Racing: Happy perfects lonely role of the pacemaker

Godolphin's use of front-runners to help the cause of better-fancied stablemates in big races represents the revival of an old tradition.
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The Independent Online
IN EVERY sport there are superstars and those who serve them. And despite its appearance of being one of the most individual of athletic pursuits, racing is no different. Teamwork is alive and kicking on and this season the deployment of the pacemaker has been an increasingly visible part of Sheikh Mohammed's elite Godolphin squad tactics.

One of the summer's abiding memories is the absorbing unfolding of the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes in which Happy Valentine, ridden by Daragh O'Donohoe, set the race up for his blue-clad stablemate, Swain. O'Donohoe, in the role of domestique to Frankie Dettori's Pantani, judged things to perfection as as he towed the peleton towards the straight with Swain poised to lead out the run to the line.

Pacemakers are not a recent phenomenon but there has been a certain coyness about using the word because it might be thought to equate with non-trier. And up until 1927 one horse could not only be sacrificed in favour of another in the same ownership but actively stopped, as was top-class Memoir in the 1890 1,000 Guineas in order to let her stablemate Semolina win.

The role of the pacemaker is now an accepted one, providing it complies with the rule about every horse being ridden on its merits, and team tactics can, arguably, add to the spectacle of a race. As far as the Godolphin operation is concerned the promise is that there will be more, and better, of the same next year. with O'Donohoe scheduled to spend the winter in Dubai fine-tuning his time- trialling techniques.

Godolphin are in the fortunate position of having strength in depth among their resources. Happy Valentine beat subsequent Group Two winner Fruits of Love at Kempton before taking up his position as Group One hare and if he has failed to earn his 600,000gns yearling price back in actual money his efforts have more than justified his place in the side. Central Park, who led Daylami and Faithful Son to the furlong pole before their Eclipse 1-2-3, was good enough to win the Italian Derby.

Simon Crisford, Godolphin's racing manager, said: ``Too often in races there are excuses from beaten jockeys about the pace of a race. This is one factor we can take into our own hands, will be doing so increasingly in the future and will have a large pool of horses for the purpose, all decent ones in their own right.''

In this year's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, Happy Valentine was, at one point, 20 lengths clear. This was not, on the face of it, auspicious use of a pacemaker. But Crisford said: ``If you look at the fractions they were perfect for a race of that distance on soft ground. He did his job, but those behind him, including ours, made theirs harder by ignoring him.''

Everything went right for Swain at Ascot and for Daylami in that unique Eclipse 1-2-3 at Sandown; it went right for Alycidon in the 1949 Gold Cup, when Stockbridge and Benny Lynch drew the sting from Black Tarquin and almost for Bustino in the 1975 King George, as Highest and Kinglet just failed to crack Grundy.

But on one notorious earlier occasion a pacemaker almost induced heart failure. In the Winston Churchill Stakes at Hurst Park in 1954, Osborne wound it up in front for Gold Cup candidate Premonition. The 8-1 on favourite made heavy weather of getting past his stablemate and it was only in the last stride, with Osborne (25-1) being wrestled to almost to a halt (the formbook says ``led til hdd by wnr: fin on bit'') that Harry Carr got Premonition 's nose in front. Osborne's hapless rider Burrows was banned for a month; trainer Cecil Boyd-Rochfort, who issued the instructions, fined 100 guineas.