Haydock Sprint preview: Tom Eaves and Brando can be next cab out of the rank

Jockey Tom Eaves: Celebrating winning The William Hill Ayr Gold Cup on Brando.
Jockey Tom Eaves: Celebrating winning The William Hill Ayr Gold Cup on Brando.
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TO many racing aficionados, Brando is one of the more unheralded Group One winners of the 2017 Flat campaign.

To North Yorkshire jockey Tom Eaves, and trainer Kevin Ryan, they have never doubted the sprinter’s ability.

Jockey Tom Eaves on board Brando (nearside) wins the Connaught Access Flooring Abernant Stakes at Newmarket.

Jockey Tom Eaves on board Brando (nearside) wins the Connaught Access Flooring Abernant Stakes at Newmarket.

After scorching clear to land the prestigious Prix Maurice de Gheest in Deauville last month, Brando heads to Haydock for today’s 32Red Sprint Cup.

With the soft ground a more than likely inconvenience to the favourite, Harry Angel, who beat Brando earlier in the summer in Newmarket’s July Cup, Eaves is hopeful ahead of a historic six furlong contest won 12 months ago by Quiet Reflection from the Leyburn yard of Karl Burke.

“I wouldn’t swap him for anything,” the quietly-spoken jockey told The Yorkshire Post.

“He’s proved it at Group One level, but it’s still a tough field and they’re some very good horses in it.

“He’s versatile with the ground. He won a Group One last time on good ground, but he’s won on soft before.

“I’m not too worried – hopefully he will be okay. I’m really looking forward to it.”

Yet, while the horse derives his high-profile name from Hollywood star Marlon Brando, Eaves is, by contrast, one of the more reserved jockeys.

However, this does a disservice to a 36-year-old quiet accumulator of winners, who was born in Wigan, a town not noted for horse racing.

He remembers making the short trip to Haydock as a child to watch racing, never quite believing he would be lining up in its feature Flat race of the year on one of the favourites.

Yet, after initially joining the now retired Mary Reveley’s Saltburn stables with a view to becoming a jump jockey, he has excelled on the Flat since riding his first winner in 1999.

While there have been big-race successes, notably Tangerine Trees winning the 2011 Prix de l’Abbaye sprint at Longhchamp for Bryan Smart, he does describe Brando as “a horse of a lifetime”.

Ironically, Smart’s Hambleton base are directly adjacent to the stables of the aforementioned Ryan, one of the many trainers whose knowledge – and knowing eye – has transformed Flat racing’s fortunes in the county.

Eaves, whose fiancée is the trainer’s daughter, Amy, a former jockey, says patience is the key to the yard’s success with horses like Brando, who came to prominence when winning the Ayr Gold Cup cavalry charge last September.

“He’s just a very good horse. He’s got gears. He’s got class and Kevin’s said so from day one,” explained the rider.

“He’s just let him mature and prove his potential. He proved that last time in France when he travelled through his race. He’s the horse of a lifetime.

“I wasn’t surprised by the manner of the victory because he’s got gears.

“From the very day I rode him at Ascot last year when he was second in the Wokingham Stakes, I thought he was special by the way he travelled.

“Kevin, in fairness, has said from day one this horse is special – that was good enough for me.”

Eaves is talking on Thursday afternoon as he drives from Haydock to Chelmsford, a journey vindicated by Newstead Abbey’s victory in the penultimate race.

He has won 60-plus races every year since 2006 and is on track to do so this year, a record of consistency that should not go unnoticed.

While Eaves has never recorded a century of winners, he could not be more content with racing and a strike-rate which rarely deviated from eight per cent.

Long hours on the road – he did not make it home until around midnight – provide thinking time and perspective.

“At least when you’re travelling, you’re riding,” he says matter-of-factly.

“If you’re not travelling, you’re not riding.”

He is equally candid about Ryan’s patience when his stables were shut down in June as a precaution following an outbreak of the equine herpes victory.

“He knows his horses inside out and he’s very patient and he doesn’t rush them. The results speaks for themselves,” said Eaves when asked to assess his future father-in-law.

“When the yard shut, he didn’t panic and he just let things come right. That just proves how special he is.”

Eaves is just as fulsome about Barnsley taxi proprietor Pete Tingey, and his partner Angie Bailey, whose yellow and purple colours will be carried by the five-year-old Brando.

“They are the nicest people you could meet,” he added. “Whatever happens, the horse comes first. They are just genuinely lovely people who love their horses and understand racing.”

The appreciation is mutual – Tingey, for one, credits Eaves with bringing the best out of Brando so the horse has a chance of upsetting the Sheikh Mohammed-owned Harry Angel.

Though the very rain-softened ground on Merseyside will be a leveller – top-class sprinters have little experience of the conditions they’re set to encounter – connections are hopeful.

“I think Tim is a better jockey because he has a horse that can show his ability,” said Tingey.

“He has faith in the horse and that is a good thing. The horse reacts to him.

“The horse is getting better and better. The only person who rides Brando, apart from Tom, is Tracey, who rides him out each day – and I think they fight over that! Racing is a team effort and it helped at Deauville that she could speak fluent French.

“We’re looking forward to it, though the ground will be a concern. We like it when our horses are a bigger price – there’s not so much hullabaloo – but we’re there on merit and take our chance.”

Just like Tom Eaves.