This sport's broad church could hardly have been better illustrated by some of the events of yesterday. There were a multimillionaire footballer's ambitious plans for his assault on racing's top prizes, with the help of one of the country's most talented young trainers. There was a first winner for nearly two years for one of the country's smallest yards, where even the cost of veterinary attention has to be weighed into a tight balance. And there is the prospect of cheerleaders and pop anthems at Ascot on Saturday, where Shergar Cup day will take proceedings further and further into Twenty20 territory.
Just as Michael Owen's sporting career is entering a new phase, so is one of his business ventures. It was confirmed yesterday that the football star, soon to kick off the Premier League season with his latest club, Manchester United, has been joined by the Betfair founder Andrew Black as a financial partner in his state-of-the-art training stables at Malpas, Cheshire, and that Tom Dascombe will be the new name on the licence.
Owen's Manor House operation, born of his passion for thoroughbreds, has been up and running for three years but for just 27 minor successes, prompting the sacking of Nicky Vaughan last month. Dascombe, 36, is upwardly mobile, with a record-paced 41 winners this season, only his fourth full campaign. He will, pro tem, divide his attention between his present base in Lambourn, Berkshire, and his new challenge.
Until yesterday, no trainer had gone longer without a victory than Nick Ayliffe, who has just a handful of moderate animals at his base near Minehead. When the seven-year-old mare Bubbs took the selling hurdle at rain-sodden Newton Abbot, beating the hot favourite Sonnengold, she ended a run of 729 winnerless days for the veteran West Country handler. And, on the buses principle, there was very nearly a double, when stablemate Holden Caulfield finished second two races later. "Last year was terrible," said a relieved Ayliffe. "Every one of the horses was sick, and I hardly had any runners. The medicine they could have had costs a fortune so I thought the best thing to do was turn them out to grass for the summer and let nature do its best."
Newton Abbot was the only track in Britain to complete its programme yesterday; treacherous conditions meant that the Flat meetings at Chepstow and Catterick both started, but did not finish. At Catterick, proceedings were abandoned after a horse slipped and fell, but was happily unhurt, in the fifth contest and at the Welsh venue stumps were drawn after only two races after the jockeys Richard Hughes and Jamie Spencer voiced concerns about safety.
"As soon as jockeys do that," said the clerk of the course, Tim Long, "you have to take heed. The ground changed to heavy after incessant rain, although the jumping boys would probably have called it soft and carried on. But we live in an age where if we carried on after talk of danger, and there was an incident, we'd be culpable."
There was a division of opinion, though, with several trainers of soft-ground specialists far from happy. "If you have an owner with a favourite that likes the heavy ground," said Ron Hodges, "and they've travelled a long way to be here, there's an issue. It should be a decision by trainers and owners, with an option for a jockey who doesn't want to ride to be replaced."
Jockeys will be very much calling the tune again at Ascot on Saturday, at the novelty four-cornered international team contest that is the Shergar Cup. Hayley Turner was announced yesterday as captain of the British side and, should she, Darryll Holland or Alan Munro ride a winner, cheerleaders will dance them into the winners' circle to the strains of Elton John's "Made In England". For the purists there is the chance to see jockeys not normally in these parts, like 13-times champion of India, Malesh Narredu, who will ride for the Rest Of The World. His team's signature tune? "Jai Ho"!
Turf account: Sue Montgomery
Enjoyment (6.20 Yarmouth) Showed promise on her debut against largely more experienced rivals before running out of puff in the closing stages and should have gained enough physically and mentally to be able to add to her in-form stable's excellent juvenile tally.
William Morgan (2.20 Newcastle) Starts his handicap career on a reasonable mark and shaped in a decent contest at Newmarket last time as if the step up to seven furlongs would suit.
One to watch
Although Silver Grey (Roger Ingram) finished only seventh in a good fillies' nursery at Newmarket on Saturday, she would have been closer but for losing her balance in the dip and can find compensation soon.
Chris McGrath's nap
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