Persian Punch, the remarkable, the resolute, was accorded the rarest of accolades here yesterday. As the giant 10-year-old carried Martin Dwyer further and further clear down the long, daunting Town Moor straight to win the Doncaster Cup at his fourth attempt, the watching press corps burst into spontaneous, delighted applause. That the horse can so affect the group least prone to emotional outbursts to be found on any racecourse is testament indeed to his qualities.
The chestnut has now won 19 of his 60 races, has galloped 180 miles in anger on 13 different tracks in four countries, ridden by 14 different jockeys. He has competed in 14 Group One races, including seven Gold Cups (second twice) and two Melbourne Cups, third on both occasions. He may not be a champion in the purest sense - he has never won a Group One event and has never been definitively top of the pile. But there is much more to this sport than ratings and Persian Punch is surely top of the feelgood leaderboard.
It can be dangerous to anthropomorphise where horses are concerned, but not difficult with this one, who really does seem to have a relish for the game and an attitude that is a powerful argument for the existence of the will to win in the equine mind. Certainly, Dwyer has no doubts on that score. "His enthusiasm for racing is immense," he said. "and he knows when he's lost and loves to play to the gallery when he's won. He is by far my favourite horse. When I ride him it is less a job than going to meet one of your old mates for a pint."
With seven of his victories won by a neck or less, Persian Punch's trademark is a fight to the finish. The seven lengths between him and Dusky Warbler, runner-up in yesterday's two and a quarter-mile Group Two contest, was his greatest-ever margin of superiority as he galloped rather than eyeballed his rivals into submission.
His knockout blow came not close home but on the far side of the track; as he breasted the rise of Rose Hill with his five rivals already trailing, Dwyer asked for a change of gear, the horse changed his leading leg, took a breath and suddenly a lead of two lengths became six.
The Doncaster straight, as the callow three-year-olds in tomorrow's St Leger will find, is not to be trifled with. There was a nail-biting moment when some of the pursuers threatened to stay on, but it was only a moment; Persian Punch ground out that bit more and suddenly his rivals were going up and down on the spot. "On the softer ground the plan was to make it a thorough test of stamina," said Dwyer. "After I kicked on from Rose Hill I didn't hear another horse but when I looked at the big screen coming up the straight and saw how much I had in hand, I was happy."
David Elsworth, his trainer, was more succinct over tactics. "The idea is always to hurt the opposition," he said, "and with a horse like this you can do it."
Persian Punch's next outing will be in France's premier marathon, the Prix du Cadran at Longchamp, followed by the Jockey Club Cup at Newmarket. "We're not even thinking of retiring him while he's in this sort of form," added Elsworth. "I hope I haven't tempted fate by saying something like that, but all being well he'll be back on the go next year."
It is right that Persian Punch's indomitable spirit - his sheer nobility, if you like - has taken him galloping into people's affections. There are few like him and he should be cherished. And Smith loves the fact that others love his horse.
"It's great to share him, and the pleasure he gives" he said. "Not doing so would be like having a party on your own on a desert island, no fun at all."
The warm glow spread by one horse was in contrast to the continuing unedifying spat between jockeys and racing's authorities over the on-course use of mobile phones. The impasse remained after a meeting between the two sides yesterday; the jockeys are now planning to step up protest action by withdrawing their services on Tuesday week, when meetings are scheduled at Newmarket, Beverley and Fontwell. The fate of Sandown's Sunday card will be decided this afternoon, after the 1pm deadline for jockey declarations.
Bargain filly Kinnaird, an 8,000 guineas purchase at the sales here in the spring, put herself into the reckoning for next year's 1,000 Guineas with a workmanlike defeat of some bluer-blooded rivals in yesterday's May Hill Stakes. The 2,000 Guineas will come under scrutiny today, when two of those prominent in the market, Lucky Story and Haafd, meet in the Champagne Stakes.
NB: Privy Seal
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There is not much between probable favourite Far Lane and TUNING FORK on the official ratings and Henry Cecil's colt looks sure to start at a more lucrative price. Unraced at two and sidelined for much of the summer because of the firm ground, conditions here should be ideal for this well-bred sort, who was entered in the Dante and whose dam won the Ebor. Rawyaan, who has worn a visor, will be a big danger if first-time blinkers prove more effective.
Almutasader is developing into a smart stayer and completed a hat-trick on his first attempt over this distance at Sandown in July. Naturally the handicapper has taken due note and has upped John Dunlop's colt another 11lb. That could prove his undoing as he faces another progressive type in SHABERNAK, whom trainer Michael Bell regards as a potential Cup horse next season. He accounted for some experienced handicappers, including Northumberland Plate winner Unleash, at Ascot last month and looks capable of shrugging off an 8lb hike in the handicap.
Providing he can cope with this slower ground, HAAFHD should enhance his prospects for next year's 2,000 Guineas. He broke the 7f course record at Newbury last month with Milk It Mick third and subsequent St Leger Yearling Sales second Psychiatrist fourth. Auditorium, an easy winner twice in minor company, is likely to prove a good deal better than that bare form suggests.Reuse content