26 SEPTEMBER 1998, Page 60

The turf

A winning mover

Robin Oakley

Fashionable eyes were turned last weekend on Stravinsky's amateurish show- ing in France and on Always Alight's victo- ry in the Ayr Gold Cup. But the warmest applause of the day was undoubtedly that ringing around the winner's enclosure as Peter Hedger welcomed back Brilliant Red, who had taken the £33,000 winner's prize in the Courage Handicap Stakes at sunny Newbury, by far his trainer's biggest success so far.

No sooner had family, friends and hard- bitten hacks started celebrating a well- earned victory by one of the most respected small-stable grafters in racing than 'Hedge' was back in the winner's enclosure again with Veronica Franco. The five-year-old mare was a comfortable win- ner of the £15,000 Tote Sporting Index Autumn Cup, the second richest handicap of the day. Not a bad afternoon's work for a man who admitted that he had been 'pan- icking all day' and whose wife Laura had told him that morning he couldn't do any- thing right.

To put his Newbury achievement in per- spective, it meant that a 20-horse trainer with just six horses running on the flat had taken the two most hotly contested races of the day up against the likes of Henry Cecil, Barry Hills, Sir Michael Stoute and John Dunlop. Indeed, since a Dunlop horse fig- ured in the finish of the Autumn Cup, Peter Hedger joked that perhaps the Arun- del maestro would now be banning him from his gallops. His Chichester stable does not boast full facilities, so the Hedger horses are boxed up and taken to the Dun- lop gallops for their serious work. There is no charge for the facility, just an under- standing that the Hedger horses do not get in the way, and 24-hour availability for John Dunlop from the smaller trainer in his alternative role as a horse transporter.

A broken neck at Kempton in 1985 put an end to Peter Hedger's riding career after 16 winners, mostly for David Gandol- fo and Bill Wightman and he tried his hand at market-gardening. But kicking snow off frozen Brussels sprouts to pick them for the Christmas trade had limited appeal and he was soon persuaded to use his racing connections by starting up as a horse- mover, a function for which he is, as yet, better known than as a trainer. Nowadays he has seven vehicles, capable of taking between two and six horses. When he comes back with his second lot from the gallops, at around 9 a.m., the phone goes crazy for a while as he attends to his other business. And for those who imagine racing is an easy life the day goes on until Peter Hedger, who believes in giving his charges `little and often', doles out the final feed himself at about 8.30 at night.

He carries all the Dunlop entries to and from the races as well as those for other nearby trainers like Lady Herries. As the transport business built up, he used the quiet periods to start training a handful of horses, initially with a permit for a few jumpers and from 1990 with a full licence for both codes. As for the two horses with which he scored his watershed double, Bril- liant Red was bought at the Newmarket Sales after scoring as a two-year-old for Paul Cole. A nervous type, who used to get very worked up, he was gelded and has been taught to settle down. 'He's accepted our way of life,' said his trainer. He won twice on the all-weather last winter and once on turf in the spring before being given a break to come back as a compara- tively fresh horse. He may carry his head rather high but 'the further they go, the lower it gets', says his trainer.

Veronica Franco was claimed out of a seller for £6,000 14 months ago then bought off a Newmarket agent by owner John Whelan. 'She was two boards slapped together when we got her,' said her trainer. But he put enough condition on her to win with her first time out at Folkestone and then took two more races with her, includ- ing one at Ascot. After her recent Sandown run Richard Quinn offered what turned out to be the good advice: that she was better off running in a decent race with less weight on her back. She had been destined to go hurdling, but plans for a career over timber are now likely to be put back for a year.

Modestly, Peter Hedger said of the hap- piest day in his racing life that, although his horses had been looking well and going well at home, he would have been happy with a single place from the four horses he brought to the races. His chances were diminished when Secret Spring, one of his other two entries, ripped off a shoe before the start of the Courage Stakes. He didn't have a penny on Brilliant Red. 'With a win like that the percentage is enough for me.' But when I caught up with him the next day he was somewhat fragile after a night's celebrations in Dogmansfield. May there be cause for many more of them.

Robin Oakley is political editor of the BBC.