Racing: Double act with a Muzzle for critics: The Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe provides a stage for Yutaka Take, a straight man with spine - Richard Edmondson on the trainer and jockey behind the favourite for Europe's premier race

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The Independent Online
IF YOU were unkind, you could call them the Laurel and Hardy of this year's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. But when Yutaka Take and Peter Chapple-Hyam, the men behind the Longchamp favourite, White Muzzle, turn up for duty in Paris tomorrow there will be no semblance of jollity. Both feel they have too much to prove.

Take, tall and vulnerable as a strand of barley, is the undisputed master of Japan's riding ranks, but has yet to convince many Europeans that his overwhelming success at home has global significance; the plump Chapple-Hyam believes he will get few chances such as this to welcome home the victor of the continent's premier race.

For those who judge by statistics, Take's claims to be in the superleague are undeniable. Since his apprentice year of 1987, the 25-year-old has won well over pounds 100m in purses, among them 15 Group One races.

When Take was at Ascot on Saturday there was no happier band of sportsmen on the planet than the men he left behind in Japan's weighing rooms, and the same figures will again be comforted this weekend by the sight of an empty peg in their quarters.

Take's career has reached a junction where he considers all domestic targets to have been accomplished. Now he must go on to confirm his calibre elsewhere. 'He's doing this because he wants to prove a Japanese boy can be one of the best jockeys in the world,' Patrick Barbe, the racing manager to White Muzzle's owner, Teruya Yoshida, says. 'He wants to be seen as a very good rider everywhere.'

The route to vindication has had its pitstops. The man who advertises sweaters, cars and beer back home was applauded for his recent ride on Ski Paradise in the Prix du Moulin at Longchamp, but hisill-judged effort on the same horse at Ascot on Saturday provoked suggestions that he should be sponsored by a spectacles company.

The Yoshida camp see the antipathy to their man as little more than jingoism, and criticism sees them curl up like armadillos. 'The owner will stick with Yutaka for the next 15 years,' Barbe says. 'He is learning to adapt over here, but he'll make it. He's had some brilliant rides in France in handicaps on long-shots. He's given riding lessons to the French jockeys.'

However, Take now finds himself in the highest class of all. It is said that, behind his high cheekbones, there is one of the calmest minds in racing, an attribute he will need tomorrow. 'I'm sure he feels under pressure, but he has the nerve not to show it and in races he doesn't show it either,' Barbe says. 'He is a very cool guy and he has a very strong will.'

The image of Take in the saddle is one of straight lines. In the paddock he sits bolt upright, while on the race-track his back is spread flat enough to balance a tray of drinks. He likes to be text-book in approach as well, and has already done his homework. 'Yutaka has studied videos of the last 20 Arcs and knows that the first 400 yards of the race can be like the Grand National,' Barbe says. Weekend golfers who watch instructional videos will, however, testify that there is a limit to which film can play a part in success.

Perhaps more valuable for Take will be the dress rehearsals he conducts with Chapple-Hyam: their joint orienteering ventures in the Bois de Boulogne. 'I'll be walking the course with him a couple of times and I'll take a map with me to show him where he should be,' the Manton trainer said this week. 'But, whatever happens, the horse should tell him where to be.

'Pat Eddery was exactly right the other day when he said it doesn't matter who rides White Muzzle. He'll tell you what position he wants to be in and when he wants to go.'

Chapple-Hyam himself thought he would never be in this position again, even though, at 31, he is still in the diapers stage of his career. Twelve months ago at Longchamp, the Wiltshire trainer was a desperate figure even though White Muzzle had run the race of his life to chase home Urban Sea. 'I thought he'd win that day and I also thought I'd never get another stab like that in the race,' he says. 'I thought that might be my one chance.'

The colt's owners, however, provided relief for Chapple-Hyam when they allowed their horse another year in competition. After the Arc, White Muzzle will have one more run before embarking on a procreative career at the Japanese stud which is already home to a former Chapple-Hyam charge, the 1992 Derby winner, Dr Devious.

White Muzzle's season has consequently been tailored to just two minutes in Paris. 'If anything, he's a little better this year,' Chapple- Hyam says. 'He doesn't work as well as he used to, but that's because he's a little bit older and wiser. But he has matured a lot and he's a better racehorse.'

There is a difference, though. Last October, it was John Reid's boot that Chapple-Hyam lifted into the saddle, while tomorrow he will perform the same function for Take.

Chapple-Hyam sees much of himself in Take, for whom defeat will warm the perverse few. Many of the same people wanted to see Chapple- Hyam drown professionally when his double-barrelled surname entered the ranks of trainers three years ago at the head of the sumptuous Manton complex owned by his wife's former step-father, Robert Sangster.

As a member, albeit a distant one, of Sangster's spreading family, his appointment seemed to come from the file labelled 'jobs for the boys'. Appearances, though, were deceptive.

Despite his name, Chapple-Hyam is no tweed-clad member of the gentry. He's the son of a Leamington Spa grocer and a man less comfortable with a sherry glass in his hand in the company of stewards than a chunkier receptacle in the bar with his friends.

He has also proved himself both as an adept handler of thoroughbreds (Dr Devious and Rodrigo De Triano were both brilliant beneficiaries of his tutelage) and a passionate communicator with the media. When Chapple-Hyam thinks his horse will win it is not a judgement he keeps to himself.

The trainer insists he's working on this adrenalin-charged image. 'I'd like to be a John Dunlop and pretend it doesn't matter very much,' he says. But while the Arundel man draws laconically on a cigarette during races, his colleague rather gives the game away by gasping his way through much of a packet and crushing those that remain.

Chapple-Hyam has made no secret of the fact that he would prefer Reid in the saddle, but he has been surprised by the ricochets of criticism surrounding the replacement.

'Everyone's after him,' the trainer says. 'When he won on Ski Paradise (at Longchamp recently) people rang up wanting me to say he was the best thing since sliced bread, and after Saturday they wanted me to say he was rubbish. All I can say is that I honestly think he's a world- class pilot.'

Both the geography of Longchamp and the speed he should be travelling over it will be implanted in Take's mind by the time the stalls flap open at 3.50 tomorrow afternoon.

'We won't hang around,' Chapple-Hyam says. 'We'll be up there and, if they're not going fast enough, we'll force it and take it out of some of them.'

The crux then for Take and Chapple-Hyam will be finding the right pace for White Muzzle. If they can find the timing of Laurel and Hardy, they will not mind the comparison.

(Photographs omitted)