Racing: Elsworth worthy of a first taste of the elusive prize
Sunday 14 March 2004
The name D Elsworth on a racecard used to mean just one thing: the spectacle of that famous grey thatch of the trainer of that famous grey gelding, Desert Orchid, adorning the racecourse.
It still does, to an extent. But now, increasingly, it is likely to confirm that one of Britain's most accomplished young riding contenders is present, and enhancing his already burgeoning reputation. The bold young Yorkshireman Dominic Elsworth - no relation to the trainer, David - has, at 24, already won over the Grand National fences, with victory in the 2002 Becher Chase on Ardent Scout, and has also also claimed such notable prizes as this season's Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock, with Artic Jack.
He boasts an impressive winning strike-rate of more than 20 per cent, which he attributes, with the plain speaking we associate with the White Rose county, to the fortune of being stable jockey to Sue Smith and her husband, Harvey, at their Craiglands Farm yard, near Bingley, and hence "getting on the best horses, those that are able to win". He adds: "Harvey doesn't like me just going out, riding any old thing."
Elusive, though, is a Cheltenham Festival triumph. Last season Elsworth was close, desperately close, on the Smiths' Royal Emperor, defeated by a mere short head in the Pertemps Hurdle Final. This time, the same pair are much fancied, after a clear-cut Wetherby success, to claim the Royal & SunAlliance Chase, which would satisfyingly relieve him of his Festival virginity. "He's my best chance this season," Elsworth says. "He's kept on impressing me every time he's run. He's a relentless galloper, all hearts and guts. He's what you want at Cheltenham, a horse that's going there with a serious chance. Mister McGoldrick must have an each-way chance in the Arkle as well if the going turns soft."
The jockey, who was born at Guisely, 10 minutes from the Smith operation, vividly recalls the sweet sense of exhilaration, followed immediately by the heart-wrenching disappointment, of Royal Emperor's race last year.
Asked what it felt like, galloping up the hill on a mount in contention, he retorts: "A long way". He adds: "It's a great feeling. The only problem was that I had another horse next to me [appropriately named Inching Closer]. I'd rather not have had that. The sickener was that I had won it before the line, I had won it after the line. But I didn't win it crossing the line."
He continues: "A Festival or Grand National winner means everything to a jockey. Cheltenham and Aintree are both magical places. It's what we all set out to achieve."
Elsworth's career began at the Smith yard as a 16-year-old, with a background of hunting, eventing and showjumping. Within a year he'd had his first ride under rules, at Market Rasen. "Sue and Harvey supported me and have really instilled confidence in me," says Elsworth, who attended the Northern Racing College. "Winning's everything with them and they're great people to work for. They've got great teamwork and they insist that everything is done properly."
Injuries have been frequent. A fractured femur meant six months out; he has three times broken a collarbone, once a shoulder blade. "It doesn't concern me," says Elsworth, who names Richard Dunwoody as his principal inspiration, but who also is indebted to Richard Guest, who used to be with the Smiths. "Because I know that I'm coming back and getting on good horses. I'm not banging about riding things that are out of the handicap and no good."
His future looks auspicious, particularly with a name that cannot be ignored. "I'd imagine he'd have a bit more stick than me. People would think he's still riding," said Elsworth Junior with a laugh. "They'd be saying, 'Eh, Elsy, what were you doing on that horse yesterday, you clown?'" Thenamesake is anything but.
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