Atomica secures second-consecutive Horse of the Year honour

By Sports Desk February 21, 2024
Atomica with customary jockey Dane Dawkins Atomica with customary jockey Dane Dawkins File

After another fairly consistent season, Gary Subratie’s classy mare Atomica secured a second-consecutive Horse of the Year, after she was again named the country’s best performer for the 2023 season.

The Don Wehby-owned charged registered a number of outstanding performances for the season, as her five wins from seven starts included the prestigious Jamaica Cup, which all but etched her name in the minds of the 15 individuals –journalists and members of the promoting company –who cast their ballots.

Atomica, a five-year-old chestnut mare, registered her five victories in Grade 1 trophy races last year, namely the Labour Day Trophy, the Clovis Metcalfe Trophy, the Legal Light Trophy, the Menudo, and the Jamaica Cup. Those pushed her earnings to $6.3 million, some ways off the $14 million she earned won the award for the 2022 season, as her connections did highlight a few issues earlier in the season.

As such, Subratie was delighted at her achievement which he labelled as extremely special.

“I’m elated and it’s good to know that you have a horse that repeated horse of the year, only an elite group of horses has ever done that. I’m proud of her and I think we did a lot of work. Last year we went through some tough times with her, but we got through with everything. She’s proven herself last year and she’s going to show herself even stronger this year,” he said shortly after the announcement at Caymanas Park, on Tuesday.

Wehby, owner of Oakridge Farms, shared similar sentiments about the filly, who is said was the pride of his late father, Donald Wehby Sr.

“I’m extremely proud of my horse and extremely happy. She’s a very, very special filly,” said Wehby.

“She’s a very special horse to me and my family. My dad, who was the founder of Oakridge Farms, passed away on August 2, 2022, and she won the derby the week after and she has brought so much happiness to my family that I’m almost speechless,” he added.

Meanwhile, Mouttet Mile winner Rough Entry and Jamaica Derby winner Ability, were the runners-up to the Horse of the Year. Rough Entry was also named champion middle-distance performer, as well as champion foreign-bred runner.

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  • Macdermott all the rage to give Mullins second National in space of a week Macdermott all the rage to give Mullins second National in space of a week

    The Coral Scottish Grand National meeting at Ayr this week could prove highly significant in the engrossing battle for the British trainers’ championship – with Willie Mullins’ Macdermott shortening significantly in price for the big race with the sponsors.

    Mullins had a hugely successful Cheltenham Festival and was frequently in the money at Aintree too, not least when taking the Randox Grand National with I Am Maximum to add £500,000 to the pot of prize-money he has won in Britain this season.

    That sum puts him ahead of Dan Skelton and Paul Nicholls and there is more money on offer still at the Ayr fixture coming up on Friday and Saturday, as Mullins seeks to emulate the great Vincent O’Brien, who won the British and Irish titles in successive years in the 1950s.

    Coral have made Macdermott the 6-1 favourite for the Scottish National – which has a first prize of £112,540 – and Mullins the 1-2 favourite for the trainers’ title. In addition to the National, the Scottish Champion Hurdle is worth £56,270 to the winner.

    “After the success of I Am Maximus in the Aintree showpiece on Saturday, punters are now backing Willie Mullins to make it a Grand National double with victory at Ayr and Macdermott is a significant market mover for the race, his odds tumbling from 10-1 to 6-1 clear favouritism, while the man himself is now 1-2 to land a first British trainers’ title,” said Coral’s David Stevens.

    Officials at Ayr are understandably looking forward to the added interest in their big meeting after events at Aintree.

    Clerk of the course Graeme Anderson said: “It’s pretty much all or nothing now for the title, Willie Mullins seems to be in control.

    “We’re hoping he’ll be coming to Ayr, it really adds to the racing and definitely adds to the occasion, we’re really looking forward to it.

    “We’ll see what tomorrow brings when the entries come in, but we hope they’re all in there and he’s pushing to get that title.

    “Paul Nicholls has always been a big supporter of this meeting and then obviously with the win on Saturday, Willie Mullins has come on the scene. He hasn’t had a lot of runners at Ayr in the past so it’ll be good to see a good few of his.”

  • Henrietta Knight backing I Am Maximus for Gold Cup glory Henrietta Knight backing I Am Maximus for Gold Cup glory

    It was Henrietta Knight who first identified I Am Maximus’ star quality and she is now backing the Randox Grand National hero to go on and win a Cheltenham Gold Cup.

    The Gold Cup-winning trainer was in her role as racing manager to the late Michael Grech when she first laid eyes on I Am Maximus as a yearling and it was a clear case of love at first sight for Knight, who relished every moment of the Willie Mullins-trained eight-year-old’s Aintree triumph.

    The 77-year-old now feels course winner I Am Maximus has all the capabilities to emulate her own Best Mate and capture the blue riband at the Cheltenham Festival.

    Knight said: “I think he could win a Gold Cup. I’m not sure how Willie will cope with all his horses for the Gold Cup and which one he would consider the best, but he is a real stayer, Maximus, and he likes Cheltenham – he loves the hill.

    “I really enjoyed watching the National and after he jumped the first two fences I said ‘he’s loving it, he’s got the hang of it and loves these fences’.

    “We were just watching him creeping and creeping and he made that one mistake at The Chair, where he rather caught Paul (Townend, jockey) by surprise and he had to call a cab, but then Paul was very good as he didn’t rush him.

    “He just let him get his confidence again and on he went on the second circuit, I thought it was fantastic to watch.”

    I Am Maximus spent his first few summers with Knight at her West Lockinge Farm in Wantage and after the early stages of his racing career were overseen by Nicky Henderson, he switched to Mullins, who Knight credits with helping the burgeoning talent fulfil his destiny of winning Grand Nationals.

    “I had the horse here a lot for two summers and parts of winter as well and he won a bumper and a novice hurdle for Nicky Henderson,” continued Knight.

    “Mike wanted to move all his horses to Ireland and it was my idea to move him to Willie’s. I doubt anyone else would have won a National with him and he has trained him so well.”

    She added: “I felt sorry for Jody McGarvey not riding him because he has done a good job on him this year, but that is how it goes in racing and you have to have your stable jockey on your top horse. Paul’s riding fantastic and I would want him on board.”

    The son of Authorized is the latest champion off the Tom Costello production line that had been the source of Knight’s very own great, Best Mate.

    The Costellos have been Knight’s go-to family when searching for high-quality new stock and I Am Maximus was an instant hit with not just Knight herself, but the horse’s original owner, who sadly died before his former charge reached his peak.

    “I picked him out as a yearling and then I went back and bought him for Mike Grech as a three-year-old from the Costellos, from whom I bought Best Mate. He came from a fantastic place and all my best horses have come from them, not just Best Mate, but Calgary Bay, Racing Demon and Somersby as well.

    “They produce good horses and they bought him from France as a yearling. I always loved him.

    “Mike adored the horse and he was named after his wife Maxine, it was his favourite horse. It was unfortunate he had to give up his racing interests and when that time came, Willie thought he was an ideal candidate for JP (McManus).”

    Shifting to the left at his fences has always been a trademark of I Am Maximus’ chasing career, while he has always been regarded as a touch ‘quirky’ by those who have dealt with him on the racecourse.

    However, Knight – a known master on the schooling grounds – has nothing but praise for his jumping ability and explains how he always had the hallmarks of an exceptional staying chaser in the making.

    “Most of the best horses are a little quirky and he has a little bit of his own ideas,” she said.

    “He’s very straightforward to train but he has his own ideas about jumping. He was always a very, very good jumper and a careful jumper, but he just likes to measure his jumps up by going left-handed.

    “In the Olympics, you will see the high jumpers go off sideways to measure the jump and it is what I Am Maximus has always done. That’s his mark and how he likes to do it.”

    She went on: “He was always destined to be a chaser and he was unbelievable when he was here as a youngster – we would jump him a lot. He doesn’t want to fall, he always wants to get it right and that means he sometimes takes some rather strange jumps that catch the jockeys by surprise.

    “I have some fantastic pictures of Maximus jumping all kinds of poles and everything else here, he could showjump, he is that careful, and he has got the time to be careful over staying trips. He’s good at conserving his energy and he doesn’t waste any in a race.

    “He’s a very good horse and he would have gone round again in the National!”

    There were no fallers in this year’s Grand National, as 21 of the 32-strong field completed the marathon course.

    That is the highest number of finishers since 2005 and with the first four home all previous Grade One winners, Knight concedes the race is a far different proposition to the test her late husband Terry Biddlecombe would have encountered as a jockey, but a change that is necessary to adapt with the times.

    “The first four home were all class horses and it just shows that cream comes to the top in races like that now,” explained Knight.

    “It’s no longer a race where you will get a huge outsider from the bottom of the weights crop up, I don’t think. They skipped round a lot of the horses yesterday, they all looked fresh and everything looked good.

    “The only thing is I think on the second circuit there is hardly anything to jump at as they’ve kicked all the top off – I think you could canter round on your pony and jump those. They are not what they were, but that is what the sport is now and people want to see a race without accidents.

    “It’s just adapting to the times and it’s not like the brave riders of old who hunted round sitting on the back of their saddles on a long rein, with pot luck and huge fences. It’s more of a professional race now.”

  • All well with Corach Rambler after National disappointment All well with Corach Rambler after National disappointment

    Lucinda Russell’s Corach Rambler is none the worse after his Randox Grand National title defence ended at the first fence.

    The 10-year-old won the race for owners The Ramblers last season, prevailing by two and a quarter lengths to give the Kinross trainer her second success after One For Arthur in 2017.

    This season Corach Rambler aimed to emulate great horses such as Red Rum and Tiger Roll in returning to Aintree to retain his title, but first he was a contender at the very top level in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

    There he ran an admirable race when finishing third behind Galopin Des Champs, a run that made his handicap allocation for the Grand National look rather generous.

    As such he was well-backed on return to Liverpool and started at 15-2 under Derek Fox having been the favourite for much of the ante-post phase.

    Sadly his race ended only moments after it began, with Corach Rambler stumbling on landing after the first fence and unseating Fox.

    He then ran loose to the next fence and fell when meeting the ground on the other side, though connections were spared the ordeal of seeing him run riderless for the rest of the race as was he corralled ahead of the third fence and caught.

    Russell reported him to be unscathed following the experience and will now call it a day for the season and allow him to enjoy a summer break.

    “He’s had a good sleep in his stable and is perfect,” she said.

    “We’re very pleased and relieved to have him home in one piece and he’ll now go on a nice holiday and then we’ll decide what happens next.

    “He just seemed to stumble and it’s one of the those things, but luck was on our side still as he’s absolutely fine.

    “He went into one of the corrals, it’s very good how they work, he was caught quite quickly and that was a relief.”

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