CLEVER Cookie is set to make his seasonal return this week when defending the Betway Yorkshire Cup at York's Dante Festival.
Trained near Malton by Peter Niven, Clever Cookie was a 5-2 winner of the Group 2 contest 12 months ago.
Fast ground has prevented the nine-year-old re-appearing prior to Friday's Yorkshire Cup but Niven is upbeat about the condition of his stable star.
"He is in great form with himself but is behind in his work," he said. "It’s a shame we didn’t get a race but he wouldn’t have run at any of the trials because it was too quick anyway.
"He has had a bit of an interrupted sort of ‘prep’ but, for the last six weeks, he has been good. He has done enough to warrant a run, put it that way."
Last year’s victory was Clever Cookie's 11th win in 25 career starts and Niven said: "I look back very fondly on it. They’ve all been great days in their own right but that was obviously the 'biggest' win. The fact that the whole family was there - my mother was down from Scotland - was very nice."
The Niven team have great affection for Clever Cookie and the trainer, who rides him out daily, hopes there are more big days ahead.
"He is very important to us. He’s the top man in the yard and, hopefully, can stay like that for another couple of years. He gets a lot of attention.
"He has got a little bit lazier - like the rest of us as we get older!" Niven added. "But he is still very enthusiastic, loves going out every day, and loves the routine. He is very happy in himself."
Niven welcomed the weekend rain which left the ground as ‘good to firm, good in places’ on Monday afternoon.
Other leading contenders for the Yorkshire Cup include Dartmouth, in the Royal silks, and the globe trotting Big Orange.
York’s season-opening Dante Festival, which takes place over three days, starts on Wednesday.
For tickets call 01904 620911 x 225 or visit www.yorkracecourse.co.uk