Racing: Wagon Master gallops off the trail to Dubai: Success in Ascot's Cumberland Lodge Stakes halts the export of Alec Stewart's favourite ally as a day trip to Paris is ruled out too

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The Independent Online
FOR THE last week, Alec Stewart has been on racing's version of Death Row. The Newmarket trainer was warned that his stable flagbearer, Wagon Master, was being considered for export to Dubai.

Stewart's appeal date was set for yesterday and the Cumberland Lodge Stakes. If Wagon Master triumphed, he was promised, the horse could stay with him.

When the colt did return an easy five-length victor, the winners' enclosure therefore had the atmosphere of the court steps after a successful hearing. Stewart felt reprieved and grateful that his most talented ally would again be at his side next season.

'After he'd run at Kempton, Angus Gold (the racing manager to Wagon Master's owner, Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum) informed me he had to win here to stay in training,' Stewart said. 'The pressure has been enormous.

'For us, a horse like Wagon Master makes a season. Unfortunately, we are now a relatively small yard so a horse like that is very important to us.'

If Stewart's heart had been doing a drum roll in the build-up to the race, he had little to concern him when the action started.

Wagon Master was always travelling smoothly in behind Urgent Request, and once Willie Carson reminded him the point of the exercise was to get to the front, the colt forged clear.

Urgent Request was, in turn, eight lengths in front of the third horse, and his rider, Pat Eddery, was moved to suggest that he would like to ride either of the first two in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe on Sunday week. Neither, though, will be on duty as connections do not believe they have the capacity to recoup the pounds 47,000 supplementary fee.

Wagon Master's absence from the Parisian field (Ladbrokes would have made him a 12-1 chance had he run) was virtually guaranteed from the moment he finished third behind King's Theatre and White Muzzle in the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes on this course.

'In the King George he ran as well as we think he can,' Gold said. 'So there's little point giving him a hard race this year to finish fourth or fifth, but maybe he'll make up into a real horse for next season.'

Stewart agreed. 'White Muzzle was a little fat that day and he'd had a long lay- off,' he said. 'I think he'll win the Arc.'

Sheikh Hamdan's team was less forthcoming over reports that Erhaab, the Derby winner, is about to be sold for pounds 3.2m to stand at stud in Japan. 'I've read about that,' was the only comment delivered by the man from Dubai.

John Dunlop, Erhaab's trainer, had an epitaph at the ready, however. 'It was a moment one can never forget when he won the Derby, one of the most dramatic races I have ever seen,' he said. 'He was a very, very good horse and I will miss him.'

One horse who may also be missing from now on is Snurge, who trailed home last in the Cumberland Lodge. The chestnut has earned pounds 1,326,704 in his career, more than any other European- trained animal, but the last few pounds have come in busker's hatfuls this season. It is almost certain that this Alan Whicker of a horse has run his last race in Britain and possibly even the last of his life.

'He's had a lot of hard races, mostly in Group Ones and Group Twos, and he's getting canny these days,' Paul Cole, his trainer, said. 'He's run some good races this year but on other occasions he's shown nothing at all. If things don't go his way, he thinks 'sod it, let's get home'. That may have been his last race.'

(Photograph omitted)