Racing greats pick their favourite Ebor festival memories
First published on Sunday, August 17, 2014
By Thunder! 1954 Ebor
When I was a young apprentice with Charlie Hall people used to ask us who we thought was going to win the Ebor every day in the weeks before the race. There was another apprentice at the time, Wally Swinburn, Walter’s dad, who was riding a little horse called By Thunder! and I remember telling everyone that asked ‘I can’t see this horse getting beat’.
He was in the Leger, he must be a good horse, and he only had 6st 12lb with your man’s claim off – he had a right little weight. Anyway, he won the Ebor on bottomless ground by 12 lengths. Loads of wagon drivers who took coke to some power station used to pass by us every day, they loved a bet those wagon drivers, and they were giving me sweets and cigarettes for weeks after. By Thunder! went on to be third in the St Leger. That was one of my favourite memories. I would have loved to have trained an Ebor winner but we never had that type of horse.
Saeed Bin Suroor
Sakhee 2001 Juddmonte International
We have had lots of very good days over the last 20 years, but for me Sakhee stands out because it was a very good race that year and he won the race so easily, by seven lengths.
He’s one of my favourite horses, one of the best Godolphin have had, a beautiful horse who was very easy to train. In the mornings on the gallops he really showed his class and it was the same on the racecourse. It was his second run for us and I was very positive about his prospects beforehand because he had been working very well, I knew he had a great chance.
He had to beat horses such as Grandera and Medicean, but when he came to lead three furlongs out it was really exciting because I could see he was going to win, and then he quickened clear and went right away from them. After that he won the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and was just beaten at the Breeders’ Cup, but it was only when he won that York race so easily that we could all see how good he was going to be. It was a very good day indeed.
Dayjur 1990 Nunthorpe Stakes
I’ve got bad memories – Silken Knot nearly killed me when she fell in the Yorkshire Oaks – and memories of almost being arrested in the weighing room, when I didn’t follow the traffic directions and someone thought I was a kid driving a stolen black Ferrari, but the strongest memory is from Dayjur.
That was special. He was quick, so quick, a coiled spring of a horse. I couldn’t relax on him in the preliminaries and he could give
trouble at the stalls, but basically my job was simply to make sure he went in and to let him jump and go as soon as the gates opened. He did the rest.
At York he jumped and ran and nothing could get near him. Watch the video and count how many times he changed his legs, he must have done that every 100 yards or so. It would have helped his breathing, and every time he changed his legs he got quicker – it felt like he was really scampering along. It was the sort of performance to make your mouth drop open as you watched it – Dayjur at his very, very best.
Perhaps you can tell I’m a bit besotted with Dayjur. His winning time – 56.16sec – was a course record and still stands, and of course one day something will beat it, although here we are nearly 25 years later and nothing’s managed it yet. As far as I’m concerned he was the best sprinter ever, a horse unlike any other.
One So Wonderful 1998 International
It’s very difficult to choose a favourite memory – the three Juddmontes I won with Commanche Run, One So Wonderful and Falbrav were all special. It’s unfair to pick one!
Each and every one of them was great. Probably the one that was the most exciting, though, was One So Wonderful in 1998, because from where I was standing I didn’t think she had won. It was a three-way photo-finish with Faithful Son and Chester House. I was standing past the post and I didn’t think she had got up, I thought we had finished second, and then when the result was announced it was jubilation.
The late Egon Winefeld, her owner, was an optimist so he thought she had won – I’m a pessimist so I thought we had been beaten until the announcement. One So Wonderful was a very good filly and it was a truly wonderful day.
In The Groove 1990 Juddmonte International
I’m an old man suffering from senile dementia but I do remember the good days and the day she won the International was one of them.
She’d already won the Irish Guineas, but she’d been disappointing in the Oaks under Cash Asmussen, finishing fourth behind Salsabil, and it was a bit of a mystery why. She underperformed, and it wasn’t Cash’s fault, but it was very disappointing, especially as she won over course and distance in the Coronation Cup the following year.
She was never beaten at York, though. She’d won the Convivial Maiden at two and the Musidora at three, so we knew she liked the track, and despite the defeat at Epsom we went there pretty confident. She looked like a three-mile chaser, was built like a brick s***house and had a head on her like a JCB, but she needed to be strong that afternoon.
Steve Cauthen was on board and he got on well with her, but I remember she went to Phoenix Park as a two-year-old for the Park Stakes as evens favourite and Steve was worried the Irish jockeys would carve him up, so he thought he’d jump off and make it, and he got caught. We found out that if you held on to her she had a great turn of foot, which she showed coming from off the pace at York to beat a very good field, including the Eclipse winner Elmaamul.
We had Dead Certain in the same year and she wasn’t bad either, but I’d say In The Groove was the best filly I ever had and that was a big day for her.
Oasis Dream 2003 Nunthorpe Stakes
Oasis Dream was the fastest horse I have ever ridden and I doubt I have ever gone faster on a horse than the day he won the Nunthorpe.
In the paddock before the race I remember telling John Gosden I planned to let Prince Khalid’s July Cup winner burst from the gate and simply go as fast as he could from start to finish. I was keen for the colt to break Dayjur’s course record. When I revealed my plan, John sounded a note of caution. About 50 yards after the York winning post is a covered road crossing and John was worried the horse might sustain an injury if he crossed it having gone past the post at a speed no horse would probably ever have passed it before.
John’s concern was entirely sensible, so I started applying the brakes many strides before the line. There was no danger in doing that because the little horse had long since burned off the opposition. He had put up a magnificent performance. The only regret was the road crossing denied him the track record.
Mozart 2001 Nunthorpe Stakes
I have lots of good memories of the Ebor meeting, I was lucky to ride many very good horses there, but the one who sticks in my mind – for slightly different reasons – is Mozart in the big sprint. When you’re riding a 4-9 favourite you might expect things to be straightforward, but not this time.
In the first stride out of the stalls his saddle slipped right back, which is the last thing you need on a horse who went as quick as him. After that I just had to let him get on with it, because if I’d have moved an inch or two either way I’d have been gone – it was that tricky a situation.
Luckily it was a simple race to ride, one horse [Repertory] went off in front and we sat second or third. I never had to switch him at all, he went past the leader and kept on strongly, I gave him a couple of cracks with the whip and he was just too good for them. It was the result we all expected but he must have been an incredible horse to do what he did considering what happened – I couldn’t wait for the post to come, it was the most uncomfortable five furlongs I ever rode.
Sapience 1989 Ebor
You always remember the races in which you backed the winner and that was the case for me with Sapience, who was owned by one great friend in Sol Moratalla and trained by another in Jimmy FitzGerald.
Quite honestly, though, the commission was a serious cock-up.
Jimmy had a bookmaker chum so he asked me if I would be happy to leave putting the money on all up to him. Unfortunately the horse kept shortening in the betting and I kept ringing Jimmy, asking if we had played yet, which we hadn’t. I remember coming back from Scotland, going into a betting shop and seeing Sapience was a 100-6 shot. I was dying to have £1,000 to £60 two or three times but I daren’t because it was all in Jimmy’s hands and it would have been wrong to interfere.
He did win well but we ended up taking a pretty short price.
Sir Mark Prescott
Pivotal 1996 Nunthorpe Stakes
I’d find it hard to separate Hasten To Add, who wasn’t unsupported when he won the Ebor after very near misses in the Bessborough and the Northumberland Plate, and Pivotal, who was my first Group 1 winner.
Pivotal went there on a recovery mission after being beaten in the July Cup. We were sure that he’d stay six furlongs, and were amazed he didn’t. You could have plugged away forever on the basis of his pedigree and achieved nothing, but after the race at Newmarket it was clear we needed to drop back to five, so York was the obvious target.
It was a very exciting race and I remember he came with a tremendous rattle to win it. Poor Eveningperformance, trained by my great friend Henry Candy, led all the way, but G Duffield gave Pivotal a proper old-fashioned drive to join him right on the line, with Hever Golf Rose back in third.
Neither I nor Henry had a clue who’d won, and the usual platitudes were exchanged as we waited for the result, about how we’d gladly share it – it was in the days when the prints were far slower to come – but when it went our way after an interminable wait it was marvellous to get a winner at the top level for Cheveley Park.
Deposki 1991 Ebor
Yorkshire folk are the greatest supporters of racing in my opinion, so it was always lovely to be associated with an Ebor meeting winner. One who went under the radar in terms of my involvement was Deposki. He ran away with the 1991 Ebor with Franny Norton riding, not me, but I was delighted to see him win.
The main reason for that is he was owned and bred by a Trinidadian named Winfield Scott, a great supporter of racing and good friend of both Sir Michael Stoute and my parents. On top of that Deposki was born at our family’s stud farm, Genesis Green.
He was identified for the Ebor pretty early on and Sir Michael brought him through to the race perfectly. We did nothing wrong but we knew he was well handicapped and I helped in that department because on the way to York I rode him to beat Quick Ransom at Goodwood. I was good that day because he won by a head when it could have been ten lengths!
On the day itself he was a 12-1 shot but he had the race won before he even entered the starting stalls. I couldn’t do the weight – I would have had to cut off an arm and the rest – but I helped by tuning him up for the race. The yard’s money was down big time. Let’s just say I didn’t lose any money, either.
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