Hever diva up for the Cup

Sue Montgomery explains how one filly will take the trip to New York in her stride
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The Independent Online
WHEN she boards the plane at Stansted tomorrow morning with the other British challengers making the trek to New York for the 12th Breeders' Cup festival Hever Golf Rose will be boldly going where few have gone before. The journey to Belmont Park will be her 11th trip abroad.

She has won in the five different countries in which she has raced - Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Sweden - and will be attempting to set a globetrotters' milestone when she takes part in the Sprint on Saturday.

The four-year-old's record is as remarkable as her surge to prominence. A year ago she was no more than a useful sprinter, but this season the Rose has blossomed. Her dazzling solo tour de force in the Prix de l'Abbaye on Arc day was her eighth win of a campaign that had started at Leicester in April and brought her earnings to pounds 395,000.

Which is not bad for a filly who was rejected by the market at 6,000 guineas when she was offered for sale by her breeder, Ron Popely, from whose Kent golf course she takes her name. She now runs in the colours of a friend of Popely's, Michael Hanson.

Hever Golf Rose has been a fine flag-bearer for her young trainer, Joe Naughton, formerly an assistant to Barry Hills. He started his career at Epsom four years ago with six horses under his care and will have 10 times as many to train next season, including the stable heroine.

Naughton, a 31-year-old Londoner whose father was managing director of Playboy bookmakers and casinos, said: "The key to the travelling is how quickly they settle. She takes it all in her stride and will eat and drink wherever she goes."

Five furlongs or the six of the Breeders' Cup Sprint come alike to Hever Golf Rose, and she has won on going ranging from fast to heavy. The one surface she has not raced on is the dirt she will find at Belmont, but Naughton is confident: "Before she won in Sweden in August she practised on dirt and had no problems."

Nothing will be left to chance. Hever Golf Rose will have special studded shoes to help her get a grip, and her luggage will include the therapeutic electric massage blanket she wears twice a week to ease any aches and pains. She will be accompanied by work rider Matthew Jermy - who partnered her in a sparkling practice spin at Lingfield yesterday morning - and Naughton's head lad Mark Fogarty.

"There's no sign at the moment of her form tailing off, but you sometimes never know with fillies," Naughton added. "On the day she might just say: 'It was nice to see New York, and thanks for the trip - I've had enough for now.' But having her in the yard has triggered off so much for me. She's given me the chance to show what I can do."

The Breeders' Cup, the world's richest racing day (worth $10m), is the Ryder Cup of racing in that, for once, Britain and Europe get together against the US. And without the help of the French, the European challenge would make sorry reading.

From 82 runners, French-trained horses have picked up nine wins and 20 places. Britain has produced just three winners - Pebbles, Sheikh Albadou and Barathea last year - and 13 places from 80 contestants. And despite the claims of Hever Golf Rose and Lake Coniston in the Sprint and Halling in the Classic, Ladbrokes bet 4-6 that there will be no British-trained winner.

Europe's challenge is strong in the Mile (through France's Shaanxi and Cherokee Rose and Ireland's Ridgewood Pearl) and in the Turf (Hernando and Freedom Cry from France and Lando from Germany). The final race, the $3m Classic, provides the much-awaited transatlantic clash between local champion Cigar, unbeaten in 11 races, and Halling, unbeaten in eight.