PETER NIVEN reports stable star Clever Cookie to be “absolutely spot on” following his stirring success in the Betway Yorkshire Cup.
However, the Malton trainer, who lost his voice in the aftermath of Friday’s triumph on the Knavesmire, said the eight-year-old will only line up in the blue riband Ascot Gold Cup next month – Europe’s premier race for staying Flat horses – if underfoot conditions are not too quick.
Niven only ran Clever Cookie, a former hurdler, at York after clerk of the course William Derby and his assistant Anthea Morshead watered the track on Thursday night – a move which was welcomed by the trainer.
He remains overwhelmed by the racing’s public response to the victory and has been inundated with so many messages of support that he’s still not found time to respond to the text messages that he has received.
Even though Niven, a former jump jockey, owns Clever Cookie, he does not intend to take any chances with the horse’s well-being at Royal Ascot if the ground is on the fast side at the Berkshire track.
He also told The Yorkshire Post that the horse, bred by his mother Joan and now the winner of four of his seven starts at York, will not run again prior to Ascot in mid-June because there are no suitable races in the programme.
“He’s A1. He’s absolutely spot on,” said Niven. “He’s just been out and had a pick of grass.
“We will aim for the Ascot Gold Cup and hope it is not too firm –I have to do what is right for the horse.
“I know everyone says it was a weak Yorkshire Cup and Flying Officer, the favourite, came out at the start.
“It doesn’t matter. He still won it. It’s a Grade Two, part of the British Champion Series, and he’s got a big race under him.
“If they hadn’t watered the course on Thursday night, he would definitely not have run. He will have an entry for Ascot, and we will train him for the race, but the conditions have to be right.”
A two-and-a-half-mile Group One race famously won by the Queen’s Estimate in 2013, as well as many of Flat’s all-time greats, Niven is keeping his feet on the ground.
Unlike the major yards, Niven only has 15 horses in training and Clever Cookie is his only “serious Flat horse”. “We’ve only got stables for 20, but I could easily find some more boxes,” said the trainer. “I’m not getting too carried away about Ascot because there’s a chance we won’t run.”
Niven was also fulsome in his praise for winning jockey PJ McDonald who made the difficult decision to forego his aunt’s funeral in order to ride Clever Cookie.
It was the culmination of a sequence of events after Niven opted to no longer use the horse’s regular rider Graham Lee after a disappointing reappearance at Nottingham. Clever Cookie then finished second in Ascot’s Sagaro Stakes under Ryan Moore, arguably the world’s best jockey, who then found himself at Newbury rather than York on Friday.
Danny Tudhope was then booked before he suffered a sickening fall on Thursday that left him on the sidelines, hence the call to McDonald who was in the saddle 12 months ago when Clever Cookie won the Stowe Family Law LLP Grand Cup. “He gave it a good ride,” said Niven.
The highlight of the weekend racing was Belardo’s victory in the Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes at Newbury, the first major Group One race of 2016 for older horses over a mile.
A top-class two-year-old, Belardo – trained by Roger Varian – under-performed last year before finishing second to Solow on Champions Day last year, before finally returning to winning ways this April at Doncaster’s season-opening Lincoln meeting.
Nevertheless, Godolphin’s retained riders William Buick and James Doyle both preferred other horses in the Lockinge and it was left to Andrea Atzeni, winner of the last two St Legers, to record a famous win after favourite Limato faltered late home.
A delighted Varian said: “He salvaged his year last year by chasing home Solow at Ascot. That really told us to keep him in training.
“I always kept the faith in the horse, as his work was outstanding at home. He’s got masses of talent.
“I’m delighted for the horse, as he deserved another big one, I thought.
“He’ll certainly be trained for Royal Ascot (Queen Anne) – that’s where we’d like to be.
“God willing we get there in one piece. He will be in all the big mile races and hopefully this will be the start of a good season.”
Newcastle’s first ever all-weather meeting has attracted 105 declarations for tomorrow’s eight races on the Tapeta surface pioneered by former Yorkshire trainer Michael Dickinson and his wife Joan.