Racing Commentary: Bolas revives the South Bank show: Irish Oaks victory gives Hills the incentive to scale even greater heights in an already illustrious career

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The Independent Online
BARRY HILLS was 37, just five years into his training career, when Dibidale gave him his first Classic success in the Irish Oaks of 1974. The two decades that passed until his victory with Bolas in the same race on Saturday could hardly be described as years of failure, but perhaps Hills has not achieved as much as he would have liked or as much as others had expected.

So, at an age when others might be considering winding down a little, Hills has ambitious plans to build a new stable, styled to diminish the threat of viruses which have blighted his yard since he returned to Lambourn from Manton three seasons ago.

And yesterday, rather than simply basking in Saturday's success, he was off to Germany where he saddled Torch Rouge to finish second to Ascot failure Royal Abjar in the pounds 85,000 Brandenburg Trophy at Hoppegarten.

Saturday's race had been billed popularly as a battle of the generations, with Hills's son John, who was 13 when Dibidale was in her prime, saddling the perceived danger to Bolas, Wind In Her Hair. But the senior family member had made no mistake in the filly's preparation and Bolas's emphatic win at The Curragh, with Wind In Her Hair only fourth, sets up many exciting possibilities for the second half of the season.

The Yorkshire Oaks is likely to be the next target, followed by a test of stamina for the daughter of Unfuwain at Doncaster, either in the Park Hill Stakes or in the St Leger against the colts, whose vulnerability was exposed by Balanchine in the Irish Derby.

If that part of the plan works then Hills would find it hard to resist having a crack at Balanchine in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, the race that made his name when he won it with Rheingold in 1973.

In a way, those early successes with Rheingold and Dibidale are part of the problem when assessing Hills's career, setting the standard by which his subsequent achievements are judged. The books tell us that he has not had a British Classic winner since the Seventies when Enstone Spark and Tap On Wood won the 1,000 Guineas of 1978 and 2,000 Guineas of 1979 respectively; that he has a tidy collection of Irish Classics, including Sir Harry Lewis in the Derby; that he has never been champion trainer but has over 100 victories in the top, Pattern races; that despite 113 wins in 1990 he had slumped to just 39 last year.

His most productive period was when he was at Manton, where Robert Sangster invited him to take over after parting with Michael Dickinson. After experiencing ultra modern, well designed stables and acres of perfect gallops Hills found it difficult to return to his old base at South Bank, Lambourn, after failing to come up with enough cash to buy the complex from Sangster. Hence his ambition to create a better environment for his horses on a new site in Lambourn.

While Hills has had a couple of difficult years, his successor at Manton, Peter Chapple-Hyam, has achieved an enviable rate of top-level success. And he is from the same generation as Hills's son John. This year they have each recorded 22 domestic wins, but the younger man with the Sangster bloodlines to rely on, has earned pounds 356,600 for his patrons compared with the pounds 230,436 won by the horses of Hills Snr.

The future looks bright, though. South Bank houses just over 100 horses, with more than half of them two- year-olds. Although Sangster sends only a handful of youngsters to his old ally, Hills has a broad base of owners - Khalid Abdullah, Sheikh Mohammed, Hamdan Al Maktoum, Kais Al-Said, Wafic Said - to ensure that while the new yard will echo Manton in style, it will not be the echoes produced by empty boxes.

(Photograph omitted)

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