Master and apprentice take spoils
Gifted Master, a 20/1 shot ridden by 5lb-claiming apprentice Jason Watson, landed one of the biggest handicap sprints of the season yesterday, when he got back up on the line to win the Unibet Stewards Cup on the final day of Glorious Goodwood.
The five-year-old, trained by Hugo Palmer, carried top weight and the master stroke by Watson after making a lot of the early running was not to go chasing it when headed by Justanotherbottle. And though the runner-up went a couple of lengths clear at the furlong marker, Gifted Master came back at him, getting up on the line to win by a short head.
Watson, 18, is the son of a postman. He started with Gary Moore, who put in a good word with Andrew Balding, and he joined the latter's apprentice academy (graduates include William Buick, Oisin Murphy, David Probert and Martin Dwyer) two years ago. He is now vying for the apprentice title with Rossa Ryan. That win, the 50th of his career, reduced his claim to 3lb.
"I'm so grateful to ride such a talented horse," said the jockey. "This time last year I was watching this on television, never thinking I'd ride in it, let alone win it. People were asking what my celebration would be if I won. I had a few ideas but it was so tight I wasn't sure I got it."
"What a ride he gave him," said Palmer. "I don't know Jason very well but he was very calm and when the other horse went past he didn't flap. It gave him a target.
"I was joking before that he was unbeaten in handicaps but he'd only run in one before! He's a Group horse in a handicap, he won over five, six, seven and eight furlongs - his CV reads very well. He still needed a career-best today, even with Jason's claim."
The Qatar Gordon Stakes is traditionally a St Leger trial, but this year it attracted only four runners - though one of the quartet was Derby runner-up Dee Ex Bee.
However, Silvestre de Sousa was pushing him from the get-go and it was Cross Counter, a gelding and therefore ineligible for the Doncaster Classic, who had led from the start and relentlessly stayed there, breaking the course record in the process. He may head to Australia for his next race and earned a quote of 20/1 for the Melbourne Cup.
Dee Ex Bee, the 6/4 favourite, who has been seventh in the Irish Derby and third in the Grand Prix de Paris since Epsom, was four and a half lengths back in second.
"He just doesn't have the speed on fast ground," explained trainer Mark Johnston. "He was on and off the bridle from the start and when Silvestre wanted to make some use of him at the top of the hill he said he wasn't quick enough."
Johnston added: "The Leger's still on but he'll be left in the Voltigeur at York, but wouldn't run there unless it came up softer."