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Racing: Spunkie's on course for marathon win.

COURAGE and stamina are the two main requirements for the Cesarewitch, and no horse is better equipped than the aptly named Spunkie.

The late-developing six-year-old belied his inexperience to finish third in the Newmarket marathon 12 months ago, but Fulke Johnson Houghton reckons he's improved enough to land Saturday's big handicap.

"Spunkie's got one hell of a chance," says the trainer. "Last year's race was strange in that the first two got away from the rest and never looked like being caught.

"I think most of the jockeys thought they were going to come back to the field, and when they didn't everyone else got going too late.

"I wouldn't blame Kieren Fallon, who rode Spunkie that day, as he was more alive to the situation than most. I take nothing away from the winner, Spirit Of Love, but I think it's fair to say we'd have been second in normal circumstances.

"Spunkie was a very weak, backward horse who has improved as he's got older. He finished second in a Listed race in Germany last month and there's no way he'd have done that a year ago.

"He's getting stronger, which is important for a race as demanding as the Cesarewitch. His win at Newbury last time showed he's at the top of his form and it looks like he'll get the cut in the ground he needs.

"As things stand, Daragh O'Donohoe will ride. He's never sat on Spunkie before, but he's won on his only ride for me and I hope we can keep the 100 per cent record going."

Spunkie is owned by Surrey-based financial adviser Jim Short, best-known for his association with Ruling, whom Johnson Houghton trained to finish third in two Champion Hurdles.

Spunkie was also destined for a career over hurdles, but an early fall led to plans being redrawn.

"We thought jumping would be his game, but unfortunately he had a terrible fall on only his second outing over hurdles so we decided to run him on the Flat," recalls the Didcot trainer.

"The main aim was to restore his confidence, but he's done so well that he deserves to have another crack at a big prize like the Cesarewitch.

"Jim and some friends bred Spunkie themselves and he was the mare's first winner, so it's a bit of a fairy story.

"He was also responsible for the name - and he assures me that, contrary to what some people may think, it's nothing vulgar.

"When the Americans talk about someone having a lot of spunk, they mean he's got plenty of courage. According to Jim, that's what he had in mind with this horse.

"I believe him, anyway!"
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Title Annotation:Sport
Author:Nutting, Gary
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Oct 10, 1999
Words:446
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