LIKE most jockeys, Harry Bentley is the first to admit that he is only as good as the horses that he is allowed to ride.
It is why he has such fondness for Limato, the dual Group One-winning sprinter who has taken his career to new heights.
The rider’s sense of anticipation is discernible as he looks forward to partnering Henry Candy’s durable campaigner in the Duke of York Stakes, the Dante Festival’s day-one feature.
Over six furlongs at speed on drying ground against sprinters as consistent as Brando from the Hambleton yard of Kevin Ryan, Bentley knows the outcome will, in all likelihood, be decided by the smallest of margins.
“It really is split-second decisions and very late decisions,” the in-form 26-year-old told The Yorkshire Post when asked to give a jockey’s perspective of such races and the skills required.
“It’s about being in an ideal place where, in a longer race, you can take your time and wait for the gaps to open. The wrong decision can really cost you a race – there is no coming back. I like that and I don’t like that.
“If you get in the right group, and can follow the pace, you can win the race. On the other hand something really, really minimal, like a gap closing, can really cost you.”
Now seven, Limato is making his seasonal reappearance and preparing for another campaign in which he is likely to contest many of the country’s top sprints if – and that is the key word – he gets his favourable quick ground.
When Bentley was informed yesterday that Knavesmire was basking in glorious sunshine, the emphatic nature of his response spoke volumes about the importance of favourable conditions.
“Good,” he declared before explaining how many horses have their quirks, including a preference for soft or fast ground.
“It’s horses for courses. Some go on it and some don’t. It’s as simple as that. As a jockey you can really tell the difference by how your mount is travelling in a race.
“I could really tell in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot when Roaring Lion just won under Oisin Murphy at the end of last year. The ground was too soft for Limato – he was a different horse. Conditions really do make a difference.”
In the case of Limato this comes with the experience of Bentley, who was still a big race novice when he first received the call to partner the Paul Jacobs-owned gelding in Newbury’s Lockinge Stakes four years ago.
A fine effort in defeat was the prelude to Bentley and Limato landing Newmarket’s Group One July Cup in 2016 before being denied by Mecca’s Angel in York’s Nunthorpe Stakes.
Yet horse and rider did go on to win the Group One Prix de la Foret at Chantilly – the anticipated soft ground fortunately did not materialise.
A subsequent sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Mile in America, Bentley kept his own counsel when the aforementioned Jacobs tried out other riders – an owner’s prerogative.
The fickle fate of racing meant the jockey was back in the saddle for all three of the popular horse’s pleasing wins last season, including the Garrowby Stakes at York on softer than ideal ground.
“Limato has been very important to me,” enthused Bentley. “He gave me my first Group One winner. It’s nice to have a real flagbearer. These Group One races are not easy to win; they’re ultra-competitive and it was fantastic to get one.
“He also thrives off his racing – this is his 27th start. His main attribute is a high cruising speed and a good turn of pace.”
Bentley rides each winter in Qatar where he has been champion jockey for six successive years. His objective this summer, however, is to build on the 75 winners that he recorded in Britain last summer. “If we can get to that number, or improve on it, it would be fantastic. A Group One would be amazing,” he said.
The well-spoken jockey, who is enjoying a successful alliance with trainer Ralph Beckett, heads to York after riding three winners at Chester last week on ground that became very attritional.
“Coming off a good week at Chester, confidence is high. I have never ridden in conditions that bad,” he said. “I have ridden on heavy ground, but nothing like what we faced in the Chester Cup. It definitely threw up some curve balls, but it is always good to challenge yourself.”
Just as Bentley continues to do on Limato.
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