Racing: Racing: Another episode of Morley Street

Richard Edmondson on the former champion returning from retirement
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The Independent Online
Retirement is often not what it seems to be. Pensioners who have been looking forward to empty days find that there are only so many pottering laps of the garden you can do, a limited number of times you can read J R Hartley's tome on fly-fishing.

This happens to thoroughbreds taken from the front line as well and one of racing's more convincing adages is that old horses do not die, they stand in a field and get thoroughly brassed off.

One such animal with medals right across his chest climbs back into the trenches today. Morley Street, the 1991 Champion Hurdler, returns at Ascot following 432 days of increasingly annoying inactivity.

"Like so many who have been retired he began to show that he actually enjoyed being in training after being taken out of it," Toby Balding, the gelding's trainer, said yesterday.

"He was getting very above himself away from the yard. He was very well and he was sparking and showing that he wanted to get on and do some work. He was in such good nick but there was nothing for him to do so it seemed a shame not to bring him back."

Home for Morley Street since September last year has been in East Sussex with his owner, Michael Jackson, who had tired of seeing his old soldier become a counterfeit of the brilliant performer he once was. After the Corsa Siepi di Merano (Italian Champion Hurdle) 14 months ago, when Morley Street was a creditable fourth, Jackson rolled the credits. "Michael said then he was not enjoying not seeing his horse win if you like and we took the decision to lay him off, to retire him," Balding said.

Those behind Morley Street have always felt protective about the horse as he has been prone to breaking blood vessels. Balding has treated the chestnut with Lasix and natural potions that have included just about everything but the recipe from the Macbeth witches cookery book. "We've had him under review for a long time in view of the problems he's had throughout his career," the trainer said. He gives so much you don't want to overface him."

Thus Morley Street, at the age of 11, arrives in Berkshire today for combat with Oh So Risky, who goes chasing after this afternoon's Coopers & Lybrand Ascot Hurdle, Large Action and Call My Guest, whom he meets at level weights. By an inversion of what has gone before the old man also meets horses who will give him weight, namely Atours and Putty Road, the winner of the Sun Alliance Novice Hurdle at last season's Cheltenham Festival.

"We're not going to Ascot thinking we've got the Morley Street of three years ago," Balding said, "we're taking in a race where the conditions are to his advantage and if he runs a race of note we'll talk about the future. If not he'll just have the odd run for all of our, and his, enjoyment.

"As we talk, I certainly don't envisage him being a Champion Hurdler or anything. If he was to have an objective it would be the Martell Hurdle [at Aintree] again, but that would greatly depend on him confirming the good form he is showing at home."

Morley Street has already won the Liverpool race four times but if he fails to stem the tide of years on Merseyside next spring he will certainly not be booed back into Balding's stable. "He's a tremendous work leader and a lovely horse to have in the yard," the trainer said. "Everyone loves having him around again."