Opening day leaves Doncaster in racing’s shadows

Paul Hanagan after becoming Champion Jockey'. (Picture: Dan Abraham)
Paul Hanagan after becoming Champion Jockey'. (Picture: Dan Abraham)
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HOW times change. Five years ago, Paul Hanagan used Doncaster’s Lincoln meeting – the traditional curtain-raiser to the Flat season – as the springboard to a career-best season that saw the then Malton jockey become just the third Northern-based rider to become champion jockey.

His five successes at the Lincoln meeting proved invaluable in Hanagan thwarting his great rival Richard Hughes by just two victories following an enthralling fight which saw both men travel the length and breadth of Britain in the pursuit of winners.

It is one reason why Hanagan will be absent from Doncaster this weekend. After winning a second title in 2011, again by the narrowest of margins, he became retained rider to Sheikh Hamdan al Maktoum – a life-changing role which means that he will be riding at the world’s richest race in meeting in Dubai today.

Yet it also makes a mockery of Great British Racing’s short-sighted decision to change the parameters of this year’s title race which will now begin on May 2 at Newmarket’s 2000 Guineas meeting and culminate on Qipco British Champions Day on October 17 rather than Doncaster’s November Handicap meeting three weeks later – the traditional end-of-season finale and scene of Hanagan’s two triumphs.

As leading Middleham trainer Mark Johnson said, the changes are simply being introduced for the convenience of the top riders so they can have the best of both worlds and also ply their trade at the lucrative overseas meetings.

Put simply, it means any jockey winning today’s fiercely competitive Betway Lincoln, or any other race between now and the first weekend of May, will not see such successes accrued in their championship tally.

It just does not make sense – it will make it even more likely for a journeyman rider to emerge from the ranks – and the lingering sense of dissatisfaction was summed up by Tony Kelly, managing director of Doncaster’s parent company Arc, when he said: “We feel it is a shame that our Doncaster races could not be incorporated into the Jockeys’ Championship at the traditional start and finish of the Flat season.”

As for today’s feature, John Ryan is hoping for rain as Ocean Tempest bids to defend his crown. “He’s in good form and he’s come back from Dubai fit and well like last year,” said the Newmarket trainer.

Meanwhile Yorkshire-born trainer William Haggas hopes the rain will stay away from Town Moor in order to enhance the chances of Mange All who will be ridden by former Grand National-winning jockey Graham Lee.

Haggas has already won the historic handicap three times, with High Low in 1992, Very Wise in 2007 and Penitent in 2010, and victory today would see him equal trainer Jack Robinson’s tally of four wins – the last came in 1910.

Doncaster’s two-day meeting will be a poignant one for Graham Orange as the voice of Yorkshire racing hangs up his microphone after 32 years presiding over the presentations and PR at the county’s racetrack.

“I know I speak for everyone in Yorkshire racing when I say thank you to Graham for a brilliant job well done,” said Go Racing In Yorkshire chairman John Sexton. “We hope we shall see him many times on the Yorkshire racecourses simply enjoying the sport, but I know he is also looking forward to putting his skills as a fully qualified cricket coach and umpire to good use in the Yorkshire leagues.”

Saltburn jockey James Reveley recorded his 50th winner of the current campaign when Have You Had Yours prevailed at Newcastle. He is just three winners short of equalling his career-best tally, set in 2011-12, and his next big assignment will come in the Crabbie’s Grand National when he 
partners his father Keith’s Night In Milan.

Meanwhile, Rotherham-born rider Joe Palmowski recorded his seventh winner of the campaign when partnering Cowslip to victory at Wetherby yesterday. Trained at Middleham by George Moore, it was the horse’s third successive victory.

The meeting also saw another promising conditional, Dale Irving, showcase his talents by winning the opener on Aristo Du Plessis – with the aforementioned Palmowski back in third on 150-1 outsider Tickenwolf.

Top jockey Joseph O’Brien will miss the opening day of the 
Irish Flat season tomorrow and ride over hurdles at Limerick instead.

O’Brien’s mount Egyptian Warrior is trained by his father Aidan for owner JP McManus.

It will inevitably lead to speculation about the Derby-winning jockey’s future – the 21-year-old, who stands just short of six feet in height, is unnaturally tall to ride on the Flat.

However, O’Brien senior refuted this and said: “Joseph is a little heavy at the moment but plans to be back riding on the Flat shortly. Ryan Moore will ride all of our first-string horses at the Curragh on Sunday.”

Grey Gatsby carries White Rose hopes

YORKSHIRE hopes at today’s Dubai World Cup meeting rest with Kevin Ryan’s French Derby winner The Grey Gatsby.

Although the horse has not raced since beating English and Irish Derby winner Australia at Leopardstown last September, Hambleton trainer Kevin Ryan is confident ahead of a season that is likely to see the four-year-old bid to become the first Yorkshire horse to win York’s Juddmonte International, now regarded as the best Flat race on the planet according to official ratings.

Today’s Group One Dubai Turf could also be the first leg of a momentous double for owner Frank Gillespie whose Merry King, trained by Jonjo O’Neill, is well-fancied for the Crabbie’s Grand National in a fortnight’s time.

As for the Dubai World Cup with a first prize of £3.8m, the race could revolve around American superstar California Chrome and defending champion African Story.

“By a $2,500 stud out of a maiden $8,000 claiming mare, to come by and win all these races, it gives an incentive to the little guy,” said Art Sherman, who trains the USA favourite.