Racing: Fen Tiger Speciosa will be a fierce foe for Classic field

Trainer Pam Sly tells Chris McGrath why her bargain buy filly could surprise in Sunday's 1000 Guineas if her aggression can be channelled
Click to follow
The Independent Online

When she won the Nell Gwyn Stakes last month, her trainer described Speciosa as "a monster from the Fens". It was as though the beast had risen, dripping with mud, out of the dykes and flatlands beyond to devour the sleek, pampered thoroughbreds of Newmarket.

But Pam Sly was not referring merely to the unexpected origins of her challenger in the Stan James 1000 Guineas, back at the same course on Sunday. True, it did seem a freakish aberration - that Speciosa could emerge from such a backwater, that a stable housing just a dozen Flat horses could legitimately take on Ballydoyle and Godolphin in a Classic. What makes her a real monster, however, is that she is utterly ungovernable.

Speciosa menaces her rivals not so much with ability, admirable though it is, as with havoc. In the Nell Gwyn, she had a clear lead when abruptly veering left, hanging all the way across to the stands' rail. If she repeats this hare-brained manoeuvre on Sunday, when she must go an extra furlong against better fillies, she could cause mayhem. Sly is not alone in praying that Speciosa be drawn in stall one when declarations are made today.

"It is a concern," she admitted. "I would think the other jockeys are concerned, at any rate. But there's nothing we can do. I run her in a ring bit, to help the steering, but if we tried her in a pricker or blinkers it would send her potty. She won't hang at all, cantering at home. She'll lean on them, yes - I think she's probably just a bit aggressive. As soon as she gets upsides the ears go back. Intimidation, I suppose. Strange creatures. But it's female, isn't it?" She was seated at her kitchen table, in a farmhouse on the plain near Peterborough. Her ancestors were already farming round here in the early 1700s. There were always horses around in childhood - the family once had a mare win the first and last races at Fakenham - and she was hunting at six, training point-to-pointers at 24. At 62, she does not deceive herself that Speciosa is suddenly going to open new horizons.

She bought the Danehill Dancer filly at the Doncaster Breeze-Ups. Her budget was 30,000 guineas and she made her last bid against Mark Johnston. Fortunately, he had set himself the same limit and walked away. Sly kept a share for herself and sold others to her son, Michael, and a London doctor, Tom Davies. After Speciosa won the Rockfel Stakes last autumn, an American agent offered £1.1m (£598,00) for the filly. Sly urged her partners to take the money, but they told her dreams were priceless.

An indefensible folly, of course - until she came out and won the Nell Gwyn. Her dam is a half-sister to Pride, the top-class French mare, and she could hardly cost less now, despite her weakness for melodrama.

On Tuesday, Speciosa brought her final gallop to a brusque halt when spotting some Channel 4 cameras after just three furlongs. The next morning she had a close encounter with a concrete post when shying from a photographer. "Not used to all this," Sly grumbled pleasantly. "I'm only a country person. Actually I don't get too wound up as a rule. And it's great, the number of people who have come up and said well done.

"Apparently all the jump jockeys in the weighing room at Chepstow stood up and cheered watching the Nell Gwyn. Marcus Tregoning wrote to me, which was very nice of him. But then his horse, Sir Percy, was very cheap, too - so there's another family having lots of fun."

Remarkably, given her antics, Speciosa is reckoned to have matured since last season, when described by her trainer variously as "a llama" and "a witch" and given a magnesium supplement recommended by her vet as "the type used in mental institutions to calm patients".

It took Speciosa four starts even to win a maiden, but she was simply a slow learner. "She was difficult last year, she'd bite and kick," Sly said. "It just took a while for her to work it all out. She was quite tall, too, so she only made gradual improvement. But I always had a feeling she had a kind of prowess."

After all, Sly is familiar with the way a young filly can develop. She bought Lyric Fantasy as a foal for just 3,300 guineas, and sold her on as a yearling for 12,500. "That was nice money then," she said. "She was another little monkey, mind. It would be fantastic to be in the first four on Sunday. Only three other British women have even trained a Group winner: Amanda Perrett, Gay Kelleway and Lady Herries. So whatever happens, it has been great."

Chris McGrath

Nap: Diamond Dan

(Wolverhampton 2.30)

NB: El Viejo

(Fontwell 7.10)