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.
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"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."
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. "Hasten To Add, I thought, was sure to win the Cesarewitch and he didn't quite stay and then he won the Ebor," Prescott said.
"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.
"A race like the Ebor suits him - he needs to be held up and weave his way through runners."