Weather gods unkind again as juveniles make a splash
Colin Russell see the two-year-olds take centre stage
Charles Maxsted MBE is used to setbacks. He has to be, as he is a devoted supporter of yo-yo football team Hull City.
He is also chairman of Beverley racecourse, whose card on Saturday stands out on the British racing landscape, and not just because it is one of the quieter Saturdays in the racing calendar.
It stands out because the feature races are for two-year-olds, with the pair of £25,000 conditions contests – the Hilary Needler Trophy for fillies and the Brian Yeardley Continental Two-Year-Old Trophy for colts and geldings – both long-established events at this independent East Yorkshire course.
For many years the two contests were run on separate days a couple of weeks before Royal Ascot, the Hilary Needler on a Wednesday evening and the Brian Yeardley the following afternoon, although that was later moved to a Saturday.
Enough was enough
But the weather gods seemed to turn against the fillies’ race and for several years the evening was foul and monsoon-like, with heavy rain and strong winds.
In 2014 Maxsted decided enough was enough. That year it rained so much that the Hilary Needler and the rest of the card had to be cancelled because of waterlogging. It was time to move on, so the Hilary Needler was moved on – to a Saturday afternoon.
It looked a shrewd move, as for two years the event was blessed with sunny summer weather – but not this time. The weather gods were at it again and, not content with dousing the course with more than an inch of rain during the week, they topped it up on Saturday morning.
In 2016 the Brian Yeardley was won by 6-1 newcomer Prince Of Lir, who showed he was a class act by going on to win the Norfolk Stakes at Royal Ascot next time out.
A year on and the same connections of trainer Robert Cowell and owners the Cool Silk Partnership struck again with another debutante, Chica La Habana taking the Hilary Needler. She also started at 6-1.
Despite her lack of experience she came home strongly under Adam Beschizza to beat the Richard Fahey-trained Maggies Angel by three-quarters of a length.
Bought for just €4,000 as a yearling, she made £64,000 when sent to Ascot breeze-up sales in April and looks worth every penny.
Her rider said: "She had been working nicely at home but hadn't had a racecourse gallop or anything like that and she'll come on for the race. She's a nice filly but it would be a big step up if she were to go to Royal Ascot."
The big disappointment of the race was the Mark Johnston-trained Rebel Assault, who was sent off a well-backed 2-5 shot but faded to finish fourth after showing her customary speed.
One-two for Johnston
However, Johnston dominated the Brian Yeardley as he sent out the first two, as the tough Cardsharp, who had finished runner-up in last week's Woodcote Stakes, made all under Joe Fanning to beat Rufus King by two and a quarter lengths.
Royal Ascot is very much on the winner's agenda and Johnston's wife Deirdre explained: "Joe said it doesn't matter whether he goes over five or six furlongs, so I expect he'll be entered for the Norfolk, Windsor Castle and Coventry, and we'll talk it over with his owners to see which looks the best race for him."
It wasn't ideal that these two good races should be run so close to Royal Ascot, but the course's chief executive Sally Iggulden said: "We normally race on the Saturday of the spring bank holiday but this year we swapped dates with York as, for various reasons, they couldn't race today.
"We did think about running them at our meeting on Wednesday last week so they wouldn't be so close to Ascot, but I spoke to Mark Johnston and Richard Fahey and both said today would be no problem.
"We always wanted to keep them as Saturday races and it would have been nice to get coverage on ITV, but the only meeting they cover from here is the Beverley Bullet in August. Maybe they will next year."
Maybe next year the rain will stay away as well.