Racing: Pace's progress launches quest for world tour schedule

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IF YOU ever criticise Yavana's Pace then Mark Johnston, his staunchest defender, is likely to slap you round the chops with a gauntlet and demand a duel on the gallops before first lot.

But then the Middleham trainer has much to be defensive about. He transformed the chestnut gelding last year from a moderate handicapper to a horse who could tolerate the opposition in conditions races. Yavana's Pace won four times, including the Hong Kong Jockey Club Trophy at Sandown and Doncaster's November Handicap, and went up over 2st in the ratings. It was not common stuff for a six-year-old.

This season Yavana's Pace has been even better. Last Saturday he was second, albeit a distant one, to Kayf Tara in the Group One Irish St Leger. This was heady company for a horse which had been beaten in a Beverley handicap at the outset of his previous campaign. Before Ireland, Yavana's Pace had won two Pattern races in a week, the Listed March Stakes at Goodwood and Epsom's Group Three September Stakes. On both occasions the runner- up was odds-on and, both times, there were suggestions that the favourite had not run up to its best. Twice, Johnston got cross at such analysis.

The Scot's devotion to his friend even makes its way into print. It is racing's equivalent of Roy Hattersley and Buster. Johnston writes a column for the Racing Post and the last time he did not mention Yavana's Pace was on 7 August.

Since then we have had 14 August: a discussion on the horse's prospects in the Ebor, in which he put Darryll Holland through the rails. Yavana's Pace may have the heart of a lion coming back, but he behaves like a monkey on the way down. Michael Hills, Olivier Peslier and John Carroll have suffered similar indignity; 21 August: Johnston ponders whether his charge should have been forced to parade on the Knavesmire.

The paeans continued. On 28 August: a preview of Yavana's Pace's run at Goodwood; 4 September: a complaint that the winner was not given due credit for beating Iscan and further finger-wagging as he looks forward to Epsom; 11 September: Luxuriating in victory in the September Stakes; 18 September: Evaluation of chances in the Irish St Leger. The Big Three go no offers about Mark mentioning his Classic runner-up in 48 hours time.

More disappointing than the lack of public recognition for Yavana's Pace has been the official assessment. He is now rated 112, which may be insufficient to gain him entry into the Hong Kong International Vase, in which the stable's Fruits Of Love ran last year.

Johnston finds himself in the strange position of cursing the assessors for giving his charge too little weight. "Looking at his last three races it looks like the handicapper has used him as a yardstick," the trainer said yesterday. "I was hoping he might have gone up 2lb or 3lb to 115 and that might have been enough for Hong Kong.

"We'd like to take in the Dubai Turf Classic but if you don't run in Hong Kong, you're unlikely to run in Dubai."

Thus there are alternative plans being made for Yavana's Pace. He is being aimed at the Melbourne Cup, though an invite to Hong Kong could sway matters because of a simple equation. It costs pounds 45,000 to travel to Australia but the fare to Hong Kong is paid.