The "Choirboy" will not be in the Ascot stalls this weekend. Walter Swinburn, who rode Lammtarra to a dramatic and emotional victory in the Derby, has been jocked off the colt for Saturday's King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes. Swinburn's place goes to his friend (well, he used to be his friend) Lanfranco Dettori.
"Frankie Dettori is the stable jockey and it has been decided he will ride Lammtarra in the King George," Simon Crisford, the racing manager of the colt's owners, the Godolphin team, said yesterday. "Godolphin has enjoyed great success with Walter Swinburn and it hopes this will continue whenever possible in the future."
In the absence of further reason, this seemed a horribly cold decision. Swinburn has ridden just five races for Godolphin, winning two Group Ones (Halling won the Eclipse to add to Lammtarra's victory) and a Group Two (Classic Cliche's Dante Stakes), as well as finishing fourth in the French Derby.
Most cruelly of all for Swinburn is the fact that Lammtarra has replaced Shergar as the horse that occupies his heart. The jockey was a good friend of Alex Scott, who trained the colt until his death last autumn. He has ridden the son of Nijinsky to both his successes, in addition to partnering him in all his work on the gallops. The association ends this Saturday, however, when Swinburn will not even be at Ascot to see how the chestnut fares. He rides at Newmarket.
Swinburn will not be the only absentee. Another Godolphin consideration, Red Bishop, has suffered a minor joint injury to a foreleg and misses not only the King George but also the lucrative Gran Premio Brasil in Rio de Janeiro early next month.
In addition, a positive decision will not be made until tomorrow about the participation of a third Godolphin horse, Balanchine. By that time she will have completed her final piece of work. The portents seem to suggest last year's Oaks and Irish Derby winner will not run. Already discarded by her regular rider, Dettori, Balanchine's prospects were further hindered by another dry day at Ascot yesterday.
If Balanchine is absent the numbers could be down to six, which would make it the smallest King George field since Nijinsky beat five others 25 years ago (the traditionalists who still believe this race can rival the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe for depth of quality should take note).
Sheikh Mohammed, Godolphin's paymaster, has Carnegie running in his colours, but it appears another of his, Winged Love, will be saved for an autumn campaign. The most reliable sound in the jungle, the bookmakers' tom-toms, predicted this yesterday when William Hill removed the Irish Derby victor from their list.
The same firm now makes Pentire the 6-4 favourite despite the fact that Geoff Wragg's colt has contested neither a Classic nor a Group One race. He will face at least three Group One winners on Saturday. A horse of great inconsequence last season, Pentire has improved dramatically to register four straight victories this year. In public at least, Wragg laughs off suggestions that he should have entered the colt in the top events, but, when the front door closes . . .
A former Wragg inmate, Jeune, has been installed as a 20-1 chance by Ladbrokes to follow up last year's success in the Melbourne Cup. On the same mark is the previous winner, Vintage Crop, while Double Trigger, the Ascot Gold Cup winner, is the 14-1 favourite for Flemington. All this, though, has the whiff of irrelevance until the weights for the two-mile handicap come out on 1 September.
By then, Mark Johnston, Double Trigger's trainer, will have some sort of idea of the equine squad he will be shipping to the southern hemisphere. The big-race favourite apart, he also has races in mind for Double Blue, Double Quick, Celestial Key and Branston Abbey at the Melbourne carnival. The Middleham man is at this moment persuading owners that they should be seeking sponsorship deals to meet the near pounds 30,000 cost of travelling, as he believes the sprinters, in particular, could shock the locals. "We are going completely into virgin territory," he said. "We don't really know how good their sprinters are but someone has to go out there and give it a try."
KING GEORGE VI & QUEEN ELIZABETH STAKES (Ascot, Saturday): William Hill: 6-4 Pentire, 11-4 Carnegie & Lammtarra, 10-1 Balanchine, 14-1 Broadway Flyer, 20-1 Strategic Choice, 50-1 Environment Friend.Reuse content