Pitts set for quantum leap

Einstein primed to prove trainer's genius with Million victory at second attempt
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The Independent Online

Everyone seems in a tearing hurry to be some place else. Behind the warren of communal stables, a freeway bears its morning cargo of noise towards the distant downtown towers. Planes rumble out of O'Hare into a hot sky. The horn of a commuter train spreads into a deep, melancholy chord. But here, in the cool and gloom of the shed row, is the very picture of tranquillity. The dark, glossy horse is picking impassively on a bundle of straw suspended outside his stall. His mien rebukes the frantic designs of men. A million dollars? Big deal.

His name, Einstein, implies he might well have thought these things over. But it is also one that will prompt much conjecture tomorrow, when he will be one of the favourites for the 27th Arlington Million. And he has unfinished business. Last year, Einstein finished fifth after stumbling out of the gate. His trainer, Helen Pitts, grimaces at the memory. "I knew it was pretty much over there and then," she says. "Then [his rider] had to go wide, and make this big run earlier than he wanted. It was just bad luck. Hopefully, it might go a bit better this time."

She leans against the shed row, tall and slim and blonde – distinctions, in a walk of life dominated by men, she would sooner were overlooked than surveyed. As it happens, this prize has already been won by one pioneering woman trainer. Catherine Day Phillips came down from Canada two years ago with a gelding named Jambalaya, who won at the venerable age of seven, a pomp now shared by Einstein.

Durability and versatility together suggest Einstein to be an unusually robust animal. Last time out he was arguably unlucky not to complete an unprecedented Grade One hat-trick, in consecutive starts on synthetic, turf and dirt tracks. "He just loves the game," Pitts said. "It's neat to have a horse who so enjoys what he does. There are a lot of horses that have the talent, but not the go-get-'em. And because of that, you don't see the talent."

Pitts – formally Pitts-Blasi, following her recent marriage – cherishes this paragon of dependability all the more because of a bittersweet experience in February 2007, when she saddled an unraced three-year-old in a maiden at Gulfstream Park. Curlin won by a dozen lengths, was sold the same afternoon, and promptly transferred to the care of Steve Asmussen. Pitts then watched Curlin anointed as Horse of the Year two years running, thanks partly to a runaway success in a Grade One race at Churchill Downs last year. The runner-up was Einstein.

"It was an honour to run second to him," Pitts insisted. "Yeah, it would have been great to be training him. And it was hard to see him go. It's not often a horse like that comes along, never mind for a trainer at my stage of a career. He had come into my barn as a two-year-old and when we got to breezing him, there weren't too many horses that could keep up. I knew after he won that way there would be people interested. But at least I was part of his career, got him started."

She is still only 35 and has been training for barely five years. While her Maryland upbringing was evidently a privileged one, horses meant perspiration as well as fox hunting and steeplechasing. Her father, a racing steward, opposed her chosen vocation, but it seems to have been almost inadvertent: a job here, a chance there. Pitts won a Grade One race just three months after taking over a barn; Einstein's success in the Santa Anita Handicap was the first for any woman trainer in its 73-year history.

"It is a male-dominated sport," she shrugged. "But you can't let it bother you. There are times when it does get frustrating. Sometimes it's more motivation, sometimes more intimidation. But I just try to do my thing."

Not that she could betray her feelings when Curlin left her barn. "I don't think you have to be hard in this game," she said. "But nor do you want to be too emotional. You just have to hope there might be another one in line somewhere." She turned affectionately towards Einstein. "And at least I had one to fill his shoes."

Turf account: Chris McGrath


Mount Hermon (7.15 Newmarket) Bounced back to form at Newbury last time, with blinkers restored, going smoothly into the lead 2f out and possibly idling when collared in front. Up 3lb for that, but has won off higher marks in the past.

Next best

Frozen Power (6.45 Newmarket) A slow-burning approach frequently pays off for Godolphin with juveniles of this type. A well bred colt, not given a hard time on his debut, and showed the benefit when a cosy winner of his maiden at Epsom. Another furlong here should be no problem, and he looks sure to prove better than his initial handicap rating.

One to watch

Fine Sight (R Hannon) has only taken small steps forward in three maiden starts, including when second at Epsom the other day, just lacking necessary pace over 7f. But a stout pedigree implies a greater test of stamina will prompt a breakthrough.

Where the money's going

Lillie Langtry is 8-1 from 10-1 with Coral for the Stan James 1,000 Guineas.