With the clock now ticking in earnest towards Britain's richest all-aged championship, the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot on Saturday, sabres are rattling in all quarters.
With the clock now ticking in earnest towards Britain's richest all-aged championship, the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot on Saturday, sabres are rattling in all quarters. Frankie Dettori is delighted with the favourite, Doyen. Andrew Balding is delighted with outsider Phoenix Reach. Elie Lellouche is delighted to have signed up Olivier Peslier for the French challenger Vallee Enchantee. And Clive Brittain is brimming with confidence about Warrsan.
To say Brittain is optimistic about one of his charges' prospects comes under the same sort of heading as bears and woods, Popes and tarmac. But in this case, there is no reason not to be bullish. Warrsan, a neat six-year-old son of Caerleon, has already won the Coronation Cup and finished second in the Eclipse Stakes this term and goes to the £750,000 showpiece at the top of his game.
Yesterday morning, before most of his rivals would have finished their breakfast oats, the little bay was eating up seven furlongs of dirt training track in Newmarket at his usual enthusiastic, relentless gallop with the stride of a much bigger horse. By 6.30am he was having a back-easing roll in the paddock at Carlburg stables, with a relaxing pick of grass and a therapeutic swim to follow. He is spot on his fighting weight of 476 kilos. The glint in his dark, bold eye says "bring 'em on".
Warrsan is the last man standing in the quest for the £1m bonus offered to any horse who can win three of a selection of the summer's top middle-distance events. Victory on Saturday would bring his haul to two and make a tilt at the last leg, next month's International at York, more or less obligatory. But for Brittain, the money is genuinely secondary. "Yes, there would be a million good reasons to go on to York," he said, "but the real reward is seeing the horse every day. He has been here four years and has become one of the family. When I stir the his honey into his feed, he's nibbling and tugging at my clothes, trying to pull me away from the manger. When I go out to the yard in the evening for a final look round at about 10, he's there whickering, waiting for his Polos."
Mints, honey: this horse seems a bit of a sweetie. But when Warrsan arrived with Brittain, unraced, from the failed Godolphin juvenile academy at Evry (he is owned and was bred by the Maktoum family associate Saeed Manana), he was, to put it mildly, a challenge. "He was angry," said his lad, Des Reape. "Not at anything in particular, just at life. He'd be up on his hind legs a lot of the time. He's still independent but we've come to an agreement. His one true quality, though, is the one you can't see. His heart."
Warrsan is the fourth of his family that Brittain has had through his hands, after his half-sister Cloud Castle and half-brothers Needle Gun and Luso. Until this year, he very much resembled the two colts as an honest, high-earning globetrotter apparently just short of the very highest class, despite his victory in his first Coronation Cup and an unlucky third place in the Hong Kong Vase (he was wearing his red-and-gold saddlecloth from that occasion like a battle flag yesterday). But a mind-shift in training direction has revealed a new, improved model.
When he finished sixth in last year's King George, it was his sixth race of the year. Saturday's second go will be his fifth outing of a much less frenetic campaign that started at Nad al Sheba in March in the Sheema Classic and took in the Jockey Club Stakes in May en route to Epsom. "We decided this year we'd give him a real chance at the top races," said Brittain. "He was a bit fresh in Dubai, so we gave him that run at Newmarket to put him right for the Coronation Cup. And that's where his season really began."
The horse is not likely to race beyond this year, a matter of regret for Brittain personally and professionally. "A boy like this, you get accustomed to them being around," he said. "And you get used to what to do with them, what not to do with them, when to do it, when not to do it. And that's what training horses is all about."
If Warrsan has become a fixture at Carlburg, Brittain is that in spades in Newmarket. He started off in the town as a lad with Sir Noel Murless, worked his way up the hierarchy at Warren Place and, in part thanks to a series of judiciously placed bets, was able to set up in his own right 32 years ago. He is now in his 71st year but has taken on a new lease of life along with a new hip and retirement does not seem to be beckoning. "So long as boxes with horses like Warrsan in them keep arriving through the gate," he said, "I'll be here to train them."
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