Racing: Starcraft's ascent contrasts with falling attendances

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The Independent Online

The resuscitated Ouija Board had such an easy exercise in the Princess Royal Stakes on the same day that she was yesterday found to have put 1lb on as a result of her exertions.

For others it was a rather more exacting weekend. Lisa Hancock, Newmarket's managing director, may have sweated away a few more avoirdupois as she scrutinised her attendance figures.

Barely 8,000 witnessed Saturday's flagship presentation, an event which usually draws 18,000 at its usual Ascot home. But then that was part of the problem. Snap research showed that very few from the Ascot area bothered to take in the relocated occasion.

Indeed, there was a poor response all round outside Newmarket's core area. The numbers were most inadequate for a clear day which offered Europe's mile championship, the most celebrated filly in training and a Classic trial. Football, another sport which seems to have suffered from comprehensive television coverage, is not the only pursuit under pressure it seems.

Even the trainers stayed away. Neither Marcus Tregoning nor John Gosden, winners of two of the feature races yesterday, were available. They were at the sales.

"I am disappointed because yesterday was not a pleasant day," Hancock said. "I was a bit flat on the way home last night. I really need the rest of the autumn to pan out well for us. It's not buzzing today either. Our Newmarket crowd is not here." Those that did attend (all 5,126 of them), and that did not include his trainer, were able to witness another chapter in the enduring story of Mubtaker, who victoriously completed his 26th start at the age of eight in the Cumberland Lodge Stakes. His numbers are a little more persuasive: only three times out of the first three and nearly £670,000 in prizemoney accumulated. It was Tregoning's fourth win in the last five runnings of the Group Three contest.

Mubtaker, who was always close up, was challenged by another eight-year-old, the hurdler Self Defense, for a stride or two. Then the horse who was second in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe two years ago emphasised the gulf in class. He was a length and three-quarters clear at the line and runs next in the Canadian International or Gran Premio del Jockey Club.

"It's not often you get to ride a horse for six years and his enthusiasm is just incredible," Richard Hills, the winning jockey, said. "Did you see him on the way to the start? He was pulling me to both sides, sort of saying 'come on Richard, let's get on with it. Sort it out'.

"You can tell his temperament by the fact that while he was winning Listed races he was leading Nayef [on the gallops] for a couple of years. That would have killed many horses but he just thrived on it. He's a workaholic."

The Royal Lodge Stakes has produced its luminaries in recent times. Benny The Dip, Mister Baileys and, a little further back, Shirley Heights, have won Classics after taking this Group Two prize. Now it is up to Leo, trained like Benny The Dip by John Gosden, to enhance that tradition.

It was a notable 24 hours for Gosden and jockey Jimmy Fortune, who also combined successfully in Saturday's Classic trial, the Fillies' Mile, with Nannina.

Plenty of 33-1 for next spring's 2,000 Guineas back here is available about Leo, who used the rail for cover as others were getting blown about in the centre of the course.

However, it must be doubtful that Leo will run in Princess Haya's green colours again. She has already given up Proclamation to her husband's Godolphin operation in exchange for the housekeeping, while Sheikh Mohammed remains in his annual period of autumn acquisition.

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