Racing: Kinane delays move to Mohammed: Paul Hayward, Racing Correspondent, on who will succeed Steve Cauthen aboard the thoroughbreds of the world's leading owner

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MICHAEL KINANE is being universally tipped to succeed Steve Cauthen as first jockey to Sheikh Mohammed, but the absence of official confirmation yesterday was encouraging Michael Roberts to believe that he still has a chance of securing the job.

Roberts is in his native South Africa and Kinane is riding in Hong Kong, so the question of who will inherit from Cauthen the famous maroon and white silks of the world's foremost owner has assumed a dramatically global complexion as Cauthen continues to speculate on his own future from his base in Kentucky.

The smart money is saying that Kinane has been offered the job but is deliberating longer than the Sheikh would have expected, hence the failure to confirm the new appointment when Cauthen's departure was announced on Monday.

On offer is the post of No. 1 jockey to racing's largest team of thoroughbreds, and even if Kinane is having difficulty deciding whether to accept the position, Roberts would have no hesitation in signing a contract that would guarantee him an annual retainer of about pounds 500,000. On top of that, Sheikh Mohammed's principal rider could expect to receive 7 1/2 per cent of all prize-money plus countless perks and benefits. In 1992 the Sheikh won 185 races and pounds 1,920,000 in Britain alone.

'It would be a dream come true for us,' Roberts's agent, Graham Rock, said yesterday with maximum regard for diplomacy. But for now Kinane is at the front of the queue. Rock spoke to Roberts by phone yesterday but confirmed that no approach has yet been received. Although Roberts was champion jockey for the first time in 1992 he would be willing to risk sacrificing his title to take such an attractive assignment.

Kinane is something of an enigma in the premier divison of jockeys. The purists insist that he is as good as Pat Eddery or Cauthen himself, but he has often shown a reluctance to leave Ireland and his job as first jockey to the Dermot Weld stable. When Cauthen was signed by Sheikh Mohammed two years ago, Kinane turned down an offer to become the American's No. 2, and it is an open secret in Newmarket that he also declined the chance to succeed Cauthen as stable jockey to Henry Cecil.

Nobody would place Kinane, 33, in the Eddery league of racing's mega-earners, but each year he is almost guaranteed the title of Irish champion by virtue of his association with Weld, and his winter trips to Hong Kong are said to be highly lucrative. Catherine, his wife, has been reluctant to leave Ireland, and though Kinane could continue to base himself in the Republic, the fact that most of the Sheikh's horses are trained in Newmarket and France means that he would spend much of his time in aeroplanes. Roberts, in contrast, lives in Newmarket and is well known to all the Sheikh's trainers there.

The only other obvious candidates are Lanfranco Dettori, Cash Asmussen and Walter Swinburn, but each is some way behind Kinane and Roberts in the betting. Dettori is not considered experienced enough and is mulling over an offer to leave Luca Cumani and ride in Hong Kong; Asmussen, one of Cauthen's rivals when the original deal was made, has just signed for Stavros Niarchos, one of the few remaining European owners able to challenge the big Arab-owned strings.

All sorts of theories were circulating yesterday about the reasons for the Cauthen - Sheikh Mohammed break up. One certainty is that it threatens to end the system of huge retainers under which the world's richest owners bid for the top jockeys just as they would bid for the best-bred horses. If the official explanations of differences over money are to be believed, there can be no doubt that the Maktoums' racing operations are now under close scrutiny from accountants, because two years ago it would have been unthinkable for a deal of this sort to fall through for the sake of the odd pounds 250,000.

Other factors must have played a part. Cauthen has found it increasingly difficult to shed excess bodyweight each spring and has made no secret of the fact that his enthusiasm for flogging through mid-week meetings at Pontefract and Folkestone is not what it was when he was battling with Eddery to become champion jockey in the mid-Eighties. Amy, his wife, is expecting a child in May, and Cauthen is already immensely rich from the sport. Set in this context his expected withdrawal from British racing is hardly surprising.

It may be significant, too, that since arriving in Britain in 1979 Cauthen has never left his gatekeeper's cottage in Newmarket and expanded into the realm of country squiredom inhabited by Eddery and Willie Carson, thus implying that his stay here was only ever temporary.

When Cauthen was asked again yesterday what his plans are he spoke of 'commentating' and 'PR' rather than alternative appointments in the saddle. 'I don't know that there's anybody with a better job to offer me than Sheikh Mohammed,' Cauthen said, while his agent, John Hanmer, confirmed: 'It's safe to assume he won't ride in England this year.'

Hanmer also said: 'Steve's not closing any doors, and, although he could retire, that's by no means certain. You just never know what offers might come in. Somebody who's heard about what happened in some far-flung corner might suddenly pick up the telephone and make him an offer he can't refuse.'

But the overwhelming likelihood is that at a time of widespread contraction in the British racing industry no offer will be sufficient to tempt Cauthen back from his old Kentucky home. If so, the jockey's trade will have lost arguably the most rhythmic and graceful practitioner of our age, as well as the only rider to have become champion on both sides of the Atlantic.

It is into this vast space that Kinane will almost certainly step.

(Photograph omitted)