Racing: Gosden miler on the march

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THE RISING miling star Muhtathir earned a tilt at the biggest windmill with his no-nonsense victory in the feature here yesterday, the Celebration Mile. The next assignment for the long-striding chestnut, who gave his owner Hamdan Al Maktoum and jockey Richard Hills a 51.5- 1 treble, will be against the best in his division in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot at the end of next month.

Muhtathir has tackled Group One company twice before and failed, albeit honourably, both times. But the colt is now a much better athlete than the one who took the runner's-up spot in last year's Grand Criterium and this year's French 2,000 Guineas.

John Gosden, his trainer, said: "He has improved all summer, although at one stage it was a close-run thing. He was a very sick horse just before Royal Ascot, where we thought he would go very close in the St James's Palace Stakes, but luckily we spotted he was carrying the illness in time and no damage was done by working or running him."

The son of Elmaamul saw only one other horse yesterday, as Starborough keenly but briefly ranged upsides, but though he is a natural front- runner, he is not headstrong. "Racing is like most things in life - you have to learn to relax at a critical stage," said Gosden. "It was very pleasing to see that, although there was another horse running next to him, it did not bother him in the slightest. We always work him from behind at home. If you work a front-runner in front, they never really learn to relax and use their stride properly."

Hills was able to ride exactly the race he wanted and Muhtathir had ample in reserve to hold the consistent Almushtarak by a length and three- quarters, with the filly Lovers Knot half a length third. "He's a good horse and is better every time I get on him," said the jockey. "He was beautifully balanced down the hill and picked up well when I asked."

Gosden is confident that Muhtathir will cut it at the top. "The stiff Ascot mile will suit a big long-striding horse like him very well," he said.

Muhtathir, fourth-placed Decorated Hero and their stablemate Masha-Il, who squeaked home by a head from Faraway Lass in the afternoon's serious betting heat, the Ladbroke Racing Sprint, will be available for patting this morning when Gosden's Stanley House Stables hosts its annual charity open day in Newmarket.

It was a decent performance under top-weight of 9st 10lb by Masha-Il who, despite being installed among the market leaders for next month's Ayr Gold Cup, may now deservedly step up to Listed company, and another fine training effort, as the little son of Danehill has to spend most of his time out-of-doors in a paddock because of recurring breathing problems.

The third winner in the blue-and-white colours, Ta-Lim, had the easiest task in the March Stakes. With the much-fancied Sadian a last-minute absentee because of a mild snuffle, the mile and three-quarter race was not as competitive or informative a St Leger trial as it might have been, but Ta-Lim could do no more than beat his two remaining rivals. A good job the progressive young stayer made of it, too; he set off in front, repulsed the fairly determined challenge of Generous Terms and the more fleeting one of Napoleon's Sister half-way down the straight and stayed on strongly for a two and a half length victory.

Whether or not he will be Sir Michael Stoute's representative in the only English Classic to so far elude him has yet to be decided. Angus Gold, Hamdan's racing manager, said: "The horse is improving fast, although whether he is up to St Leger class is another question. What is certain is that if he continues to improve he will be a proper Cup horse next year." That is certainly the sphere indicated by Ta-Lim's breeding, being as he is by Ela Mana Mou, the sire of one Gold Cup winner in Double Trigger, out of a half-sister to another, dual hero Ardross.

Sadian may turn out at Salisbury on Thursday, after which a decision will be made about supplementing him to the Doncaster Classic.