Royal Ascot: Pitt stops Australian Takeover

Young trainer's rehabilitation of old sprinter matches visitor's romantic tale
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The Independent Online

As the bookmark was put in one fairytale, the pages of another flipped open. Takeover Target, the rags-to-riches Australian sprinter, could finish only a so-gallant third in his attempt to add yesterday's Golden Jubilee Stakes to Tuesday's King's Stand Stakes victory. The stardust fell instead on 33-1 shot Les Arcs, driven by John Egan to a neck victory in the Group One feature. Less than two years ago the horse ran in a maiden hurdle at Cartmel and his trainer, Tim Pitt, landed his job after answering an ad.

Appropriately at this time, Pitt's landlord is the football agent Willie McKay, who set up a state-of-the-art establishment at Bawtry, South Yorkshire, last year, and is now reaping as rich rewards with his equine stable as his human one. The colourful Glaswegian former bookmaker brokered Marcel Desailly to Chelsea and has several runners in the French squad in Germany, notably William Gallas and Alain Boumsong.

Pitt, 31, was picked from the 45 applicants for the post at Merton Grange, and was the only one without a training licence. He has stepped into the spotlight as quickly as Theo Walcott, and to considerably more effect. And yesterday was golden goal time, the first top-level success of his brief career, one worth nearly £200,000.

Les Arcs was the horse who first showcased his talent. The six-year-old gelding was his first winner, at Lingfield in December, the first of five consecutive wins after being reinvented as a sprinter, and has climbed the ladder with his trainer. Yesterday's six-furlong race was the first stab at Group One company for both.

The extent to which Takeover Target, his owner-trainer Joe Janiak and young jockey Jay Ford have been taken to British hearts was indicated by the cheer that launched from the grandstands as the little white-faced raider, the 7-2 favourite, took a lead two furlongs out. But his hard-fought success four days previously took its toll, for he had no answer as Les Arcs and Balthazaar's Gift, a 50-1 chance, swept by. The Exacta paid 3,498-1.

Egan found a dream run through on the rails to lead a furlong out and repel the swoop of Balthazaar's Gift and Jamie Spencer. "I followed the favourite and went by him easily enough but I could hear on the commentary that there was one coming at me," Egan said. "I panicked slightly that he was going to do me. But mine is a fantastic little horse, and kept going. He was useful over a longer distance, but sprint distances have been the making of him."

Les Arcs had finished 11th in the King's Stand Stakes over the minimum five furlongs. "This guy's very fast, with blistering natural speed," said Pitt, "but they went so quick then that even he was taken off his feet. Today John was able to take his time and get him organised.

"After the race on Tuesday I was disappointed, and thinking we'd have to go abroad with him and lower our sights. But after watching a replay and seeing how it had panned out I wasn't so despondent. When the horse came out bucking and squealing the next day, we decided to let him take his chance again."

Pitt will leave it to Les Arcs to dictate his next appearance. "The July Cup is the obvious route, but we'll let the horse tell us how he is," said Pitt. Just as when Admiral gave him his previous biggest win, the Chester Cup in May, the trainer watched the race on the screen in the paddock. "I wasn't going to change a winning formula," he said, "but that last one was the longest furlong I've ever seen in my life."

Next month's Newmarket Group One showpiece is on the agenda for Takeover Target, the £400 bargain buy who is now a clear leader in the $1m Global Sprint Challenge. The seven-year-old kept going to hold off Ashdown Express and Amadeus Wolf for the minor berth.

"It was a gutsy run," said Ford, "and to be off the bridle 400 metres out and still battle home third was a tremendous effort. The four-day back-up just took its toll." Takeover Target has 19 days to regroup for his final British outing.

Champlain's smooth two-length success in the opening Chesham Stakes put the day back on track for his trainer, Michael Jarvis, after his Newmarket stable's Hala Bek ruled himself out of Saturday's Irish Derby with a poor morning workout. Hala Bek, considered an unlucky close-up fourth in the Derby, had been favourite for the Curragh feature, a position now taken by French-trained Darsi, winner of the Prix du Jockey-Club.

Three years ago Takeover Target's compatriot Choisir succeeded in the sprint double here and yesterday Mick Channon's Baddam bagged a pair at the meeting at the other end of the distance spectrum, adding the closing Queen Alexandra Stakes to his Ascot Stakes on Tuesday.