Sheikh wins in regeneration game


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The Independent Online

On the day Walter Swinburn announced that he is to quit, halfway through his second career, it was consoling to come here and see that the transition between different training generations tends to be rather less abrupt.

In barely an hour, three of Sheikh Hamdan's trainers each saddled a juvenile winner, giving their mutual patron much to anticipate next season. First there was John Dunlop, that upright stalwart of the old school, who seems to have been training for the sheikh since the cathedral spire first pierced the horizon here. Then there was Roger Varian, the rookie whose assimilation into the Shadwell empire could hardly have been more assured. And finally there was Charlie Hills, who only took over the licence from his father, Barry, a few days ago.

If Swinburn has found that all that glisters is not gold – and he will not be the last to do so, in this straitened industry – then horses often remind us that the reverse is also true. Certainly, Firdaws remains a 24-carat prospect, despite a performance lacking superficial gloss. Sent off at 2-5 after a promising debut at Newbury, she had to be organised pretty firmly before finally striding away by two lengths. Her jockey, Richard Hills insisted "it felt better than it looked" and, in fairness, they had been trapped wide – first by the draw, then a mid-race bump – before seeing off another promising filly in the Richard Hannon-trained Whimsical.

The winner's dam, Eswarah, won the Oaks for Varian's mentor, Michael Jarvis, who retired last winter through ill health. Firdaws is 20-1 to follow suit at Epsom next year, prompting a raised eyebrow from her composed young handler. "She'll have to win a better race before anyone can start talking about things like that," Varian stressed. "But if she's ever going to be good enough, then it will be over that kind of trip. She's crying out for a mile, but we thought we could get away with seven furlongs in a maiden."

Dunlop's contribution was a narrow success for Farhaan in the Whitsbury Manor Stud Novice Stakes. From the first crop of his owner's Belmont Stakes winner Jazil, he won by only a neck but did well to wear down a more experienced rival, who had controlled the pace. "He's a very attractive horse, with good character, and the encouraging thing is that he's going to stay farther," Dunlop said. "There's speed in the pedigree, but I think his sire is going to put some stamina into the mix."

Angus Gold, Sheikh Hamdan's racing manager, indicated that Farhaan may now tackle the Royal Lodge Stakes, with William Haggas instead inclining to run the owner's Entifaadha, winner of the Acomb Stakes at York a fortnight ago, at Doncaster next week. "William is talking about the Champagne Stakes," Gold explained. "The idea is to see if Entifaadha has enough speed over seven furlongs to have a look at the Dewhurst."

The Listed success of Sajwah was much the least expected of the three, and Gold was tickled by the notion that Hills Snr should be informed that the filly had plainly improved for a change of trainer. "The plan was just to get her settled in front, and I think the dead ground helped," Gold said. "She has always had scope and, physically, she's certainly not just a two-year-old."

Varian and Hills will be hoping that enough of their present enthusiasm endures when they reach 50, as Swinburn did only a few days ago. A sublime rider in his day, his sensitive mind equipped him well for the day-to-day challenges of training, but perhaps left him vulnerable to its broader attrition. He has sent out more than 260 winners since taking over from his father-in-law, Peter Harris, in 2004, but only 25 of them have come this year and he has never found a horse of the calibre he rode in winning three Derbys. He will hand in his licence at the end of next month.

Happily, the ups and downs of the Turf are being cheerfully embraced by Hayley Turner, whose golden season came to a painful end when she broke an ankle in a fall at Bath on Wednesday. "It could have been so much worse," she said yesterday. "No head or spine injury. It's simply part of our job, you have to cherish the highs and brush off the lows."

Turf account

Chris McGrath's Nap

Free For All (4.10 Haydock) Burnt up plenty of fuel to see off competition for the lead over 6f last time and better again expected now he returns to the trip of an impressive earlier success.

Next best

Baptist (5.10 Haydock) Caught out by a steady pace last time, but was starting to work through the gears and this extra distance looks sure to draw out the progress implied in his previous start.

One to watch

Petomic (Richard Guest) Responded well to cheekpieces at Beverley last weekend, but was committed some way out and idled in front, nailed in the final stride.

Where the money's going

Shernando is 7-1 from 8-1 with the sponsors for the Betfred Old Borough Cup at Haydock tomorrow.