Racing: Hugs Dancer defies the odds in Ebor to make Given's name

York Ebor meeting: 1,000 Guineas and Oaks winner Kazzia suffers first defeat in Yorkshire Oaks and may miss next month's St Leger
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The Independent Online

According to the statisticians, yesterday's Ebor was not a race for exposed handicappers, nor penalised horses, or the highly drawn. But then the statisticians went home from the Knavesmire considerably poorer than they arrived.

According to the statisticians, yesterday's Ebor was not a race for exposed handicappers, nor penalised horses, or the highly drawn. But then the statisticians went home from the Knavesmire considerably poorer than they arrived.

Hugs Dancer overcame not only his 25-1 outsiders' price but also a great pile of supposed disadvantages to collect Europe's most valuable Flat handicap, not for Yorkshire but at least for neighbouring Lincolnshire and the coming Gainsborough yard of James Given.

It was also perhaps the day when Given emerged from the chrysalis as a trainer in his own right. No longer does he have to labour under the label as Mark Johnston's former assistant.

That suits Given handsomely, particularly as the two qualified vets are not exactly on the same terms as the Farnhams. "An ambition this year was to be known for me and not for what I once was," he said. Mission accomplished.

It was supposedly mission impossible for Hugs Dancer when the gelding was drawn box No 20, with just two outside him. One of those to his right, the favourite Charley Bates, certainly made it look an impediment as he bolted from the gate and took Frankie Dettori on the scenic tour round the outside of the course.

Hugs Dancer, on the other hand, was charted to the inner by Dean McKeown and the partnership was never out of the front echelon. They were in the lead over one furlong out and even the devil on horseback would have struggled to overhaul them after that. "He just switched off, saved his energy and then wound it up as we planned," Given said. "These days when he gets to the track he starts grinding his teeth and he knows what he's here for. He wasn't going to let anything past him today. He had that gritty determination and wasn't going to let them through."

It was also a day which ensured that McKeown can put off the time when the riding boots go up to the attic. The 42-year-old was selling mortgages two years ago when the lean days seemed to be stringing together, but he continues to pay his own with yet another resurgence in his career.

"I've thought of packing up every year recently," he said, "but things like this keep you going. Things are going well again this year. In the last couple of seasons I haven't been winning too many big races."

Two discordant notes have to be recorded. McKeown received a two-day suspension for overuse of the whip, but lives to fight another day. That is not the case though for Mick Easterby's Sarangani, who broke a fetlock six furlongs out and had to be destroyed.

There was sorrow too in the Yorkshire Oaks, despite another warming performance from Sir Michael Stoute's Islington. Her victory meant a first defeat for the mighty Kazzia, the winner of both the 1,000 Guineas and the Oaks. There is always something saddening about a good horse losing an unbeaten record, the first sign of fallibility. The Triple Crown dream if not in pieces, is now showing signs of considerable fissures. Connections of the Godolphin filly are even talking about the Prix Vermeille as an alternative to the St Leger.

"She's had an easy time of it since the Oaks with a view to running in the big autumn races," Simon Crisford, the Godolphin racing manager, said. "Clearly we have been a little bit too easy with her. Once you get beat like that you're slightly back to the drawing board really."

Kazzia looked a different animal from Oaks day yesterday, soft as putty, vincible and weak. It was Islington who struck for home from over the horizon on this occasion, forging on from well over two furlongs out.

"I decided to ride her positively, but I took a chance when I did go, probably a bit too soon, but I didn't like to disappoint her when she was going so easy," Kieren Fallon reported. "She's got the speed for a mile and she stays a mile and a half and I think there's more to come."

Stoute, the great warder on the information cell, would not confirm where Islington will run next, but a rough guess seems to be that Golan will contest the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe and Islington the Filly and Mare Turf at the Breeders' Cup. "That's a distinct possibility," he said. And that's as positive as he gets.

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