Racing: New Lad comes of age

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The Independent Online
Harwell Lad, a horse who could keep a convention of psychiatrists happy, was on his sanest behaviour here yesterday as he won the 41st Whitbread Gold Cup and headed a unique one-two for his trainer Robert Alner. The eight-year-old, with his favourite rider Rupert Nuttall in the saddle, put his previous quirks and foibles behind him as he beat his better-fancied stablemate Flyer's Nap for the last big prize of the jump season.

The four-length victory was a triumph for patience and tact, and, although it may be a controversial subject, for the therapeutic qualities of the hunting field. At the start of the season Harwell Lad was a horse who seemed out of love with racing, if not life itself, surly and unco-operative and tricky to handle. Alner and the owner Harry Wellstead sent him to the amateur jockey Nuttall, master of their local Blackmore Vale hunt in Dorset, and the change of occupation took the shackles off Harwell Lad's mind.

Nuttall said: "When he came to stay with me he wouldn't go on the gallops and he'd try to buck people off. We took him hunting, and played around with him, and it gave him something else to think about. And one day he seemed to turn around and decide that life wasn't a bitch, after all. But I promise you, if it wasn't for hunting, he'd be in a meat can by now."

Harwell Lad was one of three in the race trained by Alner, who said: "I was only half joking when I said I'd run all three to make sure this one had company. He's always had talent, but if he's on his own he sees no point in racing against himself and has downed tools more than once."

Nuttall, 37, made sure Harwell Lad had something to chase yesterday, holding him up just behind the leading group before letting him jump to the front three out, past Flyer's Nap, Macgregor the Third and Yorkshire Gale, who came down. Barton Bank had unshipped his rider with a bad mistake at the second water and Avro Anson ran out of puff at about the same point.

It was the biggest career win for the Blandford-based Alner, 53, and his first at Sandown either as a trainer or amateur jockey. He said: "This horse was a serious problem, but I love a challenge. The sympathetic approach worked and he's paid us all back in some style."

As the jump season bowed out, thoughts turned towards high summer with four Derby entrants among the six runners in the Classic Trial.

But the winner, Voyagers Quest, continuing the good run for the Peter Chapple-Hyam-Robert Sangster team at Manton, was not one of them, and is bound for the French version at Chantilly.

The Derby favourite Entrepreneur worked here yesterday and, in terms of missing a golden promotional opportunity, United Racecourses proved the Gareth Southgate of course management. Last week United - which also runs Epsom - launched a campaign to rekindle public interest in the Derby, the high spot of which was assorted "personalities" dancing a conga past the winning post.

Yesterday, presented with the horse the racing public most wants to see - the Michael Stoute-trained colt, who has not run since winning at Chester seven months ago, is strongly fancied for Saturday's 2,000 Guineas - the Sandown authorities omitted to ensure that his early-morning workout was filmed by the Channel 4 team, a piece of footage that would have been guaranteed to spark interest in the Derby.

The Sandown authorities found themselves on the back foot over the incident, but the course clerk Andrew Cooper's excuse that he had been unaware of the identity of the horses working, and his suggestion that he would have needed the trainer's approval before allowing any filming, fell on largely unsympathetic ears.

Coupled with the inconvenience caused by the worrying precedent of a ban on cars in the face of no terrorist threat to the yesterday's meeting or even the suggestion of one, Sandown's biggest day was not its finest.

As Entrepreneur, ridden by his likely 2,000 Guineas pilot Michael Kinane, galloped with his stablemate Sacrament over seven furlongs, his market rival Revoque proved his well-being in a similar workout at Newbury, finishing five lengths clear of Panama City and Musick House under John Reid.