Racing: Majesty of mare on song: Royal Ascot: Lochsong, the speedy six-year-old, is on a fast track from the King's Stand Stakes to Kentucky: Jamie Reid studies the strengths and fine breeding of a favourite of the Flat

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The Independent Online
YOU don't really associate Royal Ascot with spontaneous outbursts of emotion. The thoroughbreds on display there this week will be the equivalent of the steeplechasing stars we see at Cheltenham in March. But you would no sooner expect to witness Cheltenham Festival-style scenes of celebration around the unsaddling enclosure than to see Her Majesty's Representative launching into a chorus of 'Here we go' at the climax of the Royal procession. But sometimes that well-bred reserve has to give a little. And if Lochsong, the six-year-old mare, manages to win Friday's King's Stand Stakes in the style expected, even the stiffest upper lip may be trembling.

If you were to take a poll to find out who is at present the most popular Flat racer, Lochsong would probably come out way ahead. What has endeared her to the public is partly that she does what she does so well (at the end of April she covered five furlongs of Newmarket's Rowley Mile faster than any racehorse since electronic timing began) and partly because she does it so often. The King's Stand will be her 22nd race in a career now in its fourth full season. She has won 12 of those contests, including two Group One prizes, and long after many of the Flat's high achievers have been packed off to stud, she is still out there to be shot at, running in the big sprints of the European season. And this time there is the possibility of a thrilling climax in the Breeders' Cup Sprint in Kentucky in the autumn.

The mare deserves credit for her soundness and her durability as well as for her talent, but the policy of open competition owes everything to Jeff Smith, her approachable and enthusiastic owner. The 49- year-old manufacturing boss is an unabashed lover of the Turf. Born and bred in North London, his two earliest ambitions 'were to open the batting for England and to play for the Arsenal'. He may not have troubled scorers at Lord's or Highbury but he has realised his other youthful dream of being involved with racing.

With no background in or family connection to the sport, his interest was kindled by teenage visits to Alexandra Park racetrack. That splendidly raffish venue, sadly long since defunct, has played a seminal role in the development of numerous middle-aged racing addicts and Smith was one of its most enraptured converts. 'From as early an age as I can remember, I've always been fascinated by the beauty and the spectacle of horse-racing. But I've always been very clear that I race for fun. If you get beat . . . you get beat, but the whole thing is still tremendously enjoyable.' Enjoyable yes, but in these recessionary times, can he really justify the cost?

'It depends how you measure profit. Do you measure it in terms of prize-money won or do you measure it in terms of enhancement of the bloodstock. If you race ocean-going yachts, there's no prize-money at all. I have no liabilities as such. My children are both nearly fully educated and . . .' he grins broadly, 'I don't like ocean-going yachts.'

Smith may take unpretentious pride in his racing achievements - 'There's this owner called sheikh somebody or other and there's this owner called the Queen and there's this owner called Jeff Smith. It's all very amusing really' - but it would be a great mistake to see him as a City wideboy or Terry Ramsden manque in thrall to an uncontrollable addiction.

Having left school at 18 to start out on the junior rung of the stockbroking ladder, he has built up a multi-million pound business that makes aircraft interiors. The fruits of his enterprise have bought Smith a substantial home in rural Hampshire, an 80-acre stud farm and 23 racehorses spread with three different trainers. But in keeping with these achievements, there is some of the financier's hard-headedness, as well as energy and gusto, in the way that he assesses Lochsong's career.

'She is a filly and so in a fiscal sense her future is not as problematic as it would be with a colt. She can only give us one foal a year and then you've got to wait years to see what it might be like as a racehorse whereas at the moment you've got the finished product. And while on a summer's day it's tempting to look over the paddock fence at our stud and imagine her with a foal by her side, it's even more wonderful to see her on the racecourse six lengths in front and with her ears pricked. We may even race her next year too.' At seven? A dual Group One winner? Surely not. Oh yes, says the owner.

'As long as she's still enjoying it. She is a phenomenon. She's just got better and better and grown and matured all the time. And with a sprinter you're not training them on the racecourse or thrashing them like some three-year-old who has to be ridden hard to get up to win a mile-and-a-half race.'

After her Ascot engagement, Lochsong is due to move up into the potentially perilous waters of six furlongs for the July Cup at Newmarket. But will she be as effective there as she is over the minimum trip? 'I think this year she will be,' Smith said carefully. And he is not frightened by the thought of one of the classic milers like Turtle Island coming back to take her on? 'If he comes back, that would be one hell of a contest. But what on earth is the point in worrying about it?'

Depending on how Lochsong performs in the July Cup, Smith and Ian Balding, his trainer, will then think about a crack at the biggest prize of all, the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Churchill Downs, Kentucky, in November. American racing, where even the 12 furlongs of the Belmont Stakes will soon seem an eccentricity, is obsessed with speed. The home side have only once lost the Sprint and that was when Sheikh Albadou won in 1991, also at Churchill Downs. Ninety per cent of the European horses just aren't fast enough out of the stalls to get a good position by the first bend. They get trapped in behind on unfamiliar tracks with dirt flying in their eyes and never have a prayer.

Lochsong, as Jeff Smith knows, is different. 'She's so fast through the first quarter mile that I just can't see anything beating her to that first turn. And if she's in front there, I don't think she'll lose.'

If Lochsong does manage to beat the American 'speed-balls' in their own backyard then Smith 'will be hanging from the chandeliers'. He had better not try that at Ascot, though it seems even the more muted cheering that characterises the Royal Heath will not be lost on the star herself. 'When she came into the parade ring at Newmarket before the Palace House Stakes, there was a round of applause as they presented the trophies for the 2,000 Guineas. Lochsong heard it and she looked round and I'm convinced that she thought it was for her. She loves it, absolutely loves it.'

(Photographs omitted)

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