Racing: White Muzzle gets his neck in front

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The Independent Online
PETER CHAPPLE-HYAM was distressed here yesterday by the news that Ossie Ardiles would be leaving his beloved West Brom to take over as manager at Spurs. The pain was nearly compounded when the trainer's White Muzzle managed to win the Churchill Stakes by only a neck at 1-4.

By the Saturday after Royal Ascot only the sleepwalkers of horse- race betting are finding anything to interest them ahead of the Irish Derby at The Curragh next Sunday and the great midsummer races in Britain: the Eclipse and King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes. White Muzzle survives as a prime candidate for the last of those big events, but his reputation could easily have been diminished in the type of three- runner race that regularly causes upsets.

White Muzzle was 15 kilos above his optimum racing weight and posted a winning time more than 14 seconds outside the course record. No matter. As his jockey, John Reid, said: 'We were going at no more than half-speed and he was spooking at everything as he went. You won't see the best of him until he's in a proper race.'

That proper race will be the King George, into which White Muzzle will carry an unbeaten record for the season.

Once again the Irish Derby could benefit from falling later in the calendar than the Derby, the Oaks and the Prix du Jockey Club, because the winners of all those three races could converge on the Curragh next weekend. A meeting of Commander In Chief (Derby), Hernando (Jockey Club) and Intrepidity (Oaks) would settle the question of which is the best three-year-old middle-distance racer in Europe, though White Muzzle could yet reverse that judgment if he continues on his upward path. A decision on Hernando's participation is expected after the horse has worked on Tuesday. Intrepidity will appear in Ireland only if her home form justifies the payment of pounds 70,000 as a supplementary fee. The fact that her owner is Sheikh Mohammed should ease the pain.

Why, you might ask, does the five-day Ascot meeting fizzle out on the Saturday when most of the population is freed from having to work? Just as races like the Derby and Cheltenham Gold Cup will have to be moved to the weekend, so Royal Ascot may one day be reframed to build towards a climax in the final instalment. (Why not run one of the big betting races like the Royal Hunt Cup on Saturday?)

For Chapple-Hyam, watching as Right Win closed to within a neck of White Muzzle, it was plenty tense enough.