Racing: Armiger faces the test of time: The season's top two-year-olds wind down for the winter to await the natural hazard of being humbled in their Classic careers

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The Independent Online
KHALID ABDULLAH'S corner shop will be all out of dusters and Brasso next summer if the ante- post betting is to be believed.

According to the bookmakers, the Saudi Arabian owner will have some of racing's most prestigious trophies in his possession next year following the exploits of Zafonic, Tenby and Armiger, Saturday's Racing Post Trophy winner who was backed from a post- race mark of 12-1 to 10-1 for the Derby with Ladbrokes yesterday.

Armiger's victory was one of the most impressive in the history of the race, but this is not an event which often produces Classic horses. In fact, the last four winners have been unable to muster a single subsequent success between them. Armiger's price would be good value if the Blue Riband was seven weeks away, but the colt, who is trained by Henry Cecil, has to survive seven months and the emergence of potent rivals.

The colt will go into winter quarters for a programme of winding down and then revival at the turn of the year. Roger Charlton, who also trains for Abdullah, knows this agenda well. He followed it when preparing Quest For Fame to win the 1990 Derby.

'Trainers vary a little bit in their methods, but in general after a horse has run its last race of the season you wind them down gradually,' Charlton says. 'Maybe one canter a day instead of two for about 10 days, so the work isn't suddenly stopped completely.

'Then it would be down to trotting through November and December before the cantering starts again in the New Year. With a Classic horse, a Derby horse, by the time you get to March it's serious work again.'

During this build-up, Classic aspirants have to avoid flints on the ground and bugs in the air, while improving at the same rate as rivals from the previous season. Failure to maintain this differential will lead to a damaging reassessment in the spring. If either Zafonic, Tenby or Armiger cannot repeat their dominance next season the reaction will be swift and hurtful. 'He was good,' the line will go, 'but he hasn't trained on.'

'A bit of this training-on thing is physical and a bit of it is mental,' Charlton says. 'If you get something that's very small and very precocious, like Lyric Fantasy, there's always the possibility that her contemporaries, who might have been very weak and backward and couldn't get their acts together, will improve and dwarf her.

'The other types that don't train on are the ones with temperament problems. If a horse is highly strung and geed up at two, they may not want to do it any more at three. They may become unreliable and ungenuine, and just get fed up going to the racecourse and having hard races.'

There is no suggestion of instability, mental or physical, among Abdullah's trio, though on the same day as Armiger won at Doncaster, there was a reminder of hidden dangers on Newbury's card. It was in the Whatcombe Graduation Stakes of three years ago that Quest For Fame and Deploy, the following year's Irish Derby runner-up, finished second and third, at a time when other names were being forwarded as likely Classic winners.

'Like most of ours they were very backward horses and we didn't really know how much they were going to improve the following year,' Charlton says.' Nobody would ever have guessed what they were going to achieve.'

The crux of the ante-post following behind Armiger, Tenby and Zafonic, the even-money favourite for the 2,000 Guineas, is that their supporters are attempting to judge a 1993 race on 1992 conditions. And circumstances change with uncomfortable frequency in racing.

'Armiger's obviously a very nice animal and Mr Abdullah has got three serious horses for next year, but things go wrong so constantly with horses that you would want even-money to get to the races, never mind win it,' Charlton says.

'We've seen it so many times with Vincent O'Brien's horses. They have been good Dewhurst winners but the next year things went wrong, they weren't as good as we thought or something good appeared that hadn't even raced before. You never know, next year's Guineas winner may have been around already and been beaten at Leicester.'