Racing: Channon goes tilting at biggest windmills

Ex-international footballer turned trainer gains promotion into Classic league. By Greg Wood
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The Independent Online
IT IS about five years ago, early in the morning on the gallops above Lambourn. Mick Channon is giving orders to his work riders and trying to form second lot into groups of three for their gallops. "Dave, you go with Mick and Pete ... no, `ang on, Pete, you're with ... no, 'old up, Jim, you go with ... "

Standing next to me is the former jockey Lorna Vincent, who was, at the time, also Channon's assistant trainer. "You know, to look at him now," she says, "you'd think he hadn't got a clue what he's doing. But take it from me, there's always a plan in everything he does. He knows exactly what he's doing."

She was right. The seasons since have seen steady growth in both the size and earning capacity of Channon's string, to the point where his official roster runs to three figures.

Cheap horses who ran like expensive ones were his speciality, although there was a Group One winner all of four years ago, when Piccolo took the Nunthorpe Stakes at York.

Yet even that could not match the significance of his achievement at the same racecourse last week. You could saddle the winners of the two Group Two two-year-old races at the Ebor meeting and still be just another promising trainer travelling in the right direction. When both carry the colours of a Maktoum family member, however, you have almost certainly arrived.

Last season's prize-money total of pounds 254,000 is a distant memory, sure to be doubled in the near future. More important, though, Josr Algarhoud, the Gimcrack Stakes winner, and Bint Allayl, who won the Lowther Stakes, are now Britain's pre-eminent two-year-old colt and filly respectively. Defending that status until the end of the season would bring glory as well as cash.

The schedule for both almost writes itself, with Josr Algarhoud likely to contest the Group One Middle Park Stakes and the Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket in the autumn, while Bint Allayl takes in the Moyglare Stud Stakes in Ireland and the Cheveley Park at Newmarket.

"That's always been the plan, right from the start," Channon says. "The only part of it that's gone wrong so far is that they both got beat the first time they ran, but these things happen."

A good showing from either and Newmarket on Guineas weekend in May next year is the next stop. What might happen in between, however, is anyone's guess, and few would bet against the pair arriving for their Classic clad in Godolphin blue.

It is talk which exasperates their trainer. "No-one's said anything to me," he says. "I'm not worried, and I can't predict what the future will bring. If I could, I'd know tomorrow's winners. So I'm just going to carry on, and if it happens, so be it."

As he also points out a little later, though, "someone's got to make them". In other words, anyone who wants access to the Maktoums' vast reserve of thoroughbred raw materials needs to be a team player, something which Channon, of course, knows all about.

These days, there are horses by such illustrious stallions as Sadler's Wells, Mtoto and Green Desert bedding down in the yard, but so far at least, their trainer has not lost his passion for a poke around the flea market in search of a Rembrandt. "Obviously I'm thrilled that we're getting better horses, but we also won the Molecomb Stakes at Goodwood with a filly by Whittingham, who's a pounds 600 sire who stands just down the road from here. Golden Silca came from a two-grand nomination, and she didn't do us any harm finishing third in the Prix Morny. She was the best filly in the race by a long way, and you only get 3lb over there, not 5lb like you do here. There won't be many better fillies in France, that's for sure."

Which makes it all the more satisfying that he has a far better filly at home. Should Bint Allayl join Godolphin, though, it might yet be Golden Silca, the filly who cost pounds 2,000 to breed, who is Channon's runner in the 1,000 Guineas next year. He would accept the situation without a murmur, and would enjoy nothing more than to win a big race with a bargain. But it is impossible not to hope that he will get a chance to prove that he knows exactly what he is doing with Classic horses too.