Racing: Sir Percy gives valuable lesson to big spenders

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The Independent Online

Marcus Tregoning trains the colt for a retired solicitor named Anthony Pakenham and his wife, Victoria. "I daresay if I owned the horse myself I would end up worrying about school fees and cashing him in," Tregoning admitted yesterday. "But they are very keen to keep him. They know they could never expect to have the chance of anything like this happening again, and they want to go the whole hog, which is wonderful. They could just as easily have ended up with a selling plater as a Dewhurst winner. Without wanting to sound too pompous, this is the kind of thing that gives everyone a bit of hope."

At Newmarket, Sir Percy did not face a single rival from the fantastically expensive cavalry assembled by Godolphin. Instead, the odds-on favourite was Horatio Nelson, representing the sheikhs' great adversaries at Coolmore - a situation that neatly condensed their relative contribution to the élite juvenile races all season, Godolphin having been conspicuously irrelevant.

The transparent panic in Kieren Fallon as he sought a passage for Horatio Nelson encouraged many to consider him unlucky to go down by a neck. In fairness, while it was Martin Dwyer on Sir Percy who first condemned him to the rail and then seized the opportunity to cut outside, they entered the final 300 yards together and it was superior acceleration here that settled matters.

Horatio Nelson had previously been ridden more positively and such tactics demonstrably play to his strengths, though whether he should be as short as 4-1 for the Derby is another matter as he is by no means certain to stay a mile and a half. He can, meanwhile, be backed at 7-1 for the 2,000 Guineas, though another Danehill colt, George Washington, remains in highest esteem at Ballydoyle, and no better than 7-2 favourite.

Sir Percy himself was treated rather insolently by William Hill, who offered 16-1 for the 2,000 after the race, though he was down to 11-1 by yesterday lunchtime. Certainly Tregoning will not rush him to get to the Guineas, but the colt clearly goes well fresh - he was kept pristine for the Dewhurst after winning the Vintage Stakes at Goodwood in midsummer - and his trainer acknowledged that he could readily sit out the trials next spring.

"He did his first bit of work since Goodwood only a couple of weeks ago and I have to say it was quite amazing," Tregoning said. "I didn't mean it to be quite so strong, but the way he picked up was stunning. He is so clear in his wind, it was obvious he hadn't lost any fitness at all. We'll play it by ear in the spring, just in case he starts to grow, though he is a good shape already and I would doubt whether he will get any taller. He might just fill out, grow a bit stronger."

The decision not to race him after Goodwood hinted at caution over the colt's mental outlook. Horses of fragile temperament are often best fresh, though a trainer must tread a fine line as they are also most disposed to boil over when returning from a break. "He's a challenge in some ways," Tregoning conceded. "But I think he'll come right if we're careful. He only settles in front of the string at home, and hates the hosepipe after working. He always has to be washed down by hand. But he went straight to his manger last night and ate up the lot, which is most unusual after a hard race."

The colt's dam, Percy's Lass, once refused to race and her high temper doubtless contributed to the lack of interest at the sales. "But he was beautifully made, very correct and a tremendous hind leg," Tregoning recalled. "I couldn't believe there were no bidders." Sheikh Mohammed will not need reminding that he once owned Percy's Lass, but discarded her as a failure, nor that Sir Percy resulted from her union with one of his own stallions, Mark Of Esteem.

In principle, Sir Percy should stay well: his first three dams were all by Classic winners over a mile and a half (Blakeney, Sassafras and Pinza). And last month his full-sister ran third over an even longer trip. Admittedly, that was in a handicap at Redcar, off a mark of 63. Suddenly, however, she is a valuable breeding prospect. Perhaps her owners will soon be receiving an offer they can't refuse.

Richard Edmondson

Nap: River Bravo (Windsor 2.30)

NB: Dream Fantasy

(Pontefract 3.50)