After the frenzy of Epsom, Royal Ascot and Newmarket's July Meeting, racing took a midsummer breather from the Group One races yesterday, with cards sprinkled with a few Listed races, but filled mostly with ultra-competitive handicaps. Yet this is exactly the sort of programme punters love and they positively flocked on to the courses, encouraged by the first warm sunshine in what seems like ages.
The day's biggest race, the £135,000 John Smith's Cup at York, proved a complete thriller, run at a breakneck pace, with three horses almost glued together in the final furlong as they stretched for the post. The horsemeat in the sandwich, the 20-1 shot Vintage Premium, got his head home first, just thwarting the 12-1 chance Kirovski to his right and the 9-4 favourite Leadership on his inside.
But, as if the drama of the race itself wasn't enough, a stewards' inquiry was called to keep all the connections sweating a bit longer before the result was left unchanged. Although Vintage Premium's SP made him the third longest-priced winner in the history of the race, the five-year-old gelding's draw in stall nine fell just within the favoured single-figure sector and trainer Richard Fahey had been quietly confident.
At Ascot, it simply paid to follow the dynamic David "Dandy" Nicholls yard in the opening sprint handicap. Victory with Continent in the Group One July Cup at Newmarket last Thursday had elevated the former jockey to new heights in the training ranks by achieving a one-two in the highest grade, as he saddled Bahamian Pirate to finish second. On the previous day, Nicholls had done the same in lesser company with Brave Burt, who beat his stablemate Awake in a photo.
Turned out again yesterday, Brave Burt, who drifted out to 6-1 before being backed into 11-2, made the most of a handy draw in stall four by taking an early lead on the stands rail and more or less staying there throughout. Without looking too extended, jockey Keith Dalgleish was able to hold off challenges from Peruvian Chief and My American Beauty, with Sunley Sense getting fourth place.
The winning trainer was at York, where he saddled yet another sprinter, Flak Jacket, to land the six-furling handicap on the Knavesmire. But Edward St George, in whose Lucayan Stud colours Brave Burt, like Continent and Bahamian Pirate, runs, was in a suitably affable mood after the successes of the last four days. "Dandy believes in running them quite quickly again," he said before explaining that Brave Burt had been named after a billionaire American friend, Burt Todd, who is currently recovering from heart surgery. "We'll take it one day at a time," St George said with regard to future plans for Burt the horse.
As if by reflex, John Dunlop got into the one-two action in the second race, the Listed Silver Trophy Stakes over a mile, by saddling the winner, Fallen Star, and the runner-up, Inglenook.
Richard Hannon's Cape Town won this race last year, and looked to be making a bold bid for a repeat when leading the field around Swinley Bottom and then along into the straight. But Inglenook had always been handy and looked to have seized a significant advantage by kicking for home on the far rail, two furlongs out. Out wide, Steve Drowne was stoking up Fallen Star, who was making her seasonal debut, and she had sufficient turn of foot to go past her stablemate.
"Nice filly, but been a bit fragile," said trainer Dunlop, in a clipped, military manner, before exiting sharply to avoid any leading questions about how good this four-year-old daughter of Brief Truce might be. Given that she was only just beaten in another Listed race at this course last September, the answer might well be Group class in due course.
Ascot's other feature race, the Tote Exacta Handicap over an extended two miles featured 10 likely candidates for the Cesarewitch, including last year's winner of the Newmarket marathon, Distant Prospect. But, with the sun beating down, it was hard to think of the autumn.
Thewhirlingdervish and First Ballot set out to impress by contesting the pace, but the noticeable struggler after half a mile was Mark Johnston's Mana d'Argent, a five-year-old with one win from 41 starts before yesterday.
The Ela-Mana-Mou gelding was still out of the picture when the busy Hugs Dancer kicked clear on the turn into the home straight and took a four-length advantage. But Hugs Dancer slowed inside the final furlong and from the chasing pack emerged Mana d'Argent, displaying what could be termed a turn of foot under Dalgleish, who calmly held on for his double. "Not for sale," quipped Mark Johnston, the winning trainer, afterwards.
Dalgleish went on to complete a 340-1 treble in the last on the aptly named Blue Sky Thinking.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies