Racing: Kooyonga to follow the path of Peebles

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The Independent Online
IF KOOYONGA wins the Eclipse Stakes at Sandown this afternoon she will join a club that has been unattainable for some of the most brilliant fillies of recent years in Triptych, Indian Skimmer and In The Groove.

Since the 10-furlong race was first run in 1886 only one female has emerged victorious and that was the brilliant Pebbles seven years ago.

This, however, is not a statistic to trouble Michael Kauntze, Kooyonga's trainer. He greets it with a fact of his own. 'I've heard that one, but then how many fillies have won the Prince Of Wales's Stakes?' he asks.

The answer to that is English Spring (1986) and Stanerra (1983) in the last 20 years, and the only reason that Kooyonga is not in that clique is because she took an erratic course in the race at Royal Ascot two weeks ago to prompt a demotion.

Kauntze considers that setback with the equanimity you might expect of a man who lists poker as his main recreation. 'You would have to say she was a bit unlucky, but she did stop Young Buster from being second,' he says. 'Having said that, she was clearly the best horse on the day.'

Kooyonga's jockey, Warren O'Connor, found it less easy to be phlegmatic, describing the day as the worst of his life. The young Irishman partnered the filly in a reconnaissance mission at the Esher track yesterday morning, standard exercise according to Kauntze and not a case of a jockey steadying his nerves before the big race.

'She just cantered around the bend and quickened up for two furlongs in the straight,' the Bullstown trainer said. 'Everyone seems to be convinced that Mr O'Connor needs to know his way round the place, but he won the Coronation Stakes last year without ever having seen Ascot before so I'm quite sure he can ride Sandown just as well.'

Kauntze is worried only by the softening ground for the Eclipse, which he sees as no greater challenge than his filly faced at Royal Ascot. 'I don't think the race is any better than the Prince Of Wales's,' he says, 'but I'm not wildly enthusiastic about the rain. The softer it gets the more against me it goes.'

Kooyonga (4.10), though, has demonstrated that she is by no means an impotent performer in these conditions, having finished second to Selkirk in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot last September, and in what appears a sub-standard Eclipse, she remains the safest option to give Ireland their first win in the race since Sadler's Wells in 1984.

The ground might suggest that MUDAFFAR (nap 4.45) is the one for the last televised race, though Robert Armstrong's colt has much more than coincidence on his side. The four-year-old is running off his lowest mark for some time and represents a trainer who has struck his most succsssful vein for many months.

Mudaffar's jockey, Steve Cauthen, should also score on Kansk (2.50), who reached the frame in Royal Ascot's Bessborough Handicap, while another for those taken by conjunctions with the weather is Spanish Storm (next best 3.25). Sean Woods's colt will win here if he goes anywhere near to reproducing his third in the Cork And Orrery Stakes at the Royal meeting.

Ball games elsewhere mean that Haydock's card has been left off the televised schedule, a move which may look even more unfortunate if yesterday's inactivity at Wimbledon and Old Trafford is repeated.

Among the winners the cameras will miss should be Quick Ransom (3.10) in the 194th year of the Old Newton Cup and Armarama (3.45), the Ribblesdale Stakes winner who now drops down a grade for the Group Three Lancashire Oaks.