THE form book will confirm that home favourite Clever Cookie won the Betway Yorkshire Cup by a diminishing half a length from the fast finishing Curbyourenthusiasm to provide trainer Peter Niven and jockey PJ McDonald with the biggest wins of their respective careers.
Yet this only tells part of the story. The eight-year-old was without a jockey 24 hours earlier when Danny Tudhope, the intended rider, was injured in a horror fall at York that left him on the sidelines.
Niven then endured a sleepless night at his Ryedale stables deciding whether to run the only Flat horse in his yard – Clever Cookie, bred by his mother Joan, prefers softer ground and only took his chance after the lightning quick Knavesmire track was watered.
Then there was drama before the start when in-form Frankie Dettori, the man of the week, was unshipped from Flying Officer, who was subsequently withdrawn – and then the pedestrian early pace that took the biscuit and meant this Group Two contest, over a mile and three quarters, became a sprint up the home straight.
Briefly Clever Cookie looked boxed in before McDonald, stable jockey to Constable Burton trainer Ann Duffield, extricated himself from an unpromising position on the rail and hit the front to a roar from an appreciative York crowd, who have taken Niven’s champion to their hearts.
Two warm-up runs this season clearly paid off. The horse’s fourth win from seven starts at York, McDonald’s mount first reeled in the odd-son favourite Second Step, who did not go down without a fight before finishing third, and the David Simcock-trained runner up Curbyourenthusiasm, who finished fastest of all and was closing with every stride.
For both Niven and McDonald, this result means the world.
Based in Malton, times are tough for former jump jockey Niven.
He is down to one Flat horse in Clever Cookie, a former high-class hurdler who has been revitalised since switching back to the Flat. In total, his stable star’s 22 races have yielded 11 wins and £400,000 in prize money. Next month’s blue riband Ascot Gold Cup is the target, provided the going is not too quick.
“It’s absolutely marvellous. I was a bit worried when Flying Officer came out that there might be no pace,” said Niven, who owns the winner.
“They’ve dawdled away and that shouldn’t have suited us and the ground shouldn’t have suited us.
“To be fair, he’s always been able to go on decent ground, I’ve just been worried about him. They put a drop of water on the track (on Thursday night) and that encouraged me to run.
“He’s overcome loads of obstacles and he’s shown what he’s worth. I’m so short of Flat horses it’s unreal. I ride him out myself every day and unfortunately I’m giving three stone to the other staff, so he’s having to do plenty of work.”
As for super-sub McDonald, his roots are also in National Hunt racing – he won the 2007 Scottish National on Hot Weld for Ferdy Murphy, then based in West Witton, before plying his trade on the Flat.
“It’s a massive feeling for me as horses like this for me to ride are few and far between. To be able to show that if you give me the animal I can get the job done is a great confidence boost,” he said.
“I was worried for the first half of the race we were going too slow. The only saving grace was he was completely asleep underneath me. When I gave him a little squeeze to pick up, he changed his legs and I thought he wasn’t going to like the ground, but when he knuckled down he really got to the line well.”
Earlier, Malton trainer Richard Fahey was left gobsmacked after Vona sprang a 33-1 surprise in the Langleys Solicitors EBF Marygate Fillies’ Stakes at York.
Unplaced in two previous runs, he was not even aware that owner Nick Bradley had entered the two-year-old. Now she could be a contender for next month’s Queen Mary Stakes at Royal Ascot after winning impressively under North Yorkshire rider Jack Garritty, second in the race to be champion apprentice last season.
“I’m very surprised,” admitted Fahey. “Nick made the entry and there’s not much more I can say really. She got into a rhythm and came home strongly.”
Fortunately the winning rider was not surprised. “The way she was going away I’d say there’s more to come again,” said Garritty, who completed a double when winning on Lil Sophella for Middleham trainer Patrick Holmes.
Out of luck in the Yorkshire Cup, Jeremy Noseda’s Nemoralia did provide a resurgent Frankie Dettori with a fifth meeting at the Dante meeting.
The headline acts were Dante winner Wings of Desire, now a leading Epsom Derby contender, and So Mi Dar, who is bound for the Epsom Oaks after her Musidora success in the colours of composer Andrew Lloyd Webber.
“It’s fingers crossed they both get to Epsom now in the same form,” he said.
“There should be improvement in both and what is in their favour is that they are trained by a master (John Gosden), so you’d think they should only get better.”