TOP NOTCH TONTO, who proved a revelation last year for Brian Ellison when rising from the ranks of handicapper to Group 1 performer, is set to make his seasonal re-appearance this weekend.
Assuming the ground is at least good, the flashy-coloured chestnut is set to travel to Sandown on Friday for the bet365 Mile, a £95,000 Group 2 race which is also on the radar of two other high-achieving Ryedale raiders, the Richard Fahey-trained Garswood and Penitent, trained by David O’Meara and the winner of this race in 2012.
Top Notch Tonto, originally trained by Ian McInnes, joined Ellison last summer and, after winning a Newmarket handicap, went from strength to strength.
He won at Group 3 level at Haydock, a Listed race at Redcar and was then boldly supplemented into the Group 1 QE11 Stakes at Ascot in October when his owner Keith Brown forked-out a massive £70,000 for him to take his chance.
It proved money well spent as Top Notch Tonto ran a remarkable race to finish second to Olympic Glory and pocket a prize purse of almost £228,000 for his owner.
Now entering his third season of racing, and boasting a handicap rating of 118, Top Notch Tonto is facing a challenging campaign, but Ellison is delighted at how he has matured since last autumn and is looking forward to the months ahead with his stable-star, who is a confirmed mud-lover.
“He looks a million dollars,” reports Ellison.
“I want to get a run into him before the Lockinge Stakes at Newbury next month, so he’ll go to Sandown so long as the ground isn’t fast.”
With showers predicted, the weather forecast is encouraging for Ellison, who adds, “Even if it’s good ground, he’ll run.”
Some give in the ground would also be helpful to Garswood and Penitent.
Last year was a productive one for Garswood, who won the Free Handicap at Newmarket and also the Group 2 Lennox Stakes at Goodwood in late-summer before rounding off his campaign with an excellent third in the Group 1 Prix de la Foret at Longchamp in October.
Penitent, who has been a stalwart for O’Meara in recent years, won the bet365 Mile two years ago on his favourite heavy ground.
He is eight-years-old now and, able competitor though he remains, is not quite as good as he used to be. He does, however, have the benefit of a previous race this season, an unplaced effort in the Godolphin Mile at Meydan on World Cup night last month.
Ryedale opinions will be divided in the Sandown showpiece. Three possible runners from the area, each with good prospects, it promises to be a not-to-be-missed event.
• RICHARD FAHEY is set to be represented in the Qipco 1,000 Guineas at Newmarket on May 4 by Sandiva, who came through her first exam of the year with flying colours on the same course last week when winning the Nell Gwyn Stakes under Frankie Dettori.
Riding for Sheikh Joann Al Thani’s Al Shaqab Racing, his retaining owners, Dettori showed his delight about Sandiva’s success by producing one of his famous ‘flying dismounts’ in the winners’ enclosure after the combination’s Group 3 triumph.
A high-ranking juvenile last year, Sandiva – one of the Gazette & Herald’s ‘Ten to Follow’ this year – overcame a tricky wide draw to score by half-a-length, a performance which shaved her 1,000 Guineas price to 16-1 from 25-1 with several leading bookmakers.
“She did it well, considering she had a bad draw and a headwind to deal with. She was very game,” said Dettori.
Fahey was understandably well pleased with the outcome. “It was a good performance.
"Frankie wanted to get her in and switched off from her draw, as we didn’t want her to do too much early on. She will have a go at the Guineas now and Frankie is sure she will stay the extra furlong. It’s great to have one like her.”
The classy Sandiva contributed to a treble on the day for Fahey, who was also successful at Beverley’s opening meeting with Justonefortheroad and Flycatcher, both given powerful rides by Tony Hamilton.
All in all, it was quite a week for the Musley Bank yard.
Alben Star hit the jackpot for Fahey at Lingfield’s £1 million Good Friday bonanza. Produced late and fast over six furlongs by Paul Hanagan to pop his head in front where it mattered, Alben Star racked-up a whopping first prize of £93,375, which, to put it in some perspective, is only slightly less than the winning purse in a famous race like the Ayr Gold Cup.
Furthermore, at Nottingham the following evening, Fahey completed a double with Burtonwood and Skye’s The Limit, the latter another winner partnered by former stable jockey Hanagan.
• MALCOLM JEFFERSON, fresh from a tantalising treble at Sedgefield last week, will aim to end the jumps season in further unforgettable style at Sandown this weekend by scoring with Attaglance, an unlucky loser at last month’s Cheltenham Festival.
The Norton trainer is targeting the Bet365 Josh Gifford Novices’ Handicap Chase on Saturday for Attaglance, who went down by only a half in a Listed handicap chase at the Festival after finding his path blocked by the hanging winner Present View half-way up the run-in and being forced to switch to renew his challenge.
Attaglance went on to Aintree’s Grand National meeting, but finished out of the money in a handicap hurdle. He will be happier back over the major obstacles at Sandown representing a trainer, whose horses are in excellent form.
Jefferson’s Sedgefield treble, ridden by Brian Hughes, came courtesy of novice hurdler Cape York (3-1), Grey Life (4-1) in the handicap chase and Pair Of Jacks (3-1) in the handicap hurdle.
He has now had 30 winners this season, one shy of his best-ever score achieved in 2006-07. It would be quite fitting if Attaglance could add his name to the scoresheet on Saturday.
• CAM HARDIE – remember the name, because it might well pop up in as a racing quiz question in years to come.
Why? Because the apprentice, who hails from Ryedale, last week rode the winner of the first race in Britain ever to be staged on Good Friday.
Hardie, whose father Willie is head lad to Tim Easterby, partnered 5-1 shot Viewpoint to win by a neck for his Marlborough boss Richard Hannon and scooped the £50,000 Coral All-Weather Championships Apprentice Handicap to gain his sixth success.
“It’s my first winner for the boss and I am over the moon,” said the teenager, who is in his second season with Hannon and who originally learned the ropes riding out for Easterby under the watchful eye of his father, and also by competing in pony races.
Good Friday proved particularly good for the Ryedale fraternity at Musselburgh, where Smoothtalkinrascal won by a whisker for David O’Meara – beating veteran Borderlescott in the race named after him – Silvanus scored for Paul Midgley, and Bilimbi provided Norton jockey James Sullivan with his biggest winner in the £50,000 Royal Mile on his first mount for Newmarket trainer William Haggas.
• THERE can be few more consistent money-spinning mares in training than Ladies Are Forever, who took her earnings through the £300,000 barrier at Bath last Saturday evening when further adding to her impressive winning record.
Trained throughout her career at Brawby by Geoff Oldroyd for Pocklington owner-breeder Reg Bond, Ladies Are Forever won the Landsdown Fillies’ Stakes by a comfortable length and a quarter under Robert Tart to justify her position as 7-4 favourite.
Ladies Are Forever is now the winner of seven races, three at Listed level, and two others in Group 3 company. She is a real credit to herself and her connections.