Racing: O'Brien aims Stravinsky at world crown

York Ebor meeting: Irish star books his ticket to the Breeders' Cup with a brilliant Nunthorpe victory on the final day
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The Independent Online
BEFORE HE even entered the stalls before the Nunthorpe Stakes here yesterday, Stravinsky had marked himself down as the best sprinter since Dayjur in the early 90s. Sixty seconds and five furlongs later, he hinted he may already be Dayjur's equal, with a burst of speed which blew away Sainte Marine and left the rest of his field running on the spot. His next target now is the Breeders' Cup Sprint, the race which Dick Hern's sprinter so famously threw away, and despite the long list of European failures in America, many punters will expect him to do what Dayjur could not.

This year's Breeders' Cup will be held in the sweaty autumnal heat of Gulfstream Park, Miami. The temperature, humidity and tight dirt track will all count against Stravinsky, who is a highly-strung individual anyway. If Aidan O'Brien thinks he is up to it, though, few will argue.

The quirky aspect of Stravinsky's character was apparent before the start yesterday, when he was so eager to start that he tried to duck out under the gates. Luckily for Michael Kinane, the stalls handlers persuaded him otherwise before he got too far, and once the race began, he travelled sweetly behind the searing pace set by Sainte Marine.

If they had races over four furlongs in Europe, the French filly would be a champion. As it had 12 months ago, though, her run came to an end when the serious business began. Stravinsky moved up to challenge her at the furlong pole, and then quickened away as only a great horse can.

The memory of that injection of pure speed will not be easily forgotten, even though he may not compete again before the American race, on 6 November. The Prix de l'Abbaye, according to O'Brien, is too close to the Breeders' Cup, while Stravinsky was not entered for the Sprint Cup at Haydock.

Coral cut Stravinsky by just two points, from 8-1 to 6-1, for the Sprint, which is more a reflection of the problems of circumstance which will face him in Florida, rather than any slight on yesterday's success. The biggest questions, as always for European sprinters, will be whether he can live with the extraordinary pace set by his American rivals, and whether he will put up with clods of dirt being kicked into his face. The way he coped with Sainte Marine yesterday suggests he will answer the first query. No-one will be able to answer the second, however, until the race itself is underway.

Lindsay Charnock, who has been trailing around the minor tracks for more than a quarter of a century, finally got a taste of how the other half lives when Jemima won the Group Two Lowther Stakes, the main supporting race on yesterday's card. This was a significant achievement both for Charnock, who had never ridden a Group winner of any sort before, and Tim Easterby, who bought Jemima for a relatively paltry pounds 17,500.

It was not such good news, however, for several highly-rated fillies, including Warrior Queen, from Aidan O'Brien's yard, and Mick Channon's Rowaasi. The marketing department at Peugeot, the race's sponsors, may also rethink one of their incentive schemes after Jemima's victory. The winning jockey receives free use of a Peugeot coupe for the next six months, but they were probably hoping that someone like Frankie Dettori or Mick Kinane, who prefer to fly from course to course, would be picking up the keys. By the time Charnock, the journeymen's journeyman, hands them back, however, there could be plenty of miles on the clock.

Jemima, a 12-1 chance, did not do the punters too many favours either (although she did beat off an extraordinary challenge from Seraphina, a 66-1 chance). The backers got the cash back in the Galtres Stakes, though, when one of the most reliable systems yet devised paid up once again. It does, unfortunately, call for a good deal of self-restraint on 364 days of the year, but if you never bet in any race other than the Galtres, and always back Luca Cumani's runner, guaranteed riches await.

Cumani had won the race seven times in nine years before yesterday's renewal, and Innuendo, the 6-4 favourite, made it eight out of 10. She had to work to fight off Credit-A-Plenty, but the result was never in doubt. The only problem for system addicts is that they will need to wait until August 2000 to play up the winnings.