Next week is my favourite race meeting of the year, the York Ebor Festival. In the Q&A that forms the sales page for my Champagne Kid, I talk about the meeting and also the origin of the name for my racing advice service. The particular paragraph discussing my involvement with this marvellous meeting is below.
Can you tell us a fun betting/horse racing fact about yourself?
I have been to the York Ebor meeting for every day of every year for the last 20 years. Amongst the friends I go with, we have a competition picking 2 selections each race, with one nap and one NB each day. Points are given for each win (10pts plus SP; double if the nap wins) and the winner at the end of the meeting is designated ‘The Champagne Kid’ for that meeting (and has to buy the champagne for all at the end of the day). The title is held until the following year.
The one at the bottom of the table is given the ‘D A Nolan’ title (named after one of the losing-most trainers of all time). I am by a good way the winning-most ‘Champagne Kid” over the years but had a dire meeting last year and am the currently disgraced ‘D A Nolan’ title holder and have to wear the ‘D A Nolan t-shirt of shame’ at breakfast each day of this year’s meeting. I aim to regain the correct title this year!
The first Juddmonte International Stakes I saw live in 1998 was an absolute humdinger won by the Pat Eddery ridden One So Wonderful for Luca Cumani by a short head from Faithful Son (Godolphin / Frankie Dettori) with another short head to Chester House (Sir Henry Cecil / Kieron Fallon). Three jockeys at the peak of their powers and a pulsating two x short head finish. Although I had backed One So Wonderful, I still cannot believe that Faithful Son was not declared the winner. Have a look on YouTube for the race; freeze the frame when they hit the line and judge for yourself. I still think to this day they called it wrong. But, without a doubt, the best performance I have ever seen in the International was by the peerless Frankel. It was a real ‘hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck’ moment when he cruised effortlessly into the lead at around the 2-furlong marker, and then lengthened his lead to the winning line leaving everything else floundering behind.
In this year’s International renewal, the older horses represented in the main by Poet’s Word and Cracksman (who may not run unless rain arrives) look to me to have an advantage over the Classic generation whose main hopes would appear to lie with Eclipse winner Roaring Lion and runner up Saxon Warrior. At this stage, Poet’s Word for me.
The meeting opens with a Class 2 sprint handicap over 5½ furlongs. The aftermath of this race usually consists in our group, of conversation once we have re-convened after watching the race in our usual spot in the Knavesmire Stand along the lines of “Did you have that? No, wasn’t on my radar. How about you? No, wasn’t even in my calculations. Anyone else? Nope? Me neither!” It won’t be the last time during the festival that such words will pass between us after the winner of yet another fiendishly difficult handicap has eluded us all.
Leaving the almost impossible handicaps aside, there are plenty other top-class races to get your teeth into. There is the all-age Nunthorpe over the minimum trip which was in won 2010 by Sole Power at 100/1. My partner was on at SP, as she was when Arabian Queen won the International at 66/1. That’s what she does – 100/1 and 66/1 winners. Why bother with the 11/8’s and the 9/4’s when you have a talent for picking them at those prices? This year’s renewal looks to be at the mercy of Battaash currently about 8/11 in the ante-post market. Not the sort of price I am interested in, and he has already blotted his copybook in this race last year when he boiled over in the preliminaries and lost his race before the start. I backed him on that day, but won’t be backing him this year; not at odds-on. I really hope he puts on a performance somewhere close to his electrifying wins in last year’s Prix de L’Abbaye or the recent King George Stakes at Goodwood though. For me, this year’s Nunthorpe is one to watch and hopefully see a magnificent performance in, but I won’t be having a bet.
Going back to the handicaps, the highlight of the week is of course the Ebor Handicap over 1m 6f. I find it almost as difficult to find the winner of this as I do the sprint handicaps, but as it is the handicap highlight of the week, one has to find a bet or two in the race. At this point, finding a winner is complicated by not having a clear idea of who will participate. Willie Mullins’ 11 entries hardly help in clearing the already muddy waters.
Some of the horses who interest me at the moment for the Ebor are Godolphin’s First Nation (currently around 16/1 in the ante-post market), last year’s winner Nakeeta (around 14/1) who is bidding to become the first Ebor back-to-back winner in 95 years, and Ian Williams’ Saunter who won the November Handicap last year and has the profile of a typical Ebor winner. He is currently priced around 33/1, and I think at that price is worth a small each-way ante-post interest.
As I said earlier, this meeting is my favourite of the year. That is not only for the quality of the racing, but also for the whole ambience surrounding it. York is a fantastic city for a visit, with excellent pubs and restaurants. If I had to nominate one of each as favourite, I’d go for The Rising Sun as favourite pub, and Delrio’s Italian for favourite restaurant. Both wonderful places.
On the Saturday, the little competition in our group of friends will have come to an end, and I hope to be buying the Champagne to celebrate another successful meeting. I hope all Betfan readers and members have one too!