THE smile etched across Amy Ryan’s face after Blaine’s last-stride triumph at the Welcome to Yorkshire Ebor Festival masks the physical and mental torment that has been bedevilling the 2012 champion apprentice.
She came close to quitting racing last summer after a heart-stopping fall in a York sprint while her then boyfriend Brian Toomey was fighting for his life in hospital, and she is awaiting surgery on ligaments that she injured badly while riding out for her father Kevin.
This was only her third winner this year – and all three have come in the colours of Matt and Lauren Morgan who have been such staunch and loyal supporters of Ryan during a traumatic year.
York is also where Ryan rode Blaine to victory when the colt made a winning debut in July 2012 before Phil Makin partnered the horse to success in the prestigious Irish Thoroughbred Marketing Gimcrack Stakes, a top race for two-year-olds.
There was a tear in the eye of Ryan’s father when the result of the photo-finish was announced to the Symphony Group Stakes, the Ebor festival’s opening race, as he rushed to the winner’s enclosure to embrace his daughter and the rest of the family who have turned Hambleton Lodge on the summit of Sutton Bank into one of Britain’s premier flat stables.
“It means a lot. I’ve been struggling for rides and that’s only my third winner since January this year,” said the winning rider.
“I think a lot of people thought I wouldn’t come back.
“It was more last year, with what I saw, that put me off,” she said.
“My dad’s not too keen, and I did think about it, but it’s my passion. It’s my job, it’s what I do.
“I’m still not great. I need surgery on my ankle and it doesn’t take much to get it stiff and sore, so I’m just riding bits and pieces and staying safe.”
“There’s a lot more pressure on the ligament when you’re riding but Matt and Lauren are two of the nicest people you can meet.
“I thought I had won, but I’ve never won a photo-finish in eight years so I wasn’t going to celebrate too soon.”
Next month’s Ayr Gold Cup now beckons for Blaine – co-owner Matt Morgan said: “We told Amy not to panic. She’s proved she’s still got what it takes.”
That view was shared by Ryan senior who said of his daughter: “I’m delighted for Amy. It’s been a long road back since her injury and she’s proven she can still do it on the big stage.”
His day nearly got even better less than two hours later when stable star The Grey Gatsby – the winner of York’s Betfred Dante Stakes and then the French Derby – put up a fantastic performance to finish an eyecatching second to the awesome Australia in the Juddmonte International.
Beaten just two lengths by Australia, The Grey Gatsby was doing his best work at the end of the 10-furlong championship race – form which suggested that the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe is a possibility if owner Frank Griffiths chooses to supplement his horse of a lifetime in Europe’s blue riband race.
“It was a fantastic run, Hughesie (Richard Hughes) gave him a fabulous ride. We’ve no excuses, the winner is a fabulous horse,” said a philosophical Ryan who hopes The Grey Gatsby will stay in training next season.
“The way he’s finished it looks like he’ll get a mile and a half, which opens up plenty of options, but we’ve no plans at this stage.”
As for Australia, he received a round of applause from the 18,000 spectators – three per cent up on last year – before being led back to his stable in triumph.
His relieved trainer Aidan O’Brien then ventured that the best is still to come from the English and Irish Derby winner who was nursed into the race by the trainer’s ultra-patient son Joseph. “We’re delighted. I couldn’t be happier,” he said. “He was ready for a racecourse gallop, that was where he was at. There’s such prize-money here and it’s such a prestigious race that it’s very hard to gallop him at a racecourse rather than bring him here.
“The impressive thing about this horse is that he has a lot of speed, he travels very strong. Joseph nursed him down the straight.”
Meanwhile, William Buick’s affinity with York continued when Dutch Connection got up on the line to cause a minor surprise in the Group Three Tattersalls Acomb Stakes.
Buick, who came from last to first to win the Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes on Ortensia before winning last year’s Darley Yorkshire Stakes on The Fugue, thinks highly of the Charlie Hills two-year-old who dented the hopes of Basateen, Jamaica and Growl – theee runners who all turned up on the Knavesmire with lofty reputations to defend.
“It was a good race, a step up from anything he’s done in the past,” said Buick.
Prince Khalid Abdullah will personally decide this autumn whether champion miler Kingman – the winner of four Grade One races on the bounce – stays in training next season, according to his racing manager Lord Grimthorpe. “It hasn’t been decided. That’s his decision,” he said.