JOHN GOSDEN’S qualities as a champion racehorse trainer are already well-known as he closes in on a third title following a landmark Ebor festival which yielded five high-profile winners from just 10 runners.
Yet, while the 67-year-old is fortunate to train many equine champions at his disposal, he proved himself to be a master tactician when Muntahaa beat stablemate Weekender in the £500,000 Sky Bet Ebor.
After Muntahaa was given an unfavourable wide draw in stall 21 for Europe’s richest Flat handicap, it was the ever-thoughtful Gosden who advised Jim Crowley – the former champion jockey – to stay on the outer and cut in at the end of the back straight.
It worked. It gave Muntahaa time to settle before joining the race proper and surging past top-weight Weekender who had burst clear under Frankie Dettori after Stratum, the favourite, encountered serious trouble in running.
“On Thursday I walked the track and stood where the gate would be and I thought, you know, you can run four furlongs straight here,” said Gosden who has over 3,000 winners to his name and who was champion trainer in both 2012 and 2015.
“I told Jim beforehand, I had this Baldrick plan, it’s a bit mad. Stay out there and relax. He can be quite a tense horse, you remember when he ran in the St Leger two years ago he was very keen.
I was always confident in the race. My only concern was not to get there too soon. He has always shown plenty of ability but he wouldn’t be the easiest horse. He can tend to take a tug with you and sometimes when he does that he tends to down tools.Jim Crowley
“It worked perfectly. It is like he dropped in at a mile-and-quarter start. I think it made quite a difference to the horse. He has run a blinder, and his work the other day was sensational.”
The victory provided immediate recompense for Crowley who was disconsolate after superstar sprinter Battaash could only finish a disappointing fourth in the Nunthorpe Stakes 24 hours previously.
“We could have had egg on our face,” said Crowley, who began his career riding National Hunt horses for Bingley training legends Sue and Harvey Smith. “It was Mr Gosden’s plan to stay out wide because he’s quite a keen horse and he works very well on his own and he prefers to have his own space.
“I was drawn out wide – he had a car park badge – but we managed to go forward and get into a nice rhythm. I was lucky to get in on the bend. It was a very easy race to ride, really.
“I was always confident in the race. My only concern was not to get there too soon. He has always shown plenty of ability but he wouldn’t be the easiest horse. He can tend to take a tug with you and sometimes when he does that he tends to down tools.”
Owned by Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum, the Melbourne Cup could be the long-term target – previous Ebor winners Heartbreak City and Nakeeta, who was unplaced on Saturday at York, have won with distinction in Australia.
With the trainer’s title determined on prize money, Gosden earned over £1m at York and has now amassed nearly £5.2m this season with an out-of-sorts Aidan O’Brien a distant second on £3.7m.
And this is despite Enable, last year’s Arc heroine, still being on the sidelines and Cracksman, the top middle distance horse, not being the force of old.
As well as the Ebor, Roaring Lion proved to be a champion when running away with the Juddmonte International under Oisin Murphy; Stradivarius earned connections a £1m bonus for landing the Lonsdale Cup and Lah Ti Dar is now vying for favouritism for next month’s St Leger at Doncaster following a classy victory under Frankie Dettori.
While Gosden was the Ebor’s festival’s leading trainer, Dettori pipped the aforementioned Murphy to the rider’s prize after landing the City of York Stakes on Expert Eye.
There was success for Great Habton trainer Tim Easterby’s whose Eeh Bah Gum, ridden by Jamie Gormley, won the apprentice handicap while Danny Tudhope – The Yorkshire Post’s Saturday columnist – took the Strensall Stakes for a third time courtesy of the win of Lord Glitters for North Yorkshire trainer David O’Meara
Like the Ebor winner, Lord Glitters could be heading overseas. “He saw it out well,” said O’Meara. “There was a small concern about going up a little bit in trip whether firstly he’d settle and secondly would he stay, but he did it well and he was well on top at the end.
“He’s a very good horse. He’s been unlucky not to have won a Group One in this country. The Woodbine Mile (in Toronto) next month is on his agenda and then after that we’ll see. He’s gone well at Ascot, so you’d like to think the QEII in the middle of October would suit him well.”