PETER NIVEN already possesses one mighty achievement. He is among the elite group of jump jockeys to have ridden more than 1,000 winners.
This week, he could become the only one of them to train the winner of the Ebor Handicap. Furthermore, his tilt at York’s famous race is centred on a horse whose dam carried Niven to six wins in his previous career.
The Barton-le-Street trainer, who has only 20 horses under his care, saddles stable star Clever Cookie in the £265,000 Betfred-sponsored showpiece, the signature event of the £3.5 million Welcome To Yorkshire Ebor Festival, which spans four days of top-notch action on Knavesmire.
The gelding is a son of the family-owned Mystic Memory, whose cheaply acquired union with Primo Valentino produced the horse that has put Niven on the map as a trainer.
Clever Cookie has won eight of his 12 races. Twice a bumper winner, he scored in three of his six outings over hurdles, which included capturing a Group 2 event at Kelso in March, and, since switching to the Flat in April, he has won three from four.
“Eighteen months ago,” said Niven, “I said he might be an Ebor horse, but when you say these things, people think you are daft or joking.”
Not any more.
Clever Cookie has already been to York three times this season. Twice he has emerged triumphant, in a handicap in May and in a Listed race in June when he dead-heated for first place with Irish raider Ralston Road.
His latest visit to his local course resulted in an unplaced performance in the John Smith’s Cup, but the quick ground and slow early gallop on that occasion caught him out.
“He’s a big horse and I wouldn’t run him on ground as quick as that again,” said Niven, who feels the step back up in distance will suit Clever Cookie.
“Everything has gone well with him. You always have it in the back of your mind that he deserves a break after being on the go for so long. But,” added the trainer, “he can have his break after the Ebor.”
Clever Cookie has come a long way. Originally nicknamed ‘doughnut’ in the yard because he seemed a bit thick and was a slow learner, the gelding has learned his lessons well.
Niven, who recently celebrated his 50th birthday, is hopeful, rather than confident, that Saturday’s big-race challenge will have a favourable outcome.
“I think he could still be well handicapped and it’s not like he’s going to be giving away loads of weight because the lightweights don’t get in the race anymore. He’s in a good place.
"To win would be huge for the yard, for me and for everyone involved. But I’ve been in racing too long to know that you don’t build yourself up.”
• G FORCE spearheads the David O’Meara team at the Ebor Festival as York’s leading trainer aims to post his first Group 1 success with his sprinting ace.
The Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes is the target for G Force, a course winner in May, who chased home Take Cover in a Listed event back on Knavesmire last month.
While Take Cover confirmed those placings when subsequently taking the Group 2 King George Stakes at Goodwood, with G Force unplaced, O’Meara has plainly lost no faith in the ability and potential of his three-year-old.
“He got hit over the head with a whip at York and didn’t fancy going back in there (a gap between rivals) again,” explained O’Meara.
“And that downhill course at Goodwood just didn’t suit an inexperienced horse like him. He’ll win a Group race, if not this season, then next season.”
O’Meara could hardly have his string in better form. Last Saturday the Nawton trainer sent out three winners from five runners, a haul highlighted by Out Do providing him with his third win in four years in the William Hill Great St Wilfrid Handicap, which he’d previously captured twice (in 2011 and 2012) with Pepper Lane.
The gelding, an 18,000gns purchase out of Luca Cumani’s yard last October, bagged a first prize of more than £43,000 after coming late and fast under Danny Tudhope to gain a narrow success.
O’Meara’s York assault is also likely to include Dutch Rose, Penitent, Chancery, That Is The Spirit and maybe even the high-class Custom Cut, a recent Pattern-race winner in Ireland.
• RICHARD FAHEY, who remarkably gained his third four-timer in eight days last Saturday, courtesy of doubles at Newmarket and Chester, has a choice of engagements for his Northumberland Plate winner Angel Gabrial at York.
“He’s in the Ebor and also the Lonsdale Cup,” explains the Malton trainer as he decides on the best course of action with his talented stayer.
Izzthatright, a runaway winner under the in-form Jack Garritty, at Catterick last week, is likely to make a quick reappearance at York for Fahey, who will be well represented in plenty of the races over the four days with such horses as Baccarat, Heaven’s Guest, Dutch Courage, Parbold, Gabrial’s Kaka and Dolphin Village all holding engagements.
Also worth looking out for are Tony Coyle’s Lily Rules, who will be seeking to figure in the placings in the Group 1 Darley Yorkshire Oaks, Tim Easterby’s smart sprinter See The Sun and hat-trick seeking juvenile Mattmu, the Brian Ellison-trained Racy, Totalize and Knightly Escapade, and a useful team from the John Quinn yard, including Pearl Castle, Great Hall, Swynmor and Geordie George.
• JOE DOYLE hit the heights with the biggest success of his career at Chester last Saturday.
The Norton-based apprentice, who is attached to the John Quinn yard, won the Stella Artois Handicap, worth almost £50,000 to the winner on the Brian Ellison-trained Top Of The Glas.
The notable success took Doyle’s seasonal tally to 21 winners, a score that looks sure to rise considerably as his talents reach a wider audience.
• SIR Neil Westbook, owner and breeder of the Tim Easterby-trained 2002 St Leger winner Bollin Eric, has died at the age of 97.
Sir Neil and his late wife Lady Joan were loyal patrons of the Easterby family through three generations, starting off with Walter Easterby, then his nephew Peter Easterby and finally with Tim, who described the pair as “the best owners you could possibly have”.
Sad to also report that Dick Curran, one of the last of the ‘old school’ of jockeys, died last week just short of his 90th birthday.
Curran, who lived at Yearsley, near Coxwold, had a highly successful career in the saddle, twice winning the Topham Trophy and being also successful in races like the Valentine and Becher Chases at Aintree and Doncaster’s Great Yorkshire Chase on Bramble Tudor, who was the winner of 17 races.
He also trained a Cheltenham Festival winner in Longtail, triumphant in the 1962 Festival Trophy Chase under Stan Mellor, thus ensuring his name will always be remembered in the annals of the turf.