Racing: Fears that can upset champions

The subtleties and frailties of the equine mind, and the demands placed on the men who must direct it to positive effect on the racecourse, were thrown into sharp relief at Lingfield yesterday. Percussionist, a feisty son of Sadler's Wells, won the Derby Trial by 10 lengths, but did not look the most straightforward of characters in doing so.

The subtleties and frailties of the equine mind, and the demands placed on the men who must direct it to positive effect on the racecourse, were thrown into sharp relief at Lingfield yesterday. Percussionist, a feisty son of Sadler's Wells, won the Derby Trial by 10 lengths, but did not look the most straightforward of characters in doing so.

He had looked restive before the race, sweating badly, and deviated alarmingly from a straight course as he galloped towards the finishing line. But trainer John Gosden had a ready explanation; the presence of a large camera-carrying vehicle ranging alongside. "It was on the all-weather track, which is higher than the grass course," he said. "Horses are programmed to be flight animals and as far as he is concerned it must have looked like a monster, a predator. Frankie [Dettori] said he was running away from it."

Anxiety, apparently, also caused the flop of 2,000 Guineas favourite One Cool Cat, hitherto pride of Ballydoyle, in last week's Classic. The colt, who is now bound for the Irish 2,000, returned from the Newmarket fray with an abnormal heartbeat and is thought to have lost it mentally, which affected him physically, in the stalls, after he rushed into his berth rather abruptly and banged his head and chest. "He has an unbelievable amount of nervous energy," said Aidan O'Brien yesterday, "and an incident like that upset him. It's just what makes him what he is and you have to try to harness it."

Derby favourite Yeats, though, is no pussycat. The colt has yet to be extended on the track or tested in battle, but O'Brien is convinced the Derby favourite, a runner at Leopardstown today, has the grit for the big-day crucible. "He's tough," he said. "He'd be the alpha male in a herd. I'd hate to have to get the better of him in a mind game.

"But you never really know, even if you think you know a horse. They're like people, they don't always feel the same each day, and the blips we've had lately might just show that."

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