Racing: Weighting over for Swinburn

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The Independent Online
WALTER SWINBURN made a welcome, and welcomed, return to race-riding in Britain here yesterday after an 11-month absence. The fact that he beat only three rivals home on Drive Assured in the Teletext Winter Derby, was of little matter; it was his presence in the saddle that was the achievement.

When the winner of 15 English and Irish Classics decided last April to drop off the racing treadmill to tackle health and weight problems, there were those who believed they had seen the last of one of the most naturally talented riders of his generation. Swinburn himself, though, was not one of them. "I know it's easy for me to stand here now and say it," he said yesterday, "but it never crossed my mind for one moment that I wouldn't come back. I love riding too much to give it up. I've been doing it almost since I could walk, and I've been race-riding for more than 20 years.

"When I had my bad fall in Hong Kong two years ago it shocked me just how much I missed it. And it hurt badly to have to give it up last year."

Swinburn, 36, is making no fancy promises this time round. He rode yesterday at 9st 6lb, but said: "If I can get down to 8st 8lb I'll be happy, but I am not setting myself any particular goals about my weight, just taking it like it comes.

"The diet I am on is all about good vitality and nutrition, getting the system back in balance, rather than weight-watching. My targets are only to stay healthy and happy and ride plenty of winners."

Looking tanned and well after five weeks in Dubai - where he rode the first of those winners three weeks ago - Swinburn confessed to feeling as nervous as he might have done before a real Derby. As far as success was concerned the writing was on the wall when Clive Brittain-trained Drive Assured began to back-pedal on the penultimate turn, but his jockey will have the chance to perform on a bigger stage on Saturday.

After partnering the Jeremy Noseda-trained Musical Pursuit in the Doncaster Mile on Thursday he will fly back to Dubai to ride Oscar Schindler in the Dubai World Cup. Another man on the comeback trail, Pat Eddery - whose 1997 season was cut short by the necessity for surgery on a wonky disc - will ride Luso for Clive Brittain.

The all-weather season's richest race gave Running Stag the opportunity to finally win a Derby on the dirt. This time last year the four-year- old's trainer Philip Mitchell was toying with the idea of sending the colt to Churchill Downs for the Kentucky version, but this pounds 50,000 contest was far more his level.

Running Stag, running in Richard Cohen's colours, was always going well and was produced by Ray Cochrane to lead a furlong out. He came home three and a half lengths clear of Refuse To Lose and landed a decent gamble - backed from 10-1 to 9-2 yesterday - in the process. His victory, following a good second place in the Listed Wulfrun Stakes, was the result of some shrewd forward planning.

Mitchell said: "I got wind of this race a fortnight before it was announced and started his preparation then. I knew they would go off at a ferocious pace and I'd have to have him at 120 per cent. Ray came down to ride work this week, and in three strides he went 10 lengths clear of his galloping companions, and we knew he was spot-on." A tilt at minor Pattern company in Germany or France in two weeks' time is now on the agenda for Running Stag.

On the jumping front, the conditional jockey Leighton Aspell rode his first winner - on Black Statement in the Teletext For Sport Handicap Chase - since his involvement in allegations of race-fixing, and then for good measure made it a double on a spare ride, Ernest William in the Gold Cup Handicap Hurdle.

The Irish celebrations started at Cheltenham carried on at Uttoxeter as the Jessica Harrington-trained mare Miss Orchestra ran out an easy winner of the Midlands Grand National, drawing clear of Kamikaze, Another Excuse and Dom Samourai over the last four fences in the four and a quarter mile marathon.

Harrington said: "I originally intended to run her in the mares' final, but took a chance here even though she was out of the handicap. Miss Orchestra is not in the Grand National this year but there's always next year. I think she would jump well at Aintree. I now intend to run her in the Irish Grand National, even though she will be out of the handicap there."

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