If anyone should know about nurturing a celebrity, Desert Orchid's trainer should. And David Elsworth, 28 years in the business, knows all about might-have-beens as well, for pragmatism is an essential quality in a stable yard. "There are hundreds of horses who would be good enough to be household names but for physical problems," he said, "and I've got one running in the Cesarewitch." Step forward Saint Alebe, second favourite for tomorrow's Newmarket marathon.
Three years ago, as a progressive four-year-old, he won the Ebor Handicap with a remarkable display, passing all 21 of his rivals in the final three furlongs with a burst of speed worthy of a grandson of Soba. But the bodywork did not match the engine and his next outing came 29 days ago.
Leg trouble and, more potentially damaging, a back ailment kept the Bishop Of Cashel gelding in the garage. He suffered from a kissing spine, a condition in which the raised tips of the equine vertebrae rub against each other, usually - ouch - right where the saddle goes. Unsurprisingly, Saint Alebe's athletic development and prowess came to a halt.
"He wasn't moving right," said Elsworth, "but we never really gave up with him. He didn't much enjoy being out in a paddock so he didn't miss as much of the training routine as you might think. Eventually he was worked on by a brilliant woman and came back to us looking a picture." Now step forward Karen Clifton, equine physiotherapist.
Saint Alebe emerged unscathed from his comeback at Yarmouth and 10 days later was noted staying on into fifth place in a two-mile Listed contest at Ascot. The runner-up that day, Frank Sonata, franked the form by beating Scorpion at the Curragh five days ago.
"We were very pleased with those two runs," added Elsworth of the little fairy tale bay, who cost just 8,000 guineas as a yearling and has won his group of owners £140,000. "He is one of those horses who is a natural star. He looked it when he won the Ebor and he may yet look it again."
Saint Alebe is scheduled to have 31 rivals for tomorrow's two-and-a-quarter mile contest, which last year confirmed Sergeant Cecil's upward mobility. The 7-1 favourite Detroit City, winner of the Triumph Hurdle and high on the ante-post Champion Hurdle lists, has already proved his stellar status in another arena.
Eight have been declared for the first of the Group One contests, the Champion Stakes. Three - Notnowcato, Maraahel and Rob Roy - are from Sir Michael Stoute's yard, who yesterday acknowledged the difficulty of the task facing his trio.
"It's a very fierce race," he said. A fair bit of understatement, given that his own charges have picked up a York International one-two, a Hardwicke Stakes and an Eclipse runner-up spot between them, and their rivals include Derby winner Sir Percy, the Arc runner-up and fourth Pride and Hurricane Run, and French Oaks winner Confidential Lady. Sir Percy, running for the first time since Epsom, heads the market.
Match of the day is perceived as the clash between the crack two-year-old colts Teofilo and Holy Roman Emperor in the Dewhurst Stakes, in which there is not only top-level status but the divisional title at stake, and all the commensurate potential stallion promotion of both.
Unbeaten Teofilo, hailed by Jim Bolger as the best he has ever trained, kicked Holy Roman Emperor out of the way when the pair met in the Irish equivalent contest, the National Stakes at the Curragh, but the pride of Ballydoyle has since indicated his progressive appetite for his job with an easy victory in the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere.
But the big two have not frightened off opposition, with 13 others due to oppose. The home defence is perceived as Hamoody, another defending an unblemished record, and Strategic Prince, though that one's trainer, Paul Cole, warned that the colt will take part only if underfoot conditions pass muster. "I've walked the course, and at the moment it is too soft for him," he said. "I know he's a good horse and I don't want him to be judged on soft ground."
Unseasonally warm, drying weather is forecast in Suffolk today.
Nap: Desert Prince
NB: Smart Ass
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