PETE TINGEY will complete a remarkable journey from the Barnsley back streets to the pomp and majesty of the Royal Ascot’s winner’s enclosure if Astaire waltzes off with first prize in today’s Diamond Jubilee Stakes – European racing’s premier six furlong sprint.
For, if the Kevin Ryan-trained speedster is first past the post in the final Group One race of the week, it will provide a Hollywood-like script that is worthy of American stage dancer, singer and film star Fred Astaire, who inspired the horse’s name.
A bus driver’s son who owns Blue Line Taxis in Barnsley, Astaire was a 50th birthday present for his partner Angie Bailey and heads to Ascot on merit after winning last August’s Gimcrack Stakes at York’s Ebor festival before outsprinting stablemate Hot Streak to land Newmarket’s Group One Middle Park Stakes.
With Hot Streak third in Tuesday’s King’s Stand Stakes – the lightning quick ground did not bring out the best in the three-year-old over the minimum trip of five furlongs – Tingey is hopeful that Astaire can read his lines and show how Flat racing can inspire people from all walks of life.
“For once, I am not nervous. I am excited,” the 58-year-old told The Yorkshire Post in an exclusive interview.
“The horse is 100 per cent. I’m happy with the horses that have been declared and I think he has a seriously good chance. Normally I get extremely nervous but I am more excited. We went to Ascot on Tuesday to support Hot Streak. The ground was against him. Soft ground and he probably would have won.”
Astaire’s ascent – the three-year-old has already accrued more than £270,000 in prize money from seven career starts – is emblematic of the rags-to-riches background of the horse’s owner and trainer who is enjoying a career best season after pulling off the Dante and French Derby double with The Grey Gatsby.
“I’m Barnsley born and bred,” said Tingey. “My father was a bus driver and wagon driver. Yes, I come from a poor family and that is what drives me on.
“I loved my upbringing. I loved my mum and dad. I love my brothers and sisters. We were from a poor family, but it’s not for me. I’ve worked hard. The business has been successful so I have been able to buy better horses.”
This racing odyssey began 19 years ago when he met his partner and the couple had a horse in training at Malton with Richard Fahey whose assistant was a journeyman jump jockey by the name of Kevin Ryan.
“Soon after we were together Angie and I realised we had a searing passion for horse racing – and our five children,” said the owner.
“We had a dream to actually own a racehorse not only good enough to win a race but compete against the blue bloods belonging to elite owners.
“Originally the horses ran in my colours without success – the only piece of luck I seemed to have was when Angie came into my life. Six long barren years without a winner made the decision very easy to change to Angie’s yellow and purple colours, and we’ve not looked back.”
Their first winner was Princess Electra at Doncaster in 2001 and Bogart – continuing the showbusiness theme – took their success to a new level with a thrilling victory in the valuable DBS Premier Yearling Stakes at the 2011 Ebor festival.
Ironically Bogart won again at last summer’s Ebor festival, the preclude to Astaire’s coming of age in the historic Irish Thoroughbred Market Gimcrack Stakes which remains one of the pre-eminent races for two-year-old colts.
“I was struggling for a 50th birthday present for Angie and bought him at the Kempton breeze-up sales for 70,000 guineas,” explained Tingey whose investment was recouped by the York win and subsequent success in the Middle Park. “The name comes from the sire Intense Focus.
“To me, intense focus is a stare. And Fred Astaire was born in the same year as Humphrey Bogart, that’s how the name came about.
“Win or lose today, Angie will have to do something special for my 60th next year.
“No, seriously, she arranged with Kevin for Koroliea to run – and win – on my 50th. It’s the only time I have ever thought Kevin had fallen out with me, it turned out that he didn’t want to talk to me in case he let the secret slip. That was a special day, but winning the Diamond Jubilee could be even more special.”
It will not be easy – Slade Power is aiming to give Irish trainer Eddie Lynam an incredible third winner from just four runners at this year’s Royal meeting.
Lynam’s Sole Power won his second King’s Stand Stakes on Tuesday, while the two-year-old Anthem Alexander showed tremendous speed to claim the Queen Mary on Wednesday.
Slade Power has a favourite’s chance, too, having won on Champions Day over course and distance on soft ground.
He looked an improved performer when beating Maarek by an easy two lengths on his seasonal reappearance.
However, Lynam does not see a quicker surface as a barrier. “Asking for three out of four winners this week might be asking a bit much, but thankfully Slade Power doesn’t know that,” said the County Meath handler.
“I’m very happy with him and he’s travelled over well and settled in.
“He’s got no excuses. It looked like he’d improved the way he beat Maarek first time out and that would be in keeping with what he has done every season to date. Every year he gets a little better and I hope that continues. It would cap an unbelievable week if he wins.”
Slade Power’s form line with Maarek is also pertinent to Astaire who began his 2014 campaign when finishing fifth in Newbury’s Greenham Stakes to Kingman who won the Irish Guineas before turning the St James’s Palace Stakes on Tuesday into a procession.
Astaire was then a close second to Maarek in the Duke of York Stakes on the Knavesmire when the soft going favoured Evanna McCutcheon’s runner who misses Ascot today because of the quick underfoot conditions.
“Another 100 yards and he would have won the Duke of York,” added Tingey. “At least he got a Group One horse and we know Maarek got his going at York.”
With Astaire’s regular rider Neil Callan in Hong Kong, Jamie Spencer will be in the saddle today – further recognition that the top jockeys want to be associated with the Ryan stable.
“The thing about Kevin, he loves every horse – whether it be a donkey or a Group One winner,” said Tingey when asked to explain the stable’s rich vein of form.
“The big thing is he tells the owners the truth – except on my 50th birthday. No disrespect to others, but other trainers don’t.
“I’ve seen him going round his boxes at 10pm checking his horses are settled. His passion for his horses, television only gives you a brief glimpse of what he is best at. Myself and Angie, we’re just proud to be part of his story and his success.”
It’s been some journey.