RECORD BREAKER RYAN HOPING TO TURN BACK CLOCK IN PORTLAND
Kevin Ryan has established himself among training’s elite in the 15 years since sprinter Halmahera completed an unprecedented third consecutive win in the valuable Portland Handicap at Doncaster’s St Leger Festival, writes Simon Mapletoft.
Success at the highest level with the likes of Palace Episode, Desert Lord, Astaire, The Grey Gatsby and Brando has been supplemented by victories in big sprint handicaps like the Ayr Gold Cup and The Wokingham at Royal Ascot.
But the Irishman makes no secret of his desire to turn back the clock with another victory in Doncaster’s famous cavalry charge with a horse he believes has the credentials to be one day mentioned in the same breath as those illustrious performers.
Bielsa takes an unbeaten record to Town Moor after impressing the Hambleton Lodge with a professional performance on only his third career start at Thirsk last month.
“He’s improved a lot for that run,” says Ryan. “He’s had so many niggles that it’s been stop-start with him, but he’s come through every set-back and developed into a very solid horse.
“For me, he must have a live chance. He has a great temperament, possesses a high cruising speed and quickens off it. Five and a half furlongs will be right up his street and at this stage I wouldn’t know how good he could be.”
The four-year-old son of Invincible Spirit made his belated debut last October, winning a 6f novice stakes at Redcar, but wasn’t seen in public again until making a winning re-appearance over the same trip at Doncaster in May.
Shouldering a penalty that day, he gave 21lb to the favourite but lumbered ten stone to victory en route to another gutsy performance on his handicap debut at Thirsk - his first run in just over three months.
Bielsa - partnered in all of his races so far by stable jockey Kevin Stott - is owned by his proud Wetherby-based breeder Martin Wainwright of Highbank Stud, who named the horse after the current manager of his beloved Leeds United (Marcelo Bielsa).
“Martin and I are both big Leeds fans and go to as many games as we can,” explains Ryan. “If we’re lucky enough to win the Portland with him you might see us both in the winners’ enclosure singing ‘Marching On Together’.”
Ironically, there was a footballing theme behind Halmahera’s love affair with the race a decade and a half ago. He was part-owned by former Arsenal, Sunderland and Republic Of Ireland striker Niall Quinn and is still one of Ryan’s firm favourites.
“He’s was an amazing character, always full of beans and loved his racing. For him, the Portland was the perfect race because he found 5f too sharp and 6f too far. Every year he came back to win he defied a higher mark and was a nine-year-old when he wrote his name in the record books in 2005.”
Bielsa is part of a strong team from Ryan’s slick operation, nestled high above Thirsk on Sutton Bank, which enjoys breathtaking views across the North Yorkshire National Park.
He plans to run four juveniles owned by Sheikh Mohammed Obaid Al Maktoum, who became a notable supporter of the yard only last year after meeting Ryan at Ascot.
His Superlative Stakes runner-up Juan Elcano, a son of Frankel, is being prepared for a crack at the Group 2 Champagne Stakes. “He ran very well at Newmarket and this race looks ideal over the same trip on such a big galloping track. I had to take him out of a Listed race at Newbury but he’s very well in himself now and will be a smart colt next year, whatever happens.”
Rhea is set to take her chance in the Group 2 May Hill Stakes. A winner at Haydock on debut, she ran with credit to finish a close third in Listed company at Sandown in July. “She’s really strengthened up since that run, which was only the second of her life, and should really appreciate the step up to 1m,” he says.
Sheikh Obaid’s Gimcrack third Repartee is also destined for Doncaster. He holds an entry in the valuable sales race but is more likely to take his chance in the Listed Flying Scotsman Stakes instead.
“He travelled well up with the pace for a long way at York but gave me the distinct impression that he’s ready for a step up in trip. The sales race is over 6.5f, but the Listed race is over 7f which should be perfect at this stage. He has the potential to develop into a smart horse once he matures.”
Galadriel, another well-bred Sheikh Obaid filly, is ear-marked for the Fillies’ nursery on Thursday, the traditional Carrie Red. “She won very nicely over the stiff 5f at Beverley and is another who should enjoy the extra distance,” adds Ryan.
Byline is the trainer’s most likely representative in the sales race on Thursday, the Weatherbys Racing Bank £300,000 2YO Stakes - a race he won with 100-1 shot Morning Post in 2013 and The Great Heir 12 months ago.
Highclere’s son of Muhaarar got off the mark at Hamilton in July before fading behind stable mate Repartee in the Gimcrack but has what it takes to make his presence felt in this race, according to Ryan.
“You need a horse with the potential to be 100 rated, or even to make it into Group company, and my fellow fits the bill. He’ll appreciate the longer trip and better ground than he got last time.”
With such a strong team, Ryan is naturally excited about four days of top class racing on Town Moor. “You have to have very good horses to take to all the big festivals and Doncaster is no different. We’re having a very good year so hopefully we can create some more memorable moments - especially in the Portland!”