IT speaks volumes about the fragility of top weight Litigant that today’s Betfred November Handicap – the finale to Flat racing’s 2016 turf season – will be just the 13th run of the eight-year-old’s career.
Even then, there are still no guarantees that Joe Tuite’s horse of a lifetime will line up at Doncaster – the trainer intends to assess the state of Town Moor’s going at midday before making a final decision.
If there’s any doubt, the horse will not run because Litigant owes connections absolutely nothing after winning last year’s Ebor under Oisin Murphy before landing the 2015 November Handicap following a nerveless ride by George Baker who is booked for the ride today.
After all, Litigant has won just twice this year – finishing a far from disgraced sixth in the Qipco Long Distance Cup at Ascot’s Champions Day meeting before a ninth place finish in the Group One Prix Royal-Oak at Saint Cloud in France.
“I’m hoping the rain is going to come,” Lambourn-based Tuite told The Yorkshire Post. “As long as there is no firm in the going description, I’m okay to run. We are very ground dependent.
“We’ve had the usual problems – he’s very delicate – but it’s all been very good since Ascot and France. His legs, tendons, joints...they are the main problems. Made of glass, very much so.
“He’s had more time when he’s not racing than racing, his whole career has been like this. The country is littered with these horses, it’s part and parcel of the game, but not many are as good as him when he gets to the track.”
However a two-letter word – ‘if’ – remains the biggest imponderable of all as Tuite speaks with the passion that he showed in the immediate aftermath of the 2015 Ebor when this journeyman trainer with a modest string landed one of the Flat’s most sought after prizes with a horse that has caused countless sleepless nights over the years.
“If the ground comes right, and if he lines up, I think the horse has a very good chance,” said Tuite. “His two races have been a Grade Two and a Grade One, you don’t get much better than that, and this is a big drop in class. If he runs to his mark, he will be bang on the premises.”
Tuite is delighted that the aforementioned Baker is available today – the jockey is in the form of his life after winning the Ladbrokes St Leger on Laura Mongan’s Harbour Law before landing the Group One Prix du Cadran at Chantilly on Arc day courtesy of Roger Charlton’s ever reliable Quest For More.
“George is an exceptional jockey. Unluckily, his contract with other trainers meant he wasn’t free for the Ebor last year,” he added.
“George knows the horse very well and it’s a big advantage to have him on your side. He’s just a very good jockey, as we all saw in the St Leger.”
With many top riders in America for the Breeders Cup meeting, or Australia for the top races Down Under, today’s November Handicap provides a welcome chance for some of racing’s lesser lights to shine.
These include Nicky Mackay who rides the John Gosden-trained favourite Cape Cova because stable jockey Frankie Dettori is plying his trade in America.
Cape Cova has already won twice on Town Moor this year and the 31-year-old said: “If they go a proper gallop and it is a fairly run race he would be hard to beat. There are no real negatives and I wouldn’t swap him for anything. It has been a funny couple of years for me, but this is a good ride to pick up for Mr Gosden and it would be nice to finish the turf season on a high.”
Having found only Litigant too good 12 months ago the Declan Carroll-trained Buonarroti returns for a second shot as he looks for a second win this campaign having scored in the soft at Ayr in July.
Malton-based Carroll said: “The horse is in brilliant order and is ready to run a good race. This has been the long-term plan all season and he is going there in tip-top condition. I just hope they get the rain.”
Andrew Balding is another trainer that hopes the rain arrives in time to allow Montaly, the mount of Litigant’s Ebor jockey Oisin Murphy, to show the best of his abilities while the Queen’s Fabricate is an intriguing entry.
Fabricate is trained by Michael Bell who echoed Joe Tuite’s assessment when he said: “I just hope the ground is not riding too quick.”