St Leger Festival: Confident Bentley making the most of his opportunities since going freelance

HOW times change. The Harry Bentley of today is unrecognisable to the pensive jockey of 12 months ago whose upwardly mobile career had come to an abrupt halt after he lost his high-profile retainer with Qatar Racing.

Frankie Dettori wins the EBF Fillies' Nursery Stakes on board Nemoraliaon day two of the Ladbrokes St Leger Festival. Picture: Mike Egerton/PA Wire

Now he is brimming with confidence – going freelance has opened up a host of opportunities for the 23-year-old – and he hopes Hawksmoor can add to his big race tally in the Group Two £70,000 May Hill Stakes, one of the highlights on day three of the Ladbrokes St Leger Festival at Doncaster.

Trained by Hugo Palmer, a rising star of the training ranks, Hawksmoor confirmed that she is a two-year-old filly to watch by outbattling Mark Johnston’s Fireglow in a Group Three race at Goodwood at the end of August and Bentley is hopeful that the step up in grade will be within his mount’s ability.

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“Definitely, it’s a nice ride to have,” he told The Yorkshire Post. “The form stacks up – she ran well at Newmarket behind some nice fillies before winning at Goodwood. She definitely wants a bit of cut in the ground, hopefully the ground won’t dry up too much.”

Appropriately, Goodwood, the idyllic Sussex track close to Bentley’s childhood home, has been instrumental in the revival of the fresh-faced jockey. He rode his winner at the venue’s prestigious ‘Glorious’ meeting in late July when Inland sea prevailed in a maiden – the horse holds an entry in next month’s Group One Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster – before an even more satisfying success aboard Simple Verse.

It was a significant on three counts. It was a Group Three race; the jockey was carrying the crimson and gold colours of his former employers Qatar Racing and the manner of the victory persuaded connections to supplement the horse into tomorrow’s Ladbrokes St Leger.

Even though Bentley will not be on the Ralph Beckett-trained runner in the Classic – that honour falls to Qatar Racing’s number one rider Andrea Atzeni – he believes connections are right to go for Classic glory as the horse will not get another opportunity.

“To me, it looks a fairly weak Leger,” he said.

“Yes, there are the three Aidan O’Brien runners and Storm The Stars was very game when winning at York, but she is an improving sort and stepped up massively to win at Goodwood. She has the black type in the form book for breeding purposes so they have nothing to lose.

“Most of her rivals are stepping up in trip to a mile-and-three-quarters; yet she showed at Goodwood that distance is not a problem and a galloping track like Doncaster will suit. I think she has every chance.”

Even though Bentley admitted that it was “tough” when he lost his role in a shake-up sparked by his then colleague Jamie Spencer quitting race-riding, albeit briefly, it has opened up new opportunities – he no longer has to wait for Qatar Racing to decide their racing plans before seeking outside rides.

He spent last winter riding out for Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin operation in Dubai before shuttling over to Qatar where his links with owners and trainers saw him record 105 winners and be crowned champion jockey. He plans to do likewise at the end of this year following a campaign which has already yielded 46 winners - 17 more than Bentley’s total for the whole of 2014. Just four short of his career best 47 successes recorded in 2011 when still a promising apprentice, the jockey’s strike-rate of 18 per cent has never been better.

“Going freelance, it has made things easier,” added the rider whose diplomatic response to last year’s disappointing was an example to all riders. “More rides mean more winners. More winners means more confidence, they go hand in hand. Riding winners means you get more outside rides – and good chances at the better meetings like Doncaster.”

Today’s Doncaster Cup sees Clondaw Warrior bid to atone for his disappointing run in last month’s Ebor at York – Frankie Dettori has again been booked by Ireland’s champion jumps trainer Willie Mullins. The jockey was a winning form yesterday, delighting the Ladies Day crowd with a flying dismount after Nemoralia won the opener.

The feature Weatherbys Hamilton £300,000 2-Y-O Stakes went to Mr Lupton for Malton trainer Richard Fahey.