Racing: Cecil's hot shots lose their flair: A trainer with fashion sense has a day to forget. Richard Edmondson reports from York

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The Independent Online
THE SAME clothes - well-cut suit, expensive slip-on shoes and zany tie - were sported by Henry Cecil here yesterday, but, most tellingly, the usual thin smile could not be worn.

Also missing were the eccentric capers in the winners' enclosure as the Newmarket trainer suffered a fearful afternoon. Out went the notion that Armiger could return to the thrilling form of last year, out went the idea that Tenby could ever return to his early-season omnipotence and out went the thought that Sabrehill was a horse moving remorselessly towards the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.

Tenby and Sabrehill both contested an International Stakes which rivalled Devon Loch's Grand National as a race of sudden and unexpected change.

As the field turned into the straight of an event that has produced its share of strange results over the years, it was apparent the trend could continue as White Muzzle, the second favourite, negotiated the bend in the style of Norman Wisdom.

Poised in behind him, however, was the powerful chestnut form of Sabrehill, with reserves in abundance. The competitive element of the race appeared to have ceased in a matter of strides, as the colt burst into a yawning lead, almost causing whiplash to his jockey, Michael Roberts.

Inside the final furlong, though, came a wholesale change in complexion as Ezzoud first found his feet and then finished with such effect that Roberts watched like a hitch-hiker ignored on the hard shoulder as the winner swept past.

Cecil, and White Muzzle's trainer, Peter Chapple-Hyam, may both have been left doubting the providence of wearing ties decorated with elephants. Roberts was just left stunned.

'When I pressed the button at the two I couldn't believe how quickly he went clear,' the South African said. 'I never thought I was tying up and then Walter (Swinburn, Ezzoud's rider) came past me so quickly.'

This play of events left many wondering if Roberts had committed himself too early, but it transpired he was merely following drawing-board instructions.

Cecil said: 'He may have gone a little too soon but the plan was always to kick on, so I wouldn't blame the jockey. He usually gallops on and then goes again but it didn't happen.

'He's a baby and he just got tired in the last few yards. He didn't do anything wrong really.'

The thought remained that while the pattern of the race had gone right against Sabrehill, it had come to the rescue of the enigmatic Ezzoud, who has run with disinterest for much of his career.

Michael Stoute, the colt's trainer, was the expected character witness in the winners' enclosure, however. 'People think these horses with high head carriages are absolute crabs but that's not always the case,' he said. 'He's more lazy than anything else and he's answered the questions today.'

Swinburn also came out in support. 'He's always had a funny way of running his races,' he said. 'It's not that he's ungenuine, it's more that he loses concentration.

'But I have to say that I thought I was just riding for second when Sabrehill left me behind three furlongs out. But then my horse just sprouted wings. No-one was more surprised than I was.'

Similarly baffled was Pat Eddery after Armiger, like Tenby before him, finished seventh in his race, the Great Voltigeur. The owner of these colts, Khalid Abdullah, has had a horrible few weeks, with Zafonic having to be retired and Commander In Chief being relieved of his invincibility in the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes.

While the future for the Voltigeur winner, Mark Tompkins's Bob's Return, includes the St Leger, times ahead for Armiger look exceedingly dark. Neither the drying ground or his three-month absence from the racecourse could explain this abject display, and it may be that back and shin injuries this season have robbed him of his prowess.

'He seemed to be going all right until seven out and then he just wasn't moving properly and I looked down to see if something was wrong,' Eddery said. 'I asked him to go and there just wasn't anything there. I don't know what to make of it.'

Cecil was also non-plussed by this setback, particularly as there appeared to be nothing wrong physically with Armiger. 'He got a bit excited,' the trainer said. He could not say the same for himself.

(Photograph omitted)

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