Smart move into big league

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The Independent Online
Picking up a sheaf of faxes on the day after the biggest success of Bryan Smart's career should have been a pleasure for the Lambourn trainer. But yesterday, among the congratulations, arrived a bundle of offers for Sil Sila, Smart's pride and joy who brought long-awaited and rather unlikely recognition to Smart's 32-horse stable by winning Sunday's Prix de Diane.

"We've had a lot of faxes with offers for her, from bloodstock companies acting as agents for clients," Smart said. "I've had her since she was a two-year-old and have ridden her in all her work. It would be a wrench to see her go, but then business is business. Still, they can't take away what I have done with her."

What the former jump jockey has done with Sil Sila is win the French equivalent of the Oaks. Not a bad achievement considering the limitations of such a small string and that Smart had, until Sunday, notched only four winners this season -all of them on Britain's all-weather tracks.

For many, Smart will be remembered only as a jump jockey, and more particularly as the jump jockey who came to grief aboard Gylippus at the last fence in the 1976 Welsh National with the race at his mercy. Had the pair not become disconnected, it would have given Jenny Pitman the first big success of her training career and Smart had to survive a barrage of criticism for his failure, although not from Pitman who was greatly supportive.

Confirming Sil Sila's well-being, Smart, who arrived back at Lambourn from France yesterday afternoon, said: "She's in the paddock at the moment and she is as happy as they come. She's a real pro. She has eaten everything and drunk very well."

At Chantilly Smart, too, was clearly intent on celebrating in the same style and answered reporters' questions while clutching a magnum of champagne in each hand. Some of the bubbly will have to be saved, though. Smart had promised to marry his fiancee, Vicky Marshall, when he had won his first Group race.

Another date in his diary is 15 September, when Sil Sila could return to France for another Group One race, the Prix Vermeille at Longchamp. "We will look at the fillies' races over a mile and a quarter, and the Champion Stakes at the end of the season is a possibility.

"It's fabulous to win a race like this. I'm a small trainer with a good filly and it can only help people saying that I know my job. Hopefully it will make people give me a crack with a few better horses."

Smart's first job, though, is to convince Sil Sila's owner, Luis Alvarez Cervera, to unplug the fax machine.