THE Queen takes aim at the John Smith’s Cup today with Bold Sniper as Her Majesty looks for belated compensation following Promotion’s last-gasp defeat in this heritage handicap 10 years ago.
There is every likelihood that this progressive four-year-old can go one better for the Queen and raise the roof at York where around 40,000 racegoers are expected to gather on Knavesmire to watch the 55th renewal of this prestigious race.
A five-length winner at Thirsk in May last year, the unregal-sounding Bold Sniper lost absolutely nothing in defeat when a close second to Contributer in the Wolferton Handicap at Royal Ascot last month.
Then there is the quiet confidence of the four-year-old’s trainer Sir Michael Stoute, who has always had this valuable contest in his sights and whose Integral won yesterday’s Group One Falmouth Stakes at Newmarket under today’s big race jockey Ryan Moore.
And then there is the composition of this 20-runner race – another plus that was acknowledged last night by Her Majesty’s ever enthusiastic racing manager John Warren.
“I think this is the perfect race for him,” a confident Warren told The Yorkshire Post. “He ran a huge race at Ascot again as he did last year when third in the King George V Stakes to Elidor. A big field and fast pace will suit him down to the ground. I saw him on Thursday at Sir Michael’s stables and he looks spot on.
“I can tell you that the Queen would really like to win this trophy – let’s hope we can go one better than Promotion.
“It’s an important race and Sir Michael has laid Bold Sniper out specifically for (today). There is no one better for the job. We are very optimistic.”
Despite Bold Sniper vying for favouritism with course specialist Clever Cookie, who prevailed at the Dante meeting before dead-heating with Ralston Road in a thrilling climax to the Stowe Family Law LLP Grand Cup, Her Majesty will be taking nothing for granted when she tunes in to watch the race – or a recording – from Balmoral where she is spending the summer.
Her gallant Promotion looked a certain winner of the 45th John Smith’s Cup in 2004 before Kieren Fallon’s mount was caught in the final strides by the Robert Winston-ridden Arcalis, who was a particular favourite of owners Andrea and Graham Wylie.
The best of winners – as illustrated by the unbridled joy etched across the faces of the Queen and her racing manager when Estimate won last year’s Ascot Gold Cup – Her Majesty is also the best, and most phlegmatic, of losers that reflects her status as monarch and unofficial ambassador to the sport of kings.
“She gets great satisfaction from any win, but she will get a real buzz from a race like the John Smith’s Cup because she knows how difficult such races are to win,” explained Warren.
Though some might venture to suggest that Bold Sniper was named by the Duke of Edinburgh, the reality is very different – the Queen chose the name when the horse, sired by the 2008 Epsom Derby winner out of the winning mare daring Aim, was a foal at Her Majesty’s Sandringham stud.
It is this close interest in her horses, and also the warmth of her rapport with her trainers and jockeys, which provides the Queen – now 88 years young – with a welcome diversion from her seemingly relentless public duties.
She was among the first to telephone Warren when Carlton House won the 2011 Dante before finishing an unlucky third in the Derby to the fast finishing Pour Moi. Her enduring enthusiasm was self-evident when Estimate won the Ascot Gold Cup and jockey Ryan Moore, a poker-faced rider who is sometimes reluctant to express his emotions, cantered the horse past the packed grandstands and then waved in the direction of the Royal Box.
To his delight, the Queen and her racing adviser spotted this gesture and reciprocated before heading off to the winner’s enclosure to collect the trophy and prepare for a lengthy celebration at Windsor Castle.
Her presence on the racecourse has been known, on many occasions, to prompt even louder roars of laughter from the amiable Stoute.
“She doesn’t miss much,” said Warren.
“With Estimate, people associate Her Majesty with Sir Michael and Ryan, and see the warmth of their relationship.
“They’re the ones with the profile, but she is like this with all of her trainers and riders. She’s just like any other owner who loves horse racing.”
While Bold Sniper’s Royal Ascot run was over 10 furlongs, Clever Cookie – the leading Yorkshire hope according to the bookmakers – is stepping back in trip by half a mile.
Trained at Malton by former National Hunt jockey Peter Niven and the mount of PJ McDonald, a former Scottish National-winning rider, the biggest obstacle to the six-year-old could be fast ground.
“Clever Cookie isn’t short of speed, he showed that when winning at the Dante meeting. The drop in distance isn’t a worry – my only concern would be very fast ground,” said Niven.
“There aren’t many options for him but this is a big prize and it’s great to have a horse like him to run in it.
“We love making entries at York – it is a great place to have winners.”
German import Tahira is another interesting contender for Niven’s fellow Yorkshire-based trainer John Quinn while last year’s leading York trainer David O’Meara launches a formidable three-pronged assault with dual course winner Chancery – the mount of The Yorkshire Post’s columnist Daniel Tudhope – joined by stable companions Two For Two and Ingleby Angel.
“Chancery likes it at York and ran a good race at Newmarket last time, so hopefully he’ll run well,” said O’Meara.
“Two For Two won nicely at Ayr a few weeks ago and is going back up in trip from a mile.
“He ran well over a mile and a quarter at Royal Ascot last year so hopefully he’ll be all right.
“Ingleby Spirit steps up to a mile and a quarter as well, but it looks as though it should suit.”
As for Tudhope, he helped to create racing history yesterday when Ladies Are Forever – trained at Malton by Geoff Oldroyd – became the first three-time winner of the totepool Summer Stakes.
Owned by Reg Bond, who has sponsored races on Knavesmire for many years, the six-year-old pulled clear of Frankel’s half-sister Joyeuse – trained by Lady Jane Cecil – to land this race for the third time in four years.
“It takes some doing winning a Group race three times with a mare,” said Oldroyd.
“We put full blinkers back on her as she just pulls herself up in front and she did again a bit, but Danny said she was never getting caught.
“The only year she didn’t win this was when we gave her a wind op and she didn’t run.”
It was also a poignant success for the winning owner who has been battling ill health.
“This is great for Reg, he hasn’t been racing since this day last year,” said Oldroyd.
“He’s had a tumour, which thankfully seems to have shrivelled up, he broke his arm in three places and then got pneumonia twice while he was in hospital.”