Brittain readies Zaidan to follow Kentucky dream
With neat appositeness, the youngest winner at Royal Ascot was saddled by the oldest trainer. But though he is 76, Clive Brittain has yet to reach for the plaid slippers. No sooner had he welcomed Zaidan into the winner's circle after the Chesham Stakes last week than he was outlining, with ageless enthusiasm, next year's ambitious target for the colt, a tilt at the Kentucky Derby.
A quarter of a century ago Brittain was plotting the same route for a smart juvenile called Bold Arrangement and duly sent him to Kentucky the following spring, the first from a British stable to contest North America's most famous race. The left-field venture was viewed with raised eyebrows by much of the establishment here but it so nearly came off when the chestnut horse led down the home straight and was caught only by Ferdinand.
It remains by far the best European result in the race, despite more recent challenges by the might of Godolphin and Coolmore, and Brittain is relishing another go. "I said that the next time I went to Kentucky with a horse, it would be only with one with a chance," he said, "and this one could be it. As always, I'm a dreamer."
Brittain may have something of the Don Quixote in him but his imagination has much of Sancho Panza's down-to-earth practicality and where he has led, others have followed. He was the first trainer in Newmarket to install an equine swimming pool, for instance. And was the first to appear at bloodstock sales during the 1980s with a brick-like cellphone clamped to his ear, despite the mockery it provoked. He was the first trainer from this country to win a Breeders' Cup race, the Turf with peerless Pebbles, and the first to take a Japan Cup, with Jupiter Island.
And if he has acquired a reputation for rather tilting at windmills with some horses, the results have proved him right. Amfortas was a 66-1 shot when he won the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot; Terimon started at 500-1 when he ran second in his Derby; Radetsky 16-1 for the first of his Royal Ascot victories, the St James's Palace Stakes, and 25-1 for the second, the Queen Anne Stakes; Rajeem 50-1 when she took the Falmouth Stakes.
Horses have been Brittain's life since he first earned money from breaking in ponies at the age of eight. He spent 23 years learning the racing business with Sir Noel Murless before, largely helped by investment with bookmakers in his early recognition of the talent of the yard's dual Classic heroine Altesse Royale, setting up on his own 28 years ago.
Zaidan, unbeaten in his two outings, carries the colours of long-time patron Saeed Manana under the banner of Sheikh Mohammed's Darley operation, a link established when the Sheikh bought Pebbles from Marcos Lemos after she won the 1,000 Guineas.
Brittain spotted Zaidan's potential rapidly but will now bide his time with the US-bred, a still-developing May-foaled son of Street Cry. "We won't be in a rush with him," he said. "He's had two runs, he's experienced the big occasion. He was always going to improve for the step up to seven furlongs in the Chesham and will certainly get further in time, but we weren't afraid to start him over five, he has that sort of class. Sir Noel always said that top colts could perform between five furlongs and a mile and a half and he started Crepello [the superb 1957 Derby winner] in the Windsor Castle at Royal Ascot, where he was beaten only a head.
"When you get an exciting colt like this, who is going to progress from two to three, the trick is to go at their pace and not to spoil the talent they are showing."
Last week might have been even better for Brittain; Hibaayeb, whom he sent out to take last year's Fillies Mile, was transferred to the Sheikh's elite Godolphin team during the close season and on Thursday won the Ribblesdale Stakes. "That's the way it is and I was thrilled she won," he said, "and the best of luck to them with her."
Newmarket's most venerable trainer, who still beats his colleagues to the gallops of a morning shortly after dawn, reckons his youth squad is one of his best in years, naming the as yet unraced El Wasmi as another exciting prospect to follow. "I've got a fistful of lovely two-year-old colts," he said, "and when I'm being sent horses like them with all the potential in the world, I've no reason to retire. When you do something you love, why on earth stop?"
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