Racing: International service pays off for Butler

Compton Admiral's trainer attempts his second Group One victory of the year when the Eclipse winner goes to York
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The Independent Online
GERARD BUTLER is only 33 but he commands instant and warranted respect. The Irishman has assisted the racing legends Wayne Lukas, Colin Hayes and John Dunlop, and, in only his second season, he has trained Compton Admiral to Group One success.

Most persuasive of all though is the air rifle which leans in the corner of his stable office as he addresses visitors. It helps you to take him seriously. "That's for magpies," he informs journalists who thus far have chronicled his career most positively. But then there is much to get excited about.

If Compton Admiral wins the International Stakes at York on Tuesday it will be a second win at the highest level following his victory in the other Eclipse at Sandown last month. And, what's more, it will not be a shocking result. Gerard Butler's career is in its infancy, but already he has been noticed. He looks as though he might be around for a while, maintaining the family tradition.

The Butlers of Co Kildare have been immersed in matters of the turf for generations. Their most travelled son is doubtlessly young Gerard, who has adopted an almost Calvinistic approach to labour from his days at the feet of notable figures. Colin Hayes, the late, great man of Australian racing, was one inspiration. "Colin was a big man to everyone who knew him, but he had had this heart problem for quite a long time," Butler says. "He was the sort of guy who would do more work in a day than most people manage in a week. And he paid a price for that I'm afraid."

And then there is Wayne Lukas, for whom Butler worked for almost four years. Lukas, the trainer of 19 champions, the leading money-earner in the United States on 14 occasions and the winner of 13 Breeders' Cup races, was inducted into America's Racing Hall Of Fame this week. In his own mind he's been there for a while. And he hasn't achieved great station by snoozing in an armchair.

"I went to work for Wayne Lukas on 17 November, 1991. That was one of the days you don't forget," Butler says. "Wayne Lukas never stops. He's an institution. He can tear you apart and shred you to pieces one minute and the next he can have you on top of the world. You learn to do things his way. It was always the pursuit of excellence. There was no cutting corners, nothing done half-heartedly. You learned the work ethic and it was non-stop every day.

"The impression of him as an imposing character is right. He either takes to you or he doesn't. And if he doesn't you might as well pack your bags and go home that night. Otherwise you can jump on the bandwagon and keep your head down. He does expect an awful lot. For every dollar he gives you he wants a dollar and five cents back. He wants undivided attention, which is quite right."

Post Lukas, the fledgling Butler was at finishing school with John Dunlop when he came to the attention of the Swedish owner, Erik Penser. The Scandinavian banker had decided to turn a chunk of his 1,700-acre property in Oxfordshire into a training establishment and was looking for a man. It was time to get Butler.

Churn Stables rose from pastureland and were built in a year atop the Blewbury Downs. Butler and his family moved in during December of 1997. The premises incorporate gallops which used to reverberate to the hooves of Fulke Johnson Houghton's Ribocco and Ile de Bourbon, and they are now marked by a bunch of horses with similar names.

Penser was so taken with Compton Beauchamp, the village near Lambourn where has a property, that he determined to incorporate the place into the names of his horses. All his home-breds are prefixed Beauchamp and those bought always start with Compton.

Each year the suffix for Penser horses changes with the alphabet. Following Comptons Admiral, Ace and Aviator, this season's two-year-olds include Compton Bolter and Compton Banker. It would be nice to think that when Penser gets to D he will call one of the two-year-olds Compton Dennis.

It is Compton Admiral who stands supreme at the moment, however. "He's the type of horse that wants to please all the time," Butler says. "If he was a human being he would be your best friend. He would always get you out of trouble. He's just a nice guy to deal with every day. He just wants to do his job. He's our star and we're very proud of him."

Compton Admiral is a horse now used to exposing false heroes. He was the first animal to beat Killer Instinct, at Ascot last July, before we realised what an easy accomplishment that was to be for others. Then, in the damp of springtime, he accounted for the 2,000 Guineas favourite, Mujahid, in the Craven Stakes.

The pinnacle though was the Eclipse. Some have chosen to rubbish the form of the race but none of them has done so in the Churn Stables office. The musket is a bit off-putting. "The people who knock the form of the Eclipse are entitled to their opinion," Butler says, "but they should try to win the race with a so-called sub-standard horse. They should stick a horse rated 0-70 in there and see where he finishes. But then we're a small stable. It's not like Newmarket. You have to get directions to come here.|

Many have heard the call though and Penser's horses at the yard are now outnumbered by other patrons. Compton Admiral may sound the bugle once again next week and there is the promise of an even greater prize twinkling on the horizon.

"The American horses are there to be shot at this year and if ever there was a time to have a go at them in the Breeders' Cup Classic then this could be it," the trainer says. "We've got to get over the Juddmonte International but the Breeders' Cup is a fantastic occasion, the grand finale."

Gulfstream Park and Florida in November is the climax for some, but for Gerard Butler it could be something quite different. It could be the international beginning.

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