JOCKEY Ben Curtis will have two distinct advantages when he partners Seamour in today’s Northumberland Plate – the belief he’s riding the best horse in the race and the benefit of hindsight.
Twelve months ago, horse and rider had the Pitmen’s Derby at their mercy, and looked certain to provide trainer Brian Ellison with a fairytale win in his home-town race, before the fast-finishing Antiquarium snatched victory in the dying strides under New Zealand-born jockey James McDonald.
I’ve watched the race back hundreds of times in the past year and I’m not sure I would have ridden it any differently.Ben Curtis
Now Curtis, who lives in Thirsk, is drawing on the positives from last year’s experience as Ellison – born on Northumberland Plate day 65 years ago this week when Souepi prevailed – looks to fulfil a lifetime’s ambition.
“Hindsight is a great thing – and I have hindsight from last year,” the phlegmatic 27-year-old jockey told The Yorkshire Post.
“We will be aiming to hit the front with a furlong to go rather than half a furlong.
“Brian reckons he has him in tip-top shape. The main thing is he handles the all-weather track, stays the trip and that we’re not drawn out wide in the middle of Newcastle.”
From stall 11 in the middle of the track, it should be easier for Curtis to get some cover before the frenetic rush to the first bend so Seamour – owned by retired Tickhill businessman Phil Martin and his wife Julie – does not run too freely in the early stages of this fiercely competitive two-mile handicap featuring 20 runners.
Last year, Seamour’s bad draw meant he had to travel ride, conceding crucial lengths to his rivals. Yet he was travelling so well in the home straight that the jockey decided to kick for home – he did not want to disappoint the horse – and thought he had built up an unassailable advantage.
“The only time I sensed the other horse was 100 yards out. By then, it was too late,” said Curtis who hails from County Cork.
“Sometimes, you don’t want to let down your horse. He was ready to go and we went for it. If only the race was half a furlong shorter.
“I’ve watched the race back hundreds of times in the past year and I’m not sure I would have ridden it any differently.
“If you ran exactly the same race again, Seamour would win it nine times out 10. He was unlucky.
“Of course, you’re disappointed to be beaten, especially in a race that means so much to the trainer, but you’ve got to remember this is one of the biggest pots in the North, it’s a prestigious race, and we very nearly won it.”
Now in his fourth year in Yorkshire, the likeable Curtis is continuing to accumulate the winners thanks, in no small part, to his agent Simon Dodds.
He enjoyed a fruitful association with Richmond trainer Alan Swinbank who died so unexpectedly earlier this year.
As well as Ellison, he also rides for Leyburn’s Karl Burke while Skipton-born William Haggas, based in Newmarket, is another high-profile ally. “Surround yourself with good people and good things will happen,” says the freelance rider.
That said, Curtis is respectful of Ellison’s ability to train any horse from top steeplechasers like Definitly Red, this year’s Grand National favourite, to a Flat stayer like Seamour, who is seeking a sixth win today, and five furlong sprinters.
“He’s a good lad, fun to ride for. It’s very hard to train four-mile chasers and five-furlong sprinters. A lot of people have tried and failed,” added Curtis.
“Year in and year out, he turns out the winners. It takes a lot of doing. He has some very good horses, like Seamour and Definitly Red, but he has his fair share of low grade horses and gets the best out of them.”
As for Ellison whose biggest success on the Flat came when Moyenne Corniche won York’s Ebor in 2011, he has always harboured high hopes for Seamour.
The dream is to win the Northumberland Plate, Ebor and Melbourne Cup with this horse.
Yet he i s also a realist. Last year’s disappointment was then compounded by Definitly Red’s misfortune in April’s Grand National when jockey Danny Cook’s saddle slipped following a melee at Becher’s Brook.
And this year’s Plate line-up is formidable – the Malton trainer holds Sir Mark Prescott’s lightly-raced Flymetothestars in high regard while Josephine Gordon’s mount, Natural Scenery, should not be dismissed for last year’s winning owners Godolphin.
Ellison said: “I think he’s better this year. He’s in very good form and his home work is awesome.
“He’s drawn in the middle, so it’s better than being drawn wide, although the better fancied ones are inside us. We were drawn wide last year and ran wide all the way.
“He went a bit early, but the winner had a great run all the way and got a great ride. We just need a good run and if he gets a good run and is second again, so be it.”