Though Ed McMahon could saddle his first Group One winner at Newmarket on Friday, he may face a still more momentous challenge when he gets home to Lichfield that evening. Win, lose or draw in the Shadwell Middle Park Stakes, McMahon will head straight to a public meeting against a proposed high-speed railway – scheduled to slash through the heart of his gallops. One way or another, it promises to become a day of fresh perspectives on 17 years of family graft and achievement.
The black humour is not lost on McMahon that the colt who could consummate five seasons as a trainer in his own right, and many more as assistant to his father, Bryan, should bear the name of a railway station. Temple Meads has shown express speed to win three of his four starts, notably the Mill Reef Stakes at Newbury earlier this month. Remarkably, given his limited resources, McMahon promptly won another Group prize on the same card, with Astrophysical Jet. These horses are stabled in buildings that lay derelict before the McMahons arrived in 1994. Here was a harvest to raise the stakes for Friday's meeting, to be attended by two local MPs.
"I just hope we can get them to put their foot down, regardless of pressure from down south," McMahon said yesterday. "They were elected to represent their constituents' wishes. Admittedly we would be greatly affected, here, but there are thousands of other households along the line. The only people who would benefit are in the radius of the cities – there are only four stops on the line – and it could blight the whole of middle England. If I felt it was for the good of the country, I would hold my hand up. But I feel it's a waste of public money."
No such charge could ever be levelled at the McMahons, father or son, in their spending on behalf of patrons at the yearling sales. Bryan still works closely with John Fretwell, who owns a dozen of the 42 horses in the stable – including Temple Meads, bought for just 16,000 guineas.
Fretwell runs a candidly commercial operation, but is yet to be offered a profit he can't refuse for this colt. McMahon is perfectly reconciled to that possibility. "He has a price, and if it's acceptable, that's his business," he shrugs.
What he would love to see, however, is a league table of bloodstock agents, based on their ratio of investment and dividends. "If an owner gives me a budget to work to, I'll try to save them a few bob," he said. "Certainly I'd never rip anyone off. The game is expensive enough as it is. It's nice the owners are spending the right money, picking the right horses. We're slowly on the upgrade. It was nice to get the two Group wins, but every milestone you pass, you look for the next one."
McMahon applies the same forbearance to developing horses as in finding them. For instance, he has resisted the temptation to fast-track Astrophysical Jet to the Prix de l'Abbaye at Longchamp on Sunday. "If you get a horse to the top level, doing her best, then you don't want to send her over the top and bottom her," he said.
Temple Meads, equally, has been spooled out with care. "The thing you have to remember with these two-year-olds is that a lot of them have been on the go since last October, when the yearlings are broken," he said. "To keep them bouncing towards the end of the year is a training feat in itself. He seems very well. But then I try never to get them to the point where a horse's head is on the floor. He's only run four times."
After the colt's choke-out defeat over six furlongs, at York, many would have taken the softer option and reverted to five. "I didn't need to shout it from the highest steeple," he said. "The horse proved he got six at Newbury. And looking at the race you'd say he might even get seven. You can understand my frustration at York. I don't blame Jimmy [Fortune]. The horse just bounced out, saw a bit of daylight, got too free. But Richard Mullen knows the horse, buried him at Newbury, and you could see the difference. It'll take a good one to lower his colours on Friday."
*Chris McGrath's Nap
Regal Park (6.0 Newbury)
Blossomed on return from a break at Goodwood last time, trying this trip for the first time, and the narrow margin of his success – though taken literally by the handicapper – disguised his true superiority, as he idled in front.
Clockmaker (5.30 Newbury)
Having raced too freely in his early days, consecutive strong finishes over a mile suggest that he may now be ready for this extra distance.
One to watch
Dream On Buddy (B W Hills) was second again at Beverley last week, this time by just a nose, but the way she gradually wound up through the gears confirmed that she simply needs a step up in trip.
Where the money's going
Sarafina, third in her trial behind Midday in the Prix Vermeille, is 8-1 from 10-1 with Totesport for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe on Sunday.