Racing: Roberts awaits Sheikh's envoy

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AFTER having failed to retain Steve Cauthen and after being rejected by Michael Kinane, Sheikh Mohammed's racing manager, Anthony Stroud, has gone to South Africa to secure a stable jockey for the world's most powerful owner.

Stroud had already planned to spend a safari holiday in the country and now his quarry is Michael Roberts, Britain's champion jockey for the first time last season.

Roberts has been widely expected to succeed Cauthen in the role since Kinane turned down the job, but emphasised yesterday that speculation suggesting he had already agreed terms with the Sheikh was premature.

'They seem to have jumped the gun,' Roberts said from his farm near Durban. 'All I know is that Anthony Stroud is coming out here and he wants to see me.

'The first time there has been any contact with the Sheikh's advisers was late yesterday when Anthony Stroud telephoned. We have agreed to meet but nothing has been signed or anything like that. I have not even spoken to Alec Stewart (the Newmarket trainer who retains him) about it.

'I am most definitely interested but at the moment you can say it is under discussion.'

Stroud will be anxious to secure Roberts for the Sheikh after the indignity of failing to come up with a figure that Cauthen and Kinane found acceptable compensation for the workload and responsibility of being the Sheikh's retained rider.

Taking a lead from Kinane, Cauthen has now demonstrated that if the cash and the conditions are right he is prepared to ride on without the backing of Sheikh Mohammed's string. The American has announced that he would be interested in riding in Hong Kong for a stint starting in August, if he can secure a stable retainer.

The high financial rewards of Hong Kong are coupled with a racing regime which, with meetings on a maximum of three days a week and no need to travel, allows plenty of time for recreation. That was enough to keep Kinane from accepting Sheikh Mohammed's offer and would allow Cauthen plenty of time to spend with his wife and child which is due in May.

Roberts, who last year became only the second jockey since Sir Gordon Richards to ride 200 winners in a Flat season, had a large number of successes for Clive Brittain and Richard Hannon as well as Stewart.

Ladbrokes believe a link with the Sheikh would hinder his chance of defending his jockeys' title. They have him at 4-5, and rate Pat Eddery an even-money prospect.

'We do not think it will enhance his chances at all. His hands will be tied, albeit by a lucrative golden thread,' Ladbrokes' spokesman, Rob Hartnett, said.

William Hill take the opposite view, shortening the South African to 4-7 (from 8-11) and pushing Eddery out to 11-8 (from 11-10). Willie Carson is 16-1 (from 12-1).

Lester Piggott, who will have his first racecourse rides since his injuries sustained in Mr Brooks's Breeders' Cup fall when he returns in Dubai on Friday, is not in the betting, nor under consideration by the Sheikh. Not yet.