Latest horseracing news from the UK

Great Scott! – It’s James G for Frankie at Newbury

James Garfield stormed to victory in the Mill Reef Stakes at Newbury, and in doing so, booked himself a trip to America in November.

Nebo had led the field into the final third, but had no answer as Frankie Dettori unleashed the winner approaching the furlong pole. The James Tate-trained favourite, Invincible Army, gave chase and managed to get to within a length at the line, though in all honesty James G appeared to have something in hand. The first three pulled well clear of the remainder, underlining their status as classy juveniles.

Speaking immediately after the win, Dettori told ITV Racing: “The owner is a good friend of mine and I'd like to say congratulations to George as he only got married last weekend. Over a few glasses of champagne, he was telling me how this horse was going to win today and he was absolutely right. He's a funny horse, he just got touched off at York but now I think he's off to America. He stays seven, but this was a good opportunity over six. This is George's biggest win.”

George Scott, reflecting on his biggest win to date, said: “He has danced every dance this year and has been unlucky on several occasions. He has shown it over five, six and seven furlongs now, so he is a pretty versatile horse. He has improved physically the whole time and I am slightly lost for words really. It was all pretty smooth for Frankie. He said he was where he wanted to be, although he lost his position, he had plenty of horse and hit the line great - it was dream stuff really.”

Of targets the trainer added: “We will go to the Breeders' Cup now. Exceed and Excel's have always gone great out there, he has got tactical speed and he will get a tight mile. Since he sat on him at York, Frankie has always been keen to go to the Breeders' Cup. I would imagine he would go for a seven-furlong trial (next year), then we have the two options, we can either go up to a mile or come back to six for the Commonwealth Cup.”

He was no match for the exceptional Expert Eye at Goodwood over seven-furlongs earlier in the campaign, and then appeared out-stayed by Wells Farhh Go over the same trip at York. Though Royal Ascot 2018 is a long way off, his juvenile performances suggest the stiff six-furlongs of the Commonwealth would prove ideal.

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One that proved talented enough to capture the Ascot event in 2016 is Quiet Reflection. She’d been off the track since disappointing in the Temple Stakes at Haydock in May, but returned with a stylish victory at Naas yesterday. She’s virtually unbeatable on her favoured soft ground, and looked impressive in taking the Group Three Renaissance Stakes by almost three-lengths. It was a race she would be expected to win, but it confirmed her well-being, and hopefully we can now look forward to a clash with Harry Angel on Champions Day in October.

Her trainer, Karl Burke, spoke of his returning star: “We had to take our time with her and it's just a shame that things didn't go right early on (in the year). Hopefully she comes out of this well and roll on four weeks for Ascot. If the ground comes up soft she will give Harry Angel a race. On soft ground, this filly is very good and she can only sharpen up for that run. Win, lose or draw she has been an absolute star for us, and it's just great to get her back. She heads to Tattersalls in December. That's where she'll go after Ascot.”

The trainer added: “We will be able to float her into Ascot now. We won't have to push her at all and can give her a nice easy week or two and then pick her up for a week or so. She has a great temperament and has been a pleasure to be around.”

She now has eight wins from 12 career starts, with the Sprint Cup last September arguably the highlight. The flying filly has also earned a mighty £656,953 in prize money.

Go for Garfield in Mill Reef Puzzler

As I write my Friday piece, Saturday’s card at Ayr has just been abandoned, and so I’ve decided to preview the Group Two Mill Reef Stakes form Newbury.

Established in 1972, and named after one of the greats, the six-furlong contest has been won by future high-class milers, along with thoroughbreds destined for stardom as sprinters.

Excellent Art was victorious in 2006, and the following year became an outstanding miler. Having finished an unlucky fourth in the French Guineas, he landed the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot, defeating dual-Guineas winner Cockney Rebel in the process. He was then unfortunate enough to finish runner-up in the Sussex Stakes, the QEII, and the Breeders’ Cup Mile in America. He was retired to stud after a disappointing performance in Hong Kong.

Dark Angel won the 2007 Mill Reef, and went on to take the Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket. Barry Hills seemed pretty sure he had a potentially high-class sprinter on his hands, but in his final juvenile outing, the grey son of Acclamation was stepped up to contest the Dewhurst. He failed to see-out the trip and faded badly late on. Sadly, he was never seen on a racetrack again, though made a stunning impact at stud. Lethal Force, Mecca’s Angel and Harry Angel are just a few of his outstanding progeny.

Almost a decade later another future top-class miler was adding his name to the Mill Reef roll of honour.

Ribchester had finished second in the Gimcrack prior to winning at Newbury. As a three-year-old he was stepped up to a mile, and finished a creditable third in the Guineas at Newmarket. He then won the Jersey Stakes at Royal Ascot, before again taking on the best milers at Goodwood in the Sussex Stakes. He finished powerfully, though ultimately was unable to catch The Gurkha and Galileo Gold. He then won a high-class event at Deauville before chasing home Minding in the QEII at Ascot. Ribchester has again proved his class at four, landing the Lockinge, Queen Anne and Prix du Moulin.

A year after Ribchester’s Mill Reef success, we were back to a tip-top sprinter winning the event. For 2016 saw the arrival of Harry Angel, announcing himself as a colt with huge potential when comfortably winning the Newbury Group Two. Now at three, he has fulfilled that early promise, winning the Sandy Lane Stakes, the July Cup, and then trouncing the field in Haydock’s Sprint Cup.

It would be lovely to think Saturday’s field contained the next Ribchester or another Harry Angel, but in all honesty, the entrants look a little exposed, with the favourite having run six times, and only won twice. That’s not to say that the field is devoid of talent. Nebo is a two-time Group Two runner-up. Invincible Army was runner-up in the Molecomb Stakes and the Gimcrack. Whilst James Garfield lost the Group Three Acomb Stakes by a whisker. But whether we have a truly outstanding colt in the line-up remains to be seen.

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Invincible Army is likely to go off favourite and is trained by James Tate. The Newmarket handler almost landed the Group Two Champagne Stakes last week at Doncaster when his Hey Gaman was chinned late-on by Seahenge. He’ll be hopeful of going one better this weekend, though his juvenile is reliable rather than exceptional. He proved no match for Sands Of Mali in the Gimcrack at York, though stayed on well enough for second. He also put in a decent performance at Goodwood in the Molecomb at five-furlongs, when runner-up to the talented Havana Grey. In a Mill Reef that probably lacks a standout, he looks sure to go close.

James Garfield is next best in the betting, and was mightily unfortunate not to have landed the Group Three Acomb Stakes at York last time. He came off second best to Wells Farhh Go in a thriller, losing out by a nose. Prior to that he’d finished fourth to the exceptional Expert Eye at Goodwood. Stepping back in trip here, he doesn’t look short of pace and should be fine on what is set to be quick ground. Frankie Dettori was onboard last time and retains the ride. He should be involved at the finish.

Jeremy Noseda’s Lansky was almost four-lengths back in the Acomb, but that was only his second run, and there’s plenty of room for improvement in this handsome looking colt. A son of Dark Angel out of a Zafonic mare, his action suggests a sounder surface would suit. I fancy he’ll finish much closer to James Garfield this time. Jamie Spencer is onboard, so expect to see him arrive late on the scene.

Enjazaat is prominent in the market and looked impressive at Ripon last time. Prior to that he had finished behind Invincible Army in a hot looking Group Two at Newmarket. He’s certainly bred for the task, being a son of Acclamation out of a Green Desert mare, and trainer Owen Burrows is in the midst of a good spell. Carrying the silks of Hamdan Al Maktoum, much will depend on whether he’s improved enough physically to reverse form with Invincible Army. It’s certainly possible.

Nebo was disappointing last time in the Gimcrack, but is possibly better judged on his performance when second to Gustav Klimt in the Superlative at Newmarket in July. A repeat of that performance would see him go close, and Ryan Moore is booked to take the ride. A rapid six furlongs looks ideal for this son of Kodiac, and he’s another that should be in the shake-up.

Staxton is another that cannot be dismissed. Slowly away in the Gimcrack, he was always having to claw back ground and did well to finish a close fifth. He has a couple of lengths to find on Invincible Army, but with a cleaner break has every chance of doing so. Nebo was behind him that day and at 16/1 he could be the each-way value in the race. Trained by Tim Easterby, along with the aforementioned Wells Farhh Go, this fella has every chance of running a huge race.

It’s a competitive renewal and the winner will be hard to find. I’m edging towards James Garfield, though am far from confident. Staxton looks a fair each-way shout at the odds. Best of luck to those risking a punt.

Can Expert Eye Halt Ballydoyle Juggernaut?

Newmarket’s Dubai Future Champions Festival has created a fair amount of the news over the past few days.

On October 13 and 14, the juveniles take centre-stage with the Fillies’ Mile and Dewhurst Stakes, whilst the Cesarewitch is one of the season’s handicap highlights. Aidan O’Brien proved dominant 12 months ago, with Rhododendron taking the fillies event and Churchill landing the Group One for the juvenile colts.

Over the last three years Ballydoyle have captured five of the six contested Fillies’ and Dewhurst’s. Together Forever and Minding joined Rhododendron on the Fillies roll of honour, whilst Air Force Blue took the 2015 Dewhurst. O’Brien’s War Command also captured the juvenile colts feature in 2013.

Gustav Klimt and the impressive Champagne Stakes winner Seahenge, have Expert Eye to contend with if they are to maintain O’Brien’s outstanding record. Though the season’s most exciting juvenile, and main opposition, is still far from certain to line up. Ruled out of the National Stakes due to a dirty scope, the Dewhurst was then named as the likely target for next year’s Guineas favourite.

Earlier this week, Teddy Grimthorpe, racing manager to owner Khalid Abdullah, said: “Expert Eye is in good shape now, he's coming back. He did a little bit of work on Saturday, nothing too strenuous, and Michael (Stoute) seemed happy with him. He's got to progress and please us in the next few weeks if he is going to make the Darley Dewhurst.”

He was simply sensational when winning the Vintage Stakes at Goodwood when last we saw him, and had Seahenge some seven lengths adrift on that occasion.

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Happily, Magical, September and Clemmie dominate the betting for the Fillies’ Mile, with any of the quintet potentially capable of extending Ballydoyle’s dominance.

One that could prove to be the fly in the ointment, is the Karl Burke trained Laurens. She’s by the leading French stallion Siyouni, who’s responsible for several high-class milers including Ervedya, Le Brivido and Volta. She got up late to win the May Hill Stakes at Doncaster last week, and is a lovely big scopey filly. Size is not always an advantage at Newmarket of course, as how she copes with the infamous ‘dip’ before the final climb to the finish will prove vital.

Earlier in the week Burke spoke of his exciting juvenile: “We are pretty keen to run Laurens in the bet365 Fillies’ Mile but it will all depend on how she’s performing at the time, she has to be in top form – it is probably 70-30 in favour of her running at the moment. I am 100 per cent happy with how she has come out of the May Hill but she is just having a quiet week, then we will start building her up again.”

The Yorkshire trainer added: “It was a great performance by her in the May Hill as she won it despite the way the race was run. We wanted a good gallop for her, but instead there was a slow pace and she did very well to get her head in front. She is more of a long-term project than her Group-winning stablemates, she is a huge filly – in fact she was huge as a yearling – and she was always going to be a three-year-old type. That’s why we have taken our time with her and only given her three runs. I’m pretty sure that she can take one more but we don’t want to force her. She will be a mile and a quarter or even a mile and a half filly next season.”

Currently a 7/1 shot for the Newmarket event, the betting suggests that she is the only one capable of stopping the Ballydoyle juggernaut.

Egan and Shoemark race to become Apprentice Ace

The Apprentice Jockeys Championship remains a thriller, as David Egan and Kieran Shoemark go head to head, with George Wood in hot pursuit.

The youngsters have been rattling in the winners throughout the UK, with Shoemark successful at Ffos Las on Sunday, Egan banging in a double at Bath, whilst on Monday Wood’s struck at Brighton.

Young David has been supported throughout the season by his father, fellow jockey John. Now in the twilight of his career, Egan Snr has been enthused by the presence of his son, and thrilled by his success. Advice for the teenager has been kept simple: ‘Work hard. Listen rather than speak and keep your head down.’

A career as a jockey always looked likely, as along with a successful father in the saddle, his mother is former trainer Sandra Hughes, daughter of famous Irish trainer Dessie. There’s also the rather talented ex-jock Uncle Richard, now in the fledgling stage as a trainer himself.

David started pony racing in Ireland at 14, and at 16 came over to England to attend the British Racing School, before settling as an apprentice with Roger Varian in Newmarket. He lives locally with his father and is coached by Michael Hills. In past interviews Egan praises his father for ‘teaching him everything’ and being ‘a great mentor’. He says of Dad: “We’ve ridden against each other quite often and he doesn’t give me an inch. He’s very competitive at the races.”

That competitive edge has clearly been inherited, with Egan Jnr currently in pole position to take the apprentice crown.

His main challenge appears to come from Kieran Shoemark, who’s already had a season to remember, capped in July when riding out his claim in style at Epsom with a 105-1 treble. Speaking at the time to Racing UK, Shoemark, still only 21, said of the achievement: “When you first start off, it is every young apprentice's dream to ride out their claim. Now it's gone I shall have to step up. Mr Charlton has been very good to me. I am getting plenty of rides at the moment, long may it continue.”

Kieran lives in Stow-on-the-Wold with parents Niamh and Ian, and brother Connor. He’s another from a riding family, with his brother currently plying his trade as a Jumps jock, tagged to Fergal O’Brien’s yard, just down the road at Naunton in the Cotswolds.

The brothers attended the Cotswold School in Bourton-on-the-Water along with other famous riding youngsters, the Twiston-Davies boys. Because of the locality, it had been Kieran’s wish to become a National Hunt jockey, though at 15 when starting to take racing more seriously he was persuaded to head for the Flat.

After leaving school he became an apprentice, spending three years working at Andrew Balding’s yard. He was taught plenty and rode more than 20 winners. He was advised by Balding to head to Australia for the winters, to gain riding experience in a new environment. Just 17 at the time, he travelled to the far side of the world on his own. He was based with Danny O'Brien in Flemington and gained a huge amount of racing knowledge. It was also a character building experience for the young jockey.

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Speaking of his time there, he said: “Going to Australia was a big influence on how my career has gone. I was very young and travelled to the other side of the world, living on my own. It gave me a lot of independence and I met a great group of people who will be friends for life.”

Now settled back at home in Stow with the family, Kieran is apprentice to Roger Charlton at his Beckhampton Stables in Wiltshire. His title challenge took a knock at the beginning of August, when found guilty by the stewards at Kempton of not riding West Palm Beach out for a second-place finish. A ten-day ban was his penalty, causing him to miss the Ebor Festival at York.

Prior to the ban Shoemark had been a short-priced favourite for the Apprentice title, but the enforced lay-off tipped the scales in favour of Egan. His advantage now lies at six, and he’s as short as 1/3, with Kieran available at 11/4.

Riding out his claim was certainly a thrill, but that may have been surpassed at Royal Ascot, when Shoemark won the King George V Stakes aboard Atty Persse for Roger Charlton and Team Godolphin. Of his jockey’s ride that day, Charlton said: “Kieran is a very good rider and his 3lb claim helps. I'm lucky to have him.”

Interviewed around the time, the thrilled jock had said: “It was a fantastic day and a dream come true. I knew I had the ride just a few days before the race and knew he had a really good chance. We led into the home straight and I had a very willing companion. All my family were there too.”

George Wood is currently third in the title race and apprentice to James Fanshawe. He started riding-out at Fanshawe’s yard as a 14-year-old during the school holidays. Yet another to progress through the Pony Racing system, he also spent an invaluable month at the British Racing School.

Just three winners adrift of Shoemark, he landed a timely success at Brighton on Monday, a track that has been kind to him of late, having ridden a double just a week earlier. Monday’s win came thanks to Lambourn trainer Jonathan Portman, a handler who has been extremely supportive during this successful campaign.

These youngsters are improving at a rate of knots and clearly have an exciting future in the sport. Their battle for this year’s apprentice crown is likely to remain a hard-fought affair, right until its end on Champions Day at Ascot.

Classy and Courageous Capri lands thrilling Leger

The St Leger proved to be the cracker many had anticipated, with the Aidan O’Brien favourite Capri landing the odds in a thrilling finish.

He’d looked the standout on form, having captured the Irish Derby at the beginning of July. And so it proved, though he had to show grit and determination to hold off a strong challenge from both Stradivarius and the highly talented Crystal Ocean.

Ryan Moore had kept Capri near the front-end throughout, seemingly confident that the colt would get every yard of the St Leger trip. Speaking to ITV immediately after the success, Moore said: “He’s a very good horse, an Irish Derby winner and was a Group Two winning two-year-old. He dug in and fought very hard, and it was a very good performance in a very good Leger.

Aidan O’Brien was securing a fabulous fifth St Leger, and said of the winner: “The lads did a great job. We had a little blip around York time, so were a bit worried coming here. But Ryan gave him a class ride, and I can’t tell you how happy we all are. He’s a horse with a lot of class, like obviously we saw in the Irish Derby.” When asked about the challenge from Crystal Ocean he added: “I’m always worried, and until they go past the line you never know what’s going to happen.”

O’Brien went on to say that Capri could now head for the Arc at Chantilly, assuming he comes out of the race fit and well. Kingston Hill finished fourth in the Arc of 2014 just weeks after winning the St Leger. I’m guessing Capri could run into a place should the ground run on the soft side, though no one should underestimate just how punishing Saturday’s Classic victory would have been.

Crystal Ocean had loomed large at the two-pole having travelled beautifully throughout. Crowley got him to within a length at the furlong pole, but Capri found plenty for pressure, and at the line had a half-length to spare. “I'd prefer to have won it, but he ran a great race, we're thrilled with him,” was Stoute’s verdict of his classy runner-up. “I thought he was going to win, but we won't run him beyond a mile and a half again. It was always a danger that he was a mile-and-a-half horse and that's his trip. Jim (Crowley) gave him a lovely ride and I always felt he might win. Jim reported he was always pretty confident, but he was just outstayed.”

With Stoute’s ability of improving a racehorse from three to four, Crystal Ocean may prove a revelation next season. It seems just a matter of time before he captures a Group One, and with the yard insisting he’d be much stronger next year, he looks to have a sparkling career ahead of him.

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Stradivarius battled bravely to the line for a third-place finish, and having already won the Goodwood Cup and Queen’s Vase, looks destined for a crack at next year’s Ascot Gold Cup.

I also felt Rekindling was something of an eye-catcher back in fourth. He was caught a little far back when Capri struck for home, and had to follow Crystal Ocean in cutting through the pack, before finally getting a clear run to the line. He stayed on powerfully, and looks another capable of taking high-rank in the staying division.

As for Coronet in fifth, it appeared she found the trip to be just beyond her. She’ll now head for the Fillies and Mares at Ascot on Champions’ Day, and is sure to be a major player in a race won by John Gosden 12 months ago.

The undoubted disappointment of the Leger was Roger Varian’s Defoe. The progressive colt had been fancied by many, and indeed elected by myself as a major danger to Capri in my Friday piece. Drying ground wouldn’t have helped his cause, but in the end he was simply outclassed. Atzeni was rowing away before the pack turned for home, and as the main contenders stepped on the gas, his challenge fizzled out.

In the final analysis, it was once again the ‘big-guns’ that dominated on the main stage. O’Brien, Stoute and Gosden are the powerhouses of middle-distance events, and though many will say the St Leger suits the stayer, the first two home on Saturday will ply their trade at a mile-and-a-half next season.

Battle-hardened Capri can prove Leger hero and defeat Defoe

Saturday’s St Leger is set to be an absolute cracker, with many of the 11 starters looking to have a realistic chance of landing the season’s final Classic.

The Aidan O’Brien-trained Capri and Sir Michael Stoute’s Crystal Ocean currently head the market at around 4/1. Ballydoyle’s leading hope captured the Irish Derby at the beginning of July, beating the Great Voltigeur winner Cracksman in the process. It was a gutsy performance that day, suggesting he’ll likely cope with the demands of the extended St Leger trip. He’s proven on all types of ground and there’s no doubting that the Irish Derby victory is the strongest piece of form of any contenders.

Crystal Ocean was a comfortable winner of the Gordon Stakes at Goodwood last time. That win came on soft ground, and he looks a progressive sort who ought to get the trip. He was placed in the Group Two Dante at York earlier in the campaign, and then placed again in the Group Two King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot. The slight concern is the trainer’s insistence that the horse needs to ‘fill his frame’, and that he remains somewhat weak. Such comments suggest he may not be ready for a gruelling 1m6f war of attrition.

Throughout the week money has piled in for Defoe. Roger Varian won the St Leger of 2014 with Kingston Hill, and has had a terrific meeting thus far. In Andrea Atzeni he has a jockey who simply loves Town Moor. The horse is yet to be beaten as a three-year-old, and was a stylish winner of the Geoffrey Freer last time. He travelled powerfully in testing conditions, and kept on strongly to see out the mile and five furlongs. The St Leger distance holds no fears, and punters must now decide whether this son of Dalakhani is classy enough to land the Donny showpiece.

John Gosden has won three of the last 10, and is double-handed this time round. Stradivarius looked to be his main contender, though Frankie Dettori has chosen to ride stable companion Coronet. James Doyle comes in for the ride, and must be thrilled to be on one of the market leaders. The colt won the Goodwood Cup last time and the Queen’s Vase prior to that. His abundance of stamina is undoubted, but the worry for punters, and clearly Dettori, is how he will cope with soft ground. The Italian’s defection has to be seen as a huge negative.

Coronet is the beneficiary, and the only filly in the race. She’s seen the back end of Enable several times this season, but has been getting closer on each occasion. She battled on bravely to finish runner-up in the Yorkshire Oaks last time, handling soft ground well. She looks a gutsy sort, and I fancy this extended trip should suit. I’m not convinced she has the gears to win a Leger, and she may have to settle for a place finish at best.

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Joseph O’Brien took the race as a jockey in 2013, and has a decent contender in Irish St Leger runner-up Rekindling. He took a beating from Order Of St George at the Curragh, but there’s no shame in that. He was a place behind Crystal Ocean in the Dante at York before disappointing at Epsom. With trip and ground to suit, my concern would be whether he is able to stay close enough when the taps are turned on. He may find himself outpaced at some stage before staying-on again at the death.

A St Leger contender that has finished ahead of Enable this season is the Brian Meehan trained Raheen House. That came in April, when runner-up to Shutter Speed at Newbury. He was a close fourth in the King Edward VII Stakes at Ascot, when a place behind Crystal Ocean. His last run came at Newmarket, when winning the Bahrain Trophy. That form looks a little shy of what’s required to win this, and though Meehan appeared bullish in the week, I’m less convinced that his horse is good enough.

In an ultra-competitive renewal, Capri has the outstanding form and I’m taking him to have the class and the battling spirit to win this St Leger, despite slight reservations over the trip. Crystal Ocean may prove to be the best of these in the long term, but he remains a work in progress, and susceptible to a ‘hardier’ type. I fancy Defoe will prove the biggest danger, though he may just lack the class to get the job done.

Best of luck to all those having a punt.

Competitive look to Doncaster Classic

The World’s oldest Classic, the St Leger, takes place at Doncaster on Saturday, and may well prove to be one of the most competitive for many a year.

As ever, Aidan O’Brien is set to send a battalion across the Irish Sea, with Irish Derby winner Capri the leading hope. With the ground likely to stay on the soft side of good, conditions look to be ideal for the Ballydoyle hopeful.

It seems likely that he will be ridden by Ryan Moore, and speaking earlier in the week, the trainer appeared hopeful of a strong performance, saying: “Capri missed his intended run in the Great Voltigeur at York, but he seems fine now and I am happy with him. His work has been good at home. He won the Beresford last year on heavy and he has plenty of form with cut in the ground so I would say that the going at Doncaster, if there is some ease in it, will not be a problem to him.”

Venice Beach was thrashed by Cracksman in the Voltigeur, but O’Brien has said that the horse would ‘come-on’ for the run. He appeared confident that the Chester Vase winner would see out the extended trip well. Nevertheless, his form looks a fair bit shy of that of his stable companion.

As the rains came earlier in the week, so did the money for Roger Varian’s Geoffrey Freer winner Defoe. He was impressive that day, travelling powerfully through the testing ground and finishing off the race strongly. With a pair of winners on the opening day of the Leger Meeting, stable confidence will be high leading into the weekend showpiece.

Andrea Atzeni has won the Donny Classic on two of the last three occasions, and sounded confident when speaking to At The Races yesterday: “He's in great form, I'm looking forward to riding him. He needs to improve, which I think he has. The ground should suit him, and we'd be very hopeful.”

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Roger Varian is convinced that conditions will favour his horse, saying: “Testing ground should suit our guy and I’ve been very happy with him since Newbury. I love how he’s come up through the ranks and he’s been very straightforward to train all year. He’s got good stamina, he’s got a great mind and he can quicken – he’s not just a galloper. We’ll find out on the day whether he is good enough, but I think that’s really the only question. Everything else ought to be in his favour.”

Sir Michael Stoute last won the race in 2008 and his Crystal Ocean is jostling for favouritism. He impressed on soft ground in the Gordon Stakes last time, yet the team believe better ground would aid his chances. Stoute's assistant James Horton said: “We were very pleased with Goodwood and we're very pleased with where he is now. He's still a big, weak, frame of a horse who we think is going to be a better horse next year. He won on soft ground at Goodwood, but stepping up against a better class of opposition, the better the ground the better for him.”

The bare form suggests Raheen House has a little to find with Crystal Ocean, yet Brian Meehan remains confident of a strong showing from the son of Sea The Stars. He looked impressive when winning the Bahrain Trophy last time at Newmarket, and the trainer said of his challenger: “He’s a very generous price. I thought he’d be shorter. He’s in great form at home, his preparation has been good and everything has gone to plan.”

Meehan added: “Raheen House doesn’t mind a bit of cut. Soft ground is fine for him but some of the others would want it better. Capri and Stradivarius stand out on form but my horse has a huge chance. Confidence is definitely high. We’ve been careful with him with this in mind. He has the pedigree for it and 12-1 is big.”

John Gosden has won three of the last 10 renewals, and looks set to fire two shots at the target. Stradivarius won the Goodwood Cup, though Gosden has voiced his concern over conditions should Town Moor get further rain. Coronet is the only filly in the race, and booked her place in this with a decent performance behind Enable in the Yorkshire Oaks. Speaking at a St Leger press event, Gosden's wife Rachel Hood said: “The plan is to run both Stradivarius and Coronet. We're not worried about the ground for her (Coronet). I think she's very ready for the race.”

Leading Stayers prepare for the historic Doncaster Cup

I’ve failed to give Flat’s long-distance runners the publicity they deserve during this campaign, and I thought it was time to rectify that, especially as the historic Doncaster Cup takes place on Friday.

The event, established in 1766, actually pre-dates the St Leger and has been run at its current distance of 2m2f since 1927. Sir Henry Cecil proved dominant in the late 70s and early 80s, when training several outstanding stayers. Bucksin, Le Moss and Ardross captured the Doncaster marathon during a dazzling period.

Bucksin was originally trained in France, but transferred to England in 1978. He had physical issues which made him tricky to train. Softer ground suited the fragile horse, who at his best could deliver devastating performances. He took the Prix Du Cadran in 77 and 78, and when moved to Henry Cecil’s yard during the latter part of 1978 captured the Doncaster Cup, winning the race by a staggering eight lengths. The following year he romped to victory in the Henry II Stakes on soft ground at Sandown. But he was famously unable to defeat his stablemate Le Moss on unsuitable quick ground in the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot.

Bucksin was retired after that Gold Cup defeat and became a hugely successful stallion in the National Hunt sphere, with his name common in the pedigree of staying chasers.

As for Le Moss, he inherited the mantle as Cecil’s top stayer, completing the Stayers’ Triple Crown (Ascot Gold Cup, Goodwood Cup and Doncaster Cup) in 1979 and 1980. His clashes with Ardross during the 1980 campaign were exceptional, defeating the then Irish-trained challenger by less than a length on three occasions. Like Bucksin, Le Moss became a Jumps stallion of substance, notably becoming the damsire of Gold Cup winner Imperial Commander.

Exit Le Moss stage left, enter Ardross stage right. Sir Henry took over training duties of the latter in 1981 and set-about dominating staying events once again. The Yorkshire Cup, Ascot Gold Cup and Goodwood Cup were all landed, before being switched back in trip to contest the Geoffrey Freer. A stunning success launched a crack at the Arc in France. He finished a creditable fifth, and a year later at the age of six having won the Doncaster Cup, came within a neck of landing the prestigious Longchamp event. He was an exceptional racehorse, and like those before, became a terrific National Hunt stallion.

During the 1990s another exceptional stayer became the dominant force, proving particularly potent in the Goodwood and Doncaster Cups. The Mark Johnston-trained Double Trigger was so special to the Town Moor faithful that the course erected a Bronze statue to commemorate his illustrious career. He landed their stayers’ showpiece on three occasions from 1995 to 1998, and matched the achievement in the Goodwood Cup with a trio of victories during the same period.

His best campaign was as a four-year-old in 1995 when winning the Sagaro and Henry II Stakes, before landing the Stayers' Triple Crown. He was particularly impressive at Ascot, when demolishing the St Leger winner Moonax by a yawning five-lengths. Still on stud duty at Clarendon Farm in Wiltshire, he was a much-loved racehorse.

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The best of the current crop is arguably the first two from the Ascot Gold Cup, Big Orange and Order Of St George. Sadly, neither are in attendance here, though we do have York’s Lonsdale Cup winner Montaly. He’s had an outstanding campaign to date, winning the Chester Cup and only just losing out at Sandown in the Coral Marathon. The win at York was a huge step forward, and he had several of Friday’s opponents behind him. He has a 3lb penalty to overcome, but he remains the form horse.

Pallasator and Sheikhzayedroad have won the last two renewals, and both return to Doncaster for another crack. Lightly raced this term, the former finished sixth in the Goodwood Cup at the beginning of August, and won the Doncaster Cup on his only previous visit to the track.

Sheikhzayedroad was a close fourth at York behind Montaly last time, having disappointed in the Goodwood Cup. Like Pallasator he is now an eight-year-old, and horses over the age of seven have a dreadful record in the race. Whether the pair retain enough zip to replicate previous victories is a serious doubt.

The Irish have won three of the last 10, and Willie Mullins attempts to maintain that impressive record. Thomas Hobson and Max Dynamite both carry the familiar Rich Ricci silks, though it appears that the latter is the main contender with Ryan Moore booked to ride. Niggling issues mean that the seven-year-old has had little racing in the last couple of years, though he was certainly impressive at Killarney last month. Runner-up in a Northumberland Plate and the Melbourne Cup, he also has a win in the Lonsdale Cup to his name. He’s a classy sort.

Three-year-olds have a poor record in the race, with just two wins in the last 20 years. David Elsworth sends Desert Skyline into the fray, with his third-place finish in the Goodwood Cup giving hope of a strong showing here. Big Orange was the only horse from the older brigade to beat him at Goodwood, and he has run well at Deauville since. He looks a major player, and is likely to appreciate any rain that falls.

Several of these will head to Ascot next month for the Champions Series finale, and likely be joined by Order Of St George and Big Orange. Sheikhzayedroad landed the big-one at Ascot last October, having won at Town Moor a month earlier. His trainer David Simcock will be praying for more of the same.

48 Hour Declarations for All Cheltenham Festival Races

The 2018 Cheltenham Festival will, for the first time, move to 48 hour declarations. It's a move that will delight punters and journalists by offering earlier visibility of final fields for all 28 Festival races.

Moreover, the change has anticipated the scope for multiple declarations in that no horse will be able to declare for more than one race, with the exception of the non-novice Grade 1's. The only exception to this is if a horse is either balloted out or declared as a reserve which does not run.

The move has broad industry support, including from the Cheltenham racecourse executive, the British Horseracing Authority's Racing Group, and punters' lobby group, the Horseracing Bettors' Forum.

It applies to the 23 races which were not previously covered by 48-hour declarations. That is, all except the Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase, Ryanair Chase, Stayers' Hurdle and Gold Cup.

In a further change, all handicap races at the Festival will now feature two reserve runners, with acceptance into the final field being conditional on a declared non-runner by 1pm the day before. This mimics the existing reserve arrangements for the Grand National.

A spokesperson for Jockey Club Racecourses, who own Cheltenham Racecourse, said, "This is a progressive move by the BHA which we believe makes sense on a number of levels. After listening to the views of everyone, [we] regard this as a sensible decision which will enhance the Cheltenham Festival experience for racegoers and provide assistance to the media."

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Simon Rowlands, representing the Horseracing Bettors' Forum, added: "This move is welcomed by the Horseracing Bettors Forum, which received a fair amount of correspondence from the public around the time of the last two Cheltenham Festivals suggesting declarations be made 48 hours, or even longer, in advance."

And Richard Wayman, Chief Operating Officer at the BHA, concluded: "We have taken on board feedback from racing fans, the betting public and the media, and we’re pleased to introduce 48 hour declarations for all races at the Festival, which we believe will have a positive impact on the promotion of the event and be welcomed by the sport’s various customer groups.

“We appreciate that, in some circumstances, this could create an extra challenge for trainers but we want to ensure that the sport is in a position where it can make the very most of what are such an important four days in the British Racing calendar."

It remains to be seen what trainers make of the changes, and it looks likely there will be mutterings amplified in the media in the weeks and days preceding the great March showcase. But, for most ordinary folk, this gives more time to evaluate the final fields and formulate their wagering strategy. Good news indeed.

Tasleet can win a Sprint Cup Slog

Hold on to your hats folks, as this weekend we’re treated to a feast of high-class racing in England, Ireland and over the Channel in France.

Harry Angel, Winter, Churchill and Ribchester are just a few of the stars on display, as they contest an array of prestigious events.

It’s the Irish Champion Stakes in Ireland, with a couple of thrilling days racing from Leopardstown and the Curragh. Churchill is even-money to capture the feature for Aidan O’Brien, with Eminent looking the main danger after his recent impressive Group Two success at Deauville.

Winter has had an outstanding campaign to date, and is another short-priced Ballydoyle favourite, as she looks to add the Matron Stakes to the four Group One’s already under her belt. She faces a field of classy fillies including stable companion Rhododendron, who looks to get her season back on track after being pulled-up in France last time. Prior to that, she had finished runner-up in a pair of Classics and could prove a huge danger to the favourite.

The juvenile scene could be in for something of a shake-up, with the Moyglare Stud and the Vincent O’Brien National taking place at the Curragh on Sunday. Gustav Klimt is all the rage for the latter, but I’m in the Beckford camp. And I will not hear of defeat for Clemmie in the Moyglare, assuming she’s allowed to take here chance on soft ground.

Over in France, Ribchester returns to the track in the Prix Du Moulin. He’s by no means a certainty with Inns Of Court, Taareef, Zelzal and a resurgent Massaat, all capable of a massive performance. The French have won the last five, and this looks a hugely competitive renewal.

Back on home turf, attention turns to the Sprint Cup at a soggy Haydock on Saturday. Plenty more rain is forecast to fall before the flag drops on tomorrow’s Group One, and it’ll be interesting to see if all 12 declared stand their ground. Harry Angel is currently favourite to add this to the July Cup he took at Newmarket, though clearly conditions will be completely different.

Clive Cox appears confident that the three-year-old will cope, and being out of a Cadeaux Genereux mare gives hope. He won the Mill Reef with plenty of cut in the ground last September, and his action suggests he’ll be fine. Nevertheless, he’d have been an even-money shot on quick ground, and as a punter we remain somewhat in the dark until he actually proves he can cope.

Brando has been popular with punters this week, and certainly impressed in France last time. He was no match for Harry Angel in the July Cup, though he did finish well for third. He is 4lb better off at the weights for that two-length defeat, and though the younger horse may well have strengthened further in the two months that have past, the weight differential is quite substantial in a sprint. Assuming there’s no repeat of the burst blood vessel that occurred at York in May (ground was again testing), he looks sure to go very close.

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Tasleet won the race in May, coping admirably with the testing conditions to win impressively under Jim Crowley. Like Harry Angel, he too is out of a Cadeaux Genereux mare, and beat some decent horses that day, including Magical Memory, The Tin Man and Growl. He disappointed at Newmarket last time, but with both track and ground likely to be ideal, he looks a huge danger to the favourite. A strong pace will help him settle, and if Crowley can get the best from him, he could take all the beating.

As well as the favourite, Godolphin are represented by the talented Blue Point. Off the track since running a close third in the Commonwealth Cup, he also has to prove he can go on the ground. He’s by Shamardal, which gives some hope, but of the Godolphin pair I’d be siding with Harry to come out best, as he did at Royal Ascot when beaten by Caravaggio.

The Tin Man ran a cracker in this race 12 months ago, when runner-up to Quiet Reflection in similarly testing ground. Likely to be coming with a rattle late-on, he’s a tough fella to predict, and though it would come as no surprise should he win, he could just as easily finish down the field. He’s a 7/1 shot, and though that is tempting I’ll probably steer clear, hoping not to regret the decision.

A three-year-old filly won this race last year, and Richard Fahey hopes to follow suit with the beautifully bred Queen Kindly. She’s by Frankel, and her Mum Lady Of The Desert, was runner-up in this race back in 2010. She’ll certainly need to step-up on what she’s been doing so far this season, but I’ve seen her name mentioned in several places this week, and at 40s there’ll be plenty taking an each-way punt.

Three-year-olds have a strong recent record, with five victories from the last 10 renewals, and I’d give a mention for Aidan O’Brien’s Spirit Of Valor. With Caravaggio staying in Ireland, this fella looks to be Ballydoyle’s best hope, in a race the team have largely ignored over the years. The ground is undoubtedly a worry for this colt with an American pedigree, but he’s not without a chance, having run well this summer, especially when a close second in the Jersey Stakes at Royal Ascot. He showed plenty of speed that day, and if coping with conditions could run a big race at 33/1.

On decent ground I’d be with Harry Angel all day long. This track is ideal for him, and I fancy he would have demolished this field with a display of devastating speed. However, in testing conditions I’m going to take him on. Tasleet showed in May that he thrives in soft ground, and he’s the one for me. I’ll also risk a few quid each-way on Spirit Of Valor, though conditions are clearly a concern.

Best of luck to all those having a punt.

Rain to cause Sprint Cup Shuffle

Haydock hold the prestigious Sprint Cup on Saturday, and though a classy field is assembled, the weather is set to impact on the eventual line-up.

It’s a race that has been won by sprinting goliaths since its inception in 1966. Green Desert took this in 1986, along with the July Cup. He then became one of the most influential sprint stallions of the modern era, with offspring including Invincible Spirit and Oasis Dream.

Danehill was another terrific sprinter to capture the Haydock showpiece, before becoming an exceptional stallion. The list of high-class thoroughbreds sired by Danehill is endless, but includes; Danehill Dancer, Dylan Thomas, Duke of Marmalade, George Washington and Rock of Gibraltar.

A year after Danehill’s success, Haydock was treated to the devastating talent of Dayjur. The year was 1990, and Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum’s diminutive colt was simply irresistible. He won every sprint worth winning, including the Prix de l’Abbaye at Longchamp. Dayjur is viewed by many as the greatest sprinter of them all.

Dream Ahead was arguably one of the most outstanding recent winners of the Sprint Cup. Trained by David Simcock, the son of Diktat had a liking for testing conditions, and when he got his ground he was incredibly tough to beat. He defeated Bated Breath to win the July Cup at Newmarket, and defeated the same adversary in a thriller at Haydock. He then put in arguably his best performance to take the Prix de la Foret at Longchamp, defeating the mighty Goldikova in the process.

This year’s Sprint Cup market is headed by the July Cup victor Harry Angel. Clive Cox appears adamant that rain will not dent the chances of his classy three-year-old. Speaking at a media gathering earlier this week, the trainer said: “He won on good to soft ground when he won the Mill Reef at Newbury last year. I wouldn't say there is doubt in him running as he has performed on a softer surface, I just obviously realised how potent he was on a drier surface.”

Cox added: “I think being by Dark Angel and with any sprinter, maturity means the potential is there for more improvement. He has grown up and even watching him this morning, he is enjoying the attention. I believe there is still more to come from the horse. It won't be up to me if he races next year, but I am just really enjoying this year. I think potentially he could get stronger.”

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Rain may not deter Cox and Team Godolphin, but there’s no doubting that July Cup runner-up Limato would dodge a rematch if the rains come. “In an ideal world, he’d run on Saturday and then go on to the Foret,” said his trainer Henry Candy. He went on: “It would need to be genuine top of the ground for him to run.”

The Tin Man disappointed at Newmarket, but had previously run an absolute cracker to win the Diamond Jubilee at Royal Ascot. James Fanshawe sounded hopeful rather than confident of a decent performance when saying: “At Newmarket he didn’t run so well, but he’s had a nice break since. He was second in this last year on very soft ground and we’re looking forward to taking him back.”

Money has come for Hamdan Al Maktoum’s Tasleet, who put in arguably a season’s best performance on soft ground at York, when winning the Group Two Duke Of York back in May. He appears to struggle on Newmarket’s undulations, and should be more suited to Haydock. A strong gallop would also aid his chances.

Brando was an impressive winner at Deauville last time, and Kevin Ryan’s five-year-old is second best in the betting behind Harry Angel. He has form on soft ground, though burst a blood vessel when disappointing at York behind Tasleet in May. Nevertheless, Ryan’s assistant and son Adam, sounded bullish earlier in the week when saying: “It sounds a bit daft but even though he's a five-year-old he's still improving. He hasn't had that many runs and he's quite a raw horse, and still on the upgrade. He's come out of the French race great and we couldn't be happier with him.”

He added: “It's a Group One and it's far from a two-horse race. But if Brando puts up the same sort of performance as he did in France he should be there or thereabouts.”

Ballydoyle’s Caravaggio was all the rage earlier in the campaign, but has disappointed since his stunning success in the Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot. Though he holds an entry at Haydock, O’Brien has confirmed that he is more than likely heading to the Curragh the following day.

Daniel Tudhope – Follow the North Star

I spoke last week of the burgeoning reputation of Patrick Joseph McDonald on the northern racing circuit. I also gave a brief mention for Daniel Tudhope, and I thought I’d expand on that a little with today’s piece.

Tudhope grew up in Irvine, Ayrshire, an area famed for its golf courses and views from the coast of the beautiful Isle of Arran. In previous interviews he has spoken of his disappointing academic performance at school, and of a surprising suggestion from a career’s officer that resulted in a move from Scotland to Yorkshire.

Despite there being no family connection with horses, Tudhope headed to the Northern Racing College at Doncaster. He saw it as a great opportunity, with a severe lack of job prospects back at home. Having never sat on a horse, it was quite a culture shock for the young 16-year-old, but he certainly grabbed the chance with both hands.

He became a successful apprentice with Declan Carroll in Yorkshire, though a broken collar-bone cost him the opportunity of becoming Champion Apprentice in 2005.

He had a terrific campaign in 2006 when breaking through the half-century winners mark. But by 2010 the jock had struck on hard times, and without a stable position he could easily have slipped out of the industry. A conversation with Silvestre de Sousa led to him riding-out at David O’Meara’s yard, and the rest as they say is history.

The wonderful Blue Bajan gave both Tudhope and O’Meara their break-through top level victory, when winning the Group Two Henry II Stakes at Sandown. He had previously finished a close second in the Yorkshire Cup on the Knavesmire.

Penitent brought further Group success when arriving at the yard in 2012. Formerly with William Haggas, the switch to Middleham Park Racing took the six-year-olds form to a new level. O’Meara and Tudhope headed south to land the Group Two Bet365 Mile at Sandown, and later that year captured another Group Two, this time at Newmarket, when winning the Nayef Joel Stakes. Penitent then travelled to France and ran a cracker at the highest level, finishing runner-up to Gordon Lord Byron in the Prix de la Foret.

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With Haydock’s Sprint Cup just a few days away, it was that race that took the partnership to the next level. O’Meara produced the classy three-year-old G Force to win the Group One in 2014, defeating an older, yet no less talented Gordon Lord Byron in the process. Tudhope timed his challenge to perfection, having held the youngster towards the rear of the field for most of the race.

Just a month later the pair were at it again, the horse on this occasion was Move In Time. Tudhope rode the six-year-old sprinter to a thrilling victory in the Prix de l’Abbaye at Longchamp, getting his nose in front just yards from the line.

Last year it was Mondialiste that brought International success, with a stunning victory in the Arlington Million. Under a power-packed ride from Tudhope, the six-year-old got the better of Deauville down the home-straight to win by a neck. It was a truly thrilling experience for jockey and trainer, enhancing the reputation of both on the international stage.

On a personal level, Tudhope is having another cracking season in the saddle. He currently lies third in the title race, with an 18% strike-rate and exceptional level-stake profit per rides. He’s the man to follow in the north, whether saddling up with boss O’Meara, or guesting for others, such as Tim Easterby on Monday, when partnering the 10/1 winner Hope Solo at Ripon. Indeed, his record on three-year-olds is eye-popping, with a 31% winning strike-rate from just 125 rides.

Like many jockeys, at 5ft 8ins Tudhope is a slave to scales, and time spent sweating in the sauna has become a daily ritual. But in recent years the effort has paid huge dividends. His partnership with David O’Meara goes from strength to strength. He’s rapidly become one of Yorkshire’s finest in the saddle. And long may it last.

Masar is Solario Stakes Star

Masar put in a power-packed display to win the Group Three Solario Stakes at Sandown on Saturday.

Taken to the front inside the two-furlong pole, he galloped relentlessly to the line, pulling a couple of lengths clear of the useful Irish raider Romanised. Now as short as 16/1 for next season’s 2000 Guineas, he’s by New Approach out of a Cape Cross mare, and looks a colt that will be suited by at least a mile though likely further.
Prior to this success, the Godolphin juvenile had chased home classy fillies September and Nyaleti in a strong looking Chesham Stakes at Royal Ascot.

“I thought it was a nice, professional performance,” said jockey, James Doyle. “He had good form in the book, obviously. Being placed in the Chesham was pretty smart. We knew he'd see out the trip quite well and we just kept it simple. He took a little bit of time to drop down into gear, but once he did he powered away nicely. I was pretty confident after going a furlong. I'd say a step up in trip will suit him.”

Charlie Appleby was clearly impressed, saying after the win: “I'm delighted. James gave him a lovely ride. He got the run we were hoping for. We thought they (Connect and De Bruyne Horse) were the two pace angles in front of us and he got a dream run. I was confident going into the final furlong he was going to carry on galloping and he galloped out nicely. It was a pleasing performance and I hope he's a horse with a bright future.

“He's potentially a horse for the Royal Lodge. We feel next year will be his year, so we'll treat him with some kid gloves, hopefully get another run under our belts and then put him away for the winter.”

Of the remainder, John Gosden’s Purser looked a little unfortunate back in fourth. Denied a clear run throughout, Frankie Dettori had to sit and take his punishment, and when a gap finally appeared the winner had long-since flown. Owned by Khalid Abdullah, and by American stallion Mizzen Mast, he’s an interesting sort and certainly worth keeping an eye on when next on the track.

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Later at Sandown, we saw another impressive performance in a Group Three, when Aljazzi romped to victory in the fillies and mares Atalanta Stakes. Marco Botti’s four-year-old is quite a unit, and she proved her Duke Of Cambridge Stakes runner-up finish to Qemah was no fluke with this authoritative display.

“She's definitely a filly who has got better as a four-year-old,” said Botti. “She's more mature and stronger. The plan was to be a bit closer to the pace, but they went a genuine pace all the way and Andrea sat at the back and she picked up well. She's progressing and she's a nice filly to have in the yard. If she did well here the plan has always been to go straight to the Sun Chariot and I think that will be the plan.”

From relative youngsters impressing as Sandown, to a senior citizen turning back the clock at Beverley. With career earnings of more than half-a-million quid, Take Cover at the grand old age of 10 remains a high-class sprinter, and he proved a worthy favourite when making all to take ‘The Bullet’. Fifth in the King’s Stand in June, the better the ground the quicker he goes, and so it proved, as the rest were unable to land a blow in Beverley’s most prestigious event.

The David Griffiths trained stable star defeated Paul Midgley’s Final Venture, as he had done at York in July, when the pair were again first and second in a listed race. Rain on Friday night had caused concern, but the official going remained good to firm on raceday, and jockey Tom Queally paced things perfectly from the front. The pack loomed large a furlong from home, but Take Cover found plenty, and bravely saw off all-comers. “I’m absolutely chuffed to bits,” said an understandably proud trainer.

Sizing up the Winter options

With something of a lull on the Flat this week, there’s been news in the past few days, regarding some of Jump racings star performers.

The 2015 Gold Cup winner, Coneygree, looks set to be back in action in the coming weeks. Listowel’s Kerry National is the intended starting point for Sara Bradstock’s exciting chaser, and he appears to be giving the right signals as connections hope for an uninterrupted campaign. “He'll come on for the run, but he's fit enough as we've got our all-weather and he goes to Paul Cole's all-weather as well,” said Bradstock.

She went on: “I'd be worried if the ground in Ireland went heavy, which it can there, but they are hoping it will be yielding to soft, which would be perfect. He's just a bit better since the spring and has got his confidence back - he's feeling great.”

The plan is to then go for the Ladbrokes Trophy (formerly The Hennessy) at Newbury in December, where he’ll be lumping top-weight and attempting to replicate the likes of Denman. The Kerry National is very much a trial for Newbury, and will give the trainer the chance to assess whether he can give huge amounts of weight away in a handicap successfully. The team prefer the flat galloping track at Newbury, over the tighter course of Haydock which holds the Betfair Chase. They will also be keen to space his races well, as they attempt to avoid injury with the likeable chaser.

One that will be heading to Haydock for their Grade One feature at the end of November, is the current Gold Cup Champ, Sizing John. Jess Harrington spoke recently of targets for her leading chasers, and will be doing her best to keep Irish Grand National winner Our Duke and Sizing John apart, at least until a possible clash at Cheltenham in March.

“Our aim is to start him (SJ) off in the Betfair Chase at Haydock on November 25. He looks fantastic. We're keen to have a crack at the £1 million bonus for winning the three races at Haydock, Kempton (King George) and Cheltenham (Gold Cup). It's exciting to have a horse to run in those races, and the triple crown has always been on our minds since he won at Punchestown.”

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Formerly a high-class two-mile chaser, he certainly has the necessary ‘zip’ for tracks such as Haydock and Kempton, and has proved himself adept to going left or right-handed.

That’s likely to ensure an Irish campaign for Our Duke prior to Cheltenham in March, with the Lexus Chase over Christmas an early objective. “Our Duke is back trotting and looks fantastic,” added Harrington. “We'll kick off his season at Down Royal (JNwine.com Chase). That looks the ideal starting point for him.” The first Grade One in the Irish National Hunt season went to Don Cossack in 2015, and the great Kauto Star in 2008 and 2010.

Our Duke is likely to clash with several talented chasers from the Willie Mullins yard, including Djakadam, who came close to defeating Sizing John in the Punchestown Gold Cup in April. It’ll also be interesting to see where the likes of Minella Rocco and Native River head during the winter. The Lexus Chase could prove an ideal target for both as they build towards a possible crack at the Grand National at Aintree.

There’s still plenty of action to come on the Flat over the coming months, but it’s difficult not to get excited as another National Hunt season draws ever closer.

PJ fast becoming a Big Mc

PJ McDonald continues his inexorable rise through the ranks, with another impressive campaign in the saddle.

He completed a stunning double at York’s Ebor meeting last Friday, including a thrilling success in the Group Two Lonsdale Cup aboard relatively unfancied Montaly. Andrew Balding’s six-year-old is known to be a tricky customer, and PJ was seen at his talented best to nail the favourite Dartmouth on the line in a thrilling finish.

High times indeed for McDonald, who switched codes a decade ago, having won the Scottish National as a 5lb claimer on-board the Ferdy Murphy-trained Hot Weld. Murphy’s Yorkshire base was at West Witton, in the heart of the Middleham racing scene, and a mere furlong or two from PJ’s home at Leyburn. As one of the top local conditional jocks, he was the ideal choice when the ride came up for grabs. He certainly made the most of the opportunity.

Still at home in the beautiful Yorkshire Dales with wife Amelia and the kids, the last 10 years has been a period of gradual progression, supported by many of the Dales finest trainers, including Ann Duffield and Micky Hammond. However, it’s over the last few years that PJ has started to land the big rides, and with them a few prestigious pots. He’s becoming something of a supersub, should a stable jockey be unavailable.

Peter Niven was more than happy to put his trust in the Leyburn lad, and at York in 2016 it certainly paid-off when Clever Cookie landed the Group Two Yorkshire Cup. It was a huge moment for McDonald, and has undoubtedly brought further opportunities, with high-profile northern trainers such as Karl Burke and Mark Johnston regularly calling on his services.

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Teaming up with Burke has provided the opportunity of riding one of the leading juveniles in Havana Grey. Winner of the Group Three Molecomb Stakes at Goodwood, McDonald was again aboard at Deauville when the young horse ran another cracker in finishing runner-up in the Group One Prix Morny. It’s possible the six-furlong trip stretched him a little that day, but under PJ’s urgings he battled on bravely to hold on to second spot from the Royal Ascot winner Different League.

This latest day to remember at York, will again go some way to promote PJ’s ability in the saddle, and likely result in further high-profile bookings. Currently standing eighth in the jockeys’ championship, McDonald has smashed the 50 winners’ barrier, and fast approaches 60. With a 15% strike-rate he is one of the few leading jocks with a level-stake profit. Indeed, he and fellow northern jockey Daniel Tudhope, are a pair worth following from a punting prospective.

PJ drew a blank at Ripon yesterday, but will be confident of better fortunes today at Catterick, with a full book of rides including Mambo Dancer for Mark Johnston. The three-year-old has twice finished second this term and looks to have a great opportunity of going one better today. McDonald also has rides for Rebecca Menzies, and though his 11% strike-rate for the trainer this year is nothing to shout about, he does have a decent level-stake profit for the Durham handler.

PJ looks sure to set a personal best for winners in a single season, and there’s no doubting that his appeal among trainers is growing. Expect more of the same for the remainder of the campaign, with the likelihood of further high-profile victories at major tracks.

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