Racing: Munro marches on with Sergeant Cecil victory

Much has happened to Munro between Generous's success in the 1991 Derby and victory for Sergeant Cecil in the Ebor over the Knavesmire yesterday. It is a tale of early brilliance soured by youthful giddiness, a wanderlust to recover past glories and a temporary retirement from racing altogether. But, at 38, Munro was back in his most favoured habitat yesterday, the winners' enclosure on a British racecourse, and it seemed, finally, that he had found his peace.

"It just keeps getting better this year," the jockey said. "It feels great here because this is home. I really fit in best here. I didn't appreciate that while I was away."

Just a few weeks in 1991 established Alan Munro. Then just a few minutes tarnished him. Just before the Blue Riband, he was appointed as retained jockey to Fahd Salman, a posting which yielded instant great glory when Generous bolted home at Epsom. The lustre immediately dimmed however when Munro conducted a surly press conference which was a Titanic of a PR exercise. After that his every word and move was scrutinised. By the mid-1990s the American riding style and the telescopic carriage of the whip - the little revolutions of the time - were on their way. Munro was gone, out east to seek a second fortune.

Hong Kong and Japan were not unkind to him, but there came a time when the very sport which made Munro was also becoming destructive. By 2000 this rider was burned out, his passion for racing extinguished. He barely even saw a horse for the next four years as he turned to a different sort of combat. The Stevenage man immersed himself in the martial arts and became a black belt in karate. This sense of self-preservation was most keenly felt by Richard Quinn when the old adversaries clashed in the Newmarket weighing room recently.

Munro, as Quinn has discovered bruisingly, is back, with appetite, 38 winners, his former skill and a realisation that things could not be going much better. To his considerable joy, Munro has also found that, whether you are riding bicycles or horses, you never lose the essential knack.

"I was very apprehensive and unsure about the whole thing [at the beginning of the season]," he said. "It could have gone either way because I've been away for a long time. Not just from England, but from the sport.

"I had a great career in Hong Kong and the east, but I just needed some time out. That's been beneficial for me and prolonged my career. I'm now looking to ride for another 10 years."

There have been three highlights this season, two of them provided by Sergeant Cecil, also the victor in the Northumberland Plate. Munro would also have won another Derby, on Walk In The Park, if a horse called Motivator had never been invented.

Sergeant Cecil under-went a contorted journey both to and on the course. No British horse travelled farther to get to York than the gelding from Rod Millman's Paddocks yard in the Devon village of Kentisbeare.

Once in competition on the Knavesmire, the six-year-old had to wriggle his way through the steaming pack the Ebor routinely provides. "I never got too far back, but he had to switch a couple of times," Munro reported. "He enjoyed that. And then I got that kick again. I had a smooth trip the whole way."

In the Yorkshire Oaks, Punctilious fulfilled the simple and difficult expectation placed on her, namely to win a Group One at the age of four, at the same time reclaiming still more honour for Godolphin following the Dubai team's summer lull.

"Some of the three-year-olds have not been very good and they were the ones we were running," Simon Crisford, the Godolphin racing manager, said. "That exaggerated the situation. The fact that we went through a quiet two-month spell was a concern, but not a major worry, as we were looking at a much bigger picture."

Kerrin McEvoy must resign himself to losing such as yesterday's riding opportunity. A little Italian was spotted once again on the Newmarket gallops yesterday morning and the name of L Dettori will soon be back as a feature of racecards after injury. "He'll make himself required," Crisford added. "There's no-one better than Frankie. He remains the big daddy."

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