reports from the Knavesmire
Barry Hills launched his training career with a punt on Frankincense in the 1968 Lincoln, but if that day still holds a special place in his affections, Ebor day 1995 must now be running it close. Within the space of 35 minutes, Hills saddled the winners of the Gimcrack Stakes and the big handicap itself, and for good measure his percentage of the prize- money will be thickly padded out by the proceeds of another tilt at the books.
Last Friday, the trainer rang William Hill and Victor Chandler and backed Sanmartino, his runner in the Ebor, to win pounds 35,000 at odds of 16-1 and 14-1. With half a furlong to run yesterday he probably wished he hadn't. Midyan Blue kicked a length clear of the field and had no intention of stopping, and though Willie Carson sent Sanmartino in pursuit, three strides from the line he was still a head in arrears.
At the post there was a nostril in it, in Sanmartino's favour, and as the spectators caught their breath, Hills's bookies reached for their cheque-books. "That will keep the wolf from the door," the trainer said with the merest hint of understatement. "They're always very sweet when you've had a bit of long odds."
The Ebor is not generally a trial for the St Leger, but Sanmartino is still among the entries for the Classic and Hills hopes that Khalid Abdullah will allow him to take his chance. "When three-year-olds start improving at this time of year, you never know what will happen," he said. "He's been progressing all through the season."
Since Sanmartino was burdened with just 7st 11lb yesterday, some may feel that the euphoria of victory was playing havoc with Hills's judgement, but he is far too shrewd for that. His colt also overcame the considerable handicap of a wide draw, and within a few weeks his odds of 8-1 for yesterday's race may look like the biggest present this side of Christmas.
On the other side of Christmas, Royal Applause, the trainer's Gimcrack winner, is available at 25-1 for the 2,000 Guineas, but this time there is little sign of gift-wrapping. Royal Applause started favourite at 4- 6, but had to work hard for victory, and like Sanmartino got up with just inches to spare.
"Were we beat?" Brett Doyle, the jockey on Tumbleweed Ridge, said incredulously as he was led into the runner-up's position afterwards. Seconds later, the judge confirmed that they were, but it was a brave performance by Tumbleweed Ridge, and his ante-post Guineas price of 50-1 (with William Hill) is much more interesting than the quotes about Royal Applause.
Still Hills had not finished, and a treble at odds of 30-1 was completed when Mubhij took the Roses Stakes by the relatively comfortable margin of a neck. He even had an influence on the Yorkshire Oaks, in which Wind In Her Hair, trained by his son John and ridden by another son Richard, finished third, but here it was Pure Grain who earned the serious attention.
Once again, there was not much in it, even though Pure Grain seemed sure to win by the better part of a furlong when she drew alongside Magical Retreat with a quarter of a mile to run. Magical Retreat, though, stayed on with a determination which mocked her 33-1 starting price, and Pure Grain was just a head ahead at the post.
Pure Grain has been busy since the spring but Michael Stoute, her trainer, will now extend her campaign until October and a run in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, for which Coral's quote of 20-1 is a fair one. They could afford to be a little generous. Fortunately for them, Barry Hills bets elsewhere.
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