Racing: Pentire bursts Classic bubble

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The Independent Online
Pentire gave a breathtaking display of sheer class to win the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes here yesterday. And as well as putting horses of the calibre of the Gold Cup winner Classic Cliche and the Derby hero Shaamit behind him, the little bay colt erased the memories of last year's narrow defeat in the pounds 500,000 summer showpiece and made Michael Hills' determined efforts to ride him sweetly worthwhile.

The Newmarket-based jockey knew he would be in Pentire's saddle only on Wednesday, when he challenged the Jockey Club stewards over a ban for careless riding that would have ruled him out of the Group 1 contest and - unusually - won his appeal. And if his road to Ascot was far from plain sailing, the same applied to the early stages of the race itself. Pentire was caught flat-footed as the stalls opened and Annus Mirabilis, on pacemaking duty for Classic Cliche, shot out like a rabbit, and was well adrift of the field before a furlong had been covered.

But the furious pace set by the leader played into his hands. Although Pentire had only one behind him on the turn into the short straight, he was one of only three still on the bridle and was scything through the tail-enders. Up front Michael Kinane sent Classic Cliche, certain to stay, for home two out as Shaamit began his challenge, but once Pentire loomed up on their outside with a furlong to run the result was never in doubt.

The four-year-old's famous finishing kick put him a length and three quarters clear at the line, with the battle for second place going to Classic Cliche by a neck. It was a full ten lengths back to Oscar Schindler.

Hills, 33, was winning his first King George, and said: "He had been a bit playful cantering to the start, and knuckled over on an ankle, and as he was standing in the stalls he was thinking about that, not the race. It took me two furlongs to get him running, but once he did, he was cantering, and took me to the others himself."

Last year, when Lammtarra caught Pentire close home, Hills was criticised for launching his attack too soon. "Obviously that was in my mind", he added, "and once he was back on the bridle I had to tell myself not to get there too early. But you don't often come round the turn here travelling like he did. He's inclined to be a bit lazy at home, but once he gets on the track and has 20,000 people shouting at him, he's a bit different."

Winning trainer Geoff Wragg, previously successful with Teenoso 12 years ago, confessed to some anxious moments. "This was a bigger thrill than the first one," he said. "Teenoso was an out-and-out stayer, but this horse is more exciting. As well as class, he has that brilliant turn of foot, and he's such a game, honest little beggar. I must admit, though, that when he fell out of the stalls he gave me three heart attacks."

Pentire runs in the chocolate and gold silks of Mollers Racing, a trust company set up by Teenoso's late owners, bachelor brothers Eric and Budgie Moller, as a legacy, in the form of high-class horses, to the sport they loved. Yesterday's hero, bought for 54,000 guineas and now winner of nearly pounds 800,000, has fulfilled their wishes admirably.

Shaamit - ridden by Hills at Epsom and Pat Eddery yesterday - failed to become the 15th Derby winner to go on to King George triumph, but his trainer William Haggas retains faith in the three-year-old, saying: "He was just not good enough on the day, but it was only his fourth race and the first two are very good horses, and real old pros. We'll be back next year."

Of the first three home, only Classic Cliche is likely to contest the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in October. Shaamit will drop back to the ten furlongs of the Irish Champion Stakes, and Wragg indicated that the Breeders' Cup Turf in Toronto would be Pentire's first-choice autumn target. He said: "He's only 50-50 to go to Longchamp. He's a fast-ground horse and it's usually soft there, and the track at Woodbine will suit him well."

l Willie Carson missed the King George meeting after the the 53-year- old jockey escaped serious injury in a fall at Newmarket on Friday night. Carson still hopes to ride at Goodwood this week. His rides include Alhaarth or Matiya in the Sussex Stakes and Sahm in the Lanson Champagne Vintage Stakes.