How very fitting that the horse charged with seeking what could prove the last of so many big prizes for John Dunlop, here this afternoon, should be named Times Up. For the veteran Arundel trainer, who has supervised the careers of 10 British Classic winners, yesterday announced that he is to retire at the end of the season.
The news did not exactly come as a shock. At 73, Dunlop has endured one of the quietest of his 46 seasons. But he has long been guaranteed the lasting respect of the Turf community, and not just as the trainer of such luminous talents as Shirley Heights, Salsabil and Habibti.
For one thing, his work for charity has been recognised by an MBE; and he has also passed on his lore to two sons who have carved out their own reputations as trainers, in Ed and Harry. Perhaps his greatest service to the British racing industry, however, was to introduce its charms to the Maktoum family. Dunlop saddled Sheikh Mohammed's first ever winner, Hatta, at Brighton in June 1977, and Sheikh Hamdan has been a mainstay of his stable throughout.
Dunlop broke the news to his staff yesterday morning, having begun the process of informing his patrons overnight. "It's very much fresh off the printing machine," he said, preferring to defer broader reflection for the time being. "There are several reasons behind the decision. I now have much reduced stable numbers, and it is now less viable than it once was. My wife has also been ill for quite a while, as well, so that has been a factor – and I can also now live in the shadow of my very successful sons."
On the eve of the Ladbrokes St Leger, it is timely to record that the last of his Classic winners was Millenary in the 2000 running. Silver Patriarch (1997) and Moon Madness (1986) also won the Leger, while his three 1,000 Guineas winners included the brilliant Salsabil in 1990. She followed up in the Oaks, then beat the colts in the Irish Derby. Dunlop owed his other Epsom Classics to Circus Plume in the 1984 Oaks, and Shirley Heights and Erhaab in the 1978 and 1994 Derby respectively. Only the 2,000 Guineas eluded him, among the domestic Classics.
Immaculate in his trilby, and perennially drawing on a cigarette, Dunlop has preserved a passing era on the Turf. In 2001 he nearly lost his life to a ruptured aorta, but would return with undiminished enthusiasm – starting every day with a swim in an unheated pool, and pronouncing that he would only contemplate retirement if he went "broke or mad" (with characteristic wryness, he promptly added: "Either of which is quite possible").
As for Times Up, he lines up for the Stobart Doncaster Cup after contributing to his stable's recent return to form at York last month. He has been followed here, however, by Saddler's Rock – plainly not himself at York, and on previous form the clear class act in the present crop of stayers.
Certify, already among the favourites for the 2013 Qipco 1,000 Guineas, meanwhile sets the standard in the Barrett Steel May Hill Stakes. But the Group races today may conceivably be surpassed in interest by a conditions race for juveniles – won by 13 lengths, two years ago, by Frankel. The champion's owner-breeder, Khalid Abdullah, is once again represented by a colt who impressed hugely in a Newmarket maiden, Ashdan.
Frankel's trainer and jockey, Sir Henry Cecil and Tom Queally, combined yesterday to win the prestigious DFS Park Hill Stakes over the Leger course, with Wild Coco. Cecil had hoped to aim this filly at last year's Leger, but she proved too immature. She is really blossoming now, however, and swept past Estimate after the royal filly had gained first run. Wild Coco is now likely to join Frankel on Qipco Champions' Day at Ascot next month, where there is also a valuable prize for fillies and mares.
Eight rivals, meanwhile, stood their ground against Camelot at the final declaration stage for the Leger. William Buick, John Gosden's stable jockey, has opted for Thought Worthy, leaving Michelangelo to Frankie Dettori.
Chris McGrath's nap
Ashdan (3.30 Doncaster) Form of his very stylish debut success is proving strong and this well-bred colt, representing top connections, can confirm that he is going places fast.
Borug (4.15 Sandown) Previously a distrusted character but looked unlucky not to score on his first start since castration and looks well treated if building on that.
Where the money's going
Thought Worthy is 8-1 from 10-1 with the sponsors for the Ladbrokes St Leger at Doncaster tomorrow, with Camelot eased to 2-5 from 1-3.