Racing: Roe ready to tough it out in Knavesmire slog

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The Independent Online

When Royal Ascot began, a brand was something you burned into the hide of your cattle. No modern corporation, however, has more precious commercial resonance. Last weekend Motivator, owned by the Royal Ascot Racing Club, smashed the Derby field apart like a demolition ball; and some day the royal meeting's transfer to York, next week, will be treated as no more than period detail. Ascot racecourse itself may be a building site but Royal Ascot is not made of bricks and mortar - nor even, it sometimes seems, of turf.

When Royal Ascot began, a brand was something you burned into the hide of your cattle. No modern corporation, however, has more precious commercial resonance. Last weekend Motivator, owned by the Royal Ascot Racing Club, smashed the Derby field apart like a demolition ball; and some day the royal meeting's transfer to York, next week, will be treated as no more than period detail. Ascot racecourse itself may be a building site but Royal Ascot is not made of bricks and mortar - nor even, it sometimes seems, of turf.

Racing is scheduled to return to Ascot on 27 May next year, just in time, but its chief executive was yesterday prudent enough to hedge his bets. "We have never been under any illusion with regards to the challenge we face to deliver the vast, complex project in just 20 months," Douglas Erskine-Crum said. "As expected, given that now we are some eight months into the redevelopment, some aspects are slightly ahead and some are slightly behind - but only by a matter of weeks, and we are optimistic they are recoverable."

Few who know the Knavesmire would have any objection to coming back next year, and perhaps in the process the meeting might absorb some wholesome and lasting changes in tone. If Royal Ascot is an institution, some people treasure it for such awful reasons that they would be better off inside one. You could hear a hatpin drop during the climax of some championship races at Ascot. Perhaps the trek north will exhaust the resolve of those metropolitans whose interest in horsepower is confined to Car Park No 1.

Whatever York can achieve for Ascot, for now the emphasis is the other way round. The Knavesmire has acquired a loop - tested to general satisfaction at the Dante meeting - so that it can accommodate the Gold Cup and that cherished old curiosity, the Queen Alexandra Stakes. Certainly the Gold Cup, on Thursday, should help everyone feel at home, with Papineau and Westerner renewing hostilities from last year. Whereas Westerner has looked better than ever in France this spring, Papineau disappeared with an ankle problem after beating him at Ascot and did not put up much of a trial, admittedly in softer ground than seems likely next week, when resurfacing last month.

The novelty of a left-handed track is apparently the chief concern in the French camp, meanwhile, so perhaps the horse with least to prove is Vinnie Roe. It is hard to believe that he has run in the race only once before, such have been his perennial contributions to the revival of the staying thoroughbred in recent seasons - notably in winning four consecutive runnings of the Irish St Leger. Now seven, he embarked on what Dermot Weld is treating as his final campaign with an impeccable performance at Leopardstown last month.

"I've been delighted with him since," the trainer said. "He was a little immature when he ran in the Gold Cup as a four-year-old, though he still ran a superb race to go down by just a neck, Johnny Murtagh giving the winner [Royal Rebel] a brilliant ride. He reached his peak the following season, but that's two years ago now.

"Fortunately he has this great constitution. He loves being a racehorse. I have trained a lot of horses and he is just different as an individual, a wonderful character, a joy to train. He is very strong mentally. He has had a tough, busy career - he's been winning stakes races since he was a two-year-old, he's been to Australia twice, he has done a lot of miles. I'm very fortunate to have two such model professionals in the yard as Vinnie Roe and Grey Swallow."

Hyperion'S Selections For Today'S Other Meeting:

WOLVERHAMPTON: 2.30 Sweetest Revenge 3.00 Locombe Hill 3.30 Charlton 4.00 Shush 4.30 Lockstock 5.00 Fullandby 5.30 Mansiya

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