JOCKEY David Allan has already seen two of his friends and rivals from Yorkshire win landmark Group One sprints in the past year. Now the Ryedale rider wants to join the party by landing today’s feature Betfred Sprint Cup at Haydock aboard the under-estimated Mattmu.
He has every chance of replicating the success enjoyed in the corresponding race 12 months ago by defending champion Danny Tudhope aboard the David O’Meara-trained G Force – or Boroughbridge-based Paul Mulrennan’s tearful success in York’s Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes on Mecca’s Angel.
Allan and Mattmu were best of the rest as Mecca’s Angel and American wonderhorse Acapulco fought out York’s premier sprint – and the jockey is hopeful that his mount, trained at Great Habton by the ever popular Tim Easterby, can prevail on Merseyside.
The trainer has won this race twice previously with Pipalong (2000) and Somnus (2003) while Allan may not have to wait long to learn his fate. He says his chances will improve considerably if the forecast rain falls on Haydock – he’ll be checking the Met Office’s weather app at daybreak – and if the three-year-old colt settles well on the canter to the six furlong start.
“He has as good a chance as any,” the amiable Allan told The Yorkshire Post. “He finished ahead of the second favourite (Danzeno) with a penalty which we don’t have at Haydock. I don’t understand why they don’t rate his chances.
“Mattmu was third in the Nunthorpe and six furlongs will be much more to his liking. Five furlongs is too sharp for him, especially on a fast track like York. Ground and distance should be perfect.”
Though Allan is still seeking his first Group One win in the UK, these races are not a new experience for the well-travelled rider who was born in the Scottish coastal town of Irvine, grew up on Teesside and then settled in Malton after teaming up with Easterby following stints as an apprentice with Jack Berry and the late Mel Brittain.
One of his great equine servants was Easterby’s now retired Hamish McGonagall who won the Symphony Group Handicap at York’s 2010 Ebor Festival before being placed in the 2011 and 2012 renewals of the Nunthorpe. The winner of 10 out of 59 starts, he invariably found one horse just too good for him on Flat racing’s biggest stages.
“Hamish was an out and out five furlong sprinter while Mattmu is more of a six furlong horse,” explained Allan who does have a Group One win in India on his CV. “Hamish was pure speed while Mattmu is a bit classier and a battler. You see him at his best in a tight finish.
“When I rode him for the first time at Carlisle in May last year, we were clear and I’m still not quite sure how we were beaten five lengths by the David Barron runner Likely. He must be some horse. Since then, he’s won five times and only once been out of the frame. That was probably my fault. The ground at Haydock was very loose and I thought he had lost his action.
“He’s a joy to ride. He comes out of the stalls very fast, travels for you and digs in. He does half the job for you. I just have to keep him relaxed before the race and let him do his thing when the gates open.”
Throughout his riding career which has been remarkably consistent, there has been a resurgence in Flat racing in the North – and the success of horses like the aforementioned G Force and Mecca’s Angel fills 33-year-old Allan with added confidence and incentive. “Look we’re rivals when it comes to racing, but the lads in the North – we’re all happy to see each other do well,” he said.
As for the Middleham Park Racing-owned G Force, no horse has won successive renewals of the Sprint Cup since the late Sir Peter O’Sullevan’s Be Friendly prevailed in the first two runnings of the famous race in 1966 and 1967 before dense fog thwarted a hat-trick bid. However connections appear confident of a strong run.
The deserved favourite is Adaay for the in-form combination of Skipton-born trainer William Haggas and jockey Paul Hanagan while Tom Hogan expects a return to Haydock to bring out the best in Gordon Lord Byron, who won this prize in 2013 and was runner-up to G Force 12 months ago.
Yet Gordon Lord Byron’s best may not be good enough to stop Mattmu – rain permitting.