Donn's Articles » Harry Bentley

Harry Bentley

It was last Monday morning that Harry Bentley received a phone call from owner Paul Jacobs to ask him if he would be available to ride Limato again in the July Cup at Newmarket next Saturday.  Bentley thought about it for about a millisecond before responding: yes he would.

And so begins the latest chapter in the Harry Bentley/Limato story.  The story began when the rider was on his way home from the Arc de Triomphe meeting at Longchamp in October 2015.  He was at Charles de Gaulle Airport, on his way to his flight, when he fell into step with Paul Jacobs.  Earlier that day, the owner’s horse Limato had run a cracker to finish second in the Prix de la Foret from a wide draw, so it was no surprise that the Henry Candy-trained gelding was the main focus of the conversation.

Limato had run five times in 2015, and he had been ridden by four different jockeys.  Bentley did not know it at the time, but the owner was looking for a rider who could commit to the horse.  Two weeks later, after Bentley had ridden a horse at Chelmsford for Jacobs, the owner asked him if he could commit.  And the rider responded: yes he could.

Together, Limato and Bentley had a fantastic year in 2016.  They finished fourth in the Lockinge Stakes over a mile, a distance that probably stretched the horse’s stamina to its limit, before stepping back down in trip to six furlongs and putting up a spectacular performance to land last year’s July Cup at Newmarket. 

Bentley had ridden big winners before.  He had won the Qatar Derby and the Qatar Gold Cup on Dubday, and he had won the Lillie Langtry Stakes on Simple Verse, but he had never ridden a Group 1 winner in Britain until he kicked Limato home at Newmarket that day.

“He gave me some thrill that day,” he says.  “He travelled so easily and he picked up so well.  I had never experienced acceleration like that before from a horse.”

Limato and Bentley finished second behind Mecca’s Angel in the Nunthorpe Stakes over five furlongs the following month, then went back to France in October and put up a scintillating performance to land the Prix de la Foret over seven furlongs.  The story continued.

On his final run of the season, Limato was beaten in the Breeders’ Cup Mile at Santa Anita, but his rider was unperturbed.

“He had had a long season,” recalls Bentley.  “He had been on the go for a long time.  And the pace they went in America, the end-to-end gallop, over a mile, that relentless gallop, it just probably undid him.  It blunted his turn of foot.”

Bentley went east as usual for the winter.  Perennial champion jockey in Qatar, he had another good season there, riding 63 winners, including the Sheikh Mohammed Bin Khaliffa Al Thani Trophy on The Blue Eye and the Durkhan Sprint on Izzthatright, both for his main trainer there Jassim Al Ghazali.

Limato joined him in the Gulf Region at the end of March, a few days before he was due to run in the Al Quoz Sprint at Meydan on Dubai World Cup day.

“I had a sit on Limato when he got there,” says Bentley, “ and he felt good.  It’s hard to tell until they race, it’s a long way to travel, we just did a three-furlong breeze, but he felt well.”

Then the rains fell in Dubai, and rain is not good news for Limato, a horse whose speed is at its most potent on fast ground.  The ground was officially yielding on Dubai World Cup day, and Limato struggled.  Racing towards the stands side, he never appeared to be happy, and he ultimately finished 10th of the 12 runners, over nine lengths behind the winner The Right Man.

“Of course I was disappointed,” recalls Bentley.  “We were all disappointed.  But it wasn’t his true running, it wasn’t his ground.”

Even greater disappointment was to follow for Bentley in May this year, however, when it was announced that he had lost the ride on Limato.  Owner Paul Jacobs stressed at the time that the decision was not a reflection of Bentley’s ability as a rider.  Limato had had a bad experience in Dubai, and horses are intelligent animals, he reasoned, so if Bentley were to get on Limato again, it might trigger a reminder of what happened in Dubai.

“Naturally I was gutted at the time,” says Bentley.  “It was very disappointing.  But there’s nothing you can do about it, it was the owner’s decision to make, so all you can do move on.”

Ryan Moore rode Limato on his debut this season, in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot, when he ran a big race to finish third behind The Tin Man and Tasleet.  But Moore is set to ride Caravaggio for Aidan O’Brien in the July Cup on Saturday, so Limato needed a new rider.  Or an old one.

No doubt, the mature manner in which the 25-year-old Bentley dealt with the disappointment of losing the ride in the first place was a factor in his reinstatement.  It is a long road that doesn’t turn.  And the fact that he rode three winners last Saturday, two at York in the afternoon and one at Doncaster in the evening, can’t have harmed.

“I’m not sure what the reasoning was,” admits Bentley.  “But Ryan will be riding Caravaggio, so they needed to find somebody, and I obviously know the horse well.  I’ll just be delighted to get back on him.”

Get ready for the next chapter. 

© The Sunday Times, 9th July 2017