Racing: Friend's fatherly interest: Sue Montgomery explains why Ascot might be the right environment for a stallion's bid

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The Independent Online
RACING followers can be a capricious lot. They complain that star horses are whisked away to stud too quickly, yet when a gang of old stagers hang around for a year or two to entertain them, they refuse to appreciate them.

The victory of Ezzoud in the Eclipse Stakes two weeks ago was under-acknowledged because the five-year-old (and a four-year-old, Bob's Return) had the temerity to beat the Derby winner, Erhaab. The trio will line up for the big re-match on Saturday in Ascot's midsummer showpiece, the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes.

But don't forget the horse who finished fourth at Sandown, Environment Friend. He was almost on the floor when he slipped on the home turn, yet finished only four lengths behind Erhaab. It was a genuine hard-luck story and his jockey Michael Roberts is certain that he would have been in the shake-up.

Environment Friend advertised his well-being with a sparkling gallop early yesterday morning on Newmarket Heath. He streaked clear of his companions and finished on obvious good terms with himself.

And if racing needs a 'personality', then this horse fits the bill. At six years old, he is in his fifth season racing. He is a beautiful, flashy grey. And he lives the most unusual life of any horse in training.

He retired to stud last spring, but although he had good form at the highest level, he did not attract many brides, so his owner, Bill Gredley, never a man to be bound by convention, put him back in training to further advertise his talents. He promptly finished a close third in the Coronation Cup, and on his seasonal debut last month made Apple Tree, the French- trained King George favourite, fight to the line.

Around 40 of Environment Friend's sons and daughters (mostly from Gredley's own mares) have been born from his first stud season, but he does not let his role as a father interfere with his work as an athlete.

Gredley said: 'He has an exceptionally sensible temperament, and knows the difference between the two jobs, although he does fancy Peaches Polly, User Friendly's sister, quite a lot. I think being a stallion has helped him as a racehorse. He's strong and mature, and he's aware that he's the leader of the herd, as it were, and that has given him confidence.

'He'll carry on racing as long as he keeps his form and shows he's enjoying it. It would be wonderful if he could still be racing when his children are.'

The former jockey Gary Rimmer took over as Environment Friend's trainer only last month, but has worked in Gredley's private yard outside Newmarket for four years, so he knows the old horse well. The 38-year-old Rimmer, who got off the mark with a winner at Yarmouth on Wednesday, said: 'He's as well as he's ever been, and I'm not frightened of the three who finished in front of us at Sandown. They all had a much harder race than us, and it might show.'

Another Group One win would do wonders for Environment Friend's 'breeder cred', but he has not won since taking the Eclipse Stakes at 28-1 three years ago, and is one of the outsiders for Saturday's pounds 250,000 prize. Gredley said: 'He's about the same horse as Apple Tree, who has franked the form by winning since Epsom, yet he's five times the price. I know which one is value.'

(Photograph omitted)

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