WE'RE up and running this weekend! The Flat turf season kicks-off at Doncaster on Saturday with Levitate, who led home three fellow Ryedale runners in last year’s William Hill Lincoln Handicap, will again be lining-up in the traditional showpiece curtain-raiser in a bid to make racing history, both nationally and locally.
If Levitate can score again, he will become the first horse since Babur in 1957-58 to win back-to-back runnings of the Lincoln. And, by a remarkable coincidence, he is trained in the same Norton yard.
While Babur was trained by Capt Charles Elsey at Highfield, Levitate represents John Quinn, the present incumbent of the famous establishment.
A horse who also won over Doncaster’s specialist straight mile last autumn, Levitate has come through his big-race preparation without a blip, according to Quinn, who said earlier this week, “He’s in good form, he’s fit and he’s a horse who goes well fresh.”
Quinn has given himself the option of running Levitate in Sunday’s Doncaster Mile, a Listed event, but, while final decision won’t be made for a day or two, he is swaying towards the Lincoln, which he also won with Blythe Knight in 2006 when the race was run at Redcar.
Few trainers have managed to win this notable event three times, but in Levitate, Quinn has a fighting chance of adding his name to the roll of honour.
“Doncaster suits him, and while he’s got plenty on off a mark of 106, there is not going to be a big weight range, so it’s not like he’s going to be giving lumps of weight to those at the bottom,” he said. “Ideally, I’d like some rain between now and Saturday - there is some forecast on Thursday and Friday – because he is a horse who goes well with give in the ground.”
Global Village, trained by Brian Ellison, and Richard Fahey’s Brae Hill, who were beaten inches into second and third by Levitate in last year’s race, are not looking likely to get into Saturday’s £100,000 renewal and instead will contest the £45,000 William Hill Spring Mile, which is the ‘consolation’ race for horses which fail to make the cut in the main event.
Fahey, who produced Brae Hill to win in 2012, will still be doubly-represented in the Lincoln. He is aiming to run both Hi There and Gabrial’s Kaka. The former carries the colours of the Market Avenue Racing Club, of which former Manchester Utd star Paul Scholes is a member, while Gabrial’s Kaka is owned by Dr Marwan Koukash, also the owner of Brae Hill.
Gabrial’s Kaka is joint-favourite with the sponsors at 10-1 and Fahey, who saw his Brae Hill and Justonefortheroad finish third and fourth last year, said of the gelding; “He’s an improving four-year-old with the right profile. He’s always been a big, backward horse but as he’s getting older, you hope he’s getting better. He’s a horse who travels well.”
As for Hi There, Fahey said: “He’s really a ten-furlong soft-ground horse and it’s not looking likely he’s going to get his conditions.”
The Lincoln Handicap signals the start of the seven-and-a-half month Flat turf season. Another Ryedale winner would be richly celebrated and if it happens to be Levitate history, dating back more than 50 years, will be recorded.
• WHO would have guessed? Three North Yorkshire horses will contest the Group 2 Godolphin Mile on Dubai World Cup Night at Meydan racecourse on Saturday – and all three are drawn side by side.
Penitent, who had also been entered in the Lincoln Handicap, which he won in 2010, represents David O’Meara and is drawn in stall one. Richard Fahey’s Gabrial, already a winner at Meydan this winter, will be coming out of stall two, while Kevin Ryan’s Glory Awaits, runner-up in last season’s 2,000 Guineas, is drawn three. Prize money to the winner is more than £360,000.
• TIM EASTERBY goes into the Flat turf season with his jumpers in top form, the Habton Grange trainer having followed-up his memorable Chelteham Festival success with Hawk High by posting two more notable hurdling victories last week.
Getabuzz, who, like Hawk High is a decent Flat horse, clinched the £20,000 Betfred Novices’ Handicap Hurdle Final at Sedgefield on Friday in the hands of Dougie Costello, who was also seen to excellent effect on Run Ructions Run in the £40,000 EBF Stallions 7 TBA Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle Final at Sandown.
Costello had no sooner weighed-in on Run Ructions Run than he was dashing away from the course to be with his wife Amy, who was in labour with their first child. Aoife arrived just after midnight, tipping the scales at 7lb 4oz, and Costello, the former Malton jockey, now based in Oxfordshire, rounded-off an unforgettable few days by going to Market Rasen later on Sunday to win the bumper for Norton trainer Tony Coyle on It’s A Sting.
• DEAN PRATT, the secret weapon over jumps for the John Quinn stable, again proved his considerable worth at Haydock last week when securing a narrow victory for his boss on Hidden Justice.
It was only by a short head that the four-year-old prevailed, but Pratt’s 7lb claim proved decisive in a driving finish, as indeed did a little bit of luck at the third-last flight.
When a horse fell in front of him, Hidden Justice could easily have been brought down, but he nimbly side-stepped his prone rival and hardly lost any momentum. “We were slightly hampered, but he did well to avoid the faller,” said Pratt after riding his third winner of the campaign from just 16 mounts. Last term, he rode three winners from a dozen mounts, a strike-rate of 25%, while the previous season, he posted a strike-rate of 29%, courtesy of six winners from 21 rides.
Mick Easterby was also on the mark at Haydock with Shadows Lengthen, who got up in the final stride under a stirring ride from Brian Hughes to win by a short head at 5-1 and follow-up his recent Doncaster success.
By a peculiar coincidence, minutes after Shadows Lengthen did his stuff, a race at Warwick was won easily by Polly Peachum, trained by Nicky Henderson, but a mare who carries the same name as one of Easterby’s star sprinters from the 1970s.
• JAKE BUTTERFIELD is clearly in good shape to enjoy a good turf season. The Ryedale apprentice booted home a double at Southwell last week.
Butterfield scored for his Norton boss Ollie Pears aboard Lean On Pete, an 8-1 shot, before following-up on the Derek Shaw-trained Day Star Lad, who looked a good-value 3-1 chance as he streaked home by seven lengths. It was the second double of Butterfield’s career, which now numbers 36 winners.
• PAUL MULRENNAN, who spent some five months on the sidelines after a crashing fall at Hamilton last September, has hit the ground running since he returned to the saddle.
The North Yorkshire jockey, who has strong links with a host of local yards, took his score to four winners since resuming when making two successful trips to Wolverhampton last week to win on Julie Camacho’s My Single Malt and the Kevin Ryan-trained Desert Colours.
“Happy days, things are going well,” said Mulrennan.