Racing: Ungaro on mark for fatherland

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The Independent Online
THE MIGHT of the German footballing machine faltered in France yesterday but one of the horses of the fatherland was uber alles in Italy. Ungaro, trained by Hans Blume, underlined the growing importance of Germany as a force in European racing by taking the pounds 100,000 first prize in the Gran Premio di Milano. Football lovers of a superstitious bent will not want to read too much into the fact that England were second best through John Gosden's charge Santillana.

Ungaro set a steady pace, quickened in the straight and stayed on to repel Santillana's late thrust by half a length. The other British challengers, Ivan Luis, Garuda and Luso, second for the two previous years, finished fourth, fifth and six.

Gosden was delighted with Santillana, guided wide by Willie Ryan from last to almost first. Sheikh Mohammed's five-year-old was stepping up to a mile and a half for the first time. "It's hard to come from the back in a slowly-run race," Gosden said, "but a stronger pace might have suited others better, too. Now we know he gets the trip and he's placed in a Group One and we'll have some fun in Europe with him."

Yesterday's race was the 109th running of what is Italy's premier all aged contests. Its roll of honour is littered with some of the legendary names of Italian racing and breeding: Apelle, Crapom, Donatello, Nearco, Ribot, all of them horses who could and did take on allcomers in all countries. Luca Cumani and Frankie Dettori apart, the last Italian to make any international impact was Tony Bin, who notched a double in the Gran Premio 10 years ago before an Arc victory so overwhelming that all the Italian radio commentator in the Longchamp press box could do was howl "Tony Bin, Tony Bin, Tony Bin," fortissimo all the way up the Paris straight before bursting into tears, standing to attention and regaling his listeners with his national anthem.

The passion may be there but no longer the pride. And on Italian soil it is the exception rather than the rule for one of the home side to defend his country's honour successfully in Group One company these days. March Groom, a nose behind Santillana yesterday, was only the fourth of his compatriots to be placed since 1990.

There is apparently neither the incentive nor the will to rectify the situation. The days of the great Italian owners and breeders - Tesio, Crespi, Di Montel, Vittadini, D'Alessio - have gone and with them the tradition of middle distance excellence. Breeding stock in Italy is moderate at best and although large numbers of yearlings make their way to Italy from British and Irish sales each year, none would have any pretensions to a place in the top bracket, at least beyond a mile. But prize money in ordinary races, largely restricted to Italian trained horses, is so good that many of the new generation of owners see no reason to spend large sums in a quest for international kudos when they can fund their hobby with a cheap horse.

There could not have been more than 3,000 seeking the shade of the plane trees and the cooling sound of the fountains at the pretty, elegant San Siro Hippodromo yesterday - partly because Germany v Yugoslavia and Argentina v Jamaica in an air conditioned bar made more sense. Activities at San Siro are overshadowed literally and figuratively by the more famous but infinitely uglier Theatre Of Dreams across the road - more than 10,000 are expected in the Cathedral square tomorrow to watch Italy's encounter with Austria on a giant TV screen.


Nap: Salty Behaviour

(Windsor 7.10)

NB: Magni Moment

(Windsor 8.40)