A dumb animal, maybe, but to Rapporteur, Lingfield matters. He has won 13 races on its all-weather Flat course, and five on the turf, but not a single contest elsewhere. Yet still he does not hold the record for the most Flat successes at a single course. Tempering, trained at Stillington by David Chapman, has been a winner 19 times at Southwell, and has a chance to make it 20 in the claimer there tomorrow.
A similar record at Ascot or Goodwood would have earned a statue long ago, but the downmarket reputation of the all-weather tracks means these are heroes without a fan club, indeed almost without acknowledgement. Quite what Tempering and Rapporteur find so appealing about their respective courses, only they know, but it is more than just the artificial surface.
'I think Tempering feels at home there,' Chapman said this week. 'He's a very nervous horse, he dislikes anywhere new. When we took him to Wolverhampton he was worried about that, and at Lingfield he's always disappointed, but at Southwell, for some reason, he feels at home.'
Rapporteur is even more of a puzzle. 'He's won on the grass at Lingfield as well as the all- weather,' Elsey said, 'and those tracks could be 100 miles apart. I can't see why the horse can win on the grass at Lingfield and get beaten elsewhere. He's been placed on seven or eight other tracks.'
Richard Berenson has little time to ask why; he is too busy keeping score. Berenson not only owns Rapporteur outright, but also acquired a half- share in Tempering a few months ago. 'When I first bought Rapporteur I knew nothing about all-weather racing,' he said on Tuesday. 'I couldn't get to his first race, and it was a very tight photo- finish so I sent off for the print. They sent me back the wrong print and I assumed they must wear different colours on the all-weather.'
Berenson realised, though, that the winter circuit was 'an opportunity for an owner like me to notch up some winners'. Yet while success has been almost uninterrupted ever since, the brakes may soon be applied to the bandwagon. A new rule allows a horse to win only three claimers each year, and a victory for Tempering tomorrow would be his third. Nor can he move up in class. There will not be a single handicap at Southwell for which Tempering is eligible until the autumn.
'It's very disappointing,' Chapman said, 'it's like being banned.' But the trainer's past exploits with horses such as Chaplin's Club offer hope that Tempering will be back. 'Our horses are one of the family and we keep them a long time. It amuses me that some southern jockeys, when a horse gets to four, they call it the old horse. They're hardly broken in for me at that point.'
Like Tempering, Rapporteur is an eight-year-old gelding, but he too shows little sign of impending retirement. Though Tempering is one win ahead in the 'course record' stakes, Rapporteur's achievement is , if anything, more worthy. As Berenson points out, 'Tempering's been running regularly in claimers in which he was very well in, but 15 of Rapporteur's wins have been in handicaps.'
Rapporteur is recovering from a foot injury, but should be fit in time to contest Lingfield's Rapporteur Stakes on 4 March. He should then have nine months in which to reclaim his record from Tempering. 'He's got creaky joints these days and his back's in and out,' Berenson said, 'but he's been winning three or four each year. He rails like a greyhound on the final bend, and once he's in the straight he knows where he's going, he puts his best foot forward to get back in for a rest.'
The source of his strength, though, will remain a mystery. 'I wish I knew,' Elsey said. 'I'd bottle it.'
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