THE smile said it all as Harry Bentley passed the winning post to land Newmarket’s prestigious Darley July Cup on the supreme sprinter Limato.
So long regarded as one of the weighing room’s fresh-faced stars of the future, this landmark Group One win was a coming of age triumph for the ambitious 24-year-old.
And while it took a career-best performance by Mecca’s Angel, the pride of the North, to deny Limato in last week’s Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes at York’s Ebor Festival, Bentley returns to Yorkshire today in the hope of going one better in the Totescoop6 Beverley Bullet Sprint Stakes.
One of Beverley’s feature races of the year, Bentley is due to partner Limato’s stablemate Son Of Africa in this competitive five-furlong dash, which has attracted horses of the calibre of the William Haggas-trained Muthmir, a proven Group winner, and the 2015 ‘Bullet’ winner Maarek, from the Tipperary yard of Evanna McCutcheon.
Yet Bentley is not deterred. His mount, trained by the veteran Henry Candy, returned to winning ways at Sandown seven days ago and he is more than confident of holding his own against these proven performers.
Bentley played a waiting game last week – tactics that appeared to work – but he accepts that today’s race offers a sterner test.
“He’s in good form – the only difference is that it is a stronger race and there are good horses like Muthmir which have raced in Group Ones,” the jockey told The Yorkshire Post. “A stiff five furlongs, climbing all the way, it’s going to be important to save a bit for the end of the race.”
Irrespective of the outcome, this has been a season to remember for Bentley who has clearly prospered from spending recent winters riding out in Dubai and racing in Qatar where he has become champion jockey.
Though he has not had the opportunities that he anticipated when he became No 2 jockey to Andrea Atzeni and the Newmarket yard of top trainer Roger Varian – many of the yard’s horses have been under a cloud – a conversation at the end of last season proved to be a fortuitous career-changer.
“I was speaking to the owner of Limato, Paul Jacobs, after the horse had finished second in France,” explained Bentley. “We got talking and he asked if I could ride the horse in 2016.
“The horse had had a lot of different jockeys for its two-year-old season – I think it was four riders for five races – and he wanted a bit of consistency. It couldn’t have worked out any better.
“It’s massive. He’s put my name higher on the list of jockeys and I’ve got my first Group One in Britain off my back, which is a massive landmark. I’m not going to hide it – I was over the moon when we crossed the line.”
What impresses Bentley is the versatility of Limato. Good enough to finish fourth in Newbury’s Lockinge Stakes over a mile, the horse excelled over six furlongs when landing the July Cup before putting up a valiant run over five furlongs, the minimum distance, in the Nunthorpe.
If it had not been for the rain coming just in time for Mecca’s Angel, the jockey could have added to his big race tally. However, he says the performance showed that the horse can compete over a range of distances, which can only bode well for the future.
Though Limato still holds a tentative entry for next weekend’s Betfred Sprint Cup at Haydock, the Prix de la Foret at Chantilly on Arc day – this is the race in France which prompted a change in riding arrangements – is an option before a tilt at the Breeders’ Cup later in the year.
As such, Bentley is fulsome in his praise for the aforementioned Candy’s handling of their equine champion. “He has got a wealth of experience that nothing seems to faze him,” added the rider. “There never seems to be any pressure which is great from a jockey’s point of view.”
Meanwhile, Beverley’s concluding race today will commemorate the sport’s ‘voice of the north’ Tom O’Ryan, 61, who died on Tuesday after a short illness.
The rider, journalist and broadcaster rode his first winner on the Westwood when the David Chapman-trained Vivacious Boy claimed the East Gate Apprentice Handicap in July 1972.
As such, today’s finale has been renamed the East Gate Apprentice Handicap and O’Ryan’s close friend, Malton trainer Richard Fahey, saddles Ingleby Spring.
Tom O’Ryan remembered – see page 10 of main section.