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Yorkshire through and through, Soba, the sprinting filly sensation of the eighties, who hated saddles and detested bicycles, has died at the age of 25 . . . but, oh, what memories.

Byline: TOM O'RYAN and JON LEES

SOBA, the extraordinary sprinting filly who rose from rags to riches to be crowned 'Queen of the North' in the 1980s, has died at the age of 25 at the Yorkshire farm where she was foaled.

The winner of 13 races, most memorable among them the 1982 Stewards' Cup, was put down after becoming ill at owner-breeder Muriel Hills's Lane Side Farm, near Bram-ham in West Yorkshire, the place where Soba's remarkable story began.

'She was born here and she died here,' said Hills. 'She had become a bit of a creaky old lady, but she had been in good health until last weekend when she wasn't quite herself. At first we thought it might be colic, but the vet said it was worse than that, so we had to put her down.

'She was a wonderful mare who had a great life and gave us so many wonderful memories, which we will always cherish.'

Despite her modest background and a particular dislike of a saddle, Soba was skilfully produced by trainer David Chapman to become one of Europe's top sprinters and, but for the presence of the outstanding Habibti, would have been an outright champion.

Her career took off aged three when, with blinkers applied in an effort to atone for some disappointing efforts at two, she got off the mark at Thirsk at 33-1 under the man who was to become her regular partner, David 'Dandy' Nicholls.

It was the first of 11 wins in 1982, a year during which she rose up the handicap by more than 4st.

The high point came undoubtedly at Glorious Goodwood, where her victory was achieved against all odds.

Just 17 days earlier, her run of six straight wins - the first five in five-and-half weeks - had come to an end when she was beaten at odds-on at Ayr and walked away slightly lame.

The bookmakers' ante-post favourite was removed from the Stewards' Cup lists, but a back problem was successfully treated by physiotherapy and she made every yard of the running from the supposedly unfancied number one stall to win at 18-1 and, in the process, smashed the six-furlong course record at the Sussex track.

Recalling that triumph and her career yesterday, Chapman said: 'That was a very big day because she'd been favourite for such a long time. Drawn one, people thought she had no chance and that let the pressure off a bit.

'She wasn't easy to train. She could bronk [buck] for England. You couldn't get a saddle or a roller or anything on her. Anything around the ribs she didn't like and she detested bikes. If she saw a bike she just went mad, but David [Nicholls] managed her all right.

'If it hadn't been for Habibti she would have been champion sprinter. But she trounced us every time we met, although Soba wasn't beaten far in the Prix de l'Abbaye, when she raced with stitches in a joint after a turbulent flight. I didn't see much of it because of the bad viewing at Longchamp and I never got a video of the race.

'Habibti didn't train on and I half wish we'd kept Soba in training, but we had agreed a foal-sharing arrangement with Robert Sangster and retired her. I trained one or two of her offspring, including Soaked, a grandson, who has done well for me but shows the same traits.'

Soba's final season featured two more wins, including the Group 2 King George Stakes at Goodwood, and no fewer than four seconds to Habibti - in the July Cup, Vernons Sprint Cup at Haydock, York's William Hill Sprint Championship and the Abbaye, in which she was beaten a length.

Nicholls said: 'She gave me many happy days. She put me on the map at a time when I was scratching around for a living. Winning the Stewards' Cup was a great day, but, for me, the highlight came at Longchamp. Habibti kept beating us, but Soba so nearly got her that day.

'She was quite a difficult ride and a tough bugger. Twenty five is a good old age.'
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Sep 22, 2004
Words:690
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