Rain may dilute Lake opposition

A speedster is buoyed up for Haydock's big event. Richard Edmondson reports
Click to follow
The Independent Online
A strange word has entered the lexicon for a Group One race at Haydock on Saturday. It is formality. If Geoff Lewis's Lake Coniston fails to win the Sprint Cup there will be serious judges of the game elbowing each other out of the way to add to the pile at the base of Beachy Head.

At the present odds of 4-9 though, many would suggest the July Cup winner cannot be backed in the taxed arena of a betting shop. Indeed, only those who live along the ribbon of the M6 should be thinking rationally about defraying petrol costs at the Lancashire course.

This is not to say that Lewis considers Lake Coniston to be bad value. If he was a bookmaker (and the ex-jockey would need several of the ring pallets to get him to board level) he would be offering a similar price. "The Newmarket form makes him a 4-9 shot because he pulverised Group horses that day," the Epsom trainer said yesterday. "As well as that he seems in great nick. I've never known him so buoyant. He's a real quiet type of horse but even he's getting a bit cheeky in his box."

Lake Coniston's prospects may need as much bolstering as Luca Cumani's self-confidence but there was further aid yesterday when Haydock reported that two millimetres of rain had fallen overnight. While this may not have been enough to turn the Manchester Ship Canal into a boiling stretch of water it was sufficient to draw grumbling thoughts from the camp of So Factual, the second favourite for Saturday's sprint who needs firm ground. A decision on whether the Godolphin runner appears will be made only at tomorrow morning's declaration stage.

Lewis's confidence is such that he is already looking beyond Haydock, his colt's last appearance in this country, to the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Belmont Park at the end of October. While it will be his first appearance as a participant at the track in New York's Jamaica district, he knows the course well and plans to recreate a version of the turns at Epsom.

"It's a very fair track and the main question is whether we can adapt and go fast on a turn like the Americans can," he said. "I'll be taking him to Lingfield [for a trial on the all-weather] and I'm going to erect a little turn in my 55-acre paddock and build a turn there with fencing I'm going to borrow from Epsom. He'll canter round there rather than pinging it because that will just put stress on him. I'll teach him to go on the right leg to take the turn."

Lewis's enthusiasm has hardly been doused by reports that America's sprinters are weak this campaign. On top of that, his horse has not been wrapped up in Europe's customary malaise of being overstressed. "He's only had half a hard race all year, at Ascot, and even then Pat [Eddery] couldn't really get at him because the horse wanted to get over to the other side of the racecourse," he said. "He hasn't had a hard season."

In addition, despondency has yet to be reached over the twin tribulations of the alien dirt surface and the journey Lake Coniston will have to endure (Lewis talks of his inmate in terms that would flatter Phineas Fogg). "He's the best traveller in the world," the trainer said. "And he'll handle the ground. It will be practically the winter and sloshy ground so the dirt won't be a problem."

Following the July Cup, Lewis threw the key to the tantalus out of the window in the belief that his liver needed a sabbatical and he should allow it to regenerate for a Haydock celebration. He expects the organ to get a similar pummelling at Belmont.

"I've never had a horse good enough to go to the Breeders' Cup before," he said. "If I'd sent four in a relay race they wouldn't have been fast enough. But if this one comes out of Haydock well whatever beats him in New York will have to be very, very good."