12 JULY 2003, Page 52

Seasonal warriors

Robin Oakley

What a pity, in a way, that Luca Cumani does horses and that Silvio Berlusconi does politics. A week that began with the thin-skinned Italian prime minister embarrassing his nation with an uncouth display at the European parliament, labelling a German critic as a Nazi, ended with the Milan-born Newmarket trainer reminding us all of Italian grace, style and quality after his Falbrav had taken the Eclipse.

I had gone to Sandown to support Marcus Tregoning's Nayef, a long-time favourite of this column, who strode around the parade-ring exuding power and confidence and who, by adding the Eclipse to the Prince of Wales Stakes at Ascot, could have kept himself in line for the new summer Triple Crown and a £1 million bonus. My paddock notes recorded the physical majesty exuded by the deep-chested Nayef and the sweat spots on his leading female challenger Islington, as trainer Sir Michael Stoute sucked his teeth anxiously beside the filly. I also recorded: 'Falbrav. Cool and calm. Hard-muscled like a body-builder straight out of the gym.' Pity I did nothing about it. The 8-1 shot, ridden by Darryl Holland, went clear of the field just after the three-furlong marker, and though Nayef set off after him, having initially been checked by the Godolphin pacemaker Narrative, he could not match Falbrav's acceleration and was still three parts of a length short at the line in a thrilling contest.

'The last two and a half furlongs were the longest of my life,' said Luca afterwards. He had been worried that the jockey, surprised by how much response he got from Falbrav at the first time of asking, had gone too soon. Of the horse, winner already of a Japan Cup when trained by a compatriot in Italy. he declared: 'He's a bull of a horse. Not a bully but a bull. He's so confident. He just doesn't believe that there is a horse as strong as him around. He has mental and physical power. But he's one of the easiest horses to train. He does exactly what you tell him to do, fast when you want and slow when you want.'

Luca, whose fortunes took a downturn when the Aga Khan removed his horses after a dispute, likes to represent himself as having been relegated to a lower division. But he remains a top-class trainer always capable of winning the biggest races when he has the material. You don't win two Derbys, as he did with High Rise and Kahyasi, by sheer luck.

It was, in fact, an Afternoon of the Nice Guys. Nayefs trainer Marcus Tregoning walked into the unsaddling enclosure with a smile on his face and was graceful in defeat. Plenty in his place would have whinged. When Nayef was trying to get out to chase the winner he had the door slammed in his face by Jamie Spencer on Narrative. and Spencer later collected a five-day suspension from the stewards. But moaning is not the Tregoning style. 'He's run a good race,' he said. 'He was getting back at the end and we live to fight another day. We didn't get the run of the race but you can't have it all your own way every time.'

I hope the principals do fight another day, in the lm 4f King George at Ascot this month or the Juddmonte International at York in August over the ten furlongs of the Eclipse, and that next time both have a clear run. In the Prince of Wales at Ascot it was Falbrav who was the victim of scrimmaging. Had he won that first leg he would certainly have gone for the King George to chase the £1 million bonus, but though Falbrav has won over lm 4f in Italy Luca reckons he is probably better over the shorter distance. If they do meet again don't fail to occupy a ringside seat. The contests between these seasoned warriors are racing at its best. Thank heaven for owners who are prepared to keep good horses in training long enough to show real quality instead of rushing them off to stud at three with their quirks and qualities still unexplored.

One nice guy was missing at Sandown. Trainer Milton Bradley was not there to see his six-year-old The Tatling win the Porcelanosa Sprint, since he was at home recovering from a hip replacement. 'He'll soon be running faster than The Tatling,' said the stable's Liz Batchelor of her boss. If the surgery does anything like what it has for Newmarket's Clive Brittain expect the Chepstow trainer's horses to be flying for the rest of the season. In my case, currently, it seems to be the horses I back, not their trainers, who need replacement limbs.

The final team of nice guys on parade was led by Persian Punch, the ten-year-old who took the two mile Addleshaw

Goddard Stakes, getting up on the line by a short head after being headed by Cover Up two furlongs out. The crowd cheered him home and owner Jeff Smith declared afterwards, 'He is the horse of a hundred lifetimes, not just one.' Built like a tank, Persian Punch has been around long enough to earn the same sort of popularity as longer-lived jumpers do. Trainer David Elsworth, who also handled Desert Orchid, suggested politely that a rare error of judgment by the champion jockey had gifted Persian Punch his 17th win. Kieren Fallon passed him too early on Cover Up, giving the old boy, who hates to be beaten, time to come back at him. As jockey Martin Dwyer said, in those circumstances Persian Punch's head goes down to the floor and his neck gets longer and longer. 'He knows where the winning post is, even if I don't.'