HOW very fitting that the horse charged with seeking what could prove the last of so many big prizes for John Dunlop at Doncaster this afternoon should be named Times Up.
The veteran Arundel trainer, who has supervised the careers of 10 British Classic winners, yesterday announced that he is to retire at the end of the season.
The news did not exactly come as a shock. At 73, Dunlop has endured one of the quietest of his 46 seasons. But he has long been guaranteed the lasting respect of the Turf community -- and not just as the trainer of such luminous talents as Shirley Heights, Salsabil and Habibti.
Perhaps his greatest service to the British racing industry was to introduce its charms to the Maktoum family. Dunlop saddled Sheikh Mohammed's first winner, Hatta, at Brighton in June 1977 and Sheikh Hamdan has been a mainstay of his stable throughout.
Dunlop broke the news to his staff yesterday morning, having begun the process of informing his patrons overnight.
"It's very much fresh off the printing machine," he said, preferring to defer broader reflection for the time being.
"There are several reasons behind the decision. I now have much reduced stable numbers, and it is now less viable than it once was.
"My wife has been ill for quite a while, so that has also been a factor and I can also now live in the shadow of my very successful sons."
On the eve of the Ladbrokes St Leger, it is timely to record that the last of his Classic winners was Millenary in the 2000 running of that race.
Silver Patriarch (1997) and Moon Madness (1986) also won the Leger, while his three 1,000 Guineas winners included the brilliant Salsabil in 1990. She followed up in the Oaks, then beat the colts in the Irish Derby.
Dunlop (right) owed his other Epsom Classics to Circus Plume in the 1984 Oaks, and Shirley Heights and Erhaab in the 1978 and '94 Derbies respectively. Only the 2,000 Guineas eluded him among the English Classics.
Immaculate in his trilby and perennially drawing on a cigarette, Dunlop has preserved a passing era on the Turf. In 2001 he nearly lost his life to a ruptured aorta, but would return with undiminished enthusiasm -- starting every day with a swim in an unheated pool and pronouncing that he would contemplate retirement only if he went "broke or mad -- either of which is quite possible".
As for Times Up, he lines up for the Stobart Doncaster Cup after contributing to his stable's recent return to form at York last month. He has been followed here, however, by Saddler's Rock -- plainly not himself at York, and on previous form the clear class act in the present crop of stayers.
Certify, already among the favourites for the 2013 Qipco 1,000 Guineas, sets the standard in the Barrett Steel May Hill Stakes. The Group races today may conceivably be surpassed in interest by a conditions race for juveniles -- won by 13 lengths two years ago by Frankel.
The champion's owner-breeder, Khalid Abdullah, is once again represented by a colt who impressed hugely in a Newmarket maiden, Ashdan.
Meanwhile, Henry Cecil received a timely boost before Thomas Chippendale runs in tomorrow's Ladbrokes St Leger when Wild Coco won the Group Two DFS Park Hill, the fillies' equivalent. Wild Coco (7/4 favourite), was hemmed in for much of the home straight as Paul Hanagan on the Queen's Estimate looked to have stolen the race.
In the end, however, Tom Queally got a run in plenty of time and came home a length and a quarter in front of Hazel Lavery, which just edged out Estimate for second.
The winning filly was bred by a foundation to further German breeding at Gestut Rottgen near Cologne and sent to Cecil to demonstrate that German horses can hold their own on a bigger stage, although Danedream has subsequently done that job pretty well.
Sunday Times (22/1) retrieved her season when Jamie Spencer brought her late to win the Japanese Racing Association Sceptre Stakes.
"I bottomed her by running her in the Guineas," admitted trainer Peter Chapple-Hyam's. "She's a non-stayer over a mile and I shouldn't have run her. It flattened her out.
"I then took her to Warwick and shouldn't have run her there on the heavy. I told Jamie to bide his time because I thought she'd need it and hoped they'd go fast so it might fall into his lap."
Big pay days for lightweight jockeys are few and far between, but Franny Norton will no doubt enjoy his cut of the £207,000 first prize after guiding bottom weight The Gold Cheongsam (11/4 favourite) to victory in the Weatherbys Insurance £300,000 Two-Year-Old Stakes.
The jockey described the race as his Derby, as the 8st 1lb the filly was required to carry ruled out most of the weighing room.
"I've won five handicaps at Royal Ascot and lots of heritage handicaps all off around 8st, but they've all gone now," he said, lamenting the fact that horses with low weights seldom get into those races now. (© Independent News Service)