Racing: Elsworth delivers heavy Punch

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The Independent Online
FRANK may have gone but the comebacks haven't. David Elsworth and Walter Swinburn further resuscitated their previously moribund fortunes here yesterday with a little help from Persian Punch. The big horse, a chestnut of the dimensions a big white hunter might see in his telescopic sight, demonstrated that his heart is in proportion with a resolute display in the Henry II Stakes. Next month he will make the ground shudder at Royal Ascot.

"If you win the Derby with a three-year-old colt you can go to bed for three years," Elsworth said, "but for me, as an old fogey and traditionalist, the Ascot Gold Cup is the most exciting race. It's nice to see a proper race unfold where character and tenacity come into it."

It was a contest which allowed Persian Punch to show the full range of his virtues. It began sadly with Double Trigger being hard driven to get to the lead and not even managing that small victory. The old boy is suffering from battle fatigue these days and it would be kinder to remove him to a rest home before he ends up in the gutter.

There is still a lot left in Persian Punch however. He was never worse than fourth and took up the running at the bottom of Sandown's run-in, three furlongs out. You put on the crampons here and scramble.

The elephantine Persian Punch filled the binoculars as he laboured up the home run almost in slow motion. It was like watching an oil tanker. You knew he was going at pace yet he hardly seemed to be moving. There was a head to spare at the line from Samraan and, according to Elsworth, a body full of guts. "He always wins when it really hurts," he said.

The performance had Gold Cup written all over it, but the other jottings of the form book carry a caveat. Persian Punch was favourite when a tailed- off 12th of 13 at the Royal meeting last year. Elsworth blamed that run on the horse's unfortunate housing, which was rather like having a Hell's Angel chapter move in next door. "He was near to a tricky customer [Barry Hills' Moonax] in the stalls and he flipped," the trainer said. "He banged his head, he banged his hock and he banged his knee. He totally lost concentration.

"When the stalls opened he was like a footballer whose legs had turned to jelly as he was about to take a penalty. He just couldn't gallop. He ran for a while and then he fell apart."

A similar thing has happened to Swinburn's world twice in recent years following a near-death racing experience in Hong Kong and a year-long sabbatical from the saddle. But following an Italian Oaks victory on Zomaradah on Sunday and yesterday's double here the bad moments seemed to be reversing quickly into history. "It's just like the old times," he said. "In moments like this you feel that the hard work has been rewarded. But it's all too easy to get complacent and I fully realise that there is a lot more hard work ahead.

"This time last year, two years ago or even five years ago I wouldn't have been up to riding in a two-mile race after riding at 8st 8lb."

There was also a pleasant result in the Temple Stakes, even though the camps Dunlop and Hanbury were none too pleased over the state of the ground, which they considered to be ovewatered and false. But then they didn't win did they. Jack Berry, another trainer from the school of hard knocks, did.

Jack looked in terrible trouble though at one point as Bolshoi was patently not off. Carl Lowther located the turbo switch two furlongs out, however, and was rewarded with the 100th, and biggest, win of his career.

Bolshoi used to be a bit of a lad until Jack made him wholly a gelding. "It would do a lot of people good that wouldn't it?" the trainer said. The press huddle dispersed with unusual swiftness.