Racing: Take aims to silence critics: A champion jockey faces his doubters as he prepares for Ascot's prestigious prize, while bookmaker confidence ebbs from the Erhaab camp

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The Independent Online
AT 3.30 this afternoon, in the prosaic forum of the Brown Jack Stakes at Ascot, one jockey will be under the greatest scrutiny of his life.

When Yutaka Take, the Japanese jockey, sets off on Charles Cyzer's Bold Resolution there will be some expecting him to either fall off, take a wrong turn or end up in one of the golf bunkers that are features of the course's infield.

Take will be on trial because the staying handicap is a dry run for the most prestigious event in the Ascot calendar, tomorrow's King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes, in which he partners White Muzzle.

Take takes over on the colt from John Reid on the insistence of owner Teruya Yoshida, who some consider has jeopardised his horse's chance by putting his countryman at the controls.

The week-long questioning of Take's talents has been rather strange. When riding champions from other countries arrive in Britain, there is usually a sense that a leading operator has arrived to adorn the sport. Asmussen from France, McCarron from America and Dittman from Australia all have been, or would be, great draws for their skill, but Take, the champion jockey in Japan for four of the last five years, appears unable to be included in this club.

This may be because Japan is a new addition to the major racing nations and far removed from Europe both geographically and culturally. Those who have been talking of Take as a near imbecile this week can be no less ridiculous than if Japanese crowds impugned the qualities of a visiting Pat Eddery.

Take is, in fact, more than a sportsman in his homeland. His many achievements by the age of 25 have given him a near pop star allure, with a particularly strong female following. (There was much weeping, it is said, when Take, like one of the nation's leading Sumo wrestlers before him, decided to take an actress for his wife earlier this year).

However, the man who rode Andre Fabre's Ski Paradise to victory from Sayyedati in the Spring Cup in Tokyo earlier this year, does have supporters elsewhere. Tour companies have been setting up trips to Europe ever since his participation at Ascot was confirmed.

Since his first winner in 1987, Take has registered 893 domestic victories and he has passed the stage of having to pursue his trade for financial reward. In fact, considering that last year his mounts earned the equivalent of pounds 18m in prize money, he is getting close to the point where he does not have to do anything at all for money.

This is not to say he is easing off. Slackness and lack of preparation are not traits readily associated with the Japanese and Take is no different. The video machine was whirring incessantly in Japan before the jockey travelled over as he replayed many King Georges past and he also took instruction from Yukio Okabe, who finished eighth in the race nine years ago on Sirius Symboli.

The 'scare' over Take's capabilities was matched by an equine alert yesterday when William Hill reported bad vibes about the Derby winner Erhaab and pushed him out to 4-1 from 7-2. A spokesman from John Dunlop's stable said last night however that the firm had received bad information and that all was well with the colt. 'Erhaab worked well on Tuesday morning and everybody was happy,' he said. 'He did a routine canter today.'

Another entry owned by Hamdan Al Maktoum, Wagon Master, moved the other way in the market, being reduced to 16-1 from 25-1 by Ladbrokes even though his participation is still open to doubt. Alec Stewart, the colt's trainer, said yesterday that Wagon Master had an alternative engagement at Maisons-Laffitte on Tuesday, and that he would not know if he would line up until this morning.

A similarly late decision will be taken about another Maktoum- owned horse, King's Theatre. A spokeswoman for his trainer, Henry Cecil, said yesterday that the Derby runner-up was likely to compete if the ground did not get harder, but that the decision would come from trainer and owner, Sheikh Mohammed, just before declaration time.

(Photograph omitted)

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