A ride to Treasure for Wands

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The Independent Online
No meeting casts a shadow quite as long as Royal Ascot, which is a magnet for every worthwhile horse in Britain, be it a juvenile or a handicapper, a sprinter or a stayer. So while two of the finest tracks in the country stage cards this afternoon, both suffer badly from the glamorous alternative destination which is almost upon us. Handicaps - and very average ones at that, with a single obvious exception - are the only items on offer, and speculation may be best restricted to matters other than results and SPs.

Like, for instance, whether Iona Wands will demonstrate to a healthy Saturday audience how ridiculous it is that female jockeys still form only a tiny fraction of the weighing room muster. Wands is the latest promising female apprentice (her claim was recently reduced from 7lb to 5lb) whose talents may go to waste because she struggles to find the steady flow of rides which any aspiring rider needs if they are to improve their style and confidence.

She has already won three handicaps this season on Treasure Touch, her mount in the William Hill Trophy Handicap at York, and will go to post on the 12-1 chance with every hope of demonstrating that, as her retaining trainer David Nicholls puts it, "if she was a boy, she'd have six rides a day".

Nicholls knows a good deal about the bias against women jockeys, since his wife, Alex Greaves, struggles to find outside rides even though she finishes each campaign with one of the best winning percentages of any jockey. "People in racing are so fickle," he says. "It's a male chauvinist sport and you're always fighting against it. We lost two horses last week because the owners blamed Alex for one of them getting beaten, but the horse wasn't beaten a short-head, it was tailed off. I find it very strange, but you've just got to keep going."

In fact, Nicholls's yard is doing rather more than simply keeping going, and stands 16th in the earnings list with pounds 160,000 won this season even though his string numbers just 27 horses.

Victory for Treasure Touch in what is by some way the most valuable race of the afternoon would be a huge boost as he and Greaves head towards the Royal meeting, where last week's Epsom winner Ya Malak (King's Stand Stakes) and Venture Capitalist (top weight in the Wokingham who has a warm up at Sandown today) will start with at least a fair each-way chance.

This, too, is true of Treasure Touch, who, Nicholls says, is "a game, genuine and tough horse who is in great form. When you roll that dice, he'll be there".

Yorkie George, who caught the eye of the stewards when well beaten behind Treasure Touch on his seasonal debut, appears his most serious opponent following a very promising second place last time out, but at 9-2 he is very short for such a competitive race. The same applies, only more so, in the case of Bishops Court, who is likely to head the market but does not even boast winning form last time out. Either horse could win, but with the bookies paying out over four places, Treasure Touch (3.40) looks an excellent each-way alternative.

Make A Stand, the champion hurdler, was last year's winner of the Queen Mother's Cup, and Martin Pipe, his trainer, has every chance of following up with Break The Rules (next best 4.15) today. The best bet of all, however, is PHONETIC (3.10), who will not start at a fancy price but will relish today's going and trip.

It will require a trip to the betting shop to watch the action from Sandown, but those who make the effort will see Gary Stevens, one of the finest jockeys in North America, riding in Britain for the first time in 10 years. There is also a fascinating contest over jumps at Market Rasen, where Stately Home, the winner of 10 races in the National Hunt season which finished barely a week ago, has been allowed to run in the handicap chase off a mark of 135, from which he was an easy winner a fortnight ago. This has irritated Tim Thomson Jones, the trainer of Linton Rocks, who has taken the unusual step of criticising the handicapper for his treatment of another trainer's horse. Should Stately Home win today, Thomson Jones's post-race comments should be well worth hearing.


NAP: Band On The Run

(York 3.10)

NB: Sharp Hat

(York 3.40)