Racing: Pitman suffers in silence

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JENNY PITMAN's preparation for watching a race begins by pulling a cigarette from a packet of Silk Cut.

The cigarette then becomes part of a ritual of draws on the tobacco while her horses are between fences and scrutiny through binoculars as the obstacles are being negotiated. Yesterday, after 10 puffs, the glasses were abandoned as Garrison Savannah, Pitman's 1991 Gold Cup winner, fell on his seasonal reappearance in the John Bull Chase.

The Lambourn trainer pushed her way to the bottom of the stands to check on her stricken chaser but was prevented from crossing the course until the race had finished.

The event's denouement could hardly have calmed her, as Weathercock House's other runner, Ryde Again, was caught on the run-in by the veteran Sabin Du Loir. At least Garrison Savannah returned unscathed.

Perhaps unfairly, this result was greeted by unusual excitement in a press room peopled by those who have been denied Mrs Pitman's words this season.

The trainer, who feels she has been poorly treated by sections of the media, has taken the drastic step of employing a blanket ban on her public pronouncements.

Thus when she started the day with a winner via Balzac Boy there was no chance of any shorthand (Pitman style) going into the notebooks. In other times her quotes have had to be tailored carefully anyway. Verbatim reporting would have leaned excessively on the asterisk key.

To reach her well-regarded position in this man's sport, Pitman has had to be hard, and demonstrably hard. The effect of her fearsome reputation was shown yesterday as Garrison Savannah resisted attempts to have his blinkers fitted in front of a crowd of thirty or so.

His trainer turned to the assembly and created a Pamplona-style scattering. 'Just move away,' she said. 'Leave him alone will you.'

The same horse drew another side of the trainer's character soon afterwards, however. After the fall, Mrs P had to be comforted by connections as she shuffled back to the unsaddling area. Close by, emotions were somewhat different.

Sabin Du Loir, almost 10 years after winning his first race at Southwell, was being unsaddled after recording his 21st victory. The 14-year-old has now earned close to pounds 230,000 in win prize money.

But at season's close last year, the gelding was thought to be not only at the end of his career, but perhaps in the latter stages of his life. The horse's increasingly morose condition brought fears that he had cancer and he was sent to Bristol University's veterinary hospital for tests.

This MOT revealed nothing terminal though, and Sabin Du Loir's health recovered to such an extent that he was sent back to Martin Pipe's stable at Nicholashayne. 'He was getting bored in his field,' Pipe said. 'He told us he still wanted to race.'

The horse's rider, Peter Scudamore, has few peers in racing knowledge but bows to Sabin Du Loir. 'He knows more about this game than I do,' he said.

The champion jockey made up some ground on Richard Dunwoody in this year's title race with a treble, ignited by Young Hustler. His trainer, Nigel Twiston-Davies, was considering his Cheltenham portfolio as the gelding returned.

Young Hustler's performance here conjured thoughts of the Sun Alliance Chase, even though Twiston-Davies considers he has an even more adept candidate for the race in Dakyns Boy.

The Naunton trainer has a more immediate target today when his Captain Dibble goes for the First National Chase at Ascot. 'We're very hopeful,' he said.

On the same card, Pitman will saddle another of her favourites, Royal Athlete, and the style will be the same as yesterday's. Lips sealed until a cigarette is introduced just after the off.

(Photograph omitted)