Racing: World stage beckons for Rakti after Champion display

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The Independent Online

All the body racing need do to sell itself is to produce theatre like Saturday's bill at Newmarket. But amid the emotion engendered by that pair of gallant old hams Persian Punch and Pat Eddery and the emergence of unconsidered Milk It Mick from the chorus, the one performance of Oscar quality was perhaps masked.

The world stage, though, now awaits Rakti, consummately easy winner of the Champion Stakes. The received wisdom is that below-par runs by the perceived best three of the other six Group One winners in the field - Alamshar, Nayef and Russian Rhythm - facilitated the four-year-old's passage to the £232,000 prize, but, such was the ease with which he cruised and quickened to beat Carnival Dancer by two lengths, that conclusion is by no means forgone.

Rakti emerged yesterday morning from his box at Kremlin House unscathed save for a small nick on a foreleg. That was a matter of some relief for his trainer, Michael Jarvis, who had to nurse Gary Tanaka's colt back from injury after his runner-up spot to Nayef in the Prince of Wales's Stakes in June. "Saturday was very satisfying," he said. "He was lame after Royal Ascot and we discovered he had quite a serious injury, a hairline crack of his left hind ankle. He was in his box for four weeks and we then we had to take things very steady. It's only in the past five weeks he'd been doing any fast work."

That work, however, has been of such verve that victory on Saturday was no huge surprise to Jarvis. "You would have to see some of the speed he shows at home to believe it," he said. "He goes seven furlongs like a sprinter. I don't time my gallops but I know when I've seen something special. He is certainly one of the best horses I've trained."

The son of Polish Precedent's next engagement is in Hong Kong's 10-furlong Cup in December. Next year, the Prince of Wales's and Eclipse Stakes await. "A mile and a quarter round Sha Tin on fast ground should be just the ticket," Jarvis said. "And I think he'd be just as effective over a mile."

Like another of the season's sensations, Falbrav, Rakti is ex-Italian (though Irish-foaled), moved by connections from Milan to Newmarket's greater arena at the end of last year. And as far as Italy is concerned, it might be said that while to lose one superstar may be regarded as a misfortune, to lose two looks like carelessness.

Italy is racing's poor relation, its pattern races regarded as the easiest pickings in Europe, with several downgraded in recent years. Indeed, two British-trained horses, Pearl Of Love (Mark Johnston) and Ekraar (Marcus Tregoning) mopped up yesterday's Group Ones at San Siro, the Gran Criterium and Gran Premio de Jockey Club.

And, although exceptions emerge, notably in these parts Falbrav's trainer, Luca Cumani, and Frankie Dettori, in Italy there is perhaps no deep-seated horseman's tradition. The most famous race there is, arguably, the violent Siena Palio; the transit of live horses for meat in shocking conditions is still tolerated; there are few useful native Italian horse breeds. Paradoxically, this is the country that gave the world Federico Tesio and his masterpieces Ribot and Nearco.

Saturday was only Rakti's 12th start, so the prospect of seeing him again next year is one to savour. He is a horse whose career has been dogged by vicissitudes both physical and mental; on his first visit to Newmarket, for last year's Champion, he refused to go into the stalls. His rider, Mirco Demuro, then smacked him on the head with his whip, an action defended by then-trainer Bruno Grizzetti as a "friendly knock".

Since joining Jarvis late last year, Rakti's mind has been settled by sessions with equine behaviourist Steve Dyble. "He's a bit of a bully and was difficult when he came," Jarvis said, "but the only time he's given us trouble was when he went back to Italy this spring for a Group One in Rome. He won the race, but was upset at the stalls. Maybe it was hearing Italian voices. He knew he was back there."