THIRD time lucky? South Yorkshire trainer David Griffiths hopes so as stable star Take Cover bids to land an elusive Group One prize in today’s Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes at York.
Two years ago, his horse of a lifetime blew his chance when banging his head on the superstructure of the starting stalls. Twelve months ago, the sprinter managed to squeeze under the gates and gallop free.
Yet the Bawtry handler could not be happier with the wellbeing of the veteran nine-year-old who led from start to finish to land the prestigious King George Stakes at Goodwood last month for the second time in three renewals.
Griffiths, a former tutor at Northern Racing College, will be even happier if the ground remains fast on the sun-kissed Knavesmire.
“He’s generally got two speeds – stand still or flat to the boards!” said Griffiths.
“It was an excellent performance at Goodwood. At the furlong pole they looked to be stacking up to take him on but, when everything is right, he is so hard to pass because when they come to him he will stick his head out and find an extra gear.
“I think horses know when they’ve won and he’s been happy, bouncing. I’ve never known him to come out of a race better.”
It won’t be easy. This race has attracted a formidable line-up headed by Henry Candy’s Limato who is dropping back in trip to five furlongs following a sensational win in last month’s Darley July Cup at Newmarket. Harry Bentley’s mount is the class act.
The sentimental favourite is defending champion Mecca’s Angel. Ridden by Boroughbridge’s Paul Mulrennan and trained near Darlington by Michael Dods, conditions have probably gone against the filly who prevailed on rain-softened ground in 2015.
Significantly Dods favours stablemate Easton Angel who won at York’s Dante meeting before finishing second in last month’s City Walls Stakes. “She’s a good filly and at this stage she’s probably better than Mecca’s Angel was,” he said.
And the unknown could be Yalta from the Middleham yard of Mark Johnston. Victorious at Pontefract earlier in the campaign, the two-year-old is entitled to significant weight-for-age concessions – just like Mecca’s Angel last year – and could not have been more impressive in the Molecomb Stakes at Goodwood when he defeated stablemate The Last Lion by three lengths.
Johnston said: “He’s an imposing, big horse, which is why we thought he might want further, but when you have so much speed the obvious thing is the Nunthorpe.”
However, Griffiths can draw comfort from the fact that the Malton-trained Queen Kindly upset the odds to win yesterday’s Sky Bet Lowther Stakes and is now just 10-1 for next year’s 1000 Guineas.
All eyes were on the unbeaten Frankel filly Fair Eva but she could only finish third to the Richard Fahey’s Queen Kindly who was also sired by the late Sir Henry Cecil’s great champion (and winner of the 2012 Juddmonte International).
Aidan O’Brien’s Duchess of Cambridge Stakes winner Roly Poly was also in with a chance as the big trio headed inside the final furlong almost in a line, but it was Queen Kindly who saw it out best to beat the Irish raider by three-quarters of a length, with Fair Eva the same distance away in third.
Winning jockey Jamie Spencer said: “Every time you ride her she gets chunkier and more powerful and she never missed a beat. She’s very professional and at this stage of her career, she’s probably ahead of the rest of them. She’s a gorgeous filly and Richard fancied her. He said ‘don’t worry about the other Frankel, we know what we’ve got’.”
There was further home success when Firmament took the Clipper Logistics Stake for the Arlington Million-winning team of trainer David O’Meara and jockey Daniel Tudhope.
“He’s not very big, but he has a lot of class,” said O’Meara. “It’s been an important year. We’ve had some highlights, with Suedois finishing second in the July Cup and Mondialiste winning the Grade One (Arlington Million).
“We’ve had 60-odd winners and a lot of seconds. It’s been a challenging enough time with the move (in stables) and what not. Horses came in a lot later and some of them were having a cough here and there, but we’re no different to anywhere else – you have good form and bad form.”
Meanwhile, the feature Darley Yorkshire Oaks went to the Aidan O’Brien-trained Seventh Heaven with stablemate Found, last season’s Breeders’ Cup heroine, runner-up in a one-two for the Ballydoyle maestro.