Racing: Stevens has last laugh

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WITH PERFECT symmetry, Gary Stevens bade farewell to full-time racing in Britain. The affable, articulate American's first ride on a visit that was to have been for five years but turned out to be three months was a winner at Sandown, and back here yesterday for his swan-song he booted home Maramba on his last, showing all the wonderful judgement of pace that is his trademark.

Stevens, 36, heads back to California on Thursday to take up his new appointment as number one rider and future adviser to the Thoroughbred Corporation, one of the few large-scale operations being developed to take on Sheikh Mohammed's Godolphin team on a global basis. It was an unexpected offer, but one he could not refuse, even in the face of his retainer with Sir Michael Stoute.

The departure of the man from Boise, Idaho, will be regretted by most. He has, by his own admission, made some mistakes, but more often he has ridden some absolute gems. His performance on Cape Cross at Royal Ascot must be a contender for ride of the season; his own choice was another on the short-list, his tactful handling of Zahrat Dubai to win the Nassau Stakes at Goodwood. The horse who has given him most pleasure is Royal Anthem, while at Royal Ascot he rode a winner for the Queen.

Stevens, who will spend his last few days here as a tourist in London with his family, has appreciated his time here as much as he has been appreciated. "In this job you don't stop learning," he said. "I hope I can take the riding and training techniques I've picked up here back to the States and benefit from them. And the mistakes I've made, the thing is to learn from those too. But there were so many good moments. I would be proudest of Zahrat Dubai, because she was so difficult on the day. Creating a rapport with a horse, and getting it to do something that no one else has been able to do, is to me one of the most pleasing and satisfying things there is."

Sandown's charity-boosting Variety Club day is a worthy concept, but the racing is of no significance, of interest only to the immediate connections of the horses or to those who have had a bet. One of the latter category, and how, was John Lovelock, the vehicle maintenance engineer from south London who had become the first winner of the Tote's new Saturday TV bet, the Scoop6, the previous week and would have picked up a bonus pounds 200,000 had Borgia won the fifth. But he had to be content with the pounds 172,000 already in his coffers after his selection was fourth.

The one glimpse of class on the Esher hill came when Etizaaz, at one stage last autumn favourite for the 1,000 Guineas, powered clear of Selfish and the Guineas fourth Capistrano Day on her belated seasonal debut to take the Atalanta Stakes over a mile. Etizaaz, a member of the Godolphin team, was unable to fulfil her Classic engagements, or any other for that matter, because of various niggling problems but she has thrived during the summer and, judged on yesterday's front-running display, looks set to trouble the best of her sex in the autumn.

Capistrano Day lost her third place in the stewards room, an inevitable disqualification after her rider Dane O'Neill had barged straight across Barafamy inside the penultimate furlong. The jockey was stood down for six days for his irresponsible riding.

For the highest quality this weekend the place to be is Deauville. The Prix Morny, the first Group One contest of the French season, is the race that will set the standard thus far for the youngest generation, with four unbeaten colts - Fasliyev, City On A Hill, Bachir and Warm Heart - in the field of seven.

The market leaders for the six-furlong contest will be the July Stakes winner City On A Hill, who has made it three from three in Godolphin's French beige, and Ballydoyle representative Fasliyev, the wayward winner of the Heinz 57 Phoenix Stakes two weeks ago and on a five-timer.

Raiders in the Morny outnumber the home side, with the John Gosden pair Bachir and Warm Heart, both winners of both their races, and Peter Chapple- Hyam's charge Mount Abu making the journey from Britain. Harbour Island (Pascal Bary) and likely outsider Grigorovitch (Andre Fabre) complete the roster.