In a departure that dovetails the willingness of both men to experiment, Mark Johnston yesterday revealed that he is sending a horse to be trained by Gerard Butler when his rival opens a satellite stable in North America next week. Butler, who is flying half a dozen horses from his Newmarket stable to Chicago on Wednesday, has won the attention and admiration of Johnston in boldly seeking better prize money for his patrons. And, with a corresponding disdain for orthodoxy, the record-breaking Middleham trainer has decided to transfer one of his own horses to share the adventure.
"I've been talking to Gerard for quite some time about his plans," Johnston explained yesterday. "I think it's a very good move, particularly given the current prize money situation in this country. While I haven't actually got a formal involvement in his business out there, as yet, I am sending him a horse owned by Mark Johnston Racing Ltd. Joe Le Taxi only has about £9,000 to show for winning four races on the all-weather, and fits into the category of horse Gerard thinks will have more viable opportunities out there."
Butler regards Johnston's involvement as heartening vindication for his strategy. "Mark knows the racing landscape in this country backwards, and it's a great boost that he thinks we might be onto something," he said. "We're initially stabling our team at Arlington Park, but we also have our eye on the amazing purses offered at Woodbine after that. The sort of horses we think can be competitive out there remain sadly under-rewarded in Britain. This experiment will not affect my business here. Most of the horses will remain in Newmarket. But while we're all trying to make a stand, through the horsemen's tariffs, it's nice to be able to do something positive as well."
A below-tariff race scheduled at Leicester today has been abandoned after a successful boycott, none of those trainers who had made an entry going through with a declaration.
A dozen colts dared to stand their ground against Frankel when the final declarations for the season's first Classic were made yesterday, but perhaps none of them will match the significance of one who did not. In electing to rely solely on Roderic O'Connor in the Qipco 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket tomorrow, Aidan O'Brien and his patrons at Ballydoyle finally committed to running Master Of Hounds in the Kentucky Derby, seven days later. He will be their first runner in the race since Johannesburg and Castle Gandolfo ran down the field in 2002.
Casamento will make his debut for Godolphin in the Guineas, ridden by Frankie Dettori. The booking of Mickaël Barzalona for Saamidd confirms the French teenager as Godolphin's de facto No 2 rider, when his domestic commitments allow.
The draw could not have worked out less conveniently for Tom Queally, who could find Frankel harder to settle if seeing too much daylight from stall one. Rerouted, who runs in the same ownership and is expected to guarantee the pace, is all the way over in 13 and can scarcely offer Frankel cover from there.
Among laymen, there will perhaps be more fascination in Royal Wedding, who runs in the 5.30 race at Fontwell today. His trainer, Nick Gifford, insists that the whole thing is pure coincidence, but David Stevens, spokesman for Coral, is braced to lay Royal Wedding from around 7-2 this morning into hot favourite. He added: "Not since Party Politics won the Grand National, just five days before the 1992 General Election, has there been a horse running with a more appropriate name."
Chris McGrath's Nap
Quito De Tresor (4.0 Perth) Everything in his favour this time, at his best when able to boss rivals, and shaped well when coming up against a hotly contested pace on his latest start.
Bosambo (5.20 Doncaster) Well clear of the rest when chasing home a flourishing rival on only his second start in handicaps last time and runs off the same mark here.
One to watch
Another Try eventually faded into sixth in a big field over the straight mile at Ascot on Wednesday but had gone well for a long way.
Where the money's going
Native Khan is 10-1 from 12-1 with Totesport for the Qipco 2,000 Guineas tomorrow. Dubawi Gold is 40-1 from 50-1.