Ascot test can’t come too soon for Tuite’s Litigant

Litigant and Oisin Murphy win the Betfred Ebor at York earlier this year. Picture: Anna Gowthorpe
Litigant and Oisin Murphy win the Betfred Ebor at York earlier this year. Picture: Anna Gowthorpe
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JOE TUITE still has to pinch himself that he is heading to Ascot for Britain’s richest-ever raceday with a crock of a horse who defied a near 500-day absence from the track to win York’s Betfred Ebor – one of Europe’s most prestigious and valuable heritage handicaps.

Yet, having defied the odds once when his stable star Litigant stormed to victory on the Knavesmire on a giddy summer’s afternoon in late August, this no-nonsense trainer sees no reason why history can’t repeat itself in today’s Qipco British Champions Long Distance Cup.

This two-mile test, part of a stellar £4.26m card, will be no formality for the lightly-raced Litigant – Malton trainer Peter Niven reports that conditions should be “perfect” for his York course specialist Clever Cookie.

However, while the understated Niven admits that he has “been around too long to get too excited about these things”, Tuite – who prides himself on being a working man’s trainer – is only too happy to live with the dream and ride racing’s roller-coaster of emotions with all those who have taken both him, and Litigant, to their hearts following the Ebor.

To recap, Tuite – who served his racing apprenticeship with the redoubtable Jenny Pitman before becoming assistant trainer to former footballer Mick Channon – nearly walked away from the sport because he was so despondent with sick horses before finding salvation in an injury-plagued seven-year-old gelding, who will only be racing for the ninth time today because of his fragile joints.

It explains why Litigant was withdrawn from the Group One Prix du Cadran at Longchamp’s Arc meeting – Tuite was worried that the fast ground would jar the horse’s leg. However, he believes conditions at Ascot will be ideal today and is blessed by the services of Ebor-winning rider Oisin Murphy, 20, who was confirmed earlier this week as Qatar Racing’s new first rider.

“We’re absolutely over the moon with the horse,” the trainer told The Yorkshire Post in an exclusive interview. “I can’t wait. It can’t come soon enough. All fingers crossed, he is going there in the absolute form of his life. We couldn’t be happier.

“We feel he has improved a lot since the Ebor and his work has been great. Mentally, physically, he’s a different horse for getting a run under his belt after nearly 500-days off the track. His work at home seems better.

“It was an absolutely no-brainer to miss the Cadran. The ground was fast and we would have done damage if we had run there. The ground there will be perfect. If the rain comes, it won’t be a bother.

“I would have liked a slightly better draw – we’re on the outer – but I can’t do anything about that. I feel sure we will be up there in the mix.”

Tuite, who has just 20-odd horses in training at his Lambourn yard, admits to being thunderstruck by the racing public’s response since Litigant became the oldest winner of the Ebor since Peter Easterby’s legendary Sea Pigeon prevailed in 1979.

The unheralded 33-1 outsider only scraped into York’s showpiece race at the bottom of the handicap and bumped himself to hard on the starting stalls that the fresh-faced Murphy had to take evasive action before remounting.

“We have certainly picked up some new owners and a lot of positivity,” he revealed. “It’s been the most amazing response. For weeks, people were phoning up or complete strangers were coming up to me at the races and saying how great it was.

“I knew the race was pretty big on the day, but it has become even bigger. The Ebor is an incredible race and I now know what it means. To be honest, I didn’t realise it was as big as it is. It has certainly done me a lot of good.”

The post-race celebrations saw Tuite meet up with the aforementioned Channon to toast the success. “Mick was over the moon,” added Tuite. “I had a drink with him and he just said that the win was ‘fantastic’ and ‘hopefully the win that sends you on the way’. A lot of people have said how much they liked the smaller man coming in and taking the big prize.”

The highlight is the Qipco Champion Stakes in which champion trainer John Gosden saddles Irish Derby winner Jack Hobbs. Runner-up to stablemate Golden Horn in York’s Dante Stakes and the Epsom Derby, victory would also round off a fantastic year for jockey William Buick after he was snapped up by Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin team.

Buick, who won the Dubai World Cup earlier this year on the Sheikh’s Prince Bishop, says “it was one of the proudest moments” of his career when he got the call-up and he, like the aforementioned Tuite, is unfazed by an unfavourable wide draw for a race won by the legendary Frankel in 2012.

“You just have to get on with it,” said the Northern Racing College graduate.

“The drop back to a mile-and-a-quarter won’t be a problem as he is a quick horse and has a great turn of foot. He is much wiser and stronger than he was in the Dante.

“We all know that he is a good horse and every good horse has to be the ultimate package, but I think his temperament really helps him as nothing fazes him. It makes him a joy to ride.”

Drop in trip no problem for Simple Verse

RALPH Beckett is not concerned about the drop in trip for Ladbrokes St Leger heroine Simple Verse in the Qipco British Champion Fillies And Mares Stakes at Ascot.

Plenty has been written about the filly who beat the boys at Doncaster but lost the race in the stewards’ room – only to get the Classic back on appeal.

The St Leger is over a mile-and-three-quarters, but Beckett said: “She has improved as the year’s gone on and she’s battle-hardened these days. I don’t think a mile-and-a-half will hold any fears.”

David Elsworth’s Arabian Queen caused a 50-1 upset in the Juddmonte International at York when beating horse of the year Golden Horn, but finished down the field behind Treve on her only subsequent start in France.

Owner Jeff Smith said: “We’ve put a line through France. It was heavy ground and she didn’t travel well, she wasn’t drinking as much as she should have.

“Some say York was a fluke but I look at it the other way – Golden Horn has upheld the form in Ireland and in the Arc.”