Racing: Arc next for User Friendly - Explanations emerge for the below-par performance of the Oaks winner in a narrow victory at The Curragh

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The Independent Online
THE Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe would seem far too tall a target for User Friendly after a victory in Saturday's Irish Oaks that revealed plenty of grit but hardly produced a pearl of a performance. Nevertheless, the most competitive race in Europe is likely to be the filly's next objective and she may go to Longchamp on 4 October without another run.

'We might take in the Prix Vermeille, but there's a chance she will go to the Arc without having another race,' Bill Gredley, her owner, said yesterday. 'The form of the three-year-old colts is in and out and we would certainly like to take on St Jovite.'

That ambition puts Gredley in a very small club. To recall St Jovite's 12-length, time-shattering win in the Irish Derby a fortnight ago and superimpose that image on Saturday's race over the same course and distance produces a picture of the finish in which the fillies are dots in the distance.

There were certainly good reasons why User Friendly could put no more than a neck between herself and Market Booster, with only half a length more back to Arrikala, a filly who three races ago was eighth in a race at Mulheim.

'George (Duffield) felt she ran a little flat,' Gredley said. 'I think she probably wasn't herself and Clive (Brittain) agrees with me.'

Brittain was in fact able to reveal a reason for the flatness. 'A little injury meant there were two weeks between Epsom and The Curragh when she couldn't canter,' Brittain said. 'She never saw grass between the two races and did all her work on the all-weather.'

But that green matter is now back at the top of the agenda for User Friendly. 'She'll have an easy time for six weeks,' Brittain said. 'We could get her match fit for the Arc at home, but the Prix Vermeille gives us an extra option.' That absence also gives the other middle-distance fillies an easy opportunity to pick up a Group One race that none of them really deserve in the Yorkshire Oaks on 19 August.

The rest will allow User Friendly the chance to recover from the knock she received in Saturday's race. 'She was struck into from behind,' Brittain said, 'by the animal that shouldn't have been going where it was.'

Brittain was referring to Arrikala, on whom Kevin Manning tried to nose through between User Friendly and the rails until he realised that the filly would come back with a white stripe down her side if he did.

Arrikala is, of course, trained by Jim Bolger, whose other runner, Ivyanna was cited by Christy Roche in his successful High Court action last week as one reason why an injunction should be granted to suspend the 15-day ban imposed on him by the Irish Turf Club for improper riding.

Roche claimed that Ivyanna had 'a favourite's chance' in Saturday's race in which she finished in the rear after tearing off in front, and that the length of the suspension 'would not only be damaging to my reputation, but would have severe and damaging effects on my ability to earn my livelihood'.

Roche has received a great deal of support from within racing for his actions and there is a case for applauding him for challenging the procedures of a body that has the power to deny him his livelihood. But many believe that in using the courts to delay his punishment and in refusing to abide by the rules of Irish racing's governing body, Roche is guilty of actions which are contrary to the spirit of the sport. If recourse to the courts were to become a trend then it would certainly mitigate against the smaller owners, trainers and jockeys who may not have the resources required to buy the size of legal backing that Roche has employed.

The saddest sight on Saturday was the transformation in the apprentice Ollie Pears after crossing the line first on Mr Confusion in the Magnet Cup. Punching the air as they passed the post, Pears's young face fell as Michael Roberts, riding Steerforth, pulled up alongside him and delivered a punch line of his own. 'Roberts shouted 'you came right across me',' Pears said yesterday. 'He made a big thing about it in the stewards' inquiry, but Mark Birch (who was awarded the race on Tell No Lies) stood up for me.' Steve Norton, the trainer of Mr Confusion, plans to appeal against the verdict.

(Photograph omitted)