YORK is Martin Lane’s favourite racecourse with good reason. Four years after he came to public prominence with Wigmore Hall’s last-gasp John Smith’s Cup win, the former champion apprentice recorded the first Group Two success of his career when Sheikhzayedroad pounced late to land the Sky Bet York Stakes in front of nearly 40,000 spectators.
The win was even more satisfying for Lane, and trainer David Simcock, because this is a late-maturing horse with an awkward head carriage who is only beginning to show his true potential after 20 starts.
It was the same on Knavesmire – Secret Gesture and Windhoek fighting out a thrilling finish, the lead of the £100,000 race changing on three occasions, before Sheikhzayedroad flashed home after warming to his task.
“He showed his attitude and really knuckled down. He’s as tough and genuine as you get. Before, I would have been happy to be in the first three but he’s as tough as you get,” said Lane, who was told by former champion National Hunt trainer Michael Dickinson that his ride was worth “nine and a half marks out of 10”. Praise indeed.
As for Simcock, he has nurtured the horse since a foal and believes his charge will be better suited to an international campaign rather than Group One races in Britain. “The Canadian International has been the long-term plan. We’ll find another race before that. Hong Kong’s an option and he’ll go back to Dubai. He’ll have his Group Two penalty now so things will be tougher. As he’s got older he’s become an easier ride,” he said.
Another late improver is the William Haggas-trained Muthmir, who turned the Sky Bet Dash into a one-horse race under Graham Lee. Surprisingly, this was just the sixth start in the career of the four-year-old horse who could reappear in Saturday’s Stewards Cup at Glorious Goodwood.
“You wouldn’t feel too sorry for him if he ran twice in a week,” said the trainer’s wife, Maureen, whose Valley of Fire then took the maiden following an inspired ride by Andrea Atzeni whose horsemanship continues to catch the eye.
Those watching Muthmir included Susan Piggott – wife of the legendary Lester – and her brother Robert Armstrong, who used to train for the horse’s owner Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum. “I think I am sweating more than the horse,” said Mrs Piggott, praising the quality of York’s racing and the fairness of the track.
Understandably, they were delighted to see the Sheikh’s horses to the fore in a compelling King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot when the Haggas-trained Mukhadram was a battling third to the history-making Taghrooda.
Ridden with confidence by Paul Hanagan, Taghrooda took advantage of the weight-for-age allowance to become the first filly to complete the Epsom Oaks and King George double since Pawneese in 1976.
Taghrooda bypassed the Irish Oaks in favour of the King George on the say-so of Sheikh Hamdan and trainer John Gosden said: “It was a special performance. She’s right up there and would have to be the best filly I’ve had over a mile-and-a-half. The Fugue would have beaten anything over a mile-and-a-quarter and Royal Heroine was the best at a mile. She’d done very well since Epsom, she’s bigger and stronger, more powerful and I thought Hanagan rode a beautiful race on her.”
Though Taghrooda holds an entry in next month’s Yorkshire Oaks, her autumn campaign will revolve around the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and Gosden will be leaving the race planning to Sheikh Hamdan.
As for Mukhadram, he didn’t appear to stay and is likely to drop back to 10 furlongs for the Juddmonte International, the day one highlight of York’s Ebor Festival.