Racing: Oxx believes Alamshar has punch for Champion fight

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The Independent Online

"Do not underestimate the determination of a quiet man," Iain Duncan Smith told us at Bournemouth this summer, perceptively in theory if not in application. He should have appended his philosophy to a racing man.

Aidan O'Brien could be a qualifier were it not for the fact that he unconsciously gets swept along in the cab of the Coolmore juggernaut. More pertinent still is another Irish trainer who will be contesting a sumptuous Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown tomorrow.

John Oxx looks about as dangerous as a basketful of puppies, but is way behind when it comes to the yapping. It is not the sort of tortured phrase this thoughtful man would ever use, but he genuinely lets his horses do the talking.

In the early years of this millennium they have been coming out of Currabeg, in Co Kildare, with megaphones. Oxx was responsible for the outstanding horse of 2000 in the Derby and Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winner Sinndar. Now, three seasons later, the trainer is on the verge of doing it all over again.

Alamshar did not do himself justice in the Derby. However, his third place at Epsom was a prelude to victory in the Irish equivalent and then, most persuasively, a near massacre of a high-quality field in the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot.

Just six horses oppose Alamshar tomorrow, but they include the marquee names of Falbrav, High Chaparral, Islington and Moon Ballad. If anyone had suggested the last-named would be 12-1 for a race ever again after his bold success in the Dubai World Cup earlier this season they would have been buried up to their necks in sand and left out as vulture bait. That is a measure of tomorrow's significance.

Alamshar has already proved his mastery at a mile and a half. Now he must exhibit similar qualities to a boxer going up a weight and fight outside his own division. The little colt is, however, coming down, to 10 furlongs.

"It's a different day, a different race and a different distance, so you can't be absolutely sure that it will suit him just as well," Oxx said yesterday. "But there's a lot to be gained by doing well in the race.

"It's a tough contest with plenty of good horses there. You've got a horse like Falbrav [the Eclipse and International Stakes winner], with top form at a mile and a quarter and he'll be difficult to beat with the conditions likely to be pretty fast. But it wouldn't be worth winning if it was a soft touch.

"It's been a great race in recent years and this looks like being another. I just hope there isn't a false pace and a scrappy race. That will be important."

In this respect, Oxx appears as if he will be rescued by O'Brien. Last year's Derby winner, Ballydoyle's High Chaparral, is even more reliant on a generous gallop, and France, who did the stable duties for Hold That Tiger in the St James's Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot, looks to have been lined up again.

Oxx is quietly, quite naturally, confident that Alamshar can build on his Ascot success and towards an assault on the Breeders' Cup, particularly as the health of horse and jockey have come together. There has been no repetition of the colt's previous back twinges, while Johnny Murtagh, his regular rider, has just returned refreshed from a sabbatical prompted by weight problems.

"Everything has gone smoothly and according to plan with the horse," Oxx added. "We've had a better run with him, less drama, than we've had in the past, even though he was in pretty good shape up to the King George. Things might be resolving themselves in that department.

"Johnny's in good shape too. Very fit and well. Even though the replacement [the Paris-based Belgian, Christophe Soumillon] is a top jockey, Johnny knows the horse and he knows the track and it's not ideal to be changing jockeys before a big race. It's good that our first choice is available."


Nap: Over The Rainbow

(Kempton 2.40)

NB: Hambleden

(Kempton 3.15)