Racing: Bradley turns full Circle

York Ebor meeting: Jump jockey finds big-race winner while the favourite could be vulnerable in Nunthorpe Stakes

JOCKEYS, AS we all know, are not allowed to bet. Graham Bradley, though, found a legal way to take a punt on yesterday's Ebor Handicap. Two weeks ago, an old friend asked him to hunt down and buy a runner in the race, and Bradley came up with Vicious Circle. The deal was duly signed and sealed, and yesterday it took a little under three minutes for Vicious Circle to deliver.

The price - undisclosed, but probably six figures - was high, and the contract also guaranteed half of the pounds 90,000 purse to the previous owners. Yet this was still brilliant business, and in the winners' enclosure afterwards, Bradley was dripping with good humour.

In some ways, it was an unfamiliar image. During the year when Bradley was bailed following allegations of race-fixing, he was often seen looking downcast and confused on the steps of Charing Cross police station. Now the shadow has lifted, and Bradley, the oldest jockey in jump racing's weighing room, has a future to plan.

Vicious Circle's part-owner, David Metcalf, was the man who stumped up pounds 15,000 for Bradley's bail after the jockey's arrest. Metcalf would now like him to ride the horse to win a race at Cheltenham. But after yesterday's success Bradley admitted that, "he may be too good to go jumping", and in any case, his saddle-bound ambitions go no further than riding one more winner. ``I desperately want to ride another winner before I pack in,'' he said. ``There are a couple of good job offers I'm contemplating."

Whether Vicious Circle is too good for Cheltenham - an impossibility, some would say - remains to be seen, but he was certainly too good yesterday for 20 opponents who had all been prepared with great care and cunning. Almost a dozen of them were still in the running as they passed the two- furlong pole - eight, indeed, were almost line abreast - but when Kevin Darley asked Vicious Circle to go to work, he quickly surged clear. Travelmate was two lengths adrift at the line, which in a race as competitive as the Ebor is a significant margin.

Though he is a five-year-old, the Ebor was only the eighth race of Vicious Circle's career. "He had a bit of bad luck in his early days," Luca Cumani, his trainer, said. "As a three-year-old he fractured a leg and at four he had only two runs. He had never really run against this sort of opposition so it was a bit of a leap of faith."

It would require another jump into the darkness to send Vicious Circle over hurdles. He is a brave horse who does everything that is asked of him, however, and that is half the battle. Strange things can happen at Cheltenham in March. The Ebor winner landing the Champion Hurdle for a greying, middle-aged jockey could yet be another.

There was courage too yesterday from Ramruma, who finished off a hat- trick in Group One events in the Yorkshire Oaks. The pace was poor in the early stages, and Pat Eddery sent her on with almost a mile still to run. There she stayed, as one by one her rivals dropped away. Noushkey and Zahrat Dubai, most people's ideas of the dangers, were gone by the furlong pole, and it was left to Ela Athena, a 33-1 chance, to follow her home.

Ramruma was priced up for the Arc afterwards - 10-1 with Hills is the best price around - but the quote which really mattered was offered by Henry Cecil, her trainer. "The trouble is, she's been going all year, since March," Cecil said. "I can probably hold her until September, but whether I can hold her until October is another matter." The St Leger, of course, is in September, but that seems an unlikely alternative. We may have seen the last of her this year, although her owner, Fahd Salman, is keen to race her at four.

The bookmakers were busy after the Gimcrack too, marking down 20-1 against the winner, Aidan O'Brien's Mull Of Kintyre, for next year's 2,000 Guineas. Even at eight months' distance, headline writers must already be polishing up "O'Brien colt Wings in" with hopeful smirks on their faces.

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