BRYAN SMART’S uncompromising refusal to be scared of one horse paid off when the unheralded Alpha Delphini, a 40-1 outsider, won the Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes – one of the biggest sprints in Europe.
The victory was only confirmed after an agonising wait – Smart described it as the longest five minutes of his life – for the outcome of the photo finish to be confirmed.
To gasps of astonishment, and then uncontrollable jubilation, Alpha Delphini had got up on the York winning line to deny the Michael Dods-trained Mabs Cross by a pixel, no more, with Blue Point third. Back in fourth was Battaash, a bitterly disappointing beaten favourite for the second successive year.
The drama overshadowed Frankie Dettori’s earlier Lonsdale Cup win on Stradivarius whose connections won a £1m bonus after the horse won his fourth major prize of the year.
And Alpha Delphi’s win, 35 minutes after Smart’s neighbour Kevin Ryan won the prestigious Gimcrack Stakes with Emaraaty Ana, completed yet another day to remember for Yorkshire racing.
Bred by Beverley resident Marie Matthews who co-owns the horse, Alpha Delphini is a half brother to Tangerine Trees who Smart trained to win the Group One Prix de l’Abbaye at Longchamp in 2011.
There was a blistering pace from the outset with speedsters Take Cover and Caspian Prince blazing the trail, and Alpha Delphini and Battaash hot on their heels.
Battaash hit the front about a furlong and half out, but could not put the race to bed and Charlie Hills’ sprinter was left standing in the final 100 yards as the Michael Dods-trained Mabs Cross, ridden by Tom Eaves, looked to spring a surprise before Alpha Delphini battled back.
“That was the longest five minutes of my life!” said Barnsley-born Smart who told The Yorkshire Post last week that he couldn’t allow himself to be put off by the presence of one horse, Battaash, in the big race line up.
“I backed him this morning, I had a tenner each-way at 80-1 because I thought that was an insulting price. I knew I had him the best he’d ever been, I’d trained him for this race as it was one I’d always wanted to win.
“I’d told the wife months ago that he was going to be absolutely spot-on for this, he was just coming right. There was a difference today, he was so relaxed, he wasn’t sweating or anything.
“Credit must go to Graham Lee, it was his idea to take the cheekpieces off as he felt that that he couldn’t see the other horses when they came at him. What with Kevin (Ryan) winning the Gimcrack it will be some night in Hambleton tonight!”
Barnsley-born Smart, who began his career in racing with legendary National Hunt trainer Jenny Pitman, went on: “My wife treats this horse like a king at home, he has back problems and gets treated like he owns the place.
“I’ve had a lot of his family, his half-brother Tangerine Trees got better with age and it looks like he is. We’ve put him in the Abbaye and there’s a good chance he’ll go for that.”
This was a famous win for North Yorkshire-based Lee. Winner of the four and a half mile Grand National on Ginger McCain’s Amberleigh House in 2004, the horseman now has a five furlong Group One sprint on his CV.
Given his well-documented battles with depression, his was a popular, and poignant, triumph. “The longer we were waiting I was sure it was a dead-heat. Obviously I’m delighted, but sorry for Tom (Eaves),” reflected the winning rider as he sportingly paid tribute to the runner up.
“He’s been running in cheekpieces and he’s been running his heart out. When he’s been getting passed he’s been rallying late on, so I just suggested taking them off so he could see what’s coming and I’m delighted.”
Dods, the trainer of Mabs Cross, was gracious in defeat and said: “As I said to Smart waiting for the result, I would have settled for a dead-heat and he said the same. When it’s that close you’re disappointed to get beat, but I’m very pleased with her.
As for Battaash, jockey Jim Crowley’s observed: “He obviously doesn’t like it up here. I’m gutted.”
Given this, and Bryan Smart’s boldness in running Alpha Delphini, no wonder he was the most relieved man in racing when the result was announced. His faith had been rewarded with the biggest win of his career.