Quinn seeks stable future

Jamie Reid speaks to a former footballer who is in training for the turf
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Chepstow race course on a balmy evening in July is not what you might think of as a Premier League venue. They stage First Division jumping in the winter months but the summer Flat programmes tend to feature moderate animals competing before modest crowds in an atmosphere more akin to Hereford United than Manchester United. But in the eyes of Mick Quinn, the former Coventry and Newcastle striker turned man of the turf, the challenges presented by a low-key West Country meeting are every bit as stirring as the tasks he confronted with a ball at his feet.

The 34-year-old Quinn, a racing fanatic, is in his first full season as unpaid pupil assistant to his great friend and mentor Mick Channon. It is nearly 10 years now since the distinguished ex-England international swapped the shorts and sideburns of his first career for the flat cap and binoculars of the trainer's life. And a thumping success he has made of it too.

So far this season Channon's Upper Lambourn stable has won over pounds 200,000 in prize money and they're enjoying a strike rate of one in four with their two-year-olds alone. Last Thursday they sent out Recondite to win a pounds 16,000 listed race at Newmarket, upsetting a few well-stuffed Thomas Pink shirts in the process. Later that day Channon and Quinn were down in South Wales to saddle three runners by the Severn. One second was their best result on the night, although the two-year-old colt Pow Wow, a promising fourth on his debut, could be one to take an interest in next time out.

There was plenty of fun to be had in the bar between races, although the naturally good- humoured Quinn stresses that where racing was once a light-hearted pastime it is now a job. "When I was playing football I often used to get in at half past five in the mornings," he joked. "Now I have to be up at 5.30 to go to work." It is hard work, too, beginning with the menial, time- honoured practice of mucking out. Channon's motto is that "Piss-poor preparation leads to piss-poor performances" on the track. And for all his friendly and down-to-earth manner he clearly will not stand for anything less than the highest standards of husbandry and care.

Quinn's earliest racing memories are of watching the ITV Seven with his dad when he was growing up in Liverpool. He was soon hanging around the local betting shops, too, trying to persuade older friends to put his money on. It was when he was transferred to Portsmouth in 1986 that he found himself surrounded by other like-minded spirits in the dressing- room. Alan Ball was the manager then and Mick Channon the veteran star. "Mick was already working as assistant to Ken Cunningham-Brown. He used to come in straight from the gallops, still wearing his green wellies and with the Sporting Life sticking out of his jacket. And there used to be horse shit everywhere!"

That Portsmouth team won promotion to the old First Division at the end of the season and when Channon left to start training he and Quinn kept in touch. Quinn's first horse as an owner was the first two-year-old that Channon ever bought. There have been 15 other horses since and 30 different winners, one of them called Sumoquinn, who was named by Channon as a tribute to his old team-mate's ample physique. But these days the assistant is just as happy to cheer on the other horses in Channon's yard. "It's great to be involved with a team again," he said. "When we have a winner it's such a leap of adrenalin that it's almost as great as scoring goals."

The man who scored 36 goals for Newcastle accepts that his playing days are now more or less over. But he has no regrets. He's got his eyes set on having a racing stable of his own one day. And in the meantime there's next Saturday's Super Sprint at Newbury to look forward to. The new Mick Quinn is clearly having the time of his life.