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Dublin: 10 °C Monday 6 July, 2020

The difference a year makes as Meath-based trainer Lyons wins first £1m Ebor

Having finished fourth in the race 12 months ago, Mustajeer claimed victory in York on Saturday, writes Donn McClean.

Jockey Colin Keane (Second left) and connections celebrate after winning the Ebor with Mustajeer.
Jockey Colin Keane (Second left) and connections celebrate after winning the Ebor with Mustajeer.
Image: Clint Hughes

IT WAS A well-planned journey, from Ebor day last year to Ebor day this year.

From fourth to first in 12 months.

Mustajeer ran well in last year’s Sky Bet Ebor. The Medicean gelding had raced just five times for Ger Lyons back then, and he had never been beyond a mile and a half in his life. Connections couldn’t have been certain that he would get the one mile and six furlongs of the Ebor.

It made sense, then, that he was ridden conservatively by Gary Carroll 12 months ago, when he was dropped in early from his wide draw, and when he stayed on well through traffic to take fourth place behind Muntahaa. It was a fine run, and it allayed any doubts surrounding his stamina for the trip.

So a plan was hatched. With total prize money for the Sky Bet-sponsored contest set to double in a year, from £500,000 in 2018 to £1 million in 2019, connections resolved that they would plan for a repeat bid. As Ger Lyons told Nick Luck on Racing TV on Sunday morning, it would have been rude not to.

Lyons also said that Mustajeer had scope to progress from last year. That they knew that he would be better this year than last. That mentally he was a work in progress.

David Spratt’s horse easily landed a listed race at Naas in November last year. That was his only run after the Ebor last season and it netted him a handicap rating of 111.

You couldn’t have known how this year’s Ebor would shape up. You knew that the inflated prize fund would attract the classier horses, and you knew that the handicap ratings would climb as a consequence. You just didn’t know by how much.

Last year, the highest rated horse was the 112-rated Weekender and, with a field limit of 20, you needed to have a rating of at least 102 to get into the race. This year, newly-designed stalls meant that the field size could be increased to 22, but it was certain that the competition just for places in the field would be more intense.

That said, a handicap rating of 111 at the start of the season was always likely to see Mustajeer safely in. While you didn’t want to drop by too much, it largely meant that Lyons could set about planning a campaign that would get David Spratt’s horse to York in August at concert pitch, without worrying too much about his rating.

sky-bet-ebor-day-2019-yorkshire-ebor-festival-york-racecourse Mustajeer crossed the finish line. Source: Clint Hughes

Bred by Shadwell Estate, Mustajeer raced in Sheikh Hamdan’s colours during the early part of his career. He was trained by Barry Hills to win his maiden as a juvenile in 2015, and he was trained by Owen Burrows as a three-year-old and during the early part of his four-year-old year. Sent to Tattersalls July Sales in 2017, he was picked up by Gaelic Bloodstock there for 50,000 guineas. With the benefit of hindsight, that obviously looks like seriously good business now.

Of course, you couldn’t have known then that Mustajeer would cop £600,000 for winning the 2019 Ebor. You couldn’t even have known that on Saturday morning.

Indeed, Ger Lyons said on Sunday that, if you had offered him fourth place prize money on the morning of the race, he’d have taken your hand off. The owner saw the horse’s potential two years ago and the trainer had him perfectly primed on the day, and that gave him a chance. In a race that is as competitive as the Ebor, all you can do is give yourself a chance.

Mustajeer’s stepping stones to York this year were all Group-race stepping stones. Seventh behind Magical in the Alleged Stakes, second behind Master Of Reality in the Vintage Crop Stakes, third behind the same Magical in the Tattersalls Gold Cup, fifth behind Twilight Payment in the Curragh Cup.

His handicap mark dropped to 108, which was just about perfect: low enough to be a safe distance off top weight, high enough so that they wouldn’t be sweating on whether or not he would get in.

Rider Colin Keane was superb once more. He got his horse settled nicely through the early stages of the race, along the inside and behind horses. He was no better than 11th or 12th as they levelled up for home, and it may have only been the rider’s third ride ever at York, but it didn’t matter. He rode him with the calm confidence that is part of his make-up. Four and a half furlongs from the home turn to the winning line, and that was plenty.

ger-lyons Trainer Ger Lyons. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Mustajeer made nice progress on the far side to join the front rank on the approach to the two-furlong marker. It looked like he wasn’t travelling as well as Donnacha O’Brien was on Willie Mullins’ mare True Self to his right at that point but, when Keane asked his horse to pick up, the response was positive. He hit the front as they raced to the furlong marker, and he galloped on strongly all the way to the line. Red Galileo kept on well on the near side, and Desert Skyline finished off his race strongly but, in truth, it never really looked likely that either horse was going to get to Mustajeer.

Remarkably, it was a fifth Irish-trained victory in the Ebor in the last 11 years, Ger Lyons following in the recent footprints of Willie Mullins, Gordon Elliott, Johnny Murtagh and Tony Martin. Remarkable because, before Willie Mullins won it with Sesenta in 2009, only one Irish-trained horse – the Aidan O’Brien-trained Mediterranean – had won the race since Christy Roche won it on Bonne Noel for Paddy Prendergast in 1973.

For Lyons himself, it was another high in a red-letter season that has seen him land his first Group 1 race in Ireland with the hugely exciting and unbeaten Siskin. The journey continues.

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About the author:

Donn McClean

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