Racing: British find fortitude in Flakey: The beleaguered band of domestic breeders of jumping stock can take heart from victories in Saturday's main races at Cheltenham

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ONE of the most beleaguered factions in racing was given a boost by the big-race results at Cheltenham on Saturday. No, not myopic stewards, nor poor battered bookies, nor impoverished punters. The victories of the mares Flakey Dove and Dubacilla gave heart to British-based breeders of jumpers.

The domestic jump breeding industry has been for many years under successful attack by the Irish. The reasons could stretch to a thesis, but basically a combination of every advantage - numerical, environmental, climatic, fiscal, managerial, and genetic - has given the Irish horse a deserved reputation for excellence.

Irish-foaled hurdlers and steeplechasers consistently win more than half the jump Pattern (Grades One, Two and Three) races in Britain each season, the rest being shared between the home side and the rest of the world. The only champion National Hunt stallion based in Britain in the last 30 years was Spartan General in 1979.

There is a problem of lack of self-belief among the British, but breeders over here can produce the goods. Desert Orchid, Mr Frisk, Party Politics and Norton's Coin have been testimony to the fact that a horse does not have to have shamrock growing out of its ears to win big races.

In contrast to its worldwide Flat counterpart, the jump breeding industry is solely concerned with these isles. The Irish can sell their untried youngsters to each other and to the British. Breeders here have only the domestic market, or keep their produce to race themselves, for fun.

This season the score is 19-14 in favour of Ireland in terms of Pattern winners of British races. Fourteen of the Irish were purpose-bred jumpers as opposed to Flat drop-outs; only half of the British were.

The two splendid eight- year-old mares Flakey Dove and Dubacilla are two of those true to their heritage, and come from similar backgrounds, both being bred, owned and trained by farmers.

Flakey Dove is the best so far of the great dynasty of Doves founded by the late Tom Price and now trained by his grandson, Richard, at Leominster. The matriarch of the tribe was a 1940-foaled half-bred mare, Cottage Lass, bought for pounds 20 by Price after the war as a broken- down point-to-pointer.

Only her sire, top-class jump stallion Cottage, was known, but she surely would have felt a pea under a thick straw bed. Wed to a moderate local horse, she produced Red Dove, who won 16 of her 93 races and was as faithful a servant at stud, producing six foals between 1969 and 1977, all fillies, all winners, and all - Grey, Another, Saucy, Shadey, Nimble and Jubilee - with the Dove suffix.

Shadey, with 12 victories the most prolific winner among them, is the dam of Flakey, whose Cleeve Hurdle was her 10th win and the first Group One victory for the family.

Dubacilla, the pride of Henry and Veronica Cole from Taunton, comes from better- documented lineage. Her great- grandmother, Ghana Princess, was a member of an aristocratic sprinting family but was cast out for 300 guineas at the sales for being utterly useless. But she redeemed herself by producing Princess Camilla, who was much fancied for one of Red Rum's Nationals and set a record auction price for a steeplechaser when she was sold for 20,000 guineas in 1974.

As a broodmare, Princess Camilla had a variety of mates, including the Arc winner Rheingold, and produced three jump winners. Her daughter by the hunter stallion Ascertain was sent to the Newmarket yearling auction in 1979, where Henry Cole, at the ringside only because he had given a friend a lift to the sales, took a chance on her at 1,200 guineas.

Named Just Camilla, she did not win, but her first foal was the admirable staying chaser Just So, and her second, by cheap local stallion Dubassoff (who had won an American Derby), was Dubacilla.

With luck, both mares will, in time, further the cause of British jump breeding. Flakey Dove, win or lose the Champion Hurdle, is likely to be covered this spring. Dubacilla, with the Coles' eyes on the 1995 Cheltenham Gold Cup, will have to wait a year.

(Photograph omitted)