Racing: Lochsong has legendary status in sight: Richard Edmondson on the mare who may today become champion sprinter

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WHILE the Rose Bowl awaits to determine football's champions, European racing's sprinting title may be settled in the July Cup at Newmarket this afternoon.

There is little doubt who is the people's choice. While Owington, Barathea and Catrail will be backed, even the most mean-spirited of punters may tear up their losing tickets to provide a confetti reception for a victory by the turf's No. 1 draw, Lochsong.

Her attributes are manifold. She is old, she is female and her style of running is compelling. Only if she was grey could the package be improved.

The six-year-old has improved 55lb in three years, and while that is not unique - Usaidit, Dana Springs and Smarginato all improved by over three stones last year - she has survived the climb. The other three have not run this season.

Though she routinely gets a sex allowance to help her cause, Lochsong is perceived to be fighting an uphill battle against colts. 'And I think people rather like to see the boys chasing a girl around,' Ian Balding, her trainer, observes.

Most of all, however, there is the flying start. When Lochsong bursts from the gate it is reminiscent of the Western scene where the horses are sent on their way by a Colt 45 report just behind their backsides.

Lanfranco Dettori (her usual jockey but the rider today of Catrail) is regularly reduced to paroxysms. He claims he has not been as fast on any other horse and last year, at York, described Lochsong as Linford (without the lunchbox).

These, however, are emotional appraisals and a more dispassionate view of Lochsong is available from Matthew Tester, the British Horseracing Board's sprint handicapper. The realm of handicapping conjures a Dickensian vision; stolid men in subterranean rooms poring over figures with the occasional ray of sunshine bouncing on to the table. Even Tester, though, will be a slightly emotional man today.

'You don't go into handicapping in order to do 0-60s at Hamilton,' he says. 'You do it because there are races that crop up every so often when you are genuinely fascinated about what's going to happen. I'm very excited about this race.'

The accepted wisdom is that Lochsong runs like a burst balloon and, by the end of five furlongs, she has run out of air. Tester, however, believes that disciples of this theory are no more than flat-earthers following a false creed and that Lochsong can manage the extra furlong of today's journey. 'The evidence is that she's just as effective at six, but the others are not as effective at five,' he says.

'She's won over six furlongs on heavy ground and she's won over seven furlongs (at Newbury). That's going back three years now and Ian Balding has been widely quoted as saying she's a stronger horse and seeing out her races better now. So if she gets beaten I don't believe it is likely to be because of stamina.'

Lochsong has won three races this year against inferior opposition, just as if your correspondent had handed out a sprint beating to Long John Silver. Her performances may have looked impressive, but we have not learned much about the winner. Today tells us everything.

'I genuinely believe that anyone who loves sprinters must be at Newmarket,' Tester says. 'This is one of the most fascinating sprint races that has been run for a decade.

'And if Lochsong does to these horses in the July Cup what she's been doing to others then suddenly you can start talking about her in legendary terms.'