KARL BURKE is visibly relieved as Quiet Reflection eases effortlessly up the Middleham gallops with the cheetah-like stride that has already seen the filly win two Group One races this year – and the admiration of all in racing.
It is one of the thoroughbred’s final pieces of work before her date with destiny in today’s Qipco British Champions Sprint at Ascot, part of the richest raceday ever staged in the UK.
Not only is £600,000 of prize money up for grabs – but the winner will be crowned European sprinter of the year. The stakes are that high.
“I’m very happy,” says Burke moments after his debrief from apprentice jockey Jordan Vaughan, who is entrusted with riding Quiet Reflection, owned by the aptly-named Ontoawinner syndicate, on the gallops.
The grounds for confidence are genuine. This bargain buy has already won the Commonwealth Cup over today’s six-furlong trip – a landmark first Royal Ascot win for the Leyburn trainer and Haydock’s prestigious 32Red Sprint Cup. She acts on softer going and her task is made easier by the absence of the Breeders’ Cup-bound Limato, who was just too good for Burke’s stable star in Newmarket’s Darley July Cup.
Nothing, however, is being left to chance with a horse who has already attracted reputed seven-figure offers from owners and whose future value at stud will be stratospheric if she provides big-race rider Dougie Costello – the jump jockey who switched to the Flat a year ago – with another fairytale win.
Burke, a trainer since 1992, had spent the previous day at the sales in Newmarket looking to purchase potential equine stars of the future. He travelled back late at night just so he could watch the placid Quiet Reflection complete this key workout under slate-grey skies before heading back to Suffolk.
This is the busiest, and most significant, time of year – on and off the racecourse. “We won two Group Ones last year with Odeliz and you want to know when the next top-class horse will come along,” says the 53-year-old as he peruses the form book at the historic Spigot Lodge stables from where The Flying Dutchman was trained to win the 1859 Epsom Derby.
Luck plays a part. So, too, does a knowing eye – Burke, born over the Black Swan pub in Rugby – has been involved in racing for as long as he can remember. Plus instinct – like last year’s breeze-up sales at Doncaster when he first set eyes on a filly that would take his career to new heights.
Both Burke – and the Ontoawinner team – had enjoyed success with a horse called Toocoolforschool who was sired by Showcasing. The filly waiting to go under the hammer was by the same sire and the trainer had been responsible for the grand-dam Clare Hills, who won Beverley’s prestigious Hilary Needler Trophy in 2005 before finishing fourth in the Queen Mary Stakes when Royal Ascot was staged at York.
“She wasn’t very big so, understandably, not many people were onto her,” said Burke as he reflected upon the £44,000 purchase and how Quiet Reflection has given hope to those enthusiasts struggling to compete against multi-millionaire owner-breeders.
“When you go to the sales, you know you won’t get near a lot of horses. You’ve got to try to go under the radar and find something no-one wants but you like. The rest is history.
“Syndicates are also important because they give you more ammunition. Racing needs horses like Quiet Reflection and the other unfancied winners of big races this year. If it was all decided by how much money was spent, there wouldn’t be much point doing it.”
Victorious in two of her first three starts, the new filly vindicated Burke’s judgement when winning Newmarket’s Group Three Cornwallis Stakes in September last year. Yet the real improvement came over the winter when Quiet Reflection grew in physical stature and she made a winning reappearance in Chantilly before turning Haydock’s Sandy Lane Stakes into a one-horse race. She was so classy that the aforementioned Costello told this correspondent: “You would have won on her!”
Two Group One wins later and the anticipation is tangible as runners are saddled at a yard which has expanded significantly to 100-plus horses since Libertarian won the 2013 Dante before finishing second in the Epsom Derby.
Burke’s wife Elaine, who is riding Georgian Bay alongside Quiet Reflection, remains of the view that William Buick’s mount would have won if the field had not dawdled early on.
Then there was quiet expectation. Now they expect to beat Europe’s best sprinters and the eyes of stable staff quickly turn to the fabulous filly as she, and Georgian Bay, hack to the gallops in their own time.
Up ahead, accelerating across the moorland on four wheels, is Burke and his father-in-law Alan Jarvis, a retired trainer. They want to be at their vantage point to watch 20 or so horses exercise before Quiet Reflection and the yardstick Georgian Bay have a three furlong warm-up gallop before being extended up a five-furlong incline.
Other than a howl of wind, and the clicking of the photographer’s camera, there’s total silence before the sound of galloping hooves intensifies and the filly starts to eat up ground as she warms to her task under Vaughan, 22, who has turned down rides so he can lead up Quiet Reflection at Ascot.
“She’s good, nice and settled. What a difference from the start of the year,” says the young Liverpudlian. “She’s not a normal sprinter because she’s so laid back.
“She looks a different filly from France,” replies Burke before explaining how the horse with after-burners has grown in stature. “She’s still filling out, and that’s what makes me think she’ll be an even better filly next year. It would be a fantastic achievement to have bought and trained a champion in her division.”
Ridden back to the stables in her own time, there is relief that Quiet Reflection is in tip-top shape. She is then washed down by Vaughan, who asked to look after the filly when a previous horse in his care suffered a fatal injury on the gallops and he liked the look of the new acquisition.
Talk about racing’s fickleness. Little did he know how this ‘special relationship’ would also give his fledgling career a confidence-boost – just like a young Nico de Boinville’s involvement with star steeplechaser Sprinter Sacre.
With Burke away for the next 48 hours, it is a measure of his faith in his whole team that he can give young Vaughan instructions for the next two gallops – the trainer says continuity is key – as farrier Andy Grant fits new shoes to Quiet Reflection, whose calm demeanour is the polar opposite of the electrifying racehorse in full flight.
The trainer is content as he stresses the importance of good staff. Derby runner-up Libertarian, Karl Burke adds, is the best middle-distance horse that he has saddled while Quiet Reflection is the best sprinter. He can not separate them.
However the assessment will be reappraised if Quiet Reflection prevails: “Whoever wins is going to be the best sprinter in Europe, but we’re the one to beat.”
Million reasons to be smiling...
EVEN before Quiet Reflection runs today, Karl Burke and his wife Elaine are enjoying a career-best season in terms of prize money.
Their horses have already amassed more than £1.1m in prize money – the first time their Spigot Lodge yard has passed the seven-figure landmark.
With 63 wins this year, they’re still shy of the 82 successes that they recorded in 2006.
From nine runs in total, Quiet Reflection has won seven races and amassed £626,987 for the Ontoawinner syndicate as well as Burke and Hubert Strecker, who also own stakes in the sprinter.