Versatility is a quality much to be prized in both horse and man, and forget that nonsense about Jack. Trainer John Quinn is a master of the trade of getting an equine athlete ready, summer or winter, six furlongs at Goodwood or two miles round Wincanton. Tomorrow his intention is to send three to the fray: Leslingtaylor in a two-mile Grade One hurdle at Sandown, Crow Wood in a 12-furlong Flat handicap at Lingfield and Character Building in a three-mile chase at Haydock.
Quinn, based at Malton, had his best-ever Flat season last year, when his high-profile wins included the Lincoln Handicap with Blythe Knight and the Portland Handicap with Fantasy Believer, and is in the middle of his most successful jumps campaign. His 70-strong mixed string got off the mark for the year at Wolverhampton yesterday, courtesy of Fractured Foxy.
"There's no big secret, we just try to work out what each one wants and needs," said the 46-year-old Irishman, no more than a journeyman as a jockey before starting his second career 12 years ago. "A horse is a horse is a horse. They're all athletes."
Five-year-old Leslingtaylor, progressive as a soft-ground middle-distance handicapper in late summer last year with three wins inside five weeks, is unbeaten in his two runs over hurdles, most recently a rather easy defeat of well-regarded Crocodile Dundee at Musselburgh on Saturday, and faces his biggest test to date in the Tolworth Hurdle.
"It is a step up", said Quinn. "But they're all novices and just as ours progressed on the Flat he improved from his first hurdles run to his second. I think the horse we beat at the weekend is probably a very good horse and the ground won't be a problem as he likes to get his toe in."
One of the likely favourites tomorrow is De Soto, who had a certain Blythe Knight in second place when he won at Kempton on Boxing Day. "I think I should have an idea where we stand," added Quinn, "and I don't think mine is going in at the deep end."
Crow Wood had his day of days over hurdles when he succeeded in a well-executed plan to beat Desert Quest in the Grade Two Elite Hurdle at Wincanton in November and ran a decent third to Detroit City at Cheltenham last month, reverts to the Flat at Lingfield 25 minutes after the Tolworth.
The eight-year-old takes on some Polytrack specialists, like Millville and Sri Diamond, but Quinn is not fazed on his behalf. "Though he didn't win last year he's a fair horse on the Flat and has run well at Lingfield before," he said. "The prize is there, he's in good form. He'll go back to hurdles afterwards and he'll enjoy the mixing and matching."
Quinn's across-the-card venture will begin at Haydock, where Character Building is set to carry top weight in the opening novices' handicap chase. The seven-year-old comes on from a win at Warwick on his second run over fences. "They seem to have improved him," said Quinn. "He's done little wrong, he's a good jumper and he stays."
Sixteen months ago Quinn expanded his operation to a two-yard base, his original Settrington stables and the nearby Highfield. "That gave us better facilities, which has brought better results - we've had 80 winners from all types since - which has brought better horses, and so on," he said. "If there is a trick to it, it's probably to work harder today than you did yesterday. I'd love to train a champion under each of the rules and we'll keep going and keep pushing at that door and one day it will open."
Quinn's trio had auction price tags of less than 80,000 guineas between them. Today at Musselburgh the record-priced untested jumper ever to go under the hammer, Purple Moon, makes his hurdling debut. The Galileo four-year-old, winner of his maiden from six tries on the Flat, made 440,000 guineas at Tattersalls last November and now tries his luck against 11 rivals in the opening novices contest in the colours of Craig Bennett. "He's all set to go," said trainer Nicky Richards, "and he seems to be a grand jumper."
* For the second time this week it was a very happy new year for bookmakers. After Tioga Gold's 125-1 shock win at Southwell on Tuesday, unconsidered Star Glow obliged at 100-1 at Lingfield yesterday.
NB: Cloudy Lane