Racing: Old firm up for the Cup

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The Independent Online
THEY LEANT together on the Churchill Downs rail here yesterday and talked horses, much the same as they had done at Market Rasen and Cartmel 25 years ago.

The rapids of racing have forced Jack Berry and Michael Dickinson down various valleys since they were a trainer and jockey partnership on the north country National Hunt circuit all those years ago. But, by 'eck, these Yorkshiremen stick together and there was much rosy reminiscence yesterday as the two men discussed battles fought and those that lie ahead in the Breeders' Cup series here tomorrow.

"About 25 years ago today I'd be going to ride a novice chaser at Hexham for Jack and now we're here together," Dickinson said. "When we were combining at those little tracks, in the rain, if anyone had said we'd both have runners at Churchill Downs we'd have thought they were mad."

At 61, Berry has never had it so good. Moss Side Stables at Cockerham hum along each year to the sound of plentiful winners and this season the yard was able to welcome back three winners from Royal Ascot, including tomorrow's Sprint aspirant Bolshoi.

It seems a long time ago that Jack was selling live rabbits on Leeds market and taking the family out to the Forton Service Station for platters of chips and fried egg on Sunday lunchtime.

Now he's packed a valise of red shirts to go to the home of American racing. There were strands of hay on his pullover yesterday, mistiness in his eyes as he looked up to the twin towers. "It's just magic being here," he said. "I never thought I would even be here as a passenger, never mind with a horse in a big race."

Bolshoi is a bloody-minded beast who does not like to come out of the stalls much before he can hear the rest of the field hitting the first wall of audience appreciation from the grandstand. Then, he flies.

Tomorrow, it could be that the curtain of dirt from those ahead may have risen and then scattered earthwards by the time Bolshoi passes through. "He will get behind and he wants to get behind because if he doesn't he's no good, I assure you," Berry said. "I like to see him getting detached.

"There's no horse in the Sprint that the Americans are going bananas over. If he's ever going to do it, this is the year."

Dickinson has two runners: Da Hoss, who goes for a repeat win in the Mile, after a break of two years, and Cetewayo in the Turf. Both were cut by Coral yesterday.

Dickinson himself has now been absent from Britain for 11 years, following his abortive efforts to translate National Hunt omnipotence to Flat success at Robert Sangster's Manton. He is not bitter about that failure. He is happy in the United States. And he's not coming back. Roots pulled up from over the Pond have now dug fiercely into the soil of mother America. "I've got a 200-acre farm in Maryland and I'm entrenched now," Dickinson said yesterday. "I couldn't move if I wanted to.

"America is a great country and I like it for two main reasons. If I had a 200-acre farm in England it would not bestow on me any obvious advantages because, over there, and in Ireland and France, there are outstanding training centres such as Ballydoyle and Manton. Here I've got the best training centre in America.

"As well as that, in England I couldn't pay my help enough but over here they have a decent life. One of my assistants has a house, 30 acres, two stables, four paddocks and a speedboat." Several of this week's press corps were last night investigating a change of career.

Among Dickinson's proudest creations at his 40-strong operation in Cecil County is an all-weather surface he developed himself and calls Tapeta. It is composed of 53 per cent sand, five per cent rubber and six other ingredients but, like the people at Coca Cola, the originator is not releasing the full recipe. "I invented it for me to have the best surface in America," he said.

The Tapeta was laid down after several years of experimentation and the little problems suffered along the way perhaps explain why the surface was first used on 1 April. "It took four years and a lot of heartache to develop," the trainer said.

"On one occasion we mixed all day and into the night and came up with a pile about the size of a building. I went to bed and when I woke up in the morning I saw this awful thing, a $30,000 mistake. When I screw up I screw up big time. They called this big pile Michael's Mistake."

n Jerry Bailey began his association with Leggera at Churchill Downs yesterday and reported himself "more than pleased" with John Dunlop's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe runner-up, a 10-1 chance with Coral for the Turf. Bailey, who has won six Breeders' Cup races, sees no reason why Leggera should not add to his haul. "She's a neat little filly, and she went real well. She's excellent at coping with the track."