Racing: Piggott's persuasion fails to lift Prado

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LESTER PIGGOTT yesterday made his first visit to Ayr since coming out of retirement and discovered that a few things had changed while he had been away.

Fifteen years ago Piggott's name against a Vincent O'Brien- trained horse for an event as modest as yesterday's Scottish Classic would have guaranteed favouritism at a short price that would probably have been justified. But yesterday O'Brien's El Prado drifted to 9-4 in the market and ran like a 9-1 chance, finishing fifth of the seven runners behind Sharpitor.

Only the brevity of Piggott's post-race assessment has remained unaffected by time. 'He needed the race,' Piggott said with a shrug.

A little more verbosity was required when the stewards challenged Piggott's use of the whip in a desperately close finish to the opening race. The 56-year-old rider narrowly lost the verdict in the race but had enough in reserve to hold off the stewards, who accepted the explanation that his mount had responded to the stick as the winner began to tire in front. Had he issued the same sort of treatment that got Roberto or The Minstrel home in the Derby he would have been in deep trouble under today's more stringent rules.

The winner there, Princess Maxine, was the first on the Flat at her local track for Linda Perratt, who is fast becoming a dominant force in Scottish racing.

Piggott, however, remains more than a local hero and tonight exercises his ability to attract a crowd by making an appearance at Ballinrobe, County Mayo. When accepting an invitation to ride there last year, he brought an unprecedented attendance to the tiny west of Ireland track.

Sharpitor will also soon be on the road to easy money abroad. 'It's nice to win a pounds 15,000 prize here, but they were racing for pounds 44,000 in listed events in Italy yesterday,' his trainer, Willie Jarvis, said. 'We may have to think about venturing abroad with him now.'

The application of a visor for the first time yesterday had caused some to query Sharpitor's commitment to the sport, but Jarvis defended his charge. 'He's the most tough and genuine horse I've ever trained. I got a bit of stick for putting a visor on him, but he's been losing concentration in the last 50 yards of his races.'

Michael Roberts, on Alflora, came closest to testing Sharpitor's new-found determination, and the South African made the journey north pay with success on John Dunlop's Farat to maintain his lead over Pat Eddery in the jockeys' championship.

Roberts has secured the ride on the Mark Johnston-trained Double Blue, favourite for the Stewards' Cup at Goodwood a week today, while Dean McKeown will partner the colt's stable-companion Taufan Blu. Double Blue has not finished out of the first two in eight starts and is 8-1 for the six- furlong dash with the sponsors, William Hill.