HOW appearances can be deceiving. David Griffiths will look ice-cool in the paddock after saddling stable star Take Cover ahead of today’s big race at Haydock.
Yet he will, in all likelihood, be the most nervous person at the Merseyside track. “I’m shocking. I’m terrible. You’re nervous before any race but you do feel more pressure ahead of the bigger races,” said the South Yorkshire trainer. “I’m normally on Channel Four, trying to be calm, while my wife Sophie is leading the horse to the start.”
And then the nerves do kick in as Griffiths waits to see if Take Cover goes into the starting stalls without a problem and is able to make a clean break. For a minute which can seem like a lifetime, he’s helpless as the nine-year-old sets a blistering pace and tries to repel allcomers.
All Griffiths does is pace up and down until the five furlong sprinters have flashed past the post.
If past form is a guide, Take Cover will be in the mix at the end of a ferociously competitive renewal of the Group Two Temple Stakes which has attracted many of Europe’s top speedsters.
Griffiths and his wife certainly hope so because this is the horse, owned by the Mansfield-based Norcroft Park Stud, which has been integral to the success of the Bawtry stable since they set up their training operation in 2010.
Take Cover’s durability has seen him become a standard-bearer for the yard thanks to two high-profile successes at York, as well as victory in the prestigious King George Stakes at the 2014 renewal of Glorious Goodwood.
Now considered a veteran despite his youthful exuberance, the horse confirmed his wellbeing when finishing fifth of 21 runners at Newmarket on 2000 Guineas day.
“I still think he is as good as ever if not better,” said Griffiths, who was a jockey before injury curtailed his career in the saddle and he became an instructor at the Northern Racing College.
“The race at Newmarket, I thought he ran a blinder but he just didn’t handle the dip. Haydock is nice and flat and quick. He’s all speed. You need everything to go right on the day. The margins between winning and finishing fifth are very fine.
“You do put yourself under a certain amount of pressure, but I wouldn’t want to do anything else.
“Take Cover has taken us to big races here and in Ireland and in France. He’s also got us on the television and given us some publicity. It all helps. To have a horse this good quite early in your training career, it helps.”
Griffiths is the first to credit the owners who were prepared to be patient in the gelding’s early years. Nearly the winner of £250,000 in prize money, this bull of a horse has now won eight of his 27 career starts while climbing up the ratings and competing with credit at Royal Ascot and other Group One sprints in France and Ireland. “He’s got better as he’s got older,” said the trainer.
Yet credit also goes to Griffiths and his wife who ride the horse out each day. A temperamental tearaway, Take Cover – one of the progeny of the great stallion Singspiel – is a much calmer character and only gets revved up on the racecourse, hence why he’s always led to the start before his rivals.
And though they did not intend to become a new finishing school for sprinters, they clearly excel with this type of horse. Duke of Firenze, victorious at York’s Dante meeting, is now favourite for the Epsom Dash – one of the chief support races to the Derby – while Brother Tiger recently broke the course record at Chelmsford and could join Take Cover at Royal Ascot next month. “Hopefully Brother Tiger can be as good as Take Cover. It’s the same owners and they bred him,” said Griffiths. “He’s quite smart.”
Though Griffiths uses big name jockeys where possible like Oisin Murphy, Andrea Atzeni and Fran Berry, he knows they are not always available, so has formed up a good partnership with unflashy Yorkshire rider David Allan, stable jockey to Tim Easterby, who rode Duke of Firenze at York and is entrusted with the ride on Take Cover today.
The Yorkshire challenge also includes David O’Meara’s Move In Time, a former winner of the Prix de l’Abbaye at Longchamp, and Pearl Secret from David Barron’s yard, while Skipton-born William Haggas saddles Muthmir.
However, all eyes will be on Mecca’s Angel if the rain comes in time for the filly who provided Boroughbridge jockey Paul Mulrennan and Darlington trainer Michael Dods with the biggest win of their careers when landing the Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes at York last August.
Mecca’s Angel only had three starts in 2015 because she needs rain-softened ground. Dods said: “If we get the rain and the ground goes decent, she’ll run. If we don’t and the ground doesn’t alter then she won’t. I’ll only make the decision when we’ve seen what the weather does.
“She strengthened up over the winter. She’ll come on for the run but she’s ready to go. You can train her on the light side – first time out last year I thought she’d need the run yet she broke the track record. We feel she’s in great form but, as always, she needs the right conditions.
“We’d like to go for the King’s Stand, Nunthorpe and a race in Ireland and we’d also like to try her over six at some stage.
“But because of her need for the right conditions we’ll need back-ups.”