Racing: Bravery is Marling's blessing

Click to follow
IT IS, yesterday's Sussex Stakes proved, the year of the imperfect specimen. Marling, St Jovite, Dr Devious, User Friendly, Lyric Fantasy: none would attract a painter's eye, but each belongs in a gallery.

Marling's victory over Selkirk, Second Set and Sheikh Albadou here further undermined the supposed connection between beauty and athletic prowess. It also ensured that when the makers of sports videos compile mile- racing's greatest hits (or latest greatest hits, as it always is), the 1992 Sussex Stakes will be replayed until the tape is bare.

Why do sponsors continue to shun Goodwood's prime attraction? This was a corporate image- maker's dream: Thourios dragging premium milers round the rim of the South Downs, Eddery, Cochrane and company crouching and waiting for the pace to slow before releasing the speed that carries champions home. Marling, Selkirk, Selkirk, Marling; that throat-stretching dive that Eddery heaved from from the little filly, clammy and tense in the parade ring just minutes earlier.

And to think this was Eddery's first afternoon back after a five- day suspension. The stream of mid-summer facial sweat told you he had been kicking his heels for a few days, but the odds-torching tenacity with which he drove Marling back at the passing Selkirk in that last furlong made you wonder whether he had spent his 'holiday' practising for eight hours at a stretch.

The truth is, of course, that nobody can do the luggage-lifting act like Eddery, and short of getting off and hoisting the horse over the shoulders, no jockey could do more to force a conveyance over the line. Such was the drama of Marling's struggle with Selkirk yesterday that it led the latter's trainer, Ian Balding, to say: 'I'm thrilled to have been part of such a fantastic race.' Even though he lost.

The fact that the eight runners had been tugged along so fast and still managed to produce such a final reckoning guaranteed that this was an encounter of the highest merit. 'Selkirk proved last year that he was a top class horse, and the two of them are very great milers,' Eddery said, with justifiable grandiloquence. At vital moments Second Set, the subject of a late injury scare, and Sheikh Albadou, best-known as a sprinter, both ran into darkness where an opening was urgently needed so they, too, will deserve more than a cursory glance when this race is recalled.

Before the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot in September will be the obvious opportunity for that review to be undertaken. Marling heads there, after a rest, and yet another encouraging aspect of yesterday is that she may stay in training as a four-year-old, quite probably as the champion miler. Some achievement for a filly who is as narrow as a bicycle and not much taller.

'I think her defeat of Culture Vulture at Royal Ascot would be her best performnace of the season, although today is the first time she has taken on the older horses,' her trainer, Geoff Wragg, said, somewhat surprisingly. The implication is that Marling was a shade below her peak yesterday, which, if correct, is a dire signal to those connected with her rivals.

In extreme terms, Marling and Lyric Fantasy are ponies, Dr Devious is narrow and unprepossessing and User Friendly and St Jovite have a brutish quality far removed from the ideals of thoroughbred breeding. But each has ignited a flare this season and probably deepened the troubles of traders already disconcerted by collapsing markets.

What do they look for, if looks mean nothing? One like Marling would reward a lifetime's search.

(Photograph omitted)