WHEN Muhammad Ali knocked out George Foreman in their African showdown the fight became sporting folklore.
This year’s Flying Childers sprint is unlikely to make too many ripples outside racing but it’s no less important to trainer Richard Spencer.
His Rumble Inthejungle, named after that epic 1974 punch-up, will be out to floor his Doncaster rivals on Friday.
But unlike the big heavyweight champions, Spencer prefers to sidestep pre-race hype.
He told me: “I’d rather let the horses do the talking — Rumble’s doing the talking at the moment.”
Certainly floating butterflies and stinging bees could apply to Rumble Inthejungle’s impressive win in the Molecomb Stakes at Goodwood, when he moved silky-smooth before unleashing a venomous turn of foot.
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The race has worked out well. Subsequent winners of Group and Listed races were all forced to throw in the towel as soon as big-race jockey Tom Queally asked him to finish the contest.
Spencer, 29, said: “Rumble’s got a lot of speed. He travels well — he has a very high cruising speed hence why we’re sticking to five furlongs for now.”
A step up to six furlongs for the Group 1 Middle Park Stakes is the big target but he has a Doncaster date first.
The trainer added: “He won’t mind a step up in trip. His homework suggests it and he always seems to hit the line strong in his races. I’m not concerned running him over the extra furlong.
“He’s always one that’s gone well at home. Even in February, March time he was shining a bit.
“We’ve got a nice bunch of two-year-olds. They were pleasing me during the winter but he was standing out.
“I thought he’d win on his debut at Salisbury but I knew he would take a massive step forward.
“I thought he’d win at Goodwood but not as far as he did.
“He’s a horse with a lot of talent. I hope he can continue the upward curve.”
If he does he’ll be taking after his trainer. Spencer is a relatively new name to punters.
He is in just his second full season since being recruited to train for Classic-winning owner Phil Cunningham’s Rebel Racing.
The pair met when Spencer was working for Barry and then Charlie Hills, in Lambourn.
He had previously worked for west Wales trainer Peter Bowen, having been given an ultimatum as a 16-year-old to find a job or face another two years at Worcester Grammar School.
Spencer laughed: “Five minutes after that conversation I rang Peter Bowen, who I had worked for in the holidays, and he said I could start tomorrow.
“I knew what I wanted to do from as far back as I can remember. The only days I really used to go to school was when I was playing cricket or rugby. I’d go a few days.
“My mum used to drop me off at Evesham station to go to school. I would bypass Worcester and just keep going to Malvern to ride out and work on my grandparent’s farm.
“I’d have a shower, get changed, go back in my school uniform and mum would think I’d been at school all day. She was a bit surprised when she saw my attendance record.”
Grades and exams might not have been Spencer’s strong suit but racing’s education is based on different set of results.
With seven years at the Hills’ yard and a couple assisting Michael Bell he has had a better grounding than at any university.
Ten winners from a couple of dozen horses last season included Rajasinghe in the Coventry.
He has already outgrown the yard Cunningham renovated next to Sir Mark Prescott’s at the top of Newmarket High Street.
This year the historic Sefton Lodge Stables vacated by Martyn Meade was snapped up by Cunningham, who owned dual 2,000 Guineas winner Cockney Rebel.
The numbers have doubled — the winners more so.
Although it has not been without its setbacks. Rajasinghe’s season-ending injury in the 2,000 Guineas was a crushing blow. But Spencer is used to picking himself up off the canvas.
He was left flat on his back — quite literally — by a bone-crunching point-to-point fall as an amateur jockey.
Spencer explained: “I started riding in point-to-points at 16. It took me three seasons to ride a winner. I fell off more times than I stayed on.
“When I moved to Lambourn Tim Lane, who runs the National Stud and is one of my best mates, got me hooked up with an owner called Sir Michael Connell.
“I went from riding Metros to riding Ferraris. I rode a good few winners.
“I won the Royal Artillery Gold Cup — I qualified as my grandfather and great grandfather were in the Royal Artillery. When we came in Fergal O’Brien told me to tell everyone I was in the SAS.”
What was to happen next made him realise a ‘who dares wins’ attitude was not going to apply to his riding.
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Spencer said: “I broke my back in a hunter chase at Warwick. That week Robbie McNamara broke his back and didn’t walk again. Ed Barrett, who rode pointing in Devon, ended up in a wheelchair. I was the third one that week. I was the lucky one.
“I was laid in bed thinking ‘what am I doing galloping around a field over 18 fences to just get a thank you?’ I wasn’t even getting paid.
“But if it wasn’t for the injury I’d still be doing it. It’s like an addiction.
“When I was recovering I saw an advert for a private trainer in Newmarket. I’d never trained, I hadn’t even got a licence and I was 26. I thought there was going to be stacks of people wanting the job.
“I think Phil only did one interview and I got the job.”
Spencer has been repaying that faith. Now he aims to be king of the Donny winners with his Jungle VIP.