Racing: Greaves in a feminine conquest

YORK EBOR MEETING: A hair-raising ride in the Nunthorpe Stakes but might and mane help Darley to shares the spoils
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The Independent Online
Martians did not land in the middle of yesterday's big race here and Shergar was not in the field but otherwise everything else incredible happened in the Nunthorpe Stakes.

Just under 60 seconds of high Knavesmire theatre culminated in a dead- heat between Coastal Bluff, who ran almost the entire journey without the navigational aid of a bit in his mouth, and Ya Malak, whose jockey, Alex Greaves, became the first woman in Europe to capture a Group One race.

They don't give owt away easily in Yorkshire and following Les Eyre's victory in the Ebor on Wednesday this was a triumph for two yards separated by 10 miles in the James Herriot landscape of Thirsk.

The two camps are hardly on sugar-borrowing terms, however. Greaves made her name at Maunby House, the premises of Coastal Bluff's trainer, David Barron, and also the yard where her mother Val is the assistant trainer. The high point of the relationship was Amenable's 1991 Lincoln win, the low the day she took David Nicholls, Ya Malak's trainer, home for tea. Suddenly amenable did not seem the appropriate word. Greaves did not seem to think there would be a joint party last night.

This was the most populated Nunthorpe for 30 years with 15 runners and the realisation that it would also be outstandingly dramatic came moments after the stalls crashed open.

The grey monolith that is Coastal Bluff unwound his long limbs unusually swiftly but as Kevin Darley made his first manual adjustments a ring in the gelding's bit snapped, leaving the metal of his bridle swinging uselessly under the muzzle. Darley was left as out of control as Eddie Irvine without a steering wheel (or Eddie with a steering wheel for that matter). "The horse jumped very well but I was frightened that he was that little bit keen early on," the jockey reported. "When I took hold of him to take him back, something just went. I heard something go ping.

"Horses came either side and that helped me with the steering and while he was bang in there with a chance I wasn't going to give up on him. Thankfully he's got a long mane so I used that as best I could to keep my balance.

"It was a bit scary but out there the adrenalin is flowing and my first thoughts were that he was still in the race and I wanted to get the job done. I didn't get scared until afterwards."

While Darley was performing his delicate gymnastics at 40mph, Greaves and Ya Malak crept ever closer. At the line York's photographic equipment was incapable of separating them, though Darley did separate himself from Coastal Bluff when it was expedient to do so. It made Frankie Dettori's static dismount look rather tame.

Ya Malak too had overcome the fates to claim his prize. The gelding was so sick with colic after his last run at Goodwood that his racing career, not to mention his life itself, was under threat. Now his name will go down in history as the transportation for his mould-breaking 29-year-old rider. "Today I think I've shown that if the animal is good enough then so am I," Greaves said.

Hubby made his name as the partner of Soba and has exhibited in a short career that he is also a devil of a competitior as a trainer. David Nicholls is bald and craggy and hewn from the same seam as another distinctive Yorkshireman Brian Glover. He will tell you that during his time in the saddle he held no truck with women jockeys. Nicholls, though, is no longer a riding chauvinist, presumably because if he was he would no longer get his meals cooked or dirty washing cleaned.

"Ya Malak showed what a good horse he is today and the jockey did the same," he said. "I don't have to tell anyone how good she is any more. Everyone in England, Ireland and France can see how capable she is.

"She's philosophical and realises there are owners and trainers who will never put her up, but that's their problem. I'm just glad she rides my horses because she rides them very well."

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