Griffiths hopeful stable star can make history

FIFTY five seconds stand between Take Cover '“ and the veteran Yorkshire sprinter making Turf history today.

Take Cover and David Allen on the way to winning the Qatar King George Stakes at Goodwood in 2016. Picture: John Walton/PA.
Take Cover and David Allen on the way to winning the Qatar King George Stakes at Goodwood in 2016. Picture: John Walton/PA.

That’s how long it will take 11 of the fastest horses in training to complete the Qatar King George Stakes at Goodwood.

And, if the frontrunning Take Cover repels all-comers, he’ll be the first horse in history to win three renewals of this prestigious Group Two race.

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The illustrious contest’s seven dual winners include the legendary Lochsong who won back to back renewals in 1993 and ’94.

Trainer David Griffiths celebrates Take Cover's King George Stakes win in 2016.

“To win it again, it would mean everything,” said South Yorkshire trainer David Griffiths ahead of today’s big race.

Yet, given Tony Blair was still prime minister when Take Cover was born in early 2007, the signs are encouraging.

The horse, says Griffiths, has improved with every run this season as the ground has dried out. The going, notes the trainer, will be on the quick side after the Sussex track missed this week’s showers.

And Take Cover, he adds with justifiable pride, has never run a bad race at this particular meeting.

Take Cover's high-profile successes include last year's Beverley Bullet under Tom Queally.

First in both 2014 and 2016, his stable star was beaten a neck when second in 2016 and was a brave fourth last year on unsuitably rain-softened ground.

“Why does he so like it there? It’s the track,” the Bawtry trainer told The Yorkshire Post in an exclusive interview.

“It’s downhill. It’s fast, fast, fast. He just loves it. It’s the quick ground – and possibly the sea. His form there is brilliant, second to none.”

Known as TC, the horse has been a revelation since Andrew Hollis, of Mansfield-based Norcroft Park Stud, asked Griffiths – and his wife Sophie – to start training the gelding in 2012.

Little did they expect their new acquisition to win 14 out of 44 races – patience during the horse’s formative years has certainly paid off – but also amass nearly £650,000 for connections.

Not only has Take Cover put their stables on the map – the hard-working couple have 25 horses in training and room for more – but his longevity is a credit to their hands-on training regime and being able to hack their horses in nearby woods.

For, while the sprinter took his career to new heights when winning high-profile races at York, Beverley, Newbury and Dundalk last year, his highly-strung temperament still demands careful handling.

It’s why he will be the first to leave the Goodwood paddock this afternoon under big race jockey Andrea Atzeni – victorious on Take Cover in the 2014 King George – and be walked down to the start by the trainer’s wife.

“She rides him every day and knows him inside out,” explains Griffiths who, by his own admission, will almost certainly light a cigarette while he paces around the paddock to calm his own nerves. “It makes sense because they know each other so well. It’s so he doesn’t boil over.”

She’ll be there when Take Cover is loaded last of all into the stalls before the starting gates burst open.

And this, says the 44-year-old trainer, will, in all likelihood, be where the race is won and lost. “Hopefully he will jump out quick and bowl along,” said Griffiths who was a Flat jockey before breaking his neck and becoming a tutor at Northern Racing College where he met his future wife and decided to become a trainer.

“There’s no other way to ride him. David Allan, his number one rider, is suspended, but Andrea (Atzeni) knows him and has won on him.

“If Battaash turns up like he did last year when winning the King George, and then the Prix de l’Abbaye, no one will catch him. But he can be a bit temperamental and has a few chinks in his armour. If one of those chinks turns up, hopefully we can take full advantage.

“Take Cover is really well. He’s come on for his last run at York and, rather than Southwell, we took him for a racecourse gallop at Beverley – more for a change of scenery.

“He’s completely ready. He’s well. He’s absolutely A1. You hope he wins, don’t you? it would be unbelievable. For myself and Sophie, the kids, the yard and the owners. To do it for a third time, it would be everything.”

However it will, in all probability, require a career best performance by Take Cover to prevail. Not only is the aforementioned Battaash a proven Group One performer for trainer Charlie Hills, but Havana Grey is an emerging star for Leyburn’s Karl Burke and in form jockey PJ McDonald after landing the Sapphire Stakes at the Curragh last month.

“It’s a tough race and there’s certainly plenty of speed in there. It’s one of the most competitive renewals of the King George I can remember,” said Burke.

“There’s probably three, four or five horses who could win and hopefully we’re one of them. Battaash is going to be very hard to beat, but you should never run scared of one horse.”

Further Yorkshire representation comes courtesy of Richard Fahey’s Mr Lupton.

Yet, while Griffiths has decided to run stable stalwart Duke Of Firenze who has still to show his best form this year, he says Take Cover is the more likely winner.

“I think this will probably be his last year,” added the trainer who has saddled 15 winners this year. “It’s unrealistic to think that he will race on next year, but we’ll see. We’ve had 15 winners this year, which is good, but we haven’t had the big winner.”

None, however, would be any bigger – or more timely – than a third King George for Take Cover.

Johnston and McDonald later completed a double when Accordance won. There was a third Yorkshire winner courtesy of Lord Riddiford who took the finale for Malton’s John Quinn and Jason Hart.