9 JUNE 2001, Page 52

Having the knack

Robin Oakley

Idon't know what would happen to the inhabitants of Newmarket if they did not have racing to sustain them. Faced with an early start on Channel Four's The Morning Line last Saturday I arrived in the town at about 9.30 on Friday night. A stroll down the high street in search of a steak or spaghetti produced a series of raucous pubs where the music was so loud you could not even think, let alone hope to order any bar food.

The waitress in an almost empty restaurant at the racecourse end of town took obvious delight in informing me at 9.40 that it was too late to order food, and getting back to my car proved an obstacle course, dodging the drunks and the armlinked cohorts of substantial young ladies in spangled tops and overtight jeans. Had I possessed four legs instead of two I would have gone lame on the spot rather than face being work-ridden the next morning by any of them.

But on the racecourse on Saturday there was no sign of hangover, either from anybody's exertions the previous night or from the violence which had disfigured Kempton the previous Saturday. In the chill wind the birds of prey brought in for a demonstration on Countryside Day declined to perform, and who was to blame them. It was nippy enough to make anybody want to down talons. But David Loder's two-yearolds don't seem to mind what the conditions are doing at present. He may have had a miserable couple of years in France but back at headquarters there is no stopping him. He won the first race at Windsor easily with Echo River and then took the second at Newmarket with the odds-on favourite Class Leader, who was made to fight all the way by Mick Channon's Funfair Wane, owned by Mrs Jean Keegan, wife of the former England football manager. The pair finished seven lengths clear of the field and that victory made it seven wins out of eight races for the Loder twoyear-olds, an incredible record even given the quality of his Godolphin horses.

So what about the one that got away, Steadfast and True, who had been beaten into second place at Yarmouth in midweek? 'Trainer error,' grinned the confident Loder. 'I shouldn't have run him over six furlongs.' Class Leader did well once asked to assert and his trainer says he is a very nice horse, if a rather lazy one, who will get a mile and a half next year. Things really do seem to be clicking into place for Loder, who says, 'We're lucky, we've got some super horses.' Yes, but you still have to know what to do with them, and he is proving to any who developed doubts during his French period that he has the knack.

Another horse who went on my list for Ascot was Malhub, trained by John Gosden, who took the seven-furlong Milcars King Charles II Stakes for three-year-olds. Winner of his only race as a two-year-old over the same distance, Malhub had been held up in his work after getting some muck in his lungs. Racing manager Angus Gold was pleased with the progress of Harridan Al Maktoum's Kingmambo colt, especially given that trainer John Gosden had reckoned him only about 85 per cent ready, and he now comes into Royal Ascot reckoning. But before Ascot comes Epsom, and this Saturday's Derby.

Golan has been all the rage for the double since storming from last to first to win the 1,000 Guineas. But the form of that race has not worked out as anything special and he has not been impressing on the gallops. You can make a good case for Dilshaan, Sir Michael Stoute's other runner to be ridden by last year's winning jockey, Johnny Murtagh, who is a guaranteed stayer. There are good arguments too for Galileo, trained by the Irish prodigy Aidan O'Brien, although as a Sadler's Wells colt he might want more cut in the ground than he seems likely to get this year.

I am going to let sentiment rule, however, in going for Barry Hills to win his first Derby at the age of 64. Four times he has been second, with Blue Stag, Glacial Storm, Hawaiian Sound and Rheingold, the last two beaten a head and a short head respectively. Barry, one of Lambourn's great success stories, truly deserves a Derby success and with a pleasing symmetry he is this year running four horses, all of which have won a recognised Derby trial. Chancellor beat Asian Heights, later a winner of the Goodwood trial, in poor ground at Sandown. Storming Home has already won at Epsom this season. Mr Combustible, allegedly named after Barry himself although I have never found him anything but charming and informative, fought well to win the Chester Vase, and Perfect Sunday was impressive in winning the Lingfield Derby trial from Putra Sandhurst, another improving type. I am going to take Perfect Sunday to win for jockey Richard Hughes, who has the confidence of a man on the crest of a wave, with Dilshaan second and Mr Combustible, a nice each-way shot at 25-1, in third place. For the Oaks I make O'Brien's Imagine, ridden by Mick Kinane, a confident selection with Zanzibar and Mot Juste for the places.