Sham gives Cecil real edge

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The Independent Online
Racing's longest-running soap opera moved towards its final episode as Bosra Sham proved herself an outstanding 10-furlong performer with a clear-cut defeat of Halling, holder of the crown for two seasons, in the Champion Stakes here yesterday. It was a magnificent performance by the beautiful chestnut filly, who was poetry in motion as she surged clear in the final furlong, and a triumph for her trainer Henry Cecil, who has nursed her back to fitness after severe foot problems.

And in the sub-plot to the action on the track, Cecil overtook his arch- rival Saeed Bin Suroor - who prepared Halling for Sheikh Mohammed's Godolphin operation - in the race for the trainer's championship, finishing the day some pounds 50,000 ahead.

Bosra Sham, her rider Pat Eddery and Cecil were cheered to the echo as they returned in triumph to the winners' enclosure. The Sheikh's public and acrimonious split with Cecil last year has added an edge to the competition between the two Newmarket stables all season, and the crowd was perfectly aware of the human tensions behind yesterday's clash of two top-class runners.

Although either horse would have received an appropriate reception, for racegoers will always give a champion due recognition, the personal sympathies were with Cecil, not least for his exceptionally skilled handling of Bosra Sham, whose tender, easily bruised feet have caused such concern all year.

The rather foppish Cecil is more of a practised showman in dealing with public reaction than the Dubai sheikh, but there was no mistaking his genuine emotion as he stood with Wafic Said's lovely filly in the winners' enclosure. A recurrence of her foot problem during the week caused Cecil more than one sleepless night in the build-up to yesterday's showdown, and his voice choked as he patted her neck. "Lovely, just lovely," he said. "She did it so well, so bravely."

Sheikh Mohammed was one of the first to offer congratulations to his former trainer, acknowledging Cecil's horsemastership. "Well done," he said quietly. "It was your hard work that got her here."

Both men, fiercely competitive, desperately wanted to win this Group One prize, but both behaved well, Cecil magnanimous in victory and Mohammed dignified in defeat and his undoubted disappointment in the overthrow of his champion. And amid some banter as the Sheikh handed over the trainer's trophy for the Dubai-sponsored race, an ornamental Arabian dagger, there were signs of reconciliation as the two clasped hands in public for the first time this year.

But the human dramas apart, Bosra Sham's performance was truly one to savour. The white-faced daughter of Woodman, winner of the 1,000 Guineas in the spring, lost her unbeaten record to Godolphin's Mark Of Esteem at Ascot on her comeback outing three weeks ago, and was running beyond a mile for the first time. Eddery settled her behind the leaders as Richard Quinn and Even Top took the field of six along at a sensible gallop, and as the pace stepped up three furlongs out Frankie Dettori asked Halling, going for his ninth successive victory in Europe, to quicken. The five- year-old did so in his best style, but he had no answer to the burst of speed that took Bosra Sham two-and-a-half lengths clear at the line. A length behind him, Timarida held Even Top for third place by a head.

Eddery said: "This must be one of the best fillies I've ridden. Halling really took off in front of me, but she got back to him so easily. She is just a delight to ride."

Bosra Sham, who was warmly applauded as she was led on a lap of honour right round the parade ring after her victory and put by Cecil in the same league as two of his best, Oh So Sharp and Indian Skimmer, is scheduled to stay in training next year as a four-year-old.

The trainer's championship will go down to the wire, with nearly pounds 100,000 on offer next Saturday in the last Group One race of the season, the Racing Post Trophy, and both Cecil and Bin Suroor due to be represented.