Mixed blessings for Dunlop's campaign
JOHN Dunlop, Britain's reigning champion trainer, is optimistic about the new Flat season, which kicks off officially on turf at Doncaster on March 21, and has nominated Beauchamp King, Elshabiba and Kahir Almaydan as his three-year-olds to follow, writes Jim McGrath. Yesterday, Dunlop took delivery of an award from Sporting Index, the spread-betting specialists, receiving 126 bottles of champagne, one for each winner he saddled during his championship season.
However, there was one piece of bad news. Dunlop and owner Sheik Hamdan Al-Maktoum, his principal patron, have lost the grey Bint Shadayid, runner-up to Bosra Sham in the Fillies' Mile at Ascot, to Sheik Mohammed's ever-expanding Godolphin operation, based in Dubai. This is a puzzling move and one that could be an indicator of the balance of power within the palace.
They will now rely on Bint Salsabil, winner of the Rockfel Stakes at Newmarket, for this year's Classics. 'We might be asking too much for Bint Salsabil to be a Guineas filly. She is a long, plain filly, who I think will stay farther, so we might set her for the Oaks and by-pass the Guineas,' Dunlop said. Beauchamp King, who took the four-runner Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster, will have his first outing this year in the Greenham Stakes at Newbury as a stepping stone to the 2,000 Guineas.
Elshabiba will probably start off in the Craven Stakes at Newmarket, while Kahir Almaydan, thought last season to be essentially a sprinter, will be tried up to a mile this campaign with a view to running in the Guineas if he proves himself. Ante-post betting on the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham was suspended by a major bookmaking firm following reports that Irish-trained Sound Man was under an injury cloud and in doubt for next month's Festival.
Corals, who shut up shop for 30 minutes, admitted last night they had been unable to substantiate the rumour. Still, when they reopened for business on the race, Viking Flagship had shortened to 11-8 favourite from 7-4, while Sound Man had been knocked out to 5-2 from 15-8. Rivals Hills took similar action, easing Sound Man to 9-4 from 15-8, while Viking Flagship, 6-4 from 7-4, became an even firmer favourite for the two-mile championship.
But speaking from Thurless, where he had runners yesterday, trainer Edward O'Grady denied reports that his jumping star, unbeaten in five outings this season, was lame. 'He worked (Wednesday), cantered today, and is due to work again after racing on Sunday,' O'Grady reported. 'There is no problem with him.' However, O'Grady recently admitted that not all had been well with Sound Man following his bloodless victory in the Comet Chase at Ascot, his task being made all the easier by the early departure of Coulton. The gelding returned to Ireland lame behind; O'Grady believes he might have suffered a twinge trying to avoid the fallen horse five out.