Yesterday's card was unique at this meeting in lacking a Group One prize, its focus instead being a mere handicap. But this is known as Ebor week for a reason, and Dirar reminded the festive county throng why. Thirty-one years ago the Ebor Handicap was won by Sea Pigeon, the dual champion hurdler, under 10st. Now, for the second season running, the richest handicap in Europe was plundered by an Irish trainer better known for prolific success over jumps.
Last year, it had been Willie Mullins; this time it was Gordon Elliott, the understated young man who announced his talent in the least bashful fashion imaginable by winning the Grand National in his first campaign, with Silver Birch in 2007.
The Totesport Ebor, in other words, is a race for all seasons. One of the leading fancies yesterday was Overturn, already a winner this summer of both the Northumberland Plate and the Galway Hurdle. As it turned out, he proved ready for a break, dropping away from the lead at halfway. He was soon tailed off, but could still claim some reflected glory from Dirar, who had finished third at Galway.
The fact is that too many of the Flat specialists were ridden to use their speed too greedily, and the picture changed rapidly in the final 300 yards. Jamie Spencer has jump racing in his blood, not to mention his heart, but his familiar daring in this environment proved vital after he dropped out Dirar from a wide draw. When taking his saddle from the weighing room, Elliott had amused Spencer by asking: "Drawn 22 – is that good or bad?" In theory it was terrible, but Spencer held his nerve, got the splits he needed and rode a fierce finish to thwart Kieren Fallon, in full cry on Rosika, by just over a length.
Spencer gave an exultant roar, and little wonder. His mount had won a first prize of £130,000. "This horse is just a little pony," he said. "But he's very brave and generous." Elliott proved more succinct. "An honest little rat," the Co Meath trainer pronounced.
Fallon had been booked for Rosika by his former boss, Sir Michael Stoute, who has only proved willing over recent days to renew their old alliance. His stable jockey, Ryan Moore, remains sidelined by a wrist injury, and Fallon has certainly seized the moment. He has been in prolific form during Moore's absence and a trademark drive had won the opener for Stoute on The Fonz.
William Haggas, a patriotic Yorkshireman in exile, had seen the ante-post favourite, Harris Tweed, miss the cut for the Ebor. Harris Tweed instead ended up being ripped apart by the new favourite for the Ladbrokes St Leger, Rewilding, on the first day of the meeting. But Haggas found consolation when Approve, already a winner at Royal Ascot this summer, gamely wore down Crown Prosecutor in the Irish Thoroughbred Marketing Gimcrack Stakes.
The prize for this race is accompanied by the questionable honour of addressing the Gimcrack dinner, one of the great institutions of the northern Turf. But Haggas would certainly be worth hearing, as an animated thinker on the sport's problems. Not that Harry Herbert, the expert raconteur who manages Highclere Thoroughbreds, Approve's owners, would be a bad alternative.
The quickest horse in the race was unmistakably Temple Meads, who had them all in trouble before faltering over the sixth furlong. That allowed Crown Prosecutor back into contention, but Approve was gradually responding to Eddie Ahern and got up by three-quarters of a length, with Sir Reginald just nailing Temple Meads for third. "In the July Stakes he was on the rails and didn't like that," Ahern explained. "When I saw the draw I was delighted, to be right on the edge."
Haggas said: "He lost his way a bit in France last time. But today he was a Group winner and the rest had mostly only won maidens. I can hardly say this has been the plan, and I've no idea where we go next."
The absence of Ask left the Weatherbys Lonsdale Stakes full of question marks. But Opinion Poll could yet prove a genuine force in staying races this autumn, once he gets softer ground. Conditions here he found only just tolerable. Akmal tried to kick from the front turning in, but he was soon swept aside as this became a battle of attrition through the final two furlongs, Opinion Poll wearing down Samuel by half a length, with the latter's stablemate, King Of Wands, close up in third.
Frankie Dettori, his jockey, acknowledged that Opinion Poll had made pretty heavy weather of things. "You don't want too many of these in one day," he puffed. Elliott, mind you, would roll his eyeballs if he heard that. Anyone would think he'd ridden a steeplechase.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Zarebiya (4.05 York) John Oxx has an outstanding record with British raiders and this lightly raced filly proved too green before hitting top stride in a similar race last time, looking sure to relish this long straight as she learns to organise herself.
Suruor (2.50 York) Looked ready to resume last year's progress when finishing well for fifth in a big field at Ascot last time.
One to watch
Johannes (R A Fahey) Hinted at a return to top form at Ripon last Saturday.
Where the money's going
Last year's winner Gio Ponti is Coral's 7-4 favourite for the Arlington Million on Saturday, with Tazeez and Summit Surge 7-2 and 13-2 respectively.Reuse content