Let’s all drink to the John Smith’s Cup

ONE, TWO, THREE?: Clever Cookie wins at York during May’s Dante Festival. The horse is bidding for a hat-trick of Knavesmire victories in the John Smith’s Cup

ONE, TWO, THREE?: Clever Cookie wins at York during May’s Dante Festival. The horse is bidding for a hat-trick of Knavesmire victories in the John Smith’s Cup

First published in Sport
Last updated

WITH the 55th John Smith's Cup set to bring huge crowds to York Racecourse tomorrow, Turf Talk takes a look back to the very first instalment of the famous race.

THE year 1960 looks like a different world.

One of flat caps and thick-rimmed NHS glasses. Men hobble around on stilts and crutches - far too many for comfort. The Second World War is still painfully close in the memory.

The tic-tac men gesture furiously, the frantic hand signals changing the odds in seconds with the ever-watchful bookmakers. It is chalkboards rather than computer screens.

It is a world which, with the hindsight of more than half a century's passing, looks grey.

Across the York Racecourse stands, huge signs on the clocktower alternate. As prices change, as races pass, those big boards come up and down - naming jockeys, giving prices, revealing winners.

Big screens are the future. This is a job for men.

This is the world which gives birth to the first Magnet cup. Now, 55 years on, the John Smith's Cup, as it is now known, is the longest running sponsored race in the British racing calendar.

It's also one of the richest heritage handicaps of its type. Sniffy types will tell you it's only a handicap. But some of the country's best horses have run in this race over York's extended ten furlongs.

And some good ones turned up for the first.

The Magnet Cup, representing a beer from the John Smith's Brewery based at nearby Tadcaster, replaced the Black Duck Stakes and came with a lavish gold cup and a first prize of £4,125.

The backers were making their first foray into racecourse sponsorship and their money - cash now considered small compared with the £150,000 prize pot which frames the race today - brought a number of top horses to York.

Blast had nearly won the Eclipse Stakes at Sandown and had taken the Queen Anne Stakes, leading one newspaper to scream 'Blast can blast 'em' as its tipster nailed his colours to the mast.

Fourteen went to post with Right of Way the favourite. He travelled to Knavesmire after winning the Brittania Handicap at Royal Ascot. So this was not merely some handicappers' race. These were some seriously good horses with pedigree and form in the book.

As the stalls cracked back, Reactor went straight to the front, tracked quickly by the three-year-old Fougalle, trained by Rufus Beasley at Malton and ridden by local jockey Norman McIntosh.

Asthey came into the straight, Fougalle was still there. Four furlongs, then three furlongs - locked in a battle with Royal Painter. There was nothing to choose between them but, as Fougalle asserted as the line began to draw near, she faced another challenger.

Billum flew fast down the outside, getting ever closer. It was a fine late rally, but too little too late. Fougalle held on by a head, at 9-1, to take the first ever Magnet Cup.

"Norman McIntosh comes in cool and unperturbed - as if he'd been on a quiet trot. Fougalle is certainly a fine three-year-old." The promotional film which uttered these words claimed the race would be "keenly followed in the years to come - taking a place with the Ebor Handicap and the Eclipse Stakes".

Time would prove these were not idle boasts.

Proud Chieftain won the following year, a horse who had run Petite Etoile - the Yorkshire Oaks and Sussex Stakes winner - in the Coronation Cup and St Paddy, a former Dante, Derby and St Leger winner, in the Eclipse.

Peleid would go on to win a St Leger after striking York glory in race which has continued to thrill to the present day. What chapter will be written tomorrow?


Niven bidding to be a right Clever clogs

COULD it be a York hat-trick for Clever Cookie tomorrow?

Peter Niven’s stable star goes for a trio of Knavesmire successes this season when he lines up in the John Smith’s Cup.

Successful at the Dante Festival, he then stepped up in distance and class when dead-heating with Irish raider Ralston Road for the Listed Stowe Family Law Grand Cup at the May Spring meeting.

Returning to a trip over a mile-and-a-quarter, he will have to win York’s heritage handicap without his regular race rider Graham Lee.

The pair have been together for all of his race victories this term but it is PJ Macdonald who now has the responsibility of steering the Barton-le-Street horse to another famous York win.

Niven has reported Clever Cookie to be in fine form ahead of the contest but he faces a stiff test from 19 rivals in a maximum field.

Nawton’s David O’Meara has declared Chancery, Two For Two and Ingleby Angel.

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