Racing: St Leger may lose sponsor

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The Independent Online
PERTEMPS GOT into horseracing sponsorship partly because they liked the idea of having their name splattered across national newspapers. This week their wish has come true, but the manner of achievement means we are unlikely to see the name of Pertemps before a race in 1999.

It could have been so different. Tim Watts, the chairman of Britain's leading independent recruitment agency, was cheering a public-relations coup of great proportion for a few, fleeting minutes at Doncaster on Saturday. The Pertemps-sponsored St Leger had been won by the favourite, a horse of great potential, and Muhtafel, a horse leased by his company for the day, had landed a different sort of coup in the following handicap.

Pertemps guests, refreshed by a fine lunch, had even more reason to be on good terms with themselves. They were on to a man and 150 or so punters were expected to take pounds 100,000 out of the satchels.

Then the dream was pricked. A stewards' inquiry was announced and the rope connecting Pertemps and racing started to fray. Muhtafel was disqualified and Watts started to go purple. In his rage, he accused the Doncaster stewards of a hidden agenda, a thought the chairman was believed to be distancing himself from yesterday. However, he still intends to take the matter to the Jockey Club, where an appeal is expected early next week.

Rather perversely, the only way it seems Pertemps will stay in racing is if they lose the case. If they succeed, Watts will deduce that he was right all along on Saturday and sever his connection with the sport. His firm is likely to honour a commitment to back Kempton's Christmas meeting then that will be it. Pertemps, as its name and business suggests, will have been temporary.

Watts has appointed a legal team for Portman Square who will go armed with the contention that Muhtafel did not deviate from a straight line on Town Moor and was merely responding to a nudge from another horse. It is impossible to argue that Muhtafel was not the winner on merit, and therefore a victory for planning on behalf of the sponsors. Martin Green, their racing consultant, had scrutinised several runners in the race before coming up with Muhtafel, who had the added attraction of having worked well on John Jenkins's gallops with the useful Hornbeam.

However, it is also difficult to deny that Jimmy Fortune burrowed a hole for himself to launch Muhtafel's winning run. The jockey yesterday announced that he is to join the fray by appealing against his five-day suspension for serious irresponsible riding.

The game seems to be up for Pertemps, though. They were assessing their future involvement in the St Leger even before the old race was run on Saturday for the third and last time under their present contract. They were frustrated at the low quality of this year's field, annoyed they had been unable to set up a pounds 1m bonus for completion of the Triple Crown (big bookmakers said they were uninterested in underwriting the bet) and finally dismayed at the felling of Muhtafel. "It all went arse about face," Green said. "What should have been a great public-relations exercise turned into quite the opposite."

John Sanderson, the Doncaster clerk of the course, yesterday refused to discuss future sponsorships for the St Leger, but conceded that arrangements surrounding the final Classic might have to be altered. Most of all, Sanderson would like to see Leopardstown re-time their Irish Champion Stakes away from the same day. "The clash of the races is not a problem with regard to the horses, as the races are over different distances," he said, "but it's a problem concerning jockeys.

"Frankie Dettori went to Ireland on Saturday and to have had him at Doncaster would have been an enormous boost. He is the nearest thing we've got now to Lester Piggott."

Piggott and Dettori: the men who always get a mention. For Pertemps, the mentions are running out, and they may have to settle for the appeal and the mere nine they received here.

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