Tuesday 17 July 2018

Lengthy lay-off proves no obstacle to Litigant

Oisín Murphy celebrates winning the Ebor on Litigant
Oisín Murphy celebrates winning the Ebor on Litigant

Greg Wood

'Two years ago I could have walked away," Joseph Tuite said after the Ebor Handicap in York yesterday.

"I had sick horses, I had five winners in my third season and I just wanted to cry. Horses do that to you sometimes. But we had faith in what we do and trying to do it right, we had a good year last year and now this. You go in the history books when you win this, it's a legends race, and to win it after nearly 500 days off the track . . . "

The scale of his achievement with Litigant, the 33-1 winner of Europe's richest Flat handicap, was only just beginning to sink in. For the most successful owners and trainers, it can be easy to get used to winning, and treat even a major victory like this one as just another in a long line. Tuite, who has just 20 horses in his Lambourn stable, is unlikely to join them, and he was close to tears in York's winner's enclosure as he considered the long road back to the track with the winner, and what it might mean for his training career.

Litigant had been absent from the track for 491 days when he went into the stalls with Oisín Murphy, more than a year longer than any of his 18 opponents. He was always travelling smoothly, however, and the seven-year-old quickened into a decisive lead over a furlong out before passing the post a length-and-a-half in front of Wicklow Brave.

There was no point discussing future plans for Litigant afterwards. This race had been his target through nearly 500 days of nervous preparation.

"He's a very delicate horse, he's had seven runs in seven years of his life," Tuite said. "Every day you go into the stables you think, what's the leg going to be like, what are the joints going to be like, so for it to pay off is superb.

"It's all about the team at home. Every road has led to here and we knew last week that we couldn't do any more, we had him as right as we could get him and if it was good enough, it was good enough."

William Haggas's strike-rate at the meeting moved towards one-in-four after Ajaya took the Group Two Gimcrack Stakes, the Newmarket trainer's fifth winner of the week following doubles on the first two afternoons of the Ebor Festival.

Ajaya was always travelling smoothly for Graham Gibbons as Finnegan, from Wesley Ward's stable in America, cut out the running under Edgar Prado. Finnegan then faded abruptly as Ajaya quickened for home, and though the maiden Ribchester, at 25-1, made some ground from the rear, Ajaya was a comfortable winner by a length and a quarter.

"He's just done nothing but improve physically and his form shows that," Haggas said. "We will go for the [Group One] Middle Park now and take it from there."

Muhaarar, went on to become the first winner of the six-furlong Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot, and Ajaya, who could prove to be more of a sprinter than a Classic colt, is 16-1 with Paddy Power to complete the same double next summer.

Sunday Indo Sport

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