PETER NIVEN could not be happier as stable star Clever Cookie heads a strong Yorkshire challenge at Ascot’s Qipco Champions Day meeting tomorrow.
The former hurdler, bred by the Malton trainer’s mother, is one of the favourites for a wide open renewal of the two-mile Long Distance Cup which also features Ebor hero Litigant.
Fifth in the Group One King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, Flat racing’s midsummer highlight, Clever Cookie was a slightly disappointing fourth in the Lonsdale Cup at York’s Ebor festival.
However, Niven has always maintained that the King George trip of a mile and a half was too short for his horse who was running on bravely in the latter stages under Graham Lee.
“We pinpointed this race for Clever Cookie more than a year ago, hence I didn’t even bother entering him for the Irish Leger, and conditions should be absolutely perfect for him on Saturday,” said Niven.
“I have been around too long to get too excited about these things, but it’s great to be going to such a big meeting with a decent shout.
“Things didn’t pan out for him in the Lonsdale Cup and he had a couple of issues after that race, that’s why we’ve taken our time with him, but I’m very pleased with him now. I think that he has a great chance.”
Victory would complete a memorable double for the aforementioned Lee following the rider’s Ascot Gold Cup success on Trip To Paris earlier in the year. It was the Bedale jockey’s first Group One win on the Flat since switching from the National Hunt ranks.
Clever Cookie’s connections will also not have to wait long to learn their fate as the race starts at the unusually early time of 12.45pm after Ascot brought forward the start-times to avoid the quarter-finals of rugby union’s World Cup.
It looks an erroneous decision in light of England’s early exit.
Malton’s Richard Fahey, buoyed by his first double century of winners, saddles both Eastern Impact and Heaven’s Guest in the Group One Sprint in which Muhaarar, winner of last year’s Gimcrack Stakes at York, is a hot favourite.
Eastern Impact provided young rider Jack Garritty with a landmark first Group win when prevailing in the John Guest Bengough Stakes at the Berkshire track just under a fortnight ago and helped breathe new life into the 19-year-old’s quest to be champion apprentice. The race ends tomorrow with the Ryedale jockey destined to finish second to Tom Marquand.
Interest in the Fillies and Mares Stakes revolved around Arabian Queen, the shock winner of York’s Juddmonte International when defeating Epsom Derby and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe hero Golden Horn.
Trainer David Elsworth, synonymous with legendary horses like Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Desert Orchid and champion stayer Persian Punch, is determined to show that this unexpected success was not a fluke.
Jockey Silvestre de Sousa concurs; he says he defeated Frankie Dettori’s champion on merit as he prepares to become the first South American-born rider to be crowned champion jockey.
He is the only rider to have recorded more than 100 winners in a condensed title race that began at Newmarket in early May and concludes tomorrow rather than at Doncaster in early November.
Brazillian-born de Sousa will also partner Norton trainer Brian Ellison’s Top Notch Tonto as Swanland owner Keith Brown’s star horse lines up in the one-mile Queen Elizabeth II Stakes for a third successive season.
The big imponderable is whether Aidan O’Brien’s dual Guineas winner Gleneagles will line-up following a summer of no-shows because of unsuitable ground.
As for the Qipco Champion Stakes over 10 furlongs, John Gosden’s Irish Derby winner Jack Hobbs heads the field but will not be helped by an unfavourable wide draw.