Racing: Mare warms Head's heart: A trainer's adoration is at its height as Hatoof attempts a Champion double this weekend

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The Independent Online
THE HATOOF world tour reaches its final British venue on Saturday, at Newmarket in the Champion Stakes. After 19 dates over four years and victories at seven different courses in four countries, the roadshow is almost at an end for Criquette Head's mare.

If she wins her second consecutive Champion at the weekend, and thus emulates another celebrated madame, Triptych (who succeeded in 1986 and 1987), there will be an encore in the Breeders' Cup Turf at Churchill Downs. Defeat will mean the curtain never rises again.

When Hatoof is finally taken from Head's Chantilly yard, the trainer is sure to have a handkerchief in one hand and the knuckle of another in her eye. France's leading woman trainer constantly reminds that she has to thank her father, Alec, for her success, and if there is to be an equine idol it would be the chestnut daughter of Irish River.

'She is one of the best horses I've ever trained,' Head said yesterday, which is praise enough as it elevates her to the shelf of two other 1,000 Guineas winners, the Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) victor Bering and Three Troikas, who captured the 1979 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. But when this private race is run in a part of Head's anatomy other than her brain there is only one winner. 'The mare has a special place in my heart,' she said.

If she wins on Saturday, Hatoof will also have a special place in racing history as she will join the select club of European animals that have earned over pounds 1m in prize money. The portents are good.

The Champion Stakes appears to be a Group One race uniquely suited to fillies and mares. Of the last 20 runnings, 12 have gone to the distaff side. In addition, Hatoof herself goes into the race in arguably the best form of her life.

Last time out, in the most valuable turf race for fillies and mares in the world, the dollars 500,000 Beverly D, at Arlington, Chicago, her victory could have been subtitled 'Swinburn's Revenge'. Walter Swinburn, the mare's regular partner, had been the victim of some needless criticism from Jerry Bailey, the American jockey, at last year's Breeders' Cup and particularly enjoyed blowing away the home opposition in the Windy City.

This win came after Hatoof's dismissal of her French contemporaries at Deauville and led to much extravagance from Head. 'For me she is the best mare in the world,' she said. 'She has beaten everyone, everywhere.

''When you can beat Ski Paradise, Flawlessly and those American horses you cannot be underrated. This year she has proved that she is the best.'

Head believes this omnipotence continues into the autumn despite Hatoof's wearying programme. 'She had a hard race in America and a long journey, so we'll be able to tell only in the race if she has held her form,' the trainer said yesterday. 'If they work badly in the morning you can definitely tell, but that is not the case with her because she is well and worked well this morning.'

Another filly, Mehthaaf, came through her morning exertions, on the Arundel gallops, successfully, but no decision has yet been taken on whether she will join another beast owned by Hamdan Al Maktoum, the second favourite Muhtarram, in the starting stalls.

'Mehthaaf did a satisfactory piece of work this morning, but the decision to run her in the Champion remains on hold for a day or two,' Marcus Hosgood, the assistant to Mehthaaf's trainer, John Dunlop, reported.

Yet another filly, David Loder's La Confederation, will now be partnered by Kevin Darley as Michael Kinane is unable to take the ride.

The foreign auxiliary troops behind Hatoof are now expected to include Andre Fabre's Dernier Empereur, who completed yesterday's training assignment successfully and is a likely runner in the hands of Sylvain Guillot.

Germany's Lando remains a consideration, though his connections need to make up their minds earlier than most. On a previous trip to Italy, Lando reasoned he was not designed to go up in planes and refused to use the gangplank. If he travels to Suffolk, it will be by land and sea.

CHAMPION STAKES (Newmarket, Saturday) William Hill ante-post odds: 11-8 Hatoof, 6-1 Muhtarram, 13-2 La Confederation, 7-1 Grand Lodge, 9-1 Dernier Empereur, 12-1 Mehthaaf & Turtle Island, 14-1 Alderbrook & Lando, 16-1 others.

(Photograph omitted)

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