Sakhee on route for Breeders' challenge

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The Independent Online

The decision is made and is irrevocable. Sakhee, the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winner, will be on board a flight due to leave Stansted airport this morning for New York, the isolation barns at Belmont Park and the Breeders' Cup on 27 October. The Champion Stakes at Newmarket on Saturday week is now no longer a possibility.

Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum sanctioned the mission yesterday and Sakhee will be declared for both the Breeders' Cup Turf and Classic, in which his stablemate and fellow traveller Fantastic Light, as well as Galileo, are contenders. Coral, however, have introduced the four-year-old as 4-5 favourite for the Turf, for which Sheikh Hamdan's Mutamam is now second in their list at 7-1.

More immediately, the international circus turns towards the Czech Republic this weekend and Pardubice where they frighten the horses with a fence called the Taxis and do the same to jockeys with a neatly tended gravestone adjacent to the yawning obstacle.

No matter how many times they explain to the three riders who will partner the British runners in the Velka Pardubicka on Sunday that the burial plot belongs to a man who died at home of old age, there will nevertheless be a sense of trepidation when the tapes go up for the four and a quarter mile hike.

The frighteners will have been put on Robert Thornton, Jason Maguire and J P McNamara, riders of Supreme Charm, Frileux Royal and Irish Stamp respectively. In truth, the Taxis apart, the Pardubicka is not as devilish as myth would have it. British horses have a poor record in the race largely because they are unfamiliar with the eclectic series of obstacles.

There are fences hidden in copses, huge Swiss roll banks and ploughed fields, which all but swallow tired participants when the going is heavy. None of these are a feature of Britain's closest cousin to the race, the Sporting Index Chase over Cheltenham's cross-country course.

Kim Bailey's Supreme Charm, winner of the equine It's A Knockout at Prestbury Park last season, is joined in the Czech Republic by the horse which finished fourth, Tom George's Frileux Royal. The British triumvirate is completed by Irish Stamp, who was second in the Czech race for Ferdy Murphy five years ago and has been unplaced in it twice since.

Bailey needs a good season, as his new premises at Preston Capes in Northamptonshire have provided just a trickle of success compared to the fount he once enjoyed in Upper Lambourn. "Supreme Charm won at Cheltenham, but this is a completely different operation," he said yesterday. "I've heard a lot about it, watched a lot of videos. It looks quite a hairy race. My assistant is over there at the moment. He's six foot one and says he can't see over the top of the Taxis. Apparently, it's absolutely huge. Norman [Williamson] said when you get to mid-air you just pray there's no-one underneath you, it is vast.

"Supreme Charm is an ideal horse to take there. He likes to be ridden from behind and the winners for the last three years have been a furlong behind for most of the race. You have banks at half-way which stop every horse in sight, so if we can hack round and get over that third fence, the rest should be easier."

Frileux Royal won three cross-country races in France before joining George. "His preparation has gone very well," George said. "My concern is that the ground is very firm. He would not run if it was concrete."

Irish Stamp must have done something despicable to Murphy to merit running in this for a fourth time. However, this is almost certainly his last try. "He's a 12-year-old so this is probably his last chance," the trainer said. "His first run in it he was a second, the second he was brought down and the last time he'd won in Belgium and was fourth in Italy and there was too much travelling involved."

* Kevin Darley returned from a three-day ban to land a 934-1 treble at York yesterday. The champion jockey answered the title leader, Kieren Fallon, who rode a three-timer at Catterick on Tuesday, drew a blank yesterday, but is 18 winners clear.

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