BRYAN SMART is no stranger to Group One success having won the 1996 French Oaks with Sil Sila before stable stalwart Tangerine Trees travelled to France to win the Prix de l’Abbaye sprint on Arc day seven years ago.
Yet nothing, reflects the trainer, compares with the roller-coaster of emotions that he and his team endured last Friday when 40-1 outsider Alpha Delphini won the Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes after an agonising five-minute wait for the photo-finish outcome to be confirmed.
In the race of the week, Alpha Delphini – discounted by everyone bar Smart – edged out the Michael Dods-trained Mabs Cross in a thrilling finish to this historic five-furlong sprint on York’s Knavesmire with hot favourite Battaash, the sprinter with the biggest reputation of all, back in fourth.
Not only does Alpha Delphini run in the same colours as the aforementioned Tangerine Trees, but he was sired by Captain Gerrard, who was such a consistent performer for the Smart stable.
“Don’t forget we’ve also won a Classic, but it’s the pinnacle because of where it was and where we’ve come from,” the victorious trainer told The Yorkshire Post.
“I’m a miner’s son from Barnsley who was known to jump onto pit ponies. It’s a dream come true.
I was confident all along because I know the horse has all the ability in the world, and he’s proved it. Tense isn’t the word to describe the wait for the result. I lost four or five lives in four or five minutes, if you know what I mean.Trainer Bryan Smart
“I used to go to York as a kid with my parents. You’re happy just to have one winner there because the racing is so competitive. To win one of the biggest races of Ebor week ...
“I was confident all along because I know the horse has all the ability in the world, and he’s proved it. Tense isn’t the word to describe the wait for the result. I lost four or five lives in four or five minutes, if you know what I mean. It’s sad that there had to be a loser – it was great to see two fantastic horses from the North battling it out like that.”
Confirming that Alpha Delphini, bred in Beverley by Marie Matthews, will head to France for the Prix de l’Abbaye in early October, Smart added: “He’s qualified for the Breeders Cup Turf in America and we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”
He was also fulsome in his praise for winning jockey Graham Lee, who had big-race success over jumps, including the 2004 Grand National, before switching to the Flat.
“He’s a good jockey,” said Smart. “He’s a very talented young man. He thinks about his job and he thinks about his horses. He’s a joy to work with and we get on really well. We’re very simple about what we do.”
While Smart was at the sales yesterday looking at young horses, his wife Vicky was among those looking after their string of racehorses at their stables at Hambleton in North Yorkshire.
“To be honest, I’ve never known Bryan more confident in all the years I’ve known him – and that must be 30 years,” she said.
“Last year Alpha Delphini went for the Nunthorpe and we felt he should have gone for the Beverley Bullet.
“This year the owners (Alpha Delphini Partnership) were keen to go for the Bullet at Beverley this Saturday while Bryan said we should go for the Nunthorpe because he will win it. I said, ‘Do you realise you’ve just said we’ll win the Nunthorpe?’ and he said, ‘yes’.
“The horse is so beautiful that everyone who sees him says that they’d like him as a show horse when he retires. We spent Sunday judging for the Retaining of Racehorses show at Aintree and there wasn’t a horse there as good looking as Alpha Delphini.
“The strange thing about last Friday is that the horse was so relaxed, so calm and so serene in the paddock beforehand. And so, strangely, was Bryan – he was very calm too – that I ran off and had £10 each-way at 50-1 because I thought those odds were an insult.”
Defending champion Take Cover heads 21 entries for Saturday’s Beverley Bullet, the feature sprint of the year at the East Yorkshire track.
Trained at Bawtry by David Griffiths, the 11-year-old was a far from disgraced sixth to Alpha Delphini in the Nunthorpe.
Richard Fahey’s Mr Lupton, ninth in the Nunthorpe, has also been handed an entry for this prestigious prize, which features strong Yorkshire representation.
Meanwhile, John Quinn’s El Astronaute and Paul Midgley’s Final Venture, first and second respectively in the Ebor festival’s opening race, could reoppose.