Victorious Mukhadram all set for York return in Juddmonte

PAUL Hanagan’s decision to return to his racing roots was vindicated when Mukhadram led from pillar to post to land the prestigious Sky Bet York Stakes on another incident-packed day on Knavesmire.

By tenaciously holding off Frankie Dettori’s late and sustained challenge on Grandeur, the four-year-old will very probably return to the White Rose county for the £750,000 Juddmonte International, York’s richest race, on August 21.

Too nervous to watch the race, Mukhadram’s Group Two win continued the remarkable run of success at York this summer of Skipton-born trainer William Haggas at York following his John Smith’s Cup one-two and Our Obsession’s stirring victory in Saturday’s opener under a pulverising Dettori ride that was loudly cheered by England’s Ashes batsman Jonny Bairstow amongst others.

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Yet, while an anxious Haggas was slightly disappointed by Mukhadram’s winning margin of a diminishing length, any quibbles were placed in perspective 35 minutes later when champion apprentice Amy Ryan suffered a crashing fall in the Sky Bet Dash over six furlongs.

In her first ride since her jump jockey partner Brian Toomey suffered critical head injuries in a life-threatening fall at Perth, the Yorkshire Post columnist was leading the 20-runner field on her father Kevin’s Bogart when her saddle slipped at the two-furlong pole.

As the helpless Ryan hit the turf, the Hanagan-ridden Baccarat appeared to gallop over the stricken rider, whose fall prompted gasps of horror from spectators.

It was almost immaterial that the Robert Winston-ridden Tropics had to survive a stewards’ inquiry after veering across the track in the final stages and impeding runner-up Summerinthecity – the only result that mattered came when a shaken Ryan, with the help of ambulance crews, rose to her feet.

As she walked through the unsaddling enclosure after this miraculous escape which highlighted the bravery of all jockeys she was embraced by her mother and family friends who are only too aware of the emotional trauma of Ryan’s vigil over the past fortnight at Toomey’s hospital bedside in Dundee.

Haggas will check over Mukhad-ram and talk to the horse’s owner, Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum, before confirming the Juddmonte entry.

It needs to be remembered that this middle-distance horse had two epic losing battles with Al Kazeem at Royal Ascot and then in the Coral-Eclipse Stakes at Sandown, and these races could have left a mark.

Bowling along in the front with a long, languid stride, Hanagan’s mount appeared to be slightly unbalanced on the home bend before having to dig deep into his reserves of energy to hold 
off Wigmore Hall, the eventual third under William Twiston-Davies, and Grandeur, who came 
with a withering run on the stands rails.

Hanagan’s winning smile was a relieved one – he had turned down a ride in Ascot’s King George in order to stay loyal to Mukhadram.

In doing so, the 2010 and 2011 champion jockey used all the experience that he gleaned when rattling up big-race winners at York under his long and successful apprenticeship with Malton’s Richard Fahey.

“It’s good to be home… I am very proud of him – he’s a horse who deserved that,” said Hanagan, 32, who completed a double on the Fahey-trained Flashman.

“York is a long way to be in front and that’s what makes me more proud of him – he should really have finished second in the Eclipse. I struggled to get him on the right leg as his last runs have been the other way round on right-handed tracks.”

As for Haggas, son-in-law to Lester Piggott, the relief was etched across his face after the 4-9 odds-on favourite prevailed.

“I hoped he might be a bit more convincing than that, but it’s a Group Two win and you don’t win them every day, so we’re happy,” said the Newmarked-based trainer.

“I couldn’t watch the race, I just listened to it. I don’t normally get nervous, but I don’t like those ones when you are supposed to win. I’d rather have one I think will win, but nobody else does!”

Haggas ruled out a tilt at the Arlington Million in the USA, suggesting the Juddmonte will be Mukhadram’s next target.

Noting that his horse will have to improve again, he will have been an intrigued observer when the German-trained Novellist romped to a brilliant victory in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot, Britain’s premier mid-summer race for horses of all ages.

Novellist will be hard to beat in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe while Irish Derby winner Trading Leather, Sir Michael Stoute’s Hillstar and Europe’s highest-rated horse Cirrus Des Aigles – second, third and fourth at Ascot – could all take up Juddmonte entries.

The Kevin Ryan-trained Hot Streak could form part of the Hambleton trainer’s Ebor Festival team after winning on his debut under Thirsk jockey Phil Makin, who said there is “plenty of improvement” to come.

Perhaps the last word should go to Dettori, whose win on Our Obsession showed that there should be no qualms about the former champion jockey’s race sharpness following his six-month drug ban.

Admiring a huge picture montage from last year’s Ebor hanging down the length of one of the main stands, the Italian spotted images of his winning ride on Willing Foe in last year’s festival.

“I grew a foot when I saw the picture on the wall,” quipped Dettori.

“York’s a beautiful track and the racing is excellent. Michael Hills said that Our Obsession had been flying on the gallops. For once he was right – but all the credit should go to William Haggas. His horses are flying.”

Especially at York.

Tour will get under starter’s orders at York

ANOTHER record-breaking weekend for York was further boosted by official confirmation that the second stage of next year’s Tour de France will begin at the racecourse.

Tour supremo Christian Prudhomme praised the “magnificent setting” after joining 27,915 racegoers on Knavesmire on Friday night – a new attendance record for any evening meeting in Britain.

It saw Yorkshire favourites Kaiser Chiefs perform after racing on Friday – and Little Mix played to a 30,000-plus crowd on Saturday.

The Sky Bet meeting, the centrepiece of the Go Racing In Yorkshire Summer Festival which ended at Pontefract yesterday, is now established as one of the biggest in the country crowd-wise, despite the meeting being formed only a decade ago.

Next year, York will host the Tour on July 6 followed by the John Smith’s Cup meeting on July 11-12 and then the Sky Bet fixture on July 25-26 – subject to final confirmation from the British Horseracing Authority.

It is likely that the Tour riders will be introduced to thousands of fans on the racetrack before heading off on their long and winding journey to Sheffield.

Chief executive William Derby said: “We understand the ability of sport to thrill so it is a real thrill that such a famous event is coming to York.

“In our history, we have hosted the Queen, the Pope, Royal Ascot, the St Leger, the Olympic Torch – and now Le Tour is coming. It is fabulous news.”

This week’s Glorious Goodwood meeting could be on the cards for Mark Johnston’s Galician after her valuable International Stakes win at Ascot.

Saturday’s success at 33-1 came just seven days after she prevailed at Newbury.

The win, worth £62,250, offered the Middleham trainer some consolation for Universal’s slightly disappointing fifth in the King George.