Racing: Sought Out has stamina for slog

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THE IRONY is lost in a tidal wave of chiffon, but the Gold Cup, supposedly the centrepiece of Royal Ascot's most fashionable day, is its most defiantly unfashionable race.

Owners and breeders lost interest in true stayers 20 years ago, and the days when you could find any number of horses to cheerfully race two and a half miles through quicksand are gone forever. Today's 10-runner field for the Gold Cup is now about average, but for four the trip is unknown territory, while even last year's winner, Drum Taps, is not sure to last home on the testing ground.

Anyone wanting a first-hand idea of what a solid day's rain can do to the Ascot turf should add one part water to two parts flour and stir. Just getting to the start could be enough to exhaust some of the two-year-olds, so the Gold Cup winner will do well to walk back to the paddock unaided.

Which attaches particular significance to the fact that of the few runners to have won a race at 20 furlongs in the last two seasons, only one, Sought Out, has done so on soft ground. Better still, he runs from the front, so anything which attempts to quicken past him in the final furlongs will need to be fitted with caterpillar tracks.

He will also be able to keep out of the way of Arcadian Heights, who has yet to discover that horses were created vegetarian. A gelding operation during the winter may finally have persuaded Arcadian Heights to stop biting his rivals long enough to race them, and he should offer the principal challenge to SOUGHT OUT (nap 3.45).

John Hammond, who trains Sought Out at Chantilly, keeps a careful eye on his travel expenses, so his Dolphin Street, who contests the Cork & Orrery Stakes, merits respect. In the conditions, though, Pips Pride (next best 3.05) must go close. When he won last year's Racecall Gold Trophy, the ground was so bad that the rest of the meeting was abandoned.

Gold Land is possibly the best juvenile seen out this year, but given the strong belief of his trainer, Paul Cole, that he needs it fast, his appearance for the Norfolk Stakes is puzzling. Peter Chapple-Hyam, a winner already this week with Stonehatch, believes that Turtle Island (4.20) will be better over six furlongs, so he should wade past the favourite 20 yards from the line.

Chapple-Hyam's third juvenile standard bearer, State Performer (5.30), contests the Chesham Stakes, perhaps the week's weakest event, and John Reid needs only to ensure that he is pointing the right way when the stalls open.

The King George V Handicap is often a stopping-off point for a horse heading for Pattern company, and the Barry Hills- trained Black Dragon (2.30) fits the description snugly. Abury will go well for the Chapple- Hyam/Reid combination in the Ribblesdale Stakes, but Bright Generation (4.55) should sweep past her in the straight.

Possibly with the assistance of flippers.

Lyric Fantasy, favourite for tomorrow's King's Stand Stakes, may be withdrawn because of the soft ground. 'I don't mind taking a chance if the owners want to,' her trainer, Richard Hannon, said. 'But I would rather wait for faster ground.'