Racing: Punch a serious prospect

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The Independent Online
IF David Elsworth ever buys anything out of your car boot you have made a mistake. That painting from the attic is probably a Vermeer or your Aunt Dolly's bracelet a little more than costume jewellery.

Elzy has liked a bargain ever since the days he ran a stall at Romsey market and it is a characteristic that has served him well in later life.

While others at racing's sales have splashed out the sort of criminal numbers that appear under a villain's mug shot, Elsworth has eschewed the flashy pedigrees and prices in search of a good, cheap horse. He's managed it with Indian Ridge and In The Groove, who both cost 20,000gns, and Seattle Rhyme, a $51,000 purchase. Now he hopes the touch is still there with Persian Punch.

Today's Gold Cup favourite has already proved himself worth at least a zero more than his 14,000gns price, but if he wins the most prestigious race of the Royal meeting it will be conclusive proof that the Elsworth touch is still there. "Try to buy a Gold Cup winner for the sort of money I paid for him," the trainer says. "I'm quite chuffed about that, but he hasn't won yet mind you."

Elzy has been missing from these parts for the best part of a decade now as his 10 Royal Ascot winners are stuffed between Heighlin's Ascot Handicap victory of 1980 and Line Engaged in the Norfolk Stakes 10 years later.

It seemed that Persian Punch was about to restore the status quo 12 months ago, when he was also favourite for the Gold Cup, but he got upset by the neighbours and thrashed around in the stalls as others around him became agitated. The energy he had left allowed him to finish tailed-off 12th of 13.

This year, Persian Punch has worked up a sweat after the stalls have opened and has established himself as the best stayer around. His trainer fears only Clerkenwell, who is stepping up in distance today, in the 17- strong field, the largest for a Gold Cup this century.

"Persian Punch is in good form and looks like he could win it on what he's achieved this year," Elsworth says. "He's run over the distance, in the Prix du Cadran [French Gold Cup], and he was beaten a neck and three-quarters of a length, after making all the running. So he certainly stays the distance.

"And if you consult the form book it will tell you that he was second to Oscar Schindler in the Irish Leger - and that one went on to be fourth in the Arc.

"He has a relentless, extravagant stride, which is deceiving because he's not short of speed. So though he's a massive horse he's not a plodder." This Elsworth price will not be a bargain today but PERSIAN PUNCH (nap 3.45) should win.

In the opening event, Bahr, the Oaks runner-up, is another favourite that may succeed, but Epsom horses often run badly here and more rewarding odds will be available about Zomaradah (next best 2.30).

Luca Cumani's filly, the Italian Oaks winner, is one of just two three- year-olds in training owned by Sheikh Mohammed Obaid Al Maktoum. The other is High-Rise, the Derby winner, which just shows where the celestial digit was pointing at the outset of this Flat season. The good Sheikh is currently the most popular figure in the game among the Fourth Estate, which some have connected to the fact that he left a few bottles of Ruinart in the press room on the meeting's first day.

If the poor artisans of the media want to continue the habit today they should support Speedy James (3.05), whose form was made to look most shiny by Bint Allayl's victory yesterday.