Pressure on Laurens and Dance to deliver

BY now, John Dance should be able to enjoy watching his racehorse Laurens compete. He is the owner who lived up to his name '“ and performed a jig of delight '“ after his horse first came to public prominence when winning Doncaster's May Hill Stakes just over a year ago.

Laurens came to prominence when winning the May Hill Stakes at Doncaster a year ago under PJ McDonald.

Yet, four Group One wins later, Dance will be a nervous spectator when this front-running filly – one of horse racing’s most popular crowdpleasers – attempts to add to her burgeoning big race record in today’s Sun Chariot Stakes at Newmarket over a mile.

There will be two reasons. The first is that Laurens, trained at Leyburn by in-form Karl Burke, has become a ‘public’ horse because of her popularity. This brings with it the pressure of expectation. The second is that Dance, a stockbroker and investment manager, is more accustomed than most to the law of statistical averages.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

“It’s funny. I spent a year complaining that she never got credit and she went into the Prix Saint-Alary as the 1-2 on favourite. When I watched the race, I thought ‘you shouldn’t be odds-on for a Group One’,” Dance told The Yorkshire Post. “There’s maybe a little more pressure now. Horses don’t tend to win that many Group Ones in their career. Every time she wins one it’s statistically less likely that she will another. It’s very hard for any horse to run at such a level race after race.”

Laurens, right, outbattles the now retired Alpha Centauri in Leopardstown's Matron Stakes.

Dance is, first and foremost, a successful businessman. He is the founder of Newcastle-based stockbrokers Vertem Asset Management who are taking over the sponsorship of the Futurity Stakes – Doncaster’s season-ending Group One race – after the Racing Post ended their longstanding sponsorship of this historic race. He hopes to see his colours carried to victory in his race in the next five years.

However, from sponsoring occasional races at Newcastle and giving out the prizes, the likeable Dance wanted to be the recipient at the post-race presentations and fate played its part in the acquisition of Laurens for £220,000 from Doncaster’s sales, even though there appeared to be “very little upside on such a lofty price”.

Though Dance, and bloodstock agent Dan Creighton, liked the pedigree of the mare, who has now earned more than £1.3m in prize money, it was the fact that the owner’s daughter is called Lauren which sealed the deal.

From then victory in Doncaster’s May Hill Stakes was followed by a Group One success in the Fillies’ Mile at Newmarket – a first at the highest level for regular rider PJ McDonald – and a winter dreaming of 2018.

Super-sub jockey Daniel Tudhope congratulates the injury sidelined PJ McDonald after Laurens won the Matron Stakes - the type of sportsmanship synonymous with racing.

Second in the 1000 Guineas to Billesdon Brook, who reopposes today, Laurens won the Prix Saint-Alary and then the Prix de Diane, the French Oaks, over 10 furlongs before failing to see out the mile-and-a-half trip in the Yorkshire Oaks.

It was the one blip of the year – there was a question mark beforehand about the stamina of Laurens – and the winner Sea Of Class is a deserved contender for tomorrow’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, Europe’s most prestigious race, at the revamped ParisLongchamp track.

Dropped back in trip to a mile for last month’s Matron Stakes at Leopardstown, she saw off Ireland’s champion mare Alpha Centauri after making all under Danny Tudhope, who was replacing the injury-sidelined McDonald.

Tudhope will, once again, be in the saddle for today’s test that also features Andre Fabre’s highly-regarded French raider Wind Chimes. “Karl (Burke) is as happy with Laurens as he was going to Leopardstown three weeks ago,” reported Dance. “I was quietly confident going to Ireland. I didn’t necessarily think we would wi,n but I was hopeful we would give Alpha Centauri a much closer run than she had had for some time. That’s how it worked out.”

In this regard it explains why Dance and Burke are a formidable force.

“He’s quite methodical. He generally has a plan for his horses. He builds them up with that in mind,” said the owner. “He has a good eye for a horse and their potential. He sees things in horses that others don’t.”

While this gives Dance, and his wife Jessica, confidence that Laurens is still in peak condition he is still pinching himself that he has a horse who could equal the five Group One races win by Middleham trainer Mark Johnston’s top mare Attraction.

Then Dance thinks about the “statistical improbability” of winning another elite race with Laurens – and then the big race nerves do kick in.