Ebor Festival: Change in colours is the only difference for Athenry

Mark Johnston. Picture: Simon Hulme.
Mark Johnston. Picture: Simon Hulme.
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FIELDS of Athenry will be sporting unfamiliar colours as he attempts to become the first three-year-old to win the Betfred Ebor since 2001.

Aidan O’Brien saddled Mediterranean to win the race 14 years ago and the Ballydoyle handler is also responsible for Fields Of Athenry, who is a leading fancy for next month’s Ladbrokes St Leger.

Those triumphs came in the familiar dark blue of John Magnier, but the trainer’s son Donnacha will be wearing the brown and white quartered silks of Danish owner/breeder Flemming Velin.

The rider takes a valuable 5lb off the 9st 8lb Fields Of Athenry is supposed to carry and the trainer has high hopes. “He’s a hardy, tough horse and gets a mile and six well,” said O’Brien.

A strong Emerald Isle challenge became even stronger when first reserve Clondaw Warrior made the 9am cut-off point yesterday after Quest For More was declared a non runner.

It means Ireland’s champion jumps trainer Willie Mullins is double-handed – he also saddles Wicklow Brave whose owners include top jump jockey Ruby Walsh’s wife Gillian.

Meanwhile, Middleham trainer Mark Johnston will leave it as late as possible before deciding upon Buratino’s participation in the Irish Thoroughbred Marketing Gimcrack Stakes, a six-furlong test for top two-year-olds.

He’s worried that the ground is softer than ideal – it was cited as a factor for the Royal Ascot winner’s recent defeat in Ireland – but Johnston believes conditions will suit second-string Ode To Evening.

Significantly, Hambleton trainer Kevin Ryan has three Gimcrack winners to his name and he will be chasing a fourth success with Royal Ascot runner-up Areen.

“He’s a really hardy horse and he’s getting stronger as the year goes on,” said Ryan. “All my Gimcrack winners have had different characteristics, but he’s certainly entitled to take his chance.”

Brian Toomey, the North Yorkshire jump jockey who cheated death in a fall two years ago before making his comeback last month, has joined top trainer David Pipe’s yard as he seeks further riding opportunities.