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Horse Racing: Value Scope - Stirring Moss was miles better; THIS WEEK: LE MOSS.

Byline: Dunwoody

THURSDAY signals the 200th anniversary of Royal Ascot's oldest race, The Gold Cup.

In the first half of the 20th century, it was by far the most important race in Britain for older horses, and the natural target for most of the championship contenders who had been kept in training.

Commercial breeders have long since shunned stayers, whose stud prospects declined so that it was no longer worth aiming them at Cup events.

The Gold Cup enjoyed its last golden period between 1975 and 1982, when champions Sagaro (the only triple winner), Le Moss and Ardross all won it more than once.

Among that trio, what set Le Moss apart was his character.

In 1979, the Carlo D'Alessioowned gelding won the Gold Cup under Lester Piggott. Le Moss followed up by winning the 2m 2f Doncaster Cup and 2m Goodwood Cup. Those races comprise Britain's Stayers' Triple Crown.

Joe Mercer was on board the Henry Cecil-trained Le Moss a year later.

"He was a great horse when ridden from the front and he had a tremendous character," says Mercer, champion jockey of 1979.

"He was very brave, though, and once he got his head in front very little would pass him. Yet he was a cantankerous bugger. How Henry Cecil managed to train him, I'll never know."

Le Moss was big, lazy and not very sound either.

These long-distance races take their toll and eventually all horses begin to show signs of wear and tear. Le Moss was no exception.

After an injury he refused to leave the yard with anyone but the head lad and once on the gallops he refused to move.

He was lame and box-rested throughout April and the only way to keep him fit was swimming.

Mercer said. "He wouldn't go up the gallops like a normal horse. You had to sit on him for 20 minutes and then all of a sudden he'd go."

Not many realise how difficult a task Cecil had. Normal procedure would be to work a horse pretty hard, then get at least one (preferably two) prep races into him to bring him to peak fitness, ready to do battle against the best stayers in the world.

Because of Le Moss's soundness problems his trainer took the view that the less racing he got, the better chance he had of getting to Ascot in one piece, so he decided to go there without a prep.

On June 19, 1980, he was surprisingly sent off the 3/1 favourite to beat seven rivals. Mercer made virtually all on Le Moss, who was his usual lazy self.

"I only came up for air at Swinley Bottom," joked Mercer, who was headed a furlong out, but got back up to win the Gold Cup by threequarters of a length.

"He always had something in reserve for himself, but he was such a good horse."

Ardross, who won the next two Gold Cups for Cecil, was second. Le Moss went on to win again at Doncaster and Goodwood. Only six horses have swept the Stayers' Triple Crown series, Le Moss is the only horse to do it twice.

And if there is a race that defines Cecil's brilliance, the 1980 Ascot Gold Cup would be as good as any.

Isn't it high time he received a Knighthood?

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STARS Le Moss and Joe Mercer
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jun 14, 2008
Words:563
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