Racing: Muhtarram spearheads challenge for Million: European rivals past and present test home-grown talent

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The Independent Online
THE wholesale failure which has followed recent British runners at the Breeders' Cup meeting might have persuaded their more pessimistic supporters that horses trained in America are fundamentally superior to our own. In Sunday's Arlington Million in Chicago, it will fall to John Gosden's Muhtarram and Spartan Shareef, from the yard of the ever-enterprising Clive Brittain, to prove otherwise.

They are among 17 entries for what was once the richest race on the planet, and the European challenge will be bolstered by two runners from France, Petit Loup and Jeune Homme. Of the remaining entries, meanwhile, no fewer than five started their careers in this country, most memorably User Friendly, the 1992 Oaks winner, though she is more likely to run in Saturday's Beverley D Stakes, and Blues Traveller, third to Commander In Chief in last year's Derby. More effort is needed to recall Wharf, once a useful performer for Henry Cecil, while Marastani and Fanmore were no more than decent handicappers before departing for the States.

American trainers might see the apparent improvement in such emigres as Marastani and Fanmore as evidence of the superiority of their techniques. British handlers might respond that even half-decent horses from this side of the ocean are, given a little time to acclimatise, the equals of the best in the States. In truth, of course, their records show nothing more than that some British horses prefer the American way. We do not hear about the exports which do not prosper.

Muhtarram, in a sense, has a foot in both camps, since John Gosden, his trainer, spent the formative years of his professional life in California. Reports from the track yesterday indicate that he travelled well, which must have been a considerable relief to his connections. His trip to California last year for a race on the Breeders' Cup undercard left him so distressed that he was unable to take part. Though Clive Brittain's runners can never quite be written off, Muhtarram surely has a more realistic chance of emulating Tolomeo and Teleprompter with success in the Million.

Britain's third challenger at the Arlington Festival will be Colonel Collins, the Derby third, who will run for the last time in the care of Peter Chapple-Hyam in the Secretariat Stakes, another Grade One event. It will be a busy weekend for Chapple-Hyam, who could be in charge of big-race challengers in three countries. Ground permitting, Turtle Island may contest the Celebration Mile at Goodwood on Saturday, while his Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe candidate, White Muzzle, is a definite starter in the Grand Prix de Deauville the following day.

White Muzzle was second to Urban Sea in last year's Arc, and Chapple-Hyam is confident that the colt is reaching his peak at the perfect time. 'He was an autumn horse last year and he's really starting to come to himself now,' the trainer said yesterday. 'He was unlucky in the King George (runner-up to King's Theatre) and he's improved since. There's only ever been one race in our mind anyway, and that's the Arc. He's been trained for it like a French horse.'

Impressive wins by Only Royale at York and Hernando at Deauville, have put them shoulder-to-shoulder with White Muzzle at the front of Arc betting. Chapple-Hyam, though, is unperturbed. 'They were good performances,' he said, 'but we've beaten them before, so why shouldn't we beat them again?'

Perhaps the most significant news yesterday, though, came from Ascot. During the Festival meeting there on 24 September, the course announced, the family entertainments will include a carousel and dodgems behind the main grandstand.

Dodgems at Ascot. Now what price Shergar for the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes?