Reverence rewards Alston's tender devotion

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The Independent Online

A breathless sprint championship is hardly the most obvious source of instruction in taking your time. But the VC Bet Nunthorpe Stakes here yesterday explored the benefits and burdens of patience, in perfect symmetry.

Owners with less forbearance than Gary Middlebrook and his wife, Lesley, would long since have despaired of Reverence, who fractured his pelvis twice in his youth. But his authoritative success was not solely down to their perseverance. They were also indebted to the fact that many of his rivals, early in the race, seemed in no particular hurry.

Hence the mystifying spectacle of Dandy Man, the young Irish colt, pulling his jockey's arms out of their sockets through the first couple of furlongs. Faced with the softest ground of his career, Pat Shanahan seemed determined to conserve Dandy Man early, but, in the absence of cover, his tactics proved to have quite the opposite effect.

As the favourite exhausted himself, the other big danger was meanwhile left on the wrong side of the moat as the drawbridge went up. Moss Vale was held up, travelling strongly, but the undemanding pace had left too many horses with reserves to keep his path blocked. In contrast Kevin Darley was keeping things simple, as has been his habit throughout a long career that memorably includes a dead heat in this race in 1997, when the tack broke on Coastal Bluff. Reverence made just about every yardof the running, and really let his hair down in ground he adores, stretching two lengths clear of Amadeus Wolf. All those in the frame had shepherded the pace and Red Clubs, fifth, and The Tatling, sixth, did best of those restrained early.

William Haggas must have been disappointed with Enticing, who finished between Dandy Man and Moss Vale at the very rear of the field, and his humour will not have been improved by the recollection that he advised the Middlebrooks to take the winner from his stable after Reverence broke his pelvis again.

He had arrived there from Mark Johnston, who had supervised him when he did it for the first time, as a juvenile. "William suggested that we have him trained in the north, so that he would be closer to home," Middlebrook said. "He pointed out that he would be costing us a lot, trained in Newmarket, and that it could happen again. So we sent him to Eric Alston, not just because he is obviously a very good trainer, but also because he has a flat gallop. If they have done a pelvis, you don't want them to go uphill. Eric has done a great job with him. All the horse needed was time and TLC. As a breeder, you spend so much time with them, you're always prepared to give them more."

A man of inflexible modesty, over the past 25 years Alston has left it to sprinters such as Tedburrow and Stack Rock to advertise what he can achieve in a racing backwater near Preston. The latter was second in the Prix de l'Abbaye, the obvious autumn target for Reverence, though his imminent priority is another Group One prize at Haydock tomorrow week. "He can really quicken up, but I was amazed to see him do it like that," Alston said. "He didn't start racing until he was four and has got better and better. But he's a different horse on this ground."

Grotesquely, this was not the richest prize on the card. The St Leger Yearling Sale, thanks largely to stakes hoarded from various forfeit stages, is worth £159,126 to the winner. But there can be no quibbling with the purposeful way Brian Meehan collected the pot for the third time in four runnings with Doctor Brown.

The juvenile who left the Knavesmire with most kudos, however, was Silk Blossom, who just collared Indian Ink in the Jaguar Lowther Stakes. She is 25-1 with the sponsor for the Stan James 1,000 Guineas, but, in the mean time, Barry Hills will succumb to the lure of another bloated sales race, the Goffs Million.