There are 408 missing days in Bin Ajwaad's competitive log book. He looked a performer of the highest merit at the beginning of last season when he first ran third to Zafonic and Barathea in the 2,000 Guineas and then finished behind Kingmambo in the French equivalent. In the latter event, however, he cracked a sesamoid bone and almost the spirit of his trainer, Ben Hanbury.
'He definitely wasn't fit for our Guineas, in fact the only time he has been 100 per cent in his life was when he was second in the French Guineas on three legs,' the Newmarket man said yesterday. 'He's the best horse I've ever trained, he has an amazing turn of foot, and as it's very rare that you get these good Group One horses we were shattered.'
Hanbury's disposition was hardly helped by the reaction of the medical men, who emerged from checks on Bin Ajwaad with heads shaking. 'We sent his x-rays to America, where they have a lot more injuries like this, and the prognosis was that it was highly unlikely that he would ever race again,' the trainer said. 'We scanned him here with a machine that lets you see right through to the tendon sheath and you can still see his torn ligaments.'
In addition, the colt was such a regular recipient of medication that he may have been tempted to slip out to Glastonbury last week. 'The vet gave him goodness knows what,' Hanbury said.
Bin Ajwaad did not leave Diomed Stables, however, and, with the passage of nature's best healer, he began to perk up. This recuperation was helped by a refusal to be taken by basic urges. At a time of life when most colts are putting on their cravats, checking their parting in a mirror and searching for quarry, he remained relatively calm in captivity.
Even more importantly, Bin Ajwaad displayed that he retained an appetite for competition and began working well with his stablemate Midhish in the short, sharp gallops to which he is now restricted. Thus it was no surprise to Hanbury when the colt scored on his return to the track at Newbury a week ago. 'I thought he'd win at Newbury because he was a Steve Ovett in there against you or I,' the trainer said. 'He'd shown he'd forgotten his pain and he didn't need to be 100 per cent fit that day.'
But now a more rigorous test awaits in the Eclipse, a race Hanbury hopes will put him back on racing's Ordnance Survey. He feels he needs it.
Hanbury is outside Newmarket's superleague (about whom he speaks jealously and regularly) and believes he needs another good animal to raise the profile.
His presentational skills are unquestioned. The Hanbury wardrobe is such that there is no longer any point in conducting a best-turned-out prize among trainers, and he has few peers in what his friends would call salesmanship. But he recognises that winning big races carries the greatest seductiveness of all for potential owners, and is still grieved by the truncated careers of his previous best horses, Kala Dancer and the dual Classic winner, Midway Lady. 'Let's just hope this one makes it third time lucky,' he said.
ECLIPSE STAKES (Sandown, Saturday): Coral: 4-7 Erhaab, 4-1 Turtle Island, 7-1 Environment Friend & Ezzoud, 12-1 Bin Ajwaad, 25-1 others.
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