PETER Niven’s Clever Cookie stayed on best in desperate conditions to land the Boodles Diamond Ormonde Stakes at Chester and book a possible Ascot Gold Cup bid.
It was a remarkable training performance by the quietly-spoken Ryedale handler as well as Bedale jockey Graham Lee, who was landing a second high-profile success in three days following the Chester Cup success of Ed Dunlop’s Trip To Paris.
Given Niven and Lee’s roots in National Hunt racing – both rode more than 1,000 winners over obstacles – they were clearly at home on rain-softened ground and Clever Cookie, a proven stayer and mudlark, had enough in hand to overhaul the Group One winner Tac De Boistron close to home.
“Last week that horse was beaten by a 64-rated hurdler on the gallops. He is phenomenal,” said a slightly surprised Niven.
“He doesn’t want it quick and it took a bit of time to get him back from the Magnet Cup (John Smith’s Cup, at York), but he still ran great races. He is an incredible horse.
“If it rains he will go to the Ascot Gold Cup. He wasn’t travelling for Graham in the first half mile and he has come there and ended up beating a horse rated 117.”
While Clever Cookie was trimmed into 16-1 for Ascot by Paddy Power, and 14-1 with William Hill, Niven hinted he could be seen out before heading to the showpiece meeting.
Niven said: “He might go for the Yorkshire Cup next week. He’s hardly blowing after that. Obviously the ground is going to be the key with him with regards to Ascot and places like that, but there are loads of opportunities for him.
“I did have doubts about him staying two and a half miles being by Primo Valentino, but his mother Mystic Memory stayed three and a half miles. He should have won the Doncaster Cup last year, but we got it wrong. We tracked the wrong horse and it cost us a couple of lengths.
“Graham’s made up for that and given him a peach of a ride. I gave Graham his last winner over jumps – Posh Bird at Catterick in the North Yorkshire Grand National in January 2012. Then he got hurt and packed up over humps.”
Although watching Tac De Boistron taste defeat, Marco Botti was far from despondent regarding the performance of the talented stayer, who could head to France for his next outing.
He said: “He travelled well. In an ideal world maybe we should have hung on to him a bit longer, but he ran a good race. The third horse was a long way behind. The target is still the Gold Cup.”
Andrew Balding’s Elm Park, last season’s Group One Racing Post Trophy winner, is in line to make his seasonal debut in the Betfred Dante Stakes at York next Thursday.
With the Epsom Derby ante-post market in a state of flux, this trial has added impetus and Elm Park will face a stern test from the likes of John Gosden’s Jack Hobbs, who is ante-post favourite for the blue riband Classic.
Trainer Aidan O’Brien has won this race four times in the past and has left in seven colts, including the highly-regarded Giovanni Canaletto and John F Kennedy.
But all eyes will be on Elm Park, who missed last weekend’s 2000 Guineas at Newmarket due to firm ground. The recent rain on Knavesmire will be welcome and Balding believes the colt will be a serious Epsom contender.
“I think he’ll come on for the run but he’s done enough at home and is in good shape,” he said.
“The Derby is the plan and all being well he’ll head to Epsom after York.”