x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Higgins changes jockeys in bid for a better run at Meydan

The British trainer has flown in for the International Racing Carnival with just one horse; a 10-year-old called Mac Love.

Mac Love, left with jockey in blue and yellow, winning at England's Epsom course. Jamie McDonald / Getty Images
Mac Love, left with jockey in blue and yellow, winning at England's Epsom course. Jamie McDonald / Getty Images

It is fair to say that Stef Higgins is tilting at windmills in Dubai.

The British trainer has flown in for the International Racing Carnival with just one horse; a 10-year-old called Mac Love.

Higgins was sent the thoroughbred by his owner, Vimal Khosla, last year after the horse failed to take to retirement, and the gelding now has 68 races under his belt and an ambitious entry in tonight's 1600m fourth race at Meydan Racecourse.

With 13 other runners in the contest, two of which hail from Godolphin, there will be little space in the winners' enclosure for her standard-bearer, who trailed in 12th on the Tapeta last week behind Mendip in round one of the Al Maktoum Challenge.

Higgins has thrived in the face of adversity in the past, however, and the Lambourn-based handler remains optimistic about her enigmatic charge.

"It's entirely up to him," she said. "He's capable of being competitive but he didn't get the best of rides last time."

Higgins was unhappy at the ride that Micky Fenton gave Mac Love seven days ago. In an illustration of her outspoken approach she lambasted Fenton on Twitter.

"I'm afraid he screwed up," she huffed on the social networking website. "There is a narrow window of opportunity out here so can't afford another mistake. And yes … much as I am the last person to ever rag a jockey, Micky totally cocked up."

As a result, Higgins has handed the reins to Richard Mullen, who rode 10 thoroughbred winners during the Carnival last season.

"I wasn't scathing, I was just realistic," Higgins said of Fenton, who rode 15 of the 25 horses she trained in Britain last year. "He messed up, end of. You cannot come from behind on that surface. You could have put a Group 1 horse in that race and he wouldn't have caught the front-runners. Micky gave him an impossible task."

There were four races on Tapeta during the Carnival's opening meeting, with Our Giant, owned in part by Lee Westwood, the world No 1 golfer, the only winner to make up any serious ground on the pace-setters.

Higgins and Westwood met last year at a racing club dinner and the pair have kept in touch ever since. "He's massively into his racing and we have a bit of banter on Twitter about it. He's still out here in Abu Dhabi and I think he's got an entry in two weeks' time."

Mac Love is housed at Meydan's international barn, located between Mike de Kock's stable and the international quarantine.

Higgins starts the daily grind there at 4.30am, and it is a routine that will continue throughout the Carnival should Mac Love scoop any of the $120,000(Dh440,760) prize-money tonight.

"I absolutely love it out here - I'm in my element," she added. "I've had a roller-coaster year; I got divorced, moved stable and I'm proud of putting that year behind me. I've been training for the London Marathon and it'll be glorious out here preparing for it. I've left my trainers behind [in England], but luckily the shopping here is phenomenal."

The spars of a windmill can spin you down in to the mud, but Higgins is hoping that they might instead lift her to the stars.

 

sports@thenational.ae