DAVID O’MEARA capped a memorable year by winning the race to become York’s leading trainer for a second successive season following a thrilling finale to an unforgettable 2014 campaign on Knavesmire.
He only repelled the late charge of his great rival Richard Fahey when Open Eagle sprinted clear to land the Coldstream Guards Association Cup, York’s 115th and final race of the year.
It was also a landmark success for O’Meara’s stable jockey Danny Tudhope, who was recording his 100th winner of a campaign which has already yielded two breakthrough Group One successes thanks to Betfred Sprint Cup victor G Force and Prix de l’Abbaye conqueror Move In Time.
Though Nawton-based O’Meara is one of the more thoughtful and phlegmatic additions to the training ranks, the celebrations in the winner’s enclosure as the sun set on the York campaign was emblematic of what the Charles Clinkard-sponsored award and trophy means to him – and his team.
In a rare show of emotion, O’Meara did admit to this being “a nerve-wracking day” after his slender lead was cut to one when outsider Imshivilla won the opener for Fahey thanks to a fine and enterprising ride by young Malton-born apprentice Jack Garritty, a name to follow.
O’Meara runners were then on the wrong end of two photo-finishes – Fattsota was collared on the line by Godolphin’s Sudden Wonder in the second race before Highland Acclaim narrowly lost out to the Connor Beasley-inspired top weight Spinatrix in the feature Coral Sprint Trophy as Darlington trainer Micahel Dods landed the £75,000 contest for a second year in succession.
Tudhope, The Yorkshire Post’s guest racing columnist, then took matters into his own hands by winning the long-distance sixth race on the well-backed Kashmiri Sunset for Ed de Giles, thus denting the hopes of the Fahey team, before Open Eagle brought up O’Meara’s 10th winner of the year at York.
The only disappointment is that Tudhope’s double denied him the prestige of the leading jockey award. Tied on nine winners with the absent Ryan Moore, the award went to the three-times champion jockey by virtue of his superior number of second-place finishes.
“It was nerve-wracking. You can’t control what everyone else is doing,” said O’Meara, who cited the aforementioned G Force and progressive Custom Cut as his most satisfying York winners.
“It’s great to be leading trainer here, the press built it up and it is a special place. It gets harder every year to have winners here so it’s even more special doing it twice. Danny has just missed out being leading rider here by one, but he’s had a breakthrough year with two Group Ones. He is proving himself not just to be one of the best riders in the North, but in the country. He’s already there.
“Open Eagle must have it soft and ran well in the November Handicap at Doncaster last year so that is where he’ll probably go again.”
As for York, a crowd of 20,312 racegoers – up nine per cent last year – took the total attendance at 17 days of racing to 336,042 spectators. Only Cheltenham, the home of jump racing, can compete with this level of popularity.
The overall figure was marginally up on last year and the racecourse executive is already pressing ahead with the next phase of improvements that will see a new weighing room and spectator terrace completed in time for the start of the 2015 season next May.
“We are proud to be part of a Yorkshire racing community which goes from strength to strength and the success of Yorkshire handlers, both here at York and further afield, is a tremendous reflection of the health of racing in the county,” said chief executive William Derby.
Aidan O’Brien’s Australia, the dual Derby winner who lit up York when landing the Juddmonte International, has been retired to Coolmore Stud because of a hoof injury.
However, Criquette Head-Maarek’s Treve, the brilliant two-time winner of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, will now attempt to win Europe’s blue riband race for an unprecedented third time.
It follows a sudden change of heart by owners Al Shaqab Racing after initially saying that the fabulous filly had been retired in the aftermath of last Sunday’s slightly surprising success at Longchamp.