Racing: Akehurst thrives with tenderness: Loving care helps to land a nice touch in the Ebor. Richard Edmondson reports from York

AN ADVERTISEMENT for the power of love on the Knavesmire yesterday as Sarawat captured the Ebor on his first run for Reg Akehurst's stable.

The Epsom trainer has made such a habit of improving new arrivals at his yard it has raised the question of whether he has a large version of Michael Jackson's rejuvenation chamber on the premises. But yesterday he revealed that his technique stretched no further than old- fashioned pampering.

'When a horse arrives I always have a look through the form book to see how they have done and sometimes you find something, like the way a horse has to be ridden, and you can click them back into place,' he said. 'But most of all I like a loving yard.

'I want the horses to be loved by their lads and I do put the emphasis on them being petted a lot of the time. I think tender loving care is priority No 1 and older horses especially like a lot of fuss being made of them.'

The most remarkable facet of Sarawat's improvement was that he was previously prepared by another trainer with a reputation for upgrading newcomers, Mary Reveley.

'I didn't think anyone could improve a Mary Reveley horse and I don't think I've done that much to be honest,' Akehurst added. 'This horse was 100

per cent when he came to me, there wasn't a tooth out of line, but I know he had a hobday (wind) operation in January and I think it takes them six months to get over that.'

The gelding's switch last month was in fact a life-and- death issue, and may have ensured the winning owner, Stewart Aitken, was around to see the victory. The retired casino owner from Falkirk, who was a paradigm of the colourful characters drawn to racing as he stood in the winners' enclosure tartan-suited and describing how he had just relieved Ladbrokes of pounds 150,000, has had to change his travelling arrangements this season. 'I had a heart attack in the spring because I was backing so many losers,' Aitken said. 'The doctor told me take it easy so I moved the horse to Epsom and instead of driving to meetings I fly now.'

The stewards were also up in the clouds when they called Akehurst in to explain Sarawat's improved form. The trainer, who only recently had an acrimonious session in the dock at Goodwood when another of his horses was disqualified, managed to compose himself sufficiently to dutifully outline the gelding's breathing problems. He must surely have been tempted to point out that he could hardly explain the progression of a horse that was making its debut for him.

While Spin Doctor, the Ebor favourite, was among Sarawat's victims, his trainer, Luca Cumani, did not go home empty handed, taking the Yorkshire Oaks with Only Royale. But this Group race, like those of Tuesday, was more notable for the vanquished, in the shape of User Friendly and Rainbow Lake.

The former, who passed more horses in the parade ring than on the racecourse when she last ran at Ascot, was a much more composed animal in the preliminaries yesterday, but her doleful attitude was transferred to the racecourse. Connections will now give the filly plenty of time to recharge before a late-season venture to the continent.

'She doesn't have the sparkle she had last year, the bite just doesn't seem to be there,' Bill Gredley, User Friendly's owner- breeder said. 'It may be that she now runs best when fresh and we'll probably go straight to the Arc from here.'

Rainbow Lake continued Henry Cecil's jinx at the meeting - all four of his runners yesterday, two of them short-priced favourites, were defeated - and the immediate future of another of his horses, Tenby, was thrown into doubt with the news that the beaten Derby favourite has been purchased by the Coolmore Stud in Co Tipperary.

Better times, though, for Peter Chapple-Hyam, who posted a double with Stoney Valley and Turtle Island (two legs of a John Reid riding hat-trick), the latter in the Gimcrack Stakes.

Turtle Island was losing the battle with James Fanshawe's Unblest for much of the journey up York's straight but his trainer did not contemplate defeat, as the colt is renowned in his home work at Manton for a they-shall- not-pass attitude.

'Even when they came upsides him I knew he'd win,' Chapple-Hyam said. 'It's a big break for him now and then maybe we'll supplement for the Middle Park (at Newmarket on 30 September).' Turtle Island's success was another victory for Chapple-Hyam's idiosyncratic approach to training, a method which sees the man working himself, and his horses, up to an intense level.

As he entered the winners' enclosure yesterday, Chapple- Hyam was clenching his fists and close to growling, much as he had been the previous day when saddling White Muzzle, who received a punch on the neck to wake him up. They don't do things like that at Reg Akehurst's yard.

(Photographs omitted)

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