Phillip Makin hopes pedal power can drive him to Betfred Ebor glory on Guarantee and provide proud Yorkshireman William Haggas with a long-overdue first victory in Europe’s richest handicap which dates back to 1843.
After Makin’s left knee started complaining from the physical exertion of running dozens of miles each week, and then the strain of race riding, the 29-year-old from near Thirsk has taken to the bicycle to fine-tune his fitness.
He regularly cycles 35 miles before racing and one recent excursion saw him climb the 978ft Sutton Bank and its one in four gradient at the heart of Hambleton after drawing inspiration from the Tour de France peleton, who will begin the second stage of Yorkshire’s Grand Depart from the venue of today’s historic one-and-three-quarter mile race.
“Chris Froome, this year’s winner, looks so slight that he looks built like a jockey,” says Makin, who says Ebor success will rival his three winners at York’s showcase meeting 12 months ago, and which included Guarantee’s Ebor day success in the Melrose Stakes.
He has a chance. Thursday’s thunderstorm took some of the sting out of ground that Makin likened to a “runway”; Guarantee has been gelded since last season’s St Leger seventh and the Haggas stable is in a rich vein of form; Haikbidiac and Our Obsession’s wins on Ladies Day took its prize money for 2013 to £1.4m and past the yard’s previous best in 2009.
“To be fair to William, when I rode the horse at the start of the season, he wasn’t interested,” Makin told the Yorkshire Post.
“He’s gelded him and at the top of the hill at Goodwood last time out, he was going better than anything. He just didn’t handle coming down the hill.
“He’s got a bit of class. William has had this race in mind for him and I think he might be two or three pounds better off than when he won the Melrose last year.
“Mr Haggas is great to ride for. I’ve ridden quite a lot of horses when they’ve run in the North and it’s good to ride for high-profile owners like Highclere. I had a great week last year and it would be nice to leave here with something. It is a big stage for the North.”
Skipton-born Haggas and his wife Maureen, daughter of Lester Piggott, also saddle top weight Sun Central who won the John Smith’s Silver Cup last month – one of seven York winners in 2013 for the yard.
“I like to win anything here!” said Haggas, who runs his father’s Harris Tweed at Goodwood today after withdrawing him from the Ebor because conditions were so fast prior to final declarations on Thursday morning.
One four-letter word summed up his succinct response when he learned that both runners had received high draws on the outer, though Makin does not think this will inconvenience Guarantee who will make his move late on.
Haggas was also keeping an eye on the rain clouds.
“If he stays fast, Sun Central has a chance – but Guarantee wants a drop of rain ideally,” he said.
But perhaps the last word should go to the trainer’s wife whose insight and horsemanship on the gallops has been pivotal to the stable’s success this season.
“We’re hopeful, Sun Central has winning form here while Guarantee is going the right way and Phil Makin rides him so well,” she said. “William loves winning races at York. The Ebor is an iconic race and it is just one of those races that everyone wants to win.”
Especially a Yorkshireman with his yard in such imperious form.