next stop Epsom after Libertarian became the first Yorkshire winner of the Betfred Dante since Ballymarais prevailed in 1965 – and Elaine Burke made history as the first female trainer to win this most prestigious of Derby trials.
An unheralded 33-1 outsider, the three-year-old colt – enjoying just his third career start – made a mockery of those odds under an inspired William Buick who, appropriately, was landing York’s prestigious Group Two for the first time in his burgeoning career.
It remains to be seen whether Buick will be in the saddle for the June 1 blue riband race – his retainer with champion trainer John Gosden and other connections may not permit – but the 24-year-old has no doubts about the horse’s class.
Almost forlornly scrubbing his mount along in the first furlong as he struggled to keep in touch with the early pacesetters, Libertarian was, in fact, the only horse to come from off the pace and won comfortably from Jim Bolger’s Trading Leather, a stablemate of the red-hot Derby favourite Dawn Approach – the 2000 Guineas hero.
“He was the best horse in the race – and he won like the best horse,” a beaming Buick told the Yorkshire Post.
“He’s a very exciting horse. The Derby? Epsom is difficult for all sorts of reasons – the crowd, the undulations.
“He’s still green and he’s still learning, but he’ll definitely improve again and I can’t see why he won’t get a mile-and-a-half.
“I suppose the question is whether the Derby is too soon for a horse who is so inexperienced, but the Burkes said to me beforehand that he’d have a squeak as he stays very well.”
This was a team effort for the Spigot Lodge yard at Leyburn – Elaine Burke only took out a training licence when her husband Karl was banned from the sport for a year for passing on inside information to disqualified former owner Miles Rodgers.
“We are a good team. It is Team Burke. It’s not Mrs Burke. It’s a team. I have two daughters – Kelly and Lucy – who work hard,” said the winning trainer who was joined by her daughters Kelly and Lucy on a momentous day for the family.
“It’s just amazing to win a race like this. We haven’t seen the best of Libertarian yet. He’s a big lazy horse who we bought at the breeze-ups last year for £40,000 – we liked him because his sire was New Approach who did win the Derby.”
Though one of New Approach’s offspring, the aforementioned Dawn Approach, is now an even warmer 11-10 favourite for the Investec Derby on June 1 after this shock result dented some lofty reputations, Danish businessman Hubert Strecker purchased the horse because his lifelong dream has been to have an Epsom runner.
In another twist, he is an acquaintance of the winning jockey’s father Walter, a multiple champion in Scandinavia before becoming a racereader for the Press Association.
Yet Buick – a jockey who specialises in York wins after coming from near last to first to win the Nunthorpe last August on Ortensia – only took the ride after connections decided to replace the North Yorkshire jockey Phil Makin.
Though Makin was in the saddle when Libertarian won his maiden at Pontefract on April 9, he did not enjoy his finest moment in the saddle when the horse – now 20-1 for the Epsom Derby with Betfred – was impeded in Sandown Classic Trial last time out and could only finish fourth.
Yesterday’s race, completed in hazy sunshine minutes before a torrential downpour swamped York, did not appear to be going to plan in the early stages with Libertarian appearing to be outclassed against his more illustrious rivals.
Dashing Star cut out the running with Trading Leather on his tail but the race, which has seen nine winners progress to Epsom glory, was still to develop in earnest by the two-furlong pole.
With Aidan O’Brien pocketing every Derby warm-up in the last fortnight, he will have been disappointed that Indian Chief, the 11-4 favourite and eventual third, did not respond as Libertarian launched a surprise challenge and pulled a length and a quarter clear of Trading Leather who will head to the French Derby – provided Bolger’s stable star Dawn Approach stays sound for Epsom.
Mark Johnston’s well-fancied Windhoek could only finish fifth – the Middleham trainer said that his horse simply did not stay the 10-furlongs and will be dropped back in trip. The Hampton Court Stakes is Windhoek’s Royal Ascot target.
Yet nothing should detract from the first local winner of this race since Ballymarais prevailed in 1965 for Beverley trainer Snowy Gray. And the prospect of Libertarian becoming Yorkshire’s first Derby winner since Dante in 1945 does not deter connections after Sue and Harvey Smith’s Auroras Encore ended the county’s 53-year Grand National jinx last month.
“There will be some very good horses at the Derby but you have to give it a go, don’t you?” said Elaine Burke. “Even to have a runner is amazing as it is to win the Dante. We’ve not won a race like this before. Lord Shanakill won a Group 1 in France but to be in England to win the Dante – it’s a special race and it’s great.
“I think the extra two furlongs at Epsom will be to his advantage but then he’s a baby and, the way the track is, we might have to go up the High Moor at Middleham and go the opposite way round, which is downhill, just to get a bit more experience for him.”
As for her husband Karl, he punched the air as he led Libertarian into the winner’s enclosure. “I didn’t think he should be 33-1 – I did get some 50s!” he disclosed.
“He’s a proper horse. Having not had many Derby horses, or Dante horses even, you are tilting at windmills at bit. You can see he’s still running green, and that will be a major problem. The way the Derby is run, he’ll need to be on his mettle, but he’ll stay.”