14 AUGUST 2004, Page 43

Some like it hot

Robin Oakley

There were even more panamas than you I would expect to see at Goodwood. The ladies were, more or less, in flimsy pastels, although some of them overflowed a little. At 30°C on Saturday, Newmarket was sweltering. Watching the buckets of water being thrown over Andrew Balding's Conjuror after he had won the Long Melford Maiden Stakes, one of the lady owners in the Kennet Valley Thoroughbreds confided that she wouldn't mind a dousing herself, although she declined the kind offer of the gentlemen of the Press to assist.

Sensibly the Newmarket executive had plenty of water on hand in the winners' enclosure and in the equine equivalent of the wet T-shirt contest it has to be said that Golden Island, John Hills's winner of the Team Events Fillies Handicap, stood out. A well-developed chestnut filly by Selkirk out of the Darshaan mare Daftiyna, she looked absolutely gorgeous as she enjoyed her postrace soaking. 'If she was human, you would want to marry her, wouldn't you?' said her proud trainer. Dropped back from ten furlongs to a mile after showing good speed in her previous race at Ascot, and nicely ridden by the trainer's brother, Michael, Golden Island won well despite her hefty 9st 101b, and looks to be capable of better things.

Father Barry Hills succeeded, too, with Maids Causeway in the Swynford Paddocks Hotel Sweet Solera Stakes. With Michael Hills partnering Windscreamer for brother John, Maids Causeway was only Steve Drowne's second ride for the Lambourn maestro, but the pair took command in the closing stages.

It shows that you should not always listen to the experts, who had tut-tutted as the daughter of Giant's Causeway sweated up in the preliminaries. The racecard, too, suggested that Andrew Balding's Conjuror, halfbrother to a Group 2 winner and out of a dam who had won a 5f Group 3. 'should be noted in the betting'. A sensible man therefore would have noted that Conjuror opened at 14-1 and went out to 16s and ignored him. After a painfully expensive afternoon until then, I chose to swim against the tide, noting that Andrew had had a couple of win ners in the Shergar Cup meeting at Ascot.

Two things probably deterred punters. One was that Conjuror had dumped the stable's regular rider Martin Dwyer in his previous race, earning a rare Flat race-form figure of U for unseated. The other was that he was ridden this time by a 7 lb-claiming apprentice, Richard Killoran. But Conjuror was good as gold and Killoran, formerly with Paddy Prendergast and riding just his second winner, was the coolest man on the course. As Balding's representative Simon Burgoyne put it, 'He sat and he sat and he sat,' waiting behind the leaders before swooping in the final furlong. It was a promising ride from an 18-year-old who clearly has talent. Ironically, the horse he collared and relegated to second place was I'mtalkinggibberish, ridden by Martin Dwyer. Somehow I don't see Martin stopping at Conjuror's box with the Polo mints next time he's in the Balding yard.

Dwyer was successful, though, in the closest finish of the day, bringing home Desert Lord to take the totesport Silver Salver Stakes over seven furlongs. 'You can unhold your breath now,' said the paddock announcer when the result of the photofinish was finally announced. Since the judge had taken ten minutes to make up his mind, there could have been an awful lot of bodies if anybody had been that tense about it.

For me there were two sadnesses about a glorious day's racing. The fourth was won by Luca Cumani's Mandaturn, a son of Mtoto, which provided a poignant reminder of the premature death last week of Luca's friend and Mtoto's trainer Alec Stewart, a true gent and one who was always eager to ensure that his staff as well as the trainer received due credit for a stable success. The other sadness was that it was exactly a year since I had talked at Newmarket's July course with the 20-year-old Keith Dalgleish, to my mind one of the sharpest talents among the younger riders. Last week Keith walked into Mark Johnston's yard and announced he was quitting after failing to turn up for four booked rides at Hamilton.

A year ago Keith, aged 20, was 5 ft 11 ins and still, he told me, doing 8st 61b without trouble, although it had been 8st the year before and 7st 71b the year before that. In the intervening year he had grown to 6ft lin, putting him literally head and shoulders above many in the weighing room, and colleagues said he needed plenty of notice to 'do' 8st 111b. There had been a signal of trouble last September when he was cautioned for failing an alcohol test. It is hard enough maintaining the discipline to perform as a top-class athlete in any field. To do it in racing, as many do, torturing your body on a daily basis to stay way below your natural weight imposes a hideous strain which amazes the practitioners of other sports. Food and the scales become a fascination, an enemy and an obsession. As my friend Michael Caulfield, performance consultant and former kingpin of the Jockeys Association, points out, the strains imposed are not just physical but psychological, too. For the moment at least, Keith Dalgleish, who quit despite being about to ride Gateman in the Arlington Million, has lost both battles. I can only hope that before long we will see this talented rider back, perhaps riding over jumps at a weight his body and mind can stand.