Racing: Manton drained by desert exodus

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By Greg Wood

THERE can be few better places to absorb the optimistic spirit of a new Flat season than a hilltop deep within the 2,000-acre Manton estate. When Peter Chapple-Hyam opened the doors of the finest training establishment in Britain to the media yesterday morning, there were skylarks, butterflies, and small knots of elegant, expensive but untried thoroughbreds thudding down the gallops. It was easy to imagine each one as a champion in waiting.

And yet the atmosphere was not quite as boisterous as you might expect. Chapple-Hyam, who won both the 2,000 Guineas and the Derby six years ago in just his second season with a licence, has no entries in either Classic this time around. Nor did he simply have a poor crop of juveniles last year, but instead, he could only watch as four of his best two-year- olds were sold last autumn to join the Godolphin operation in Dubai. Among them were Cape Verdi, favourite for the 1,000 Guineas with many bookmakers, and City Honours, a 40-1 shot for the 2,000 Guineas but a more realistic 20-1 chance for the Derby.

Chapple-Hyam tries to take a realistic view, but the loss of such potential must have hurt. "They were far and away the four best two-year-olds, and it leaves a big hole," he said. "But Manton has to be paid for, and racing is a business, we haven't got oil wells pumping it out. The lads get a little bit upset, but we explain that we need to sell them to keep going, and I still want them to win Derbys and Oaks because we've got their relatives here."

The three-year-old generation at Manton does not hold the promise of recent years, and while Victory Note and Distant Mirage are two who may turn out to be "late developers", the 1998 season may pass without a runner in Robert Sangster's blue and green silks in a major Classic. There is some consolation for Chapple-Hyam, though, in several excellent performers from the previous generation.

Carmine Lake, winner of the Prix de l'Abbaye at Longchamp last October, Romanov, who finished third to Benny The Dip in the Derby, and Single Empire, the Italian Derby winner, will all have Group One races on their schedule. Carmine Lake's season may start in the King's Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot, while Romanov, thought to be "a true mile-and-a-half horse who did not run at two and has improved from three to four", may also win at the highest level, although his trainer "will try and dodge Peintre Celebre, who is obviously the best around".

There is also a fresh intake of juveniles to rekindle thoughts of the Classics, and at this early stage, Mother Of Pearl is a particular favourite. "I love Mother Of Pearl," Chapple-Hyam said. "She's a three-parts sister to Turtle Island [Chapple-Hyam's Irish 2,000 Guineas winner], so it's sentimental as well, and she wouldn't want to be out too soon."

Turtle Island's first runners as a sire will also reach the course this season, and among his representatives at his former trainer's yard is the colt Waterfront, while Commander Collins, a Sadlers Wells half-brother to Colonel Collins, and Casino Queen, a full sister to Carmine Lake, have the breeding to succeed.

It may be that their reward will be a trip to Dubai. On a sunny spring morning at Manton, it was a thought which seemed unforgiveably pessimistic.