Buick shows skills once more to guide Ortensia home in Nunthorpe Stakes

AT last, Australian sport has a reason to be cheerful, even if it meant flying super sprinter Ortensia over 10,500 miles to land a five furlong sprint that took a fraction under 58 seconds to win.

Yet, in an Olympic year that has seen the Anglo-Australia rivalry reach new levels, there was a sting in the tail – it needed an inspired ride by British jockey William Buick as Ortensia came from near-last to first to win the Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes – part of the Qipco British Champions Series – on the line.

Flippancy aside, this victory was as dramatic as Ortensia’s unbeaten compatriot Black Caviar, the ‘wonder from Down Under’, maintaining her unbeaten record at Royal Ascot in June when she clung onto victory by a whisker.

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Yet, while Black Caviar returned home with her reputation just intact, Ortensia’s sporting connections chose to keep the ultra-game seven-year-old in Britain after she was unplaced in the King’s Stand Stakes at the Royal meeting, failing to live up to the hype.

She struggled on heavy going in Newmarket’s Darley July Cup before finally winning at Glorious Goodwood. That triumph inspired connections to tackle the Welcome to Yorkshire Ebor Festival’s day three highlight.

However, Ortensia almost did not run – overnight rain prompted her trainer Paul Messara to withdraw his mare who was the most imposing of the 19 speedsters in the paddock.

“It’s fantastic. It’s the most amazing feeling. To win a big one over here is a huge thrill,” said Messara, who hopes to put Ortensia in the Betfred Sprint Cup at Haydock in a fortnight.

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“I couldn’t believe it when it poured down. I thought we were coming here with no chance. I walked the track and remained pessimistic. I thought it would be too soft for her.

“We’ve stuck it out and she’ll probably go to Haydock if she’s fine. After that she’ll go back to Australia and we might bring her back to Europe next year.”

This was yet another sublime piece of horsemanship by Buick, still a fresh-faced Northern Racing College graduate who was landing his seventh Group One success of the year. Nearly knocked down by Nocturnal Affair as he walked into the paddock, the 24-year-old nursed Ortensia, the 7-2 joint favourite, to the start in her own time – he wanted to keep the mare relaxed – and then took his legs out of his irons so she stayed calm as the starting stalls were loaded. These seconds matter, explained the jockey.

Yet, as the field burst out of the gates for York’s fastest race of the a year – a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ affair – Ortensia’s orange and white striped colours were last as David Allan set a scorching pace in sultry conditions on Tim Easterby’s Hamish McGonagall, last year’s second.

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Their pace was probably too hot, but Hamish McGonagall took so many leading fancies out of their comfort zone that he was able to hold on for a highly-creditable third place.

The most likely winner appeared to be Frankie Dettori’s Spirit Quartz – even the course commentator had written off Ortensia – before her turbo kicked in. She charged up the far rail to win by a neck within the shadow of the finishing line.

One slightly disappointed observer was the novelist Jilly Cooper; she is researching a forthcoming novel which will revolve around Flat racing and was taking notes on Dettori’s every move.

‘Frankie running away for the next race,’ she noted in wiry writing. “This is the most lovely race meeting of them all, so joyful,” said the author.

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Ironically, this was the second consecutive race in which a Buick-inspired Ortensia had denied the runner-up, and his post-race analysis offered a fascinating insight into the tactical awareness that a top-class rider requires when racing at over 40mph.

He likened his mount to a “wheel-spinning car” as she struggled to get a grip on turf that had become loose in the previous day’s rain. However, it gave him time to tack over to the far rail. Once Ortensia passed one horse, Buick said, she took off.

“She just went through the gears,” he told the Yorkshire Post. “It was a question of finding her feet. Once she passed a couple, I knew we would win at the furlong pole.”

The smiling jockey, only flustered when a photographer suggested he start to master the flying dismount that is the hallmark of the aforementioned Dettori, believes Ortensia will be better suited by the six-furlong Haydock Sprint Cup which Buick won 12 months ago aboard Dream Ahead.

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“You could see the way she finished the race she’s got so much speed and I think if she steps back up to six (furlongs) again, she’ll be very hard to beat,” added Buick, who was clearly relieved after a challenging Thursday had seen him narrowly lose the Darley Yorkshire Oaks on composer Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s The Fugue shortly after he had to pull up top prospect Newfangled with a serious pelvic injury.

“I don’t think I’ve been quicker in a race before and they just got her off the bridle, but when she gets to the furlong-and-a-half marker, she hits that sixth gear and picks up well.”

The other 7-2 joint-favourite Bated Breath finished sixth and will also head to Haydock if the ground is on the quick side.

But it will take a career-best performance to beat Buick and Ortensia, a mare who showed far more speed and resolution than many of Australia’s finest sports stars this summer.

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