Whoever said training racehorses was a young man's game did not wait around long enough for Eric Alston's response. The 62-year-old crowned the most amazing fortnight of his training career with a second top-level success from Reverence in the Betfred Sprint Cup at Haydock after 25 years of toil on racing's factory floor. And to rub in the point to the tiros queueing up to take a place at training's top table, 72-year-old Clive Brittain took another of the day's big prizes, the Group Three September Stakes at Kempton with Kandidate.
To make Alston's win even sweeter, victory in the £300,000 event came on his doorstep as he trains a small string in the unlikely location of Longton, near Preston, just 20 miles up the M6. The next destination for his stable star, owned and bred by Haydock director Gary Middlebrook, will require a rather longer trip, though, as the Prix de l'Abbaye at Longchamp on Arc day is the gelding's next target.
Alston was not about to let the new-found spotlight blind him into revealing how he had transformed the five-year-old into a Group One performer. "He's just good," was his blunt response to questioners.
Following torrential rain that required huge pools of water on the track to be soaked up with sand, the ground was extremely testing for the six-furlong event that was sure to test Reverence's ability to last the trip. Happily, for connections of the 11-4 favourite the race panned out perfectly as Kevin Darley had him smartly into his stride as Red Clubs took the field along. Hitting the front a furlong out he was kept up to his work to hold off the fast-finishing Quito by a neck, with Amadeus Wolf keeping on well for third.
"The Nunthorpe was fantastic, but this is even better," said Alston. "I felt I was going to die when Quito came. The last 100 yards were the worst and when I saw Quito I knew he was a big danger as he stays. We thought after his first race this year that Reverence would stay six, but he never proved it until today."
Darley said: "The other jockeys were all debating where they were going to go, but cantering down on this side it was fresh ground so I thought I might as well use it. When I saw that furlong pole I thought 'please God last home for me, and he did'."
Quito, having the 106th race of his career, could be out again quickly as he is entered in a Listed race back at Haydock on Thursday and the £100,000 Park Stakes at York on Saturday. Amadeus Wolf, meanwhile, may renew rivalry at Longchamp with the winner who follows Habibti (1983), Ajdal (1987) and Dayjur (1990) as the fourth horse to land the Nunthorpe Stakes-Haydock Sprint Cup double.
At Kempton, the Walter Swinburn-trained Stotsfold broke Kandidate's 10 furlong track record in the opener before Brittain's four-year-old struck back and proved he stays 12 furlongs with an emphatic win in the September Stakes. "I was confident he'd get the distance," Brittain said. "He is in the Cambridgeshire but now he has won a Group Three he'll have plenty of weight, but if his owner wants to run we'll have to look at it."
The first Group race for juveniles run on an all-weather surface, the Sirenia Stakes, went to Brian Meehan's filly Dhanyata, who is now a consideration for Newmarket's Rockfel or Cheveley Park Stakes.
Today's top-level races are at Longchamp, where Godolphin's Librettist will attempt to extend his winning sequence to five in the Prix du Moulin, and Baden-Baden, where David Elsworth's Norse Dancer has yet another, probably futile, attempt to win a Group One in the Grosser Preis.
Next Saturday's prime attraction looks increasingly to be the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown in which Hurricane Run may now tackle Ouija Board and Dylan Thomas. In contrast, the St Leger continues to lose lustre as Youmzain, the second favourite, will bypass the race and heads for the following day's Prix Niel at Longchamp.
BETS OF THE DAY
Diysem (Lingfield 3.10) was heavily backed to make a winning debut in a decent maiden race at Newmarket and is from a stable in form.
Blue Madeira (Lingfield 2.10) can put one below-par run behind him and turn the tables on last week's conqueror Heywood.