Racing: Streamlined Pet streaks to record

Glorious Goodwood: Heavyweight trainer evokes Soba memories while Classic generation have Sussex Stakes target
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The Independent Online
"THERE'S NO secret," David Nicholls said after Rudi's Pet had stampeded down the straight five furlongs here yesterday faster than any horse in the course's history. "I just feed them and look after them. It is really all a question of having them well and happy when they run." These days, it seems, Nicholls' modesty is almost as impressive as his waistline.

It is 17 years since he tipped the scales in Goodwood's weighing room at 8st 4lb on his way out to ride Soba to victory in the Stewards' Cup. Were he to announce a Piggott-esque return to the saddle tomorrow, a booking for the top-weight in the Grand National would be a more realistic ambition. "I was light then, but I'm not so light now," Nicholls admitted. "I'm wiser, but not so light."

He wears both the weight and the wisdom well. Rudi's Pet was a washed- up handicapper when he arrived at Nicholls's yard at the start of the season, with a long string of zeros and a mark of 73 against his name. Four months on, he is a different horse, in more ways than one. Yesterday's success made him a Group-race winner, but any hope of a stud career vanished shortly after his arrival chez Nicholls, two facts which may not be entirely coincidental.

"He was a bit chunky when he was with Mrs Ramsden last year," the trainer said. "I think being gelded has really helped him, it has made him more streamlined, and he has enjoyed the change of scenery in a new yard."

He is not the only one. In terms of the material he is given to work with, Nicholls is like a second-hand car dealer scouring the cheaper auctions for write-offs. Somehow, though, he keeps turning beaten-up Capris into T-reg Mondeos, and he has taken a 60-strong band of rejects and bargain- buys to 11th place in the trainers' championship. You can only wonder what he might manage with some real blue-bloods.

That said, even champion trainers sometimes find their Classically-bred charges difficult to fathom. King Adam seemed to have so much going for him before the Gordon Stakes that the punters sent him off at 8-11, but he was beaten with two furlongs still to run. He trundled home last of the six runners, but when the stewards asked Sir Michael Stoute for an explanation afterwards, he had nothing to offer.

The winner was Compton Ace, who came late for Kieren Fallon, having started his run in last place and shot up the St Leger betting almost as quickly. He is now a 14-1 chance (from 33-1) with Coral for the season's final Classic, but it did not escape their notice that Endorsement, trained by Henry Cecil, gave Compton Ace a beating in the Queens' Vase at Royal Ascot. Endorsement is now 3-1 (from 10-1) for the Leger, while Time Zone, who finished second to Compton Ace yesterday and to Endorsement at Ascot, is a 16-1 chance.

"The St Leger has been his target for quite some time now and it certainly is so after that," Gerard Butler, Compton Ace's trainer, said. "We will go home and look at the video, but I expect he will go to the Voltigeur [at York] first."

More figures were flying after the Grosvenor Casinos Cup, with Mowbray, the winner, shrinking from 40-1 to 14-1 with Ladbrokes for the Ebor at York next month. "He got badly jarred up in the Italian Derby last year," Paul Cole, his trainer, said, "and we took a long time to get him right, but now he's really come to himself mentally and in his coat. Two weeks ago he started to bloom, and we were getting much better vibes about him. He's a class horse when he's right, and he's got some brilliant form. He was two lengths behind Central Park in the Italian Derby, and he was finishing like a train."

Cole, who is a trainer with Classic form, is one of the many leading names, Ian Balding and Peter Chapple-Hyam among them, who currently need to look up to find David Nicholls in the trainers' table. The good news for Cole, though, as he sets his sights on Europe's richest staying handicap, is that Nicholls generally restricts himself to sprinters.