Racing / Glorious Goodwood: Needle keeps eye on the prize: A colt who has sown a succession of second placings to the Classic best can finally reap the rewards of victory

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The Independent Online
NOTHING thrills a racehorse owner more than their first victory. For some reason, annual bills of over pounds 10,000 are forgotten if their beloved property manages to pick up enough to pay for the council tax.

But while there are trainers who specialise in accumulating small prizes for their patrons, men such as Jack Berry and Sir Mark Prescott, there are others, for example Clive Brittain and Paul Kelleway, who would rather collect cash than victories. Second place, as long as it accompanied by a sizeable dollop of prize money, is no disgrace to the second category.

An illustration of this pattern can be gathered by comparing two horses from Berry's yard at Cockerham and Brittain's Carlburg base in Newmarket. On Saturday, the Lancashire stable's Laurel Queen recorded the 20th win of her career, at Southwell, breaking the post-war record for victories by a filly or mare on mainland Britain. She has now earned nearly pounds 60,000.

Down on Newmarket's Bury Road, Brittain trains a horse who has never won a race in his life. Yet the final column in Needle Gun's portfolio shows he has won more than three times as much as Laurel Queen for his owner.

The colt's record as a good, and remunerative, loser has earned him the dubious title of the best maiden in training, a label which is as reliable a yardstick to future greatness as the passing out sash of the pupil most likely to succeed.

Brittain, though, expects Needle Gun to lose that badge soon, and is characteristically unrepetant that his charge has not broken his duck earlier. 'Forget the maiden side of it,' he said yesterday. 'I'm not embarrassed that he's won nearly pounds 200,000 in place money.'

If a horse, like human beings, can be judged by the company he keeps, then Needle Gun is an admirable character. He has finished runner-up on his last three starts to Classic winners in Commander In Chief (Epsom and Irish Derbys), White Muzzle (Italian Derby) and Kingmambo (French 2,000 Guineas). The first two named are now accepted as the outstanding 12-furlong three-year-olds in Britain after filling the frame behind Opera House in Saturday's King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes.

Yet Brittain believes Needle Gun has yet to reach his peak. 'He was a backward-looking two-year-old and he surprised us with what he showed then,' he said. As a juvenile the colt logged a fourth to Desert Secret in the Royal Lodge Stakes at Ascot and a runner-up spot to Petardia in Doncaster's Champagne Stakes. 'I've always thought of him as a horse who would mature all the way through his three-year-old career,' the trainer stressed.

Brittain has subsequently built up the distance of his horse's races to the point where he now thinks he will be suited by the 12 furlongs of today's Gordon Stakes at Goodwood. 'I think the course will be just right for him,' he said. 'At Goodwood there is about a six- furlong freewheel. It's very much like Epsom in that nothing ever breaks its neck going up the hill because you don't get home if you do that. A lot of the distance he goes will be at cantering pace rather than racing pace.'

The preparation for Needle Gun (3.10), who would be a topical if awkward winner in the aftermath of last week's On The Line programme, was completed yesterday. 'His final work this morning was nice and he did it confidently after working well at the week-end,' Brittain said. 'We're going there fit and fancied.'

King Athelstan, like Needle Gun, is a lot better than his bare record of a single victory indicates. Formerly a useful three- year-old, he ran just once last year before being persevered with for another season, a decision that was probably concluded over the tea and toast at Stanley House, as Ms Rachel Hood, the horse's owner, is also the wife of John Gosden, the horse's trainer.

King Athelstan (next best 3.45) showed his first worthwhile form for some time at York earlier this month when second to Baron Ferdinand in the Magnet Cup. As he did not look fully tuned up that day and now competes from a 4lb lower mark his chance is obvious.

The other televised races should go to previous course winners. Henry Cecil expects Magique Rond Point (4.15), the lesser fancied of his two runners in the Oak Tree Stakes, to perform creditably, while HOPEFUL BID (nap 2.30) must go well at a big price as he is only 1lb higher than when chasing home En Attendant in a particularly competitive handicap at Newmarket last month.

(Photograph omitted)

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