THIRTY five years after hurdler Sea Pigeon won the most famous Ebor in the race’s 171-year history, Peter Niven hopes to repeat the feat with his dual purpose horse Clever Cookie, which carries the hopes of Yorkshire in today’s feature.
Niven, whose mother bred Clever Cookie, trains just a short canter away from the Great Habton stables in Ryedale where Peter Easterby masterminded the career of Sea Pigeon, who went on to win the 1980 and 1981 Champion Hurdles.
After showing promise over hurdles, Clever Cookie – the mount of 2004 Grand National-winning jockey Graham Lee – was very disappointing in the Scottish Champion Hurdle before switching to Flat.
He won at York’s Dante meeting, and then dead-heated with Ralston Road for the Stowe Family Law LLP Gold Cup, before finishing down the field in the John Smith’s Cup.
However, Niven, a jump jockey who enjoyed a great association with Mary Reveley, is hopeful of claiming the winner’s prize of £164,000.
“It’s a very, very competitive handicap but I think he has a chance,” said Niven, who rides Clever Cookie every day.
“It’s a very different race to Sea Pigeon’s era – the handicap is far more compressed – but I think he will get the trip. Everything’s gone great, they’ve had a drop of rain and that should help.
“He’s drawn nine, so he has to break that dreadful statistic of no horse drawn in single figures winning the Ebor for the last 10 years, but statistics are there to be broken and if you’d asked me beforehand, I’d have wanted anything between six and 12. It’s a tough, valuable handicap, and so everything in the race is exposed to the handicapper to some extent.”
The Yorkshire entry in this year’s renewal is a strong one – Richard Fahey saddles Gabrial, David O’Meara runs repeater while Great Hall lines up for John Quinn.
Yet the Ebor remains a lifelong ambition for William Haggas who grew up in Skipton and celebrates his 54th birthday. He saddles Dare To Achieve and said: “I think he’s got a sporting chance.
“He’ll like the ground, he’ll like the trip, I think, and he’ll like the course. There’s not much between top and bottom of the weights, you have to be very good to get in these days.”
The same applies to the Queen’s Bold Sniper.
Third in the John Smith’s Cup, Sir Michael Stoute’s runner would not be returning to York if he did not have an outstanding chance of doing justice to the Royal colours.