Horse Racing: York Ebor Festival 2016 Review

Roger VarianThe Group 1 Juddmonte International Stakes was the feature race of the opening Wednesday of the 2016 Ebor Festival at York on August 17.

The stand out horse on form, Postponed, looked a relatively generously priced 15/8 favourite. Many pundits had opposed him, even though he was unbeaten since joining Roger Varian (pictured) and was rated a couple of pounds clear of the 12-strong field. Varian’s yard had been exceptionally quiet and Postponed had missed his most recent entry with a respiratory infection. He had also failed to score in his four attempts at the race distance of a mile and a quarter when trained by Luca Cumani.

Postponed silenced the doubters and proved his superiority over his rivals, beating Aidan O’Brien’s Highland Reel (6/1) by just over a length. William Haggas’ Mutakayyef who had shortened dramatically on the day to 15/2 finished third. The joint second favourite, the Eclipse winner Hawkbill (6/1), was well beaten looking uncomfortable on the quick ground.

After the victory his jockey Andrea Atzeni commented: “He’s got too much class.” Varian admitted that a week or so before the race he was still not sure if Postponed would even be running.

A jockey change on another runner had made the front page of the racing press. Kevin Ryan had decided that it was time for someone other than Jamie Spencer to partner The Grey Gatsby (10/1). Spencer is certainly a rider who divides opinion, often giving a horse far too much ground to make up. Some punters wouldn’t back ‘Frank’ if they were given free bets to do it. However Spencer was not made to look a comedian on this occasion as substitute Danny Tudhope’s insistent urgings failed to garner significant improvement from The Grey Gatsby and the pair were beaten 10 lengths into sixth.

Spencer had been the bookies’ saviour in the Group 3 Acomb for two-year-olds earlier in the day. He managed to coax Ryan’s 16/1 outsider Syphax to victory, narrowly beating Godolphin’s 10/11 favourite Best Of Days under William Buick. Having jocked Spencer off The Grey Gatsby, Ryan paid tribute to his skills in handling immature juveniles. Ryan had always rated Syphax and was contemplating the Breeders’ Cup for him.

Ballydoyle’s Idaho, the 5/6 favourite in the Group 2 Voltigeur run over a mile and a half, rewarded his many followers and firmly staked his claim for the St Leger by winning impressively. He beat his pace-making stablemate Housesofparliament (6/1) by nearly two lengths leaving Sir Michael Stoute’s second favourite, Across The Stars (9/2), to take third.

On the second day the bookies escaped damage in the Group 2 Lowther Stakes for two-year-old fillies. Roger Charlton’s daughter of Frankel, Fair Eva, was priced as if defeat was out of the question at 4/11. She had won both her previous starts in convincing style, cruising well clear of her closest pursuers and was reported to be in good form at home.

Horses are not machines as Fair Eva proved. It was Richard Fahey’s second favourite, Queen Kindly (9/2) who triumphed under Jamie Spencer. Another Frankel filly, she was out of a Lowther winning mare, Lady Of The Desert whose dam Queen’s Logic had triumphed in the same race. Queen Kindly’s record had been spoiled by a defeat in the mud at Royal Ascot but she had been successful in her latest start in a lower quality affair. Ballydoyle’s more exposed War Front filly, Roly Poly (15/2) finished second, beaten three quarters of a length, relegating Fair Eva to third.

The favourite was beaten in the Yorkshire Oaks on the Thursday too but it was not a huge surprise. O’Brien had admitted that his 2/1 favourite Found might well need the run after having had a break. She had not raced since her Royal Ascot defeat two months earlier. He suggested that her stablemate Seventh Heaven (100/30) was probably better prepared for the contest. Seventh Heaven dutifully fulfilled her trainer’s prophecy by beating Found nearly three lengths under Colm O’Donoghue. They had both been held up well behind their trail-blazing stablemate Pretty Perfect (25/1) who finished fourth.

On Friday the main feature was the Nunthorpe with £236K on offer to the winner but the big concern for punters was the weather. The forecasters had predicted rain and the 15/8 favourite, Henry Candy’s Limato, was at his best with his hooves rattling whilst Michael Dods’ current Nunthorpe titleholder, Mecca’s Angel (9/2) needed a bit of give and would not be lining up if ‘firm’ was in the going description.

Some rain did fall and the official description of the ground changed to good (from good to firm) after a couple of races. Only after his second walk of the course did Dods confirm that Mecca’s Angel would be taking part. Mecca’s Angel had something to prove after starting as the favourite in the King’s Stand at Royal Ascot on the supposedly more suitable soft ground and beating only one horse home. She had returned to form in a Group 2 at the Curragh a month later but punters understandably favoured Limato, who had delivered for them last time out in the July Cup at Newmarket.

Mecca’s Angel took the lead two furlongs out from David Griffiths’ Take Cover (25/1) and never looked like relinquishing it, ‘keeping on strongly’. The mare was back to her best and made Limato look rather one-paced as he tried to close, beating him two lengths. The veteran Take Cover ran a blinder to finish third.

Her second Nunthorpe victory took Mecca’s Angel’s total winnings to £650K, not bad for a daughter of Dark Angel who had cost just £16K as a yearling. Her owner David Metcalfe had asked Dods to buy a grey filly for £15K and when he went over budget Metcalfe insisted that he retain a leg. Dods must be pleased that he overspent. Not only has she won an impressive amount of money but she is due to be sold at the end of the season as a broodmare.

There was some unwelcome news on Friday, that the ante- post favourite in the Ebor betting market, Willie Mullins’ Ivan Grozny (5/1), had gone lame. The Northumberland Plate winner, Godolphin’s Antiquarium briefly rose to the top of the market but it did not last long. On Saturday his jockey William Buick won three of the four races before the Ebor, including Godophin’s 11/8 favourite Blue Point in the Group 2 Gimrack and Hugo Palmer’s 16/1 outsider, Wall Of Fire in the Melrose Stakes.

There was a late surge of support for Ralph Beckett’s She Is No Lady who started as the 4/1 Ebor favourite under Frankie Dettori on the day. Dettori rode her handily but she had nothing left when it mattered unlike Brian Ellison’s Seamour (14/1) who took the lead under Ben Curtis and looked the likely winner two furlongs from home.

A lot can happen in the final quarter of a mile and it was Richard Fahey’s apprentice, Adam McNamara who had timed his challenge to perfection on Tony Martin’s Irish raider Heartbreak City (15/2). The six-year-old son of Lando galloped a whopping four lengths clear of Iain Jardine’s Shrewd (12/1) who had also been held up by Karl Burke’s 7lb claimer, Clifford Lee. Tony Martin’s Quick Jack (10/1) was beaten a head into third under yet another claimer, Oisin Orr. Roger Varian’s Battersea (16/1) took fourth leaving Seamour to pick up minor money for fifth.

She Is No Lady was beaten 20 lengths finishing well down the field, emulating Quick Jack’s flop when he was the Ebor favourite in 2015. Tony Martin was back on form and Adam McNamara was ‘on top of the world’ after gaining by far the biggest win of his career.

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