Racing: Midnight ready to strike for Cumani: A second Leger success may enable a forgotten man among Classic trainers to pass into legend

Click to follow
The Independent Online
TEN YEARS ago today one of the most memorable St Legers took place on Town Moor. The running of the 1984 Classic was the year of Lester Piggott and Commanche Run repelling Baynoun all the way up the straight.

When the Long Fellow slipped on the winner's cap, which for some reason is always of proportions which suggest Humpty Dumpty should be the wearer, it was in the knowledge that he had become the most successful Classic-winning jockey in the history of the sport.

It was also a year when another major racing figure appeared to have arrived. The cymbals crashed and the smoke went up to admit Luca Cumani, Commanche Run's trainer, into the hall of excellence and further Classics and training championships seemed assured.

It has not been like that. In the intervening decade, the Italian has won just one British Classic (the 1988 Derby with Kahyasi), and, over the last four years, Bedford House has taken the look of a yard where animal liberationists have been at work. The current equine population of 75 is less than half of that of the boom years.

'In about 1990 all the problems seemed to come at once,' Cumani said yesterday. 'First the Aga (Khan) went and then the Americans withdrew their horses en masse from European racing. Then there was the recession and Lloyd's and the arrival of John Gosden in Newmarket, meaning fewer, and more second-class, Sheikh Mohammed horses for me.

'It was frustrating because I set up an organisation that was capable of coping with 160 quality horses and suddenly you're down in numbers and quality.'

Such was the deterioration that the man who refers to himself as 'the wop', developed a new nickname. He called himself 'the forgotten man of racing'.

This season, Cumani has been more difficult to ignore. He sits inside the top 10 in the trainers' table and, in the next month, he will be represented in five Group One events. 'The way this season has gone has given me great confidence,' he said. 'I'd like to think we'll not be forgotten for too much longer.'

While he may have lost horses during the descent, he has not lost confidence in his ability. He believes he can compete with his Newmarket neighbours Henry Cecil and Michael Stoute, men he refers to as friends but also men he feels he should be challenging as Britain's premier trainer.

Today's St Leger is therefore a microcosm of what Cumani considers life should be as he tackles the big two's representatives, Red Route and Sacrament, with Midnight Legend. All three were just faces in the crowd on the gallops at Headquarters earlier this season, but have since improved in kangaroo jumps.

It may be instructive that those connected with Cecil's Red Route, the favourite, have spent most of the week looking heavenwards for dark shapes. The suggestion is that the colt is vulnerable to anything which can summon a spurt and rain is required to slow down his rivals. Sacrament, on the other hand, has shown the speed to win over a mile this term, but has not tackled this sort of trip. He may be a drained figure in the closing stages this afternoon.

The St Leger is invariably a desperate slog and if a single quality is required it is courage. As Midnight Legend has already earned a row of medals for his bravery he may be the safest option.

Newmarket also has an impressive delegation at Leopardstown, where Muhtarram and Grand Lodge take their chance in the Irish Champion Stakes despite the good to yielding ground. No home- trained horse has won the race since Jim Bolger's Park Express in 1986, and as that trainer's Perfect Imposter is the only representative today the Irish look likely, again, to be generous hosts.

Prizes will be more difficult to annex from Longchamp tomorrow, when a series of Arc trials is staged. The card has the look of a day out for the Andre Fabre stable, most starkly in the Prix Foy, in which last year's Prix du Jockey-Club victor, Hernando, faces four of the French champion trainer's best. This year's Prix du Jockey-Club winner, Celtic Arms, has a second Team Fabre ranged against him in the Prix Niel.

British interest is limited to the Prix de la Salamandre, in which Montjoy, Bin Nashwan and Prince Of India fly the flag, and the Prix Vermeille. Yenda, State Crystal and Relatively Special are the travellers here, the last-named a resident with Cumani. By the time she lines up, he may no longer be the forgotten man.