final serious workout under big-race jockey Mick Kinane was of a high order and left Valiani, who served time in headquarters with his countryman as an assistant 20 years ago, delighted.

Next week's venture is the culmination of a long-term plan. "I've been thinking about this race since the end of last year," said the Pisa-based trainer yesterday. "The course will be perfect for him. Before Super Tassa, I'd been waiting a long time to have a runner in England and I'm very pleased to be back with such a horse.

"He is actually a rather quiet individual, and settled in his new surroundings very well," added Valiani. "We decided to give him just the two runs in Italy this year [an easy minor win in Rome preceded his San Siro effort] to save him for next week."

Electrocutionist was one of just seven left in the York feature after yesterday's penultimate entry stage but with Japanese star Zenno Rob Roy, winner of last year's Japan Cup, also in the field, the contest at least lives up to its name. The remaining possibles in a non-vintage renewal are Doyen, Ace, Norse Dancer, Maraahel and New Morning.

At Salisbury yesterday Layman, having his first outing since his neck third-place to Oratorio in last year's Grand Criterium on Arc day, got his career back on track with an easy victory in the Sovereign Stakes and continued Godolphin's good run of form. The colt beat Jack Sullivan two lengths in the Group 3 to earn himself a move up a grade in the Celebration Mile at Goodwood at the end of the month.

But there was less joy for Richard Quinn, who was cautioned by the track's stewards and stood down from his five booked rides, after failing a breath test before racing. The Jockey Club threshold is 17 micrograms of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath, half the drink-driving limit of 34 micrograms and Quinn's results were described as "borderline". The jockey, one of 32 to be tested yesterday, was the fifth rider to be banned since random testing was introduced in 2003. Quinn missed a winner on Permanex Pride.