Tregoning's season has only just begun

As far as most of British racing is concerned, the 2000 Flat season began at Doncaster in March, just a week after the jumpers fought out the championships at Cheltenham. For Marcus Tregoning, however, the latest campaign effectively started just three days ago, when Ekraar led all the way in a minor stakes race at Newbury to give him his very first winner of the new millennium.

As far as most of British racing is concerned, the 2000 Flat season began at Doncaster in March, just a week after the jumpers fought out the championships at Cheltenham. For Marcus Tregoning, however, the latest campaign effectively started just three days ago, when Ekraar led all the way in a minor stakes race at Newbury to give him his very first winner of the new millennium.

For a man with 100 impeccably-bred horses housed in a start-of-the-art training centre in Lambourn, this was considerably later than expected. When a virus strikes your string, however, there is little else to do besides sit still and suffer, and when his horses were clearly not right early in the season, Tregoning wisely decided to hang a Closed sign on the main gate for almost two months, to let them recover in their own time.

The first sign that he was on the way back came when Albarahin, one of this stable stars, ran on into second on his seasonal debut in the Tote Exacta Handicap at Sandown, one of the most competitive events of the entire season. For a horse with no previous run behind him, this was a remarkable performance by both animal and trainer, and Ekraar, another animal with Pattern-race potential, duly got his stable onto the board last Sunday, beating Bien Entendu, a one-time Derby contender.

Faced with a similar situation, some trainers choose to bluff it out, running their horses regardless, but not Tregoning. "It's like you or I trying to do too much when we've got flu," he said yesterday, "it's that much harder to get over it. The way they'll get over it quickest is to give them a break, no question. I'm very lucky in that I've got very good and knowledgeable owners, who understand that there's nothing worse than trying to get sick horses fit. You can't do it, and if you try you'll do them damage."

Tregoning will now hope to reap the rewards of his patience, possibly starting with the Listed Steventon Stakes at Newbury this Saturday, for which Albarahin heads the entries. The first warm weather of the summer, however, is not in his favour.

"He's a possible runner, but we wouldn't run him on any worse than good ground, because he wants to get his toe in a bit, but luckily that means there's plenty of races he could run in in the autumn," Tregoning said. "Ideally any yard wants to have a few good older horses like him, it takes the pressure off the rest of the yard, and I'm hoping that Asakir [down the field in a Listed race at Ascot on Saturday] will be another. We have a lot of backward two-year-olds who have needed time, but we hope that a couple of them will be ready for Goodwood, and Ekraar is entered in the Sussex Stakes there, though he's more likely to go for the Rose Of Lancaster at Haydock."

The experience gained over 14 years as assistant to Dick Hern was invaluable as Tregoning's string struggled in the early weeks of the season. "I saw plenty of it with Dick Hern, and that helped me quite a bit, because I knew it would come right in the end," he says. "I've seen it before, and I knew we could cope with it. Obviously it's not going to be a great season now, but it could still be a good second half."

Johnny Murtagh's season to date offers quite a contrast with that of Tregoning, with Sinndar giving him his first win in the Derby, and then following up in the Irish Derby. Sinndar has been ruled out of the King George and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot on Saturday week, with John Oxx, his trainer, preferring to put him away for an autumn campaign, but Murtagh will still have his chance to add another Group One to his haul, having been confirmed yesterday as the rider of Daliapour, a 7-1 chance for the race with Coral. The ride is spare following the season-ending injury to Kieren Fallon, Sir Michael Stoute's stable jockey, and victory at Ascot would make him the first jockey to take two Derbys and the King George in the same year since Alan Munro in 1991.

Murtagh said: "I'm thrilled to have got this ride and just have to pinch myself that things are going so well at the moment. I owe a lot to the Aga Khan who has always stood by me alongside Mr Oxx, and I am grateful to Sir Michael Stoute for the opportunities he is now giving me. Daliapour is a top-class colt who should go really well in the race."

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