Commanche holds court in Unibet Stewards' Cup
Connor Beasley and Michael Dods combined to secure their first win at the Qatar Goodwood Festival with Commanche Falls in one of the toughest handicaps of all, the Unibet Stewards’ Cup.
Racing over the six furlongs, the 24 runners split into three and it was the far side group that appeared to hold sway at the halfway stage. However, the complexion of the race changed quickly, with Commanche Falls (10/1) bursting through on the stands’ side to take the valuable prize.
Runner-up Gulliver (18/1) followed the winner through to be beaten a neck while Great Ambassador (8/1) finished a close third after drifting across from the far side group to challenge the protagonists on the stands’ side. In a thrilling finish, Total Commitment (66/1) and Chiefofchiefs (20/1) took fourth and fifth respectively.
Beasley said: “This means a lot. Commanche Falls is a horse that’s just got better and better with each run.
“Fair play to the boss and the team at home. They’ve got him in tremendous form. He comes to every gig and today was his best performance ever.
“He travelled really well today and when I got him off the bridle and got a bit of space, I knew he would always dig deep for me – it was a fantastic result.
“The far side were ahead of me when I looked with about two and a half furlongs to go. However, once I got him rolling, Commanche Falls digs deep. Once I got him off the bridle I felt he was eating up the ground and it all happened well.
“He has progressed with each race, has got better and better and today was a career best for me and the horse.
“Things are going well and it’s nice to keep the momentum going. If things aren’t going well, you can question yourself. However, I’ve really got the ball rolling, things are going well and I couldn’t have wished for this.
“I had a bad fall at Wolverhampton in 2015. I fractured my skull, did my neck and back and did a good job on myself.
“There were always doubts, but there were no doubts in my mind about coming back. I went to Jack Berry House and was off for eight months in total. I came back and my first two rides were at Wolverhampton – it was some story to tell.
“I always had it in my mind that I would get back to where I wanted to be.”
Winning co-owner Ian Drysdale said: “It was amazing, absolutely amazing.
“We weren’t sure he would like the ground but he’s been coming up the weights and we knew that he would get in so we decided to take our chance.
“The first three furlongs we couldn’t see him but that’s just the way he runs. Once we saw him we were confident that he would finish his race strongly. The heart was fluttering a bit.
“We’ve been very lucky because Dakota Gold won some very nice races for us. The first time Dakota Gold won a big race we were in cloud cuckoo land but this is the biggest occasion we’ve had. This fella is his half-brother. The mare sadly died when foaling this horse.
“He’s in the Ayr Gold Cup. The handicapper will have his say but Michael [Dods] makes all the decisions.”
Lauren Mulholland, travelling Head Girl to Michael Dods, said: “It’s absolutely brilliant. He improves with every run and I can’t ask for more out of him.
“He performed on that ground and we know he battles in a finish. It was a case of fingers crossed and hope that the photo went our way.
“I look after him, too – he is a dream to do anything with. He takes everything in his stride. We have long drive back, but we will celebrate later!”
Adam Kirby said of the runner-up Gulliver: “I am gutted. He was picking up really well and I thought we’d get there, but there was one a little bit better than us on the day. It is a great handicap and always very tough to win it, and this is the closest I have got to winning it, but take nothing away from the horse, it is a great run.”
Trainer David O’Meara added: “Gulliver has run really well. The ground was absolutely perfect for him, he loves it slow. He was getting there all the time late on and Adam Kirby gave him a great ride. He has run a blinder and there were no hard-luck stories. I just thought he was running out of time late on. The Ayr Gold Cup could be something we think about.”
Total Commitment’s trainer Simon Hodgson: “A fantastic run, we come here not sure about the ground, but we thought he deserved his chance in a big race. First time blinkers, he probably hit the traps faster than we thought, but William did not panic, when Fresh came by him he took off again and finished past Fresh.
“The lad gave him a great ride. It is great for the horse – he has been so consistent all year long and deserved a crack at a big race. It gives us another string to our bow because he has gone on the ground.”
His jockey William Carver added: “We were probably on the wrong side. I wanted a bit of cover but he jumped so well I sat against him. I thought a load of them would come across us but they never did. He kept sticking his head out all the way to the line. There is probably a big one in him. That soft ground he quite liked.”
3.40pm Unibet Stewards’ Cup (Heritage Handicap)
1 Commanche Falls (Doug Graham, Ian Davison, Alan Drysdale) Michael Dods 4-9-01 Connor Beasley 10/1
2 Gulliver (Withernsea Thoroughbred Limited) David O’Meara 7-8-13 Adam Kirby 18/1
3 Great Ambassador (Ebury Racing 6) Ed Walker 4-8-10 William Buick 8/1
4 Total Commitment (P C F Racing Ltd) Simon Hodgson 5-8-04 William Carver (5) 66/1
5 Chiefofchiefs (Mervyn Ayers) Charlie Fellowes 8-8-13 Jamie Spencer 20/1
Michael Dods – 1st Qatar Goodwood Festival winner
Connor Beasley – 1st Qatar Goodwood Festival winner