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Betfred Ebor

Litigant lays down Murphy’s Law

Trainer Joe Tuite has six staff and 20 horses, and yesterday at York, on the final day of the Ebor meeting, one of those horses won the Betfred Ebor, the richest handicap in Europe.

Before yesterday, Litigant hadn’t run in 491 days.  The last time we had seen the Sinndar gelding in public was in April 2014, when he was trained by Seamus Durack and when he was winning the All-Weather Marathon Championships at Lingfield.

But Litigant is a delicate horse, fragile if you like.  To get him to the racecourse yesterday was an achievement in itself.  He is seven years old now and, before yesterday, he had run just seven times in his life, one for every year of his existence.

“I’m speechless,” said Tuite.  “It’s a marvellous team performance, I’ve got the best team in racing.  They’ve worked unbelievably hard to get this horse back on track.  He’s very delicate.  Ideally we wanted rain, and when it didn’t come he hummed and hawed a bit, but they’ve done a great job with the ground here.”

There was a slight scare before the off as well, as Litigant, sent off a largely unconsidered 33/1 shot, managed to unship Oisín Murphy before the start.  After that, however, things could hardly have gone more smoothly.

Murphy got his horse into a nice even rhythm through the early stages of the race, just behind the strong pace.  He travelled well into the home straight and, when Donnacha O’Brien kicked for home on Fields Of Athenry, Murphy squeezed his horse up, asked him to get closer.

He hit the front just inside the two-furlong marker but, when he did, the Willie Mullins-trained Wicklow Brave loomed as a big danger under Jack Kennedy.  Litigant had to dig deep in order to fend of the Irish horse’s challenge, but he did, and he ran on strongly all the way to the line to prevail by a length and a half from Wicklow Brave, who was a half-length in front of Suegioo in third.

“I suppose I had in the back of my mind that my horse hadn’t run in almost 500 days,” said Murphy.  “But you can’t stop and start at York, in an Ebor.  You have to go when the opportunity presents itself.  I’m delighted for Joe.  He gave me lots of winners when I was trying to be champion apprentice last year, so I’m delighted to ride a big winner like this for him.  I go in there once a week and I ride for him when I can.  This horse has had an awful lot of leg trouble, so it was a great training performance.”

It was a fine achievement by the trainer.  To harness the horse’s talent, unleash it on the racecourse as he did, have his horse in the prime of his health, ready to run for his life on the day that matters.  But the talent has to be there in the first place.

Before yesterday, Litigant had won five of his seven races, and he had finished second in one of the races that he lost.  He won two of his three races for Andre Fabre in France as a three-year-old, and he won three of his four races for Seamus Durack.  George Baker had ridden him in those four races, and he told Tuite that he was a Group horse, that he could be an Ebor horse.

“George rode him in May and told me to plan for the Ebor,” said Tuite.  “Since then, every day has been about the Ebor.  I was very close to packing it all in not so long ago, but I’ve got great owners.  I’m very lucky that Tony Byrne sent me this horse.  The owners who are with me now have been with me from the start.  You’re only as good as your owners, and I’ve never had an owner who hasn’t paid the bills.  They had faith in me, and I’m delighted for them.  This means everything.”

The winning rider was keeping his feet on the ground.

“You’re only as good as your last ride,” said Murphy.  “We’ll see how we get on at Chelmsford tonight!”

© The Sunday Times, 23rd August 2015