Royal Ascot: Takeover fulfils Janiak's royal quest

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The Independent Online

He had flown from the other side of the world to get here, but yesterday marked the end of a much longer journey.

As a glowering, plain-talking taxi driver from the dusty hills beyond Canberra, for many years Joe Janiak would not have known his Ascot from his elbow. Before the race, he had been grimacing over the tomfoolery of a morning coat and top hat. There was a shaving nick on his collar. He had come here with a gelding he found three years ago at the racing equivalent of a car-boot sale, a cripple whose previous trainer had cashed him in for the equivalent of £450.

With his southern hemisphere body clock, Takeover Target was far more hirsute than his indigenous rivals for the King's Stand Stakes. After forcing a photo-finish with Benbaun, his coat was matted with sweat, like some tinker's cob on a hot day in Finglas. Then the judge gave his verdict, and horse and trainer meekly entered the winner's enclosure, a pair of old friends immune to the gaze of 55,000 astonished observers. Janiak wrapped his arms round the neck of the fastest horse in the world, and nobody intruded on the moment until he was quite ready.

Then he turned round and gave a rare grin. "I thought we were beat, but he always puts in, this horse," Janiak said. "He always sticks by me. I have been a battling trainer all my life. All I ever do is go to sales and buy broken down horses, see if I can patch them up, do something with them. Maybe this will give inspiration to others: trainers with bad horses, trainers with bad owners, trainers who can't pay the feed man. Maybe this will help them keep going."

Hollywood producers should note that this is not the final reel. Takeover Target is likely to return here on Saturday for the Golden Jubilee Stakes, in the hope of emulating his pioneering compatriot, Choisir, three years ago. "He's better over another furlong, and I kept him a bit big for today," Janiak said. "I think we'll find some improvement in him yet."

After that, there will be the Darley July Cup at Newmarket, and then Takeover Target will be off to Japan and Hong Kong. Truly this is one of the great odysseys in Turf history. Janiak was born on a boat from Poland 59 years ago and lives in a caravan. He worked in a bakery for many years, and for three decades has never had more than one or two horses. He cannot remember his first winner. "It would have been some picnic race, somewhere in the bush," he shrugs. He devotes four hours a day to Takeover Target. In the evenings, he sits by the horse's paddock with a beer, splashing some on to the ground for his pal to lap up.

His apotheosis into the top sprinter in Australia has already enabled Janiak to contemplate the luxury of a flat over a new stable when he gets home, somewhere nearer the beach. But he is one of the lottery winners whose life will not be changed. "I don't want to get bigger or more commercial," he vowed. "I'm just a hobby trainer, just want to enjoy myself. I was offered a million dollars for him after he won his first few races, but you spend all your life dreaming of a good horse. When you find one, why would you give it to someone else?"

Jay Ford excelled in getting Takeover Target across to the favoured stands rail from stall 17, but instead attributed success to qualities already wearily familiar to any Englishman who ever bowled at Steve Waugh. "This horse will never lie down," he said. Janiak, however, gave due credit to the nerveless young rider. "I felt the draw wasn't the best," he said. "But someone had to get it, and you just make the best of what you're given."

Those words distilled a drama worthy of the spectacular new stage here - a drama that obliterated every subplot, even the two terrifying falls in the same race. Both Tabaret and Orientor emerged unscathed, though Dean McKeown was taken to hospital for precautionary checks.

There was also drama in the Queen Anne Stakes, secured by Kieren Fallon on Ad Valorem at the expense of a four-day ban for careless riding. He failed to switch his whip as his mount baulked Peeress, who in turn interrupted a menacing finish from Court Masterpiece.

The result might also have been different in the St James's Palace Stakes had Stormy River not been set a preposterous amount to do against the favourite, Araafa. Either way, the winner has plenty of runs on the board now, having also beaten George Washington in the Irish 2,000 Guineas - when again given a positive ride by Alan Munro. His trainer, Jeremy Noseda, is certainly eager for a rematch and hopes that Araafa might ultimately seal his reputation at the Breeders' Cup.

Chris McGrath

Nap: La Mottie

(Royal Ascot 5.30)

NB: Pinpoint

(Royal Ascot 4.25)

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