Muis and the ‘Pocket Rocket’

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE -

HARRY Her­bert has vivid rec­ol­lec­tions of the first time he came eye to eye with Lyric Fan­tasy. Well, not quite eye to eye, given that Harry is very tall and the filly was no big­ger than a child’s pony, but the en­counter was one that nonethe­less left a last­ing im­pres­sion.

Her­bert’s father, Lord Carnar­von, had been busy draw­ing up plans for the fledg­ling Su­per Sprint sales race for two-year-olds at New­bury when he sud­denly re­alised he didn’t have a horse to run in it, so when his trainer Richard Han­non re­turned from Don­caster with a young­ster he deemed fit for pur­pose, a rip­ple of ex­cite­ment en­sued that was quickly over­taken by a brief wave of be­muse­ment.

“I re­mem­ber my father gave Richard a pretty stingy bud­get and a cou­ple of pedi­grees he liked, and Richard came up with Lyric Fan­tasy,” re­calls Her­bert, “but when we went to see her, an an­i­mal the size of a lap­dog ap­peared.

“She was re­ally very small but with this tremen­dous out­look, a per­fect minia­ture with strong quar­ters and a great head, and as we were won­der­ing what to make of her, Richard ap­peared and said to my father, ‘There you go, my lord, she’s got the face of a model and the back­side of a scullery maid’.”

Han­non

Han­non, as ever, was bang on the money with both his pur­chase and his pithy turn of phrase. The lit­tle daugh­ter of Tate Gallery would go on to do the job she was bought for, and a lot more be­sides, earn­ing her­self the last­ing af­fec­tion of all those caught up in her sub­stan­tial wake.

The trainer chuck­les when re­minded of his sales pitch, but is deadly se­ri­ous when he re­mem­bers the over-arch­ing qual­ity that his diminu­tive new toy showed in the build-up to her race­course de­but on April 27, 1992.

“She was quick all right – one of the quick­est I’ve ever trained – and we knew how good she was when she went to Wind­sor. It was just a mat­ter of whether she got the trip, but she did that all right.”

“It was an ex­tra­or­di­nary evening,” says Her­bert. “We all cel­e­brated and went out to din­ner, and Lyric Fan­tasy went from strength to strength, win­ning the Na­tional Stakes in great style at Sandown be­fore be­com­ing the first twoyear-old to run un­der a minute at As­cot and al­most break­ing the track record on good to soft ground at New­bury.”

Lord Carnar­von

“She was small, but she was a hell of a mover and when Lord Carnar­von came up with the idea of go­ing for the Nun­thorpe, we went along with it – he used to think things out. You get a hell of a weight al­lowance and if you’ve got one quick enough it’s a good idea.”

At York, Lyric Fan­tasy was due to step out of her own age group for the first time and take on sea­soned sprint­ers, in­clud­ing her sta­ble­mate Mr Brooks, rid­den by Lester Pig­gott. But she was sent off the 8-11 favourite, a price that re­flected her pos­ses­sion of the most pre­cious com­mod­ity in the sprint mar­ket­place.

“She had the speed to go with any­thing, blis­ter­ing speed, she was very, very quick,” says Han­non, leav­ing no­body in any doubt, “and it doesn’t mat­ter what age group you’re run­ning against, speed’s speed and she’d been break­ing track records all along the way.

“It was quite an amaz­ing per­for­mance by the horse and for Michael to do the weight.”

Michael Roberts, the lit­tle South African rider who ended up cham­pion jockey in Bri­tain that sea­son, put up 1lb over­weight at 7st 8lb, but it was his knowl­edge of the filly, gleaned over an un­beaten four-race run, that clinched the day for Lyric Fan­tasy and saw her emerge as the first two-year-old to win the race since 1956.

Speak­ing from his home­land, the fond­ness of his mem­o­ries of her come across loud and clear as he rec­ol­lects the per­for­mance that de­fined the filly’s ca­reer.

“Aah, the pocket rocket,” he purrs, in­vok­ing the nick­name that stuck with the rac­ing pub­lic. “She was very tiny – to be hon­est, even I looked big on her – but she had a huge back­side for a horse of that size, which was where she got her power from out of the gates, and when she was loaded up, she knew what she was there for.”

He adds: “In the start­ing stalls, I used to grab the bar and pull her a stride for­ward as the last horse was go­ing in, and when I pushed the but­ton on her she just went. Against her own age group, she’d pace her­self in a race and all you had to do was hold her to­gether, but against the older bri­gade I wanted to help her get that breather, so I planned the race out in my mind to help her get her sec­ond wind.

“Sit­ting in the start­ing gate Lester was about two horses away from me, up in the air, with my head barely over the di­vid­ing bar­rier. I pushed her for­ward as the gates were about to open and the tim­ing was phe­nom­e­nal.

“As we broke, I looked across and she had a length on all those sea­soned hard-knock­ers at the start, then they came past me af­ter a fur­long and I just let her do her own thing, know­ing I couldn’t ask her to run all the way. At the two­fur­long marker she quick­ened so well it sur­prised me, but I’ve never rid­den a two-year-old as quick and she was tough as old boots.”

“She was such a ma­ture two-year-old and that was her forte, and she was never up to that again,” said Roberts.

“She won as a three-year-old,” Han­non points out, “but she didn’t train on the way we thought she would, prob­a­bly be­cause of her size. But af­ter a sea­son with a filly that cost 13 grand, you don’t mind so much, es­pe­cially when she sold for 340,000gns, which was a lot of money. She did us proud.”

Her­bert is in no mood to dif­fer. “At the fam­ily stud there still hangs a pic­ture of all of us greet­ing the filly as she came back in at York and Michael Roberts do­ing his fa­mous pa­pal wave. It was the best day’s rac­ing a man could have and an am­bi­tion of my father’s ful­filled.

“The pocket rocket will al­ways be a part of our fam­ily’s hap­pi­est rac­ing mem­o­ries.”

– racingpost.com

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