Heads turn sprint into procession

Richard Edmondson reports from Newmarket on a French triumph
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There were two sets of distances after Anabaa annexed the July Cup for France here yesterday. In the form book we will read there was one and three- quarter lengths back to Lucayan Prince and a further three to Hever Golf Rose, but there is another, closer version. The race was also won by four Heads.

The multiple Classic-winning brother and sister partnership of Freddie and Criquette Head collected sprinting's championship for the first time for their parents Alec and Ghislaine. Criquette Head has for long been a respected adversary on these shores following her successes with such as Ma Biche, Ravinella and Hatoof, all of whom took home the 1,000 Guineas. However, this was the first time she had registered in Britain with a colt.

Two years ago, though, it seemed likely that Anabaa's destination would not be a winners' enclosure, more likely a dinner plate. As a juvenile the colt was diagnosed as a "wobbler". "One morning, after a gallop, he couldn't walk and lost his balance completely," Mme Head said. "If you'd pushed him, he would have gone on the floor. I was the first to say that we wouldn't be able to save him, but Papa said we couldn't destroy a horse like him.''

Anabaa was subsequently dispatched to the family's Normandy stud, where a career in racing's most frustrating occupation was mapped out for him. He was to be a teaser. If they have a job centre in hell, that posting would be one of the vacancies on the board, and given these options, Anabaa decided he'd rather start running quickly on racecourses.

In the paddock yesterday Anabaa was distinguishable by his swishing tail and single white sock on his off-hind. In the race itself he was distinguishable by leading for virtually all of the six-furlong journey. "I was always handy and going well," Freddie Head said. "When Mind Games [the eventual seventh] came to me two out I asked him the question and he just quickened away.''

When Freddie returned he performed the Parisian victory show, taking his helmet off and raising it to the crowd. There have been times when punters would have liked to remove what the hat was designed to protect. Freddie has had some bad days and an even worse press in Britain, which is unfortunate for a man of his undoubted talents. If he ever felt the need for vindication, it arrived yesterday. "For the one reason that people might stop saying that Freddie can't ride in England I'm happy," Criquette said, before adding a couple of phrases they didn't teach at her Guildford and Eastbourne finishing schools. "I'm in the moon," she said. "I could walk over the water today.''

Freddie is 49 but seems to have borrowed someone else's hair. As his golden locks came down out of the saddle he delivered the words that trainers like to hear. "This horse is a champion," he said. "I'm very fortunate. You don't ride many horses like him.''

Criquette's plans for Anabaa include the Prix Jacques le Marois at Deauville and the Breeders' Cup, if she can teach him to corner. She is also looking forward to the racecourse debut of his two-year-old half-sister, Always Loyal, a cheetah on the Chantilly gallops, who may travel here for the Cheveley Park Stakes in September.

More immediate are the family celebrations. In terms of happy families the Heads are nearer the Waltons than the Borgias on the scale, and yesterday's was a great day to compare with anything that has come before. "I've had three great pleasures in racing, winning the French Derby with Bering, the Arc de Triomphe with Three Troikas and now this," the 71-year-old Alec Head said. "Each one has been with my son riding and my daughter training.''