reports from the Knavesmire
Walter Swinburn will definitely keep the ride on Halling after a breathtaking victory in the International Stakes here yesterday, but Britain's trainers are beginning to feel twitchy about the horses they will keep from following the colt to Dubai this winter.
Halling's success was another Group One jewel to mount in the crown of the Godolphin operation. Their omnipotence is such that the nominated trainer of the team that conditions its horses in the Emirates, Saeed bin Suroor, is now almost certain to win the trainers' championship. The former policeman has collected over pounds 1.5m in prize-money even though his tally of winners in this country has yet to climb into double figures.
Swinburn is another who concentrates on quality rather than quantity (he was 24th in the jockeys' table yesterday morning but is just behind Lanfranco Dettori in terms of funds accrued), but he has been going through a phase in which he would have accepted a success of any sort.
In recent weeks he has been repeatedly injured, charged on a drink-driving offence and, most damagingly of all, dropped from the main roster of Godolphin horses. He was retained for Halling, however, and made the most of the opportunity.
As the field swung into the straight yesterday the outrider was Needle Gun, but it soon became obvious than only the shifting of geological plates would stall Halling's run. The chestnut eased effortlessly to the front over two furlongs out and strode clear for his eighth successive victory by three and a half lengths.
Swinburn enjoyed this "for many reasons" and there were signs in his voice that he was struggling with his composure. "I don't know a horse in training that can beat him," he said chokingly. "This is a pretty emotional moment.
"I have a massive weight problem which restricts me from the many things I want to do so I'll never ride lots of winners or be champion jockey. But to ride good horses is the ultimate feeling a jockey can have.
"It's a very hard thing to compare different generations but this is the most willing partner I've ever ridden and I've ridden so many exciting horses. Every time I showed him the whip today he jumped into his bridle. I've never known a horse like that in my life."
Halling's agenda now includes two of the richest races in the world. "He goes on the dirt so the Breeders' Cup Classic would be his premier objective," Simon Crisford, Godolphin's racing manager, said, adding that Swinburn would "definitely" be the colt's future partner. "It [the Breeders' Cup series] is at Belmont Park this year and that's the most similar surface to Nad Al Sheba [on which Halling won the Maktoum Challenge last winter] of all of the American tracks. For that reason, the Breeders' Cup this year will definitely help the European horses in general and Halling in particular. After that he will be prepared for the Dubai World Cup."
As the season progresses, the question of which horses will be taken from British trainers to feed the Godolphin camp this autumn becomes more pertinent. Certainly it has not escaped the minds of those employed by the Maktoums. "I'm just going to pray that when the fax comes through his name won't be on it," Alec Stewart said after the second-race victory of Saleel (Mark Johnston had saddled the first winner and went on to complete a hat-trick).
So while Sheikh Mohammed was chewing on a toothpick yesterday it seems that his trainers will be doing the same with their fingernails. The word last year was that some in the Maktoum employ were keeping their better animals relatively under wraps. It transpires, though, that these might just be the beasts the Crown Prince requires. "We won't take ready-made horses," Sheikh Mohammed said. "I will choose only horses who will benefit from coming to Dubai."
Among Halling's travelling companions to America this autumn could be Pentire, who added yet another Group race to his portfolio when beating Singspiel by what appeared to be the width of an atom in the Great Voltigeur Stakes. Geoff Wragg, Pentire's trainer, may now give the well-worked colt a break before cranking him up for the Breeders' Cup Turf. "He maybe just tired a bit in the closing stages because he's had a hard season," the Newmarket man said. "Maybe he's a little jaded." The same cannot be said of the Godolphin success story.
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