Racing: Quinlans aim high with Frank Sonata

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The Independent Online

The usual suspects are represented among the 19 entries remaining for the 228th St Leger on 11 September: nine from Aidan O'Brien, who has won two runnings of the Doncaster showpiece already; two from Godolphin, with three in the bag; one from John Dunlop, also with a trio; two from Sir Michael Stoute, who has yet to win but has tried 18 times.

And then there is Frank Sonata, who will be a first runner in not just the Leger, but any domestic Classic for the Newmarket-based brothers Mick and Noel Quinlan. The Town Moor venture against the big guns might be seen at tilting at windmills, for, as a 10,000-guinea yearling, the colt was cheaply-bought and, being a son of Opening Verse, is unfashionably-bred. And four of his five races this year have been in handicaps.

None of which puts the plain-speaking Quinlans off. "To be honest, those others, with the sons of Sadler's Wells and the ones out of Group 1 mares, they've got a lot more to fear, more to lose, more pressure," said Noel, younger brother of and assistant to licence-holder Mick. "With a horse like ours we don't hide up. It's the way to go; people like David Elsworth and Richard Hannon, and Clive Brittain have never been afraid of anyone in their life, and started off like that.

"I'm not saying we're as good as them. But if the horse is good enough it doesn't matter where he's from or how he's bred. And we don't give a sugar." (Or something like that). The two Irishmen have a small (as yet) but thriving establishment, with one of the house specialities the finding, improving, and trading back of juveniles. Frank Sonata is one of only four three-year-olds at Athnid Stables and is the only one to have won. But as a yard flagship, the rangy bay could hardly have done more.

He started the season running sixth in a handicap at Newbury and goes to Doncaster with a cosy success in a Listed contest at Haydock under his girth, his third of the year. His progress has been marked and in retrospect his first three-year-old task was a stiff one; the race was the one taken by subsequent dual Group 3 winner African Dream, with Red Lancer second, Gatwick third and Zonus fourth. Later, in a similar contest, he went under to Pukka, on whom he turned the tables last time on more than a stone worse terms, and Maraahel, the St Leger third favourite. The signs of talent had always been there; last season he was highly enough tried for a nine-length Class F auction maiden winner, though his efforts in the Royal Lodge and Zetland Stakes were unsuccessful, and he held the Derby entry until February. He is currently available at 25-1 for the St Leger.

"He was a big, weak horse last year," said Quinlan, "and that weakness caught him out at the backend. And during the winter he didn't seem to be doing that well, so we took him out of the Derby and thought we'd have to come down to handicaps. But oddly, the three-year-old handicaps this year have turned out to be very, very good, though maybe in the spring we didn't realise just how good they were. The way he's coped with his higher and higher mark, he's fully entitled to go for the St Leger."

Frank Sonata, owned by three enthusiastic local businessmen, Bill Flynn, Paul Arnold and Bill Adams, will have a racecourse gallop next week. "He is in super form," said Quinlan, "we couldn't be more pleased with him. He's not hard to train; he's a genuine, honest horse, laid-back and lazy, but not so lazy that he's difficult to motivate." The day-to-day work in Frank Sonata's saddle is done by his lad Andy O'Connor; the winning this term has been the preserve of Ryan Moore, who will retain the ride at Doncaster.

Another of the Quinlans' achievements has been a series of shrewd raids on Italian juvenile prize money. Should Frank Sonata acquit himself well next month, there are plans to go further afield. "After the St Leger, the target will be the Canadian International in October," said Quinlan.