sport

Niven boxing Clever ahead of Ebor

View from connections ahead of Saturday's Betfred Ebor at York.

Peter Niven had many great times as a jockey but is just as excited for the biggest moment of his training career as he saddles the well-fancied Clever Cookie in Saturday's Betfred Ebor at York.

The Scotsman was a major figure on the National Hunt scene during the 90s, and has been ticking along with a handful of horses under both codes since he retired in 2001.

Clever Cookie is by some way his stand-out performer in each, having secured the Scottish County and Kelso Hurdles in the winter, and striking twice at the Knavesmire in the spring.

Most recently, Clever Cookie was caught out back at his favourite course when the John Smith's Cup developed into a bit of a sprint.

"I'm looking forward to it, it's good," said Niven, who trains from around Malton.

"Everything's gone great, they've had a drop of rain and that should help.

"He's drawn nine, so he has to break that dreadful statistic of no horse drawn in single figures winning the Ebor for the last 10 years, but statistics are there to be broken and if you'd asked me beforehand, I'd have wanted anything between six and 12.

"It's a tough, valuable handicap, and so everything in the race is exposed to the handicapper to some extent."

It is not unusual for the Sir Mark Prescott to field a short-priced favourite for a major handicap but it is 20 years since Hasten To Add collected this one.

Pallasator was bought by Qatar Racing after his two-length defeat of subsequent Glorious Goodwood winner Double Bluff in a handicap at Ascot, but must negotiate a tricky draw in stall 22.

Prescott said: "Hasten To Add, I thought, was sure to win the Cesarewitch and he didn't quite stay and then he won the Ebor.

"Pallasator ran well in the Cesarewitch to finish fifth, so they have a similar profile, I suppose.

"This horse has always been quite difficult. He gets very hot before races. He's never been easy, but it's always been worthwhile."

Facing Prescott are several former members of his yard, with Mutual Regard rattling off a four-timer for Heath House in very late 2012.

He has appeared a couple of times this season for new trainer Johnny Murtagh, winning a Curragh handicap and then finishing third to Pale Mimosa.

"Hopefully he has an each-way chance," said Murtagh.

"We could have done without going up 11lb for his last win, so we've booked Louis Steward to take 5lb off his back.

"The horse is in good form and hopefully the rain stays away."

Repeater was an infrequent winner, if high class, for Prescott and he has continued in that mould for David O'Meara, who said: "He ran well in the John Smith's Northumberland Plate (third) and when second in a Listed race at Sandown in July.

"He didn't handle the track at all at Goodwood last time so I think we can put a line though that.

"A race like the Ebor suits him - he needs to be held up and weave his way through runners."

Lady Cecil, who won last year's Ebor with Tiger Cliff, is double-handed.

Mighty Yar, who only just made the cut, finished second to the progressive Kings Fete at the course last time, despite having stumbled at the start, while one-time Leger possible Retirement Plan is fresh from a victory in the Shergar Cup at Ascot.

Teddy Grimthorpe, racing manager to owner Khalid Abdullah, said of t he latter: "He had a fairly slow start to the year so I hope he's still progressing.

"We're throwing him in at the deep end, but he's at the right end of the handicap.

"There's only 8lb between top to bottom, but that's what happens when you put good money up."

There appears quiet confidence from William Haggas about the prospects for Dare To Achieve, who landed a Listed race at Hamilton in the spring but was only seventh in a handicap on Derby Day.

"He's a different horse since Epsom, he returned very sore after that run," said Haggas.

"I think he's in a good frame of mind going there and I think he's got a sporting chance.

"He'll like the ground, he'll like the trip, I think, and he'll like the course.

"There's not much between top and bottom of the weights, you have to be very good to get in these days.

"These exposed ones keep the unexposed ones out, but hopefully we're not that exposed.

"This has been the plan for a while, but not a plot."

Luca Cumani has trained three previous winners of the Ebor and saddles Sir Walter Scott.

Formerly trained by Aidan O'Brien, the Galileo colt was sixth to Amralah on his first outing back at Newbury.

"Sir Walter Scott has only had three career starts and we think he's got some improvement in him," said the trainer.

"He ran a decent race at Newbury in the Doom Bar Stakes that was short of his ideal trip and the Ebor is more his cup of tea."

Saeed bin Suroor landed the 2012 Ebor with Willing Foe, and is represented by another course winner this season in Wadi Al Hattawi.

The Godolphin trainer said: "A mile and six will be fine for him. I think it's a competitive race, but hopefully he'll run a good race."