Through Ebor week at York – Turf Talk: 28 August 2017

York has won The Racegoers Club vote as best flat racecourse for 26 years

York has won The Racegoers Club vote as best flat racecourse for 26 years

When Mr Chris Van Niekerk’s NATIONAL COLOUR won the Computaform Sprint (Gr1) at Turffontein in April 2006, I slipped away from my generous hosts and went to the rail to see how quickly these sprinters were really going.

As the grey filly flashed past, I felt the wind.

Duly smitten, I attached my affection to her as she disappeared to run in Dubai twice on dirt described as “Fast”. I am not sure when the knee issues kicked in, but she “came back” after invasive surgeries to run second in one of the fastest Group 1s in Europe – the Nunthorpe Stakes.

Normally, what is now the Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes has the word “York” straight after it. York in the opinion of this writer is the best of all great racecourses. My spirits lift when I walk in, especially after long flights back from Joburg whose altitude, dry air and overnight freeze seem to knock the unacclimatised visitors for six every time. After writing last week’s article straight off the plane, a good lie down in the garden was what was needed.

But enough of being horizontal. Off to York on the 10am from Kings Cross! The Ebor Meeting is superb. Wednesday offers the globally top rated Juddmonte International (won last week by the Niarchos’s ULYSSES by a Derby Winner out of an Oaks Winner, beating CHURCHILL and BARNEY ROY) and the Great Voltigeur (won by CRACKSMAN a Frankel who goes a mile and a half – a real top horse having been unlucky in the Irish Derby).

Thursday has the lovely Lowther (Gr2 for juvenile fillies) and the gorgeous Group 1 Yorkshire Oaks. The brilliant filly ENABLE by Nathaniel walked that and goes for the Arc. On Saturday there is the Ebor itself, a “Heritage Handicap” worth a ton of money over 2800 metres for which seemingly half of Yorkshire turns out, dressed to the nines as through the whole four days.

The Gimcrack (2yo colts 6 furlongs Gr2) is also on that card – the winning owner being invited to give the annual Gimcrack Speech at York’s major glitzy event, thus starting all that fuss about ROCK OF GIBRALTAR’s ownership when Manchester United was winning everything..

Representatives of the Elite Racing Club enjoy their Group 1 success with MARSHA

Representatives of the Elite Racing Club enjoy their Group 1 success with MARSHA

The crowd on the Friday is never as big. It’s big. But not the heaving Festival throng of other days. The Lonsdale Cup over an extended 2 miles is not stallion-makingly important. The crowd anticipated a Royal Victory and were slightly stunned when the Her Majesty’s well-backed favourite DARTMOUTH was headed on the line in a thrilling three-way finish of a proper staying race.

The Nunthorpe is the highlight of Friday: a Group 1 sprint over the minimum distance, the spectacle of which your correspondent was able to enjoy as a guest of Coolmore, an annual treat over many years of harmonious business together.

The American filly LADY AURELIA who had brilliantly won the King’s Stand (Gr1) at Ascot was flown back over, along with her pony (also a Royal Ascot winner believe it or not).

A nice day out at York

A nice day out at York

It was to be a two-horse race between her and BATTASH, a 3 year old son of Dark Angel who had most recently defeated the older Group 1 winner PROFITABLE (Invincible Spirit) in the King George Stakes at Glorious Goodwood. PROFITABLE’s name isn’t kidding. His owner told me he got 4 million (sterling) for him from Godolphin. You only need one good one…..

Well it wasn’t (a two-horse race). BATTASH left his race behind the stalls although he still finished 4th. LADY AURELIA raced thrillingly, so much so that Frankie Dettori punched the air in celebration as he careered past the post on the favourite filly.

Early in the Parade Ring at York

Early in the Parade Ring at York

Luke Morris on Marsha (left) gets up to beat Frankie Dettori on the Nunthorpe favourite Lady Aurelia

Luke Morris on Marsha (left) gets up to beat Frankie Dettori on the Nunthorpe favourite Lady Aurelia

Whoops! She didn’t win. Frankie suffered a few jibes on the way into the Winners’ Enclosure but in his defence he and most of the crowd thought she had won – and you can’t stop L.Dettori Esq being exuberant. LADY AURELIA is top class, but maybe she got a ticking off from her pony after all that travelling.

Actually, Luke Morris brought the Sir Mark Prescott trained MARSHA through with a finishing burst to beat LADY AURELIA and win the Group 1 prize for 9,000 owners. I kid you not.

“Owners” in this case means members of the admirable Elite Racing Club which has 24 years history and has always seemed to be managed extremely well. The fact that hordes of them pay a very small sum per year compared to racing costs makes those who draw lots to get Owners’ Badges on course in no way distinguishable in dress code, demeanour and level of knowledge from the rest of the racecourse population – in fact they outdo many.

I got to know Sir Mark – a charming man and renowned raconteur – a great many moons ago when, as was/is his wont, he slipped off to win a little apprentice handicap at Thirsk and we beat him with our USA  home-bred trained by his ex-assistant trainer and now quite senior Newmarket handler Chris Wall with whom we still have business.

Sir Mark – one of Miss Kirsten Rausing’s appointed trainers thus trainer of some of the best families in the stud book – therefore had the unraced Alado in his hands for some time. We manage that representative of the phenomenal “A” family at Hemel ‘n Aarde Stud and it was from there and from Barbara Sanne’s Oldlands Stud that Alado’s latest two good winners – on Saturday at Kenilworth – emerged. There’s always something to chat about.

But back to York. MARSHA is a filly. She had won the Prix de l’Abbaye de Longchamp (also Group 1 – Var won it in 2004) – perversely at Chantilly while Longchamp is redeveloped.

Six of the last seven Nunthorpe Stakes have been won by fillies. That’s a minimum trip Group 1 sprint against the boys snaffled by the ladies. Also by an extra lady – she being Hayley Turner who won her second Group 1 on one of those fillies in the Nunthorpe. Hayley is now an established member of the ITV team bringing much to the broadcasts but is returning to the saddle in the winter when she will ride in France, taking advantage of their new ruling that ALL female riders will receive a significant weight allowance. One to watch indeed!

So…all this ends up being a heck of a vote for the fillies as sprinters. CARRY ON ALICE hasn’t let the side down has she? And another filly was SO unlucky not to become a global superstar.

National Colour Sean Tarry Racing

National Colour Sean Tarry Racing

That was NATIONAL COLOUR who started me off on this little trip through York. Her 2nd in the Nunthorpe was all the more meritorious for being over a stiffer 5 than usual.

Eh? That year, the Knavesmire at York had one of its “prone to flooding” years. The Ebor Festival was rescued by running at Newmarket instead. But with the pull out of the Dip uphill to the finish, NATIONAL COLOUR had a different task to York where it is so flat that the 1000m sprinters get wheelspin.

Here’s to more “SAF” fillies showing the world the National Colours.

york racecourse logo

Across the Knavesmire from the stands - the long railed walk is the route from the racecourse stables to the course to be tacked up

Across the Knavesmire from the stands – the long railed walk is the route from the racecourse stables to the course to be tacked up

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