MAAREK was on the mark to give trainer Evanna McCutcheon a brilliant Duke of York Stakes victory at York Racecourse.
The seven-year-old had already advertised his talents on soft ground when taking the Group 1 Prix de l’Abbaye at Longchamp last year and he defied top weight and a five pound penalty to win the £100,000 Group 2 contest on Knavesmire.
McCutcheon has been involved with the horse since he was bought as a three-year-old at Doncaster sales and, now training him in her own right, she said Ascot would be the next step for the son of Pivotal.
A 12-1 chance, Maarek travelled strongly on the far side of the track and took it up a quarter of a mile from home. While Astaire, for Sutton Bank trainer Kevin Ryan, provided a firm challenge, he was repelled by half a length.
“Ascot is the aim,” McCutcheon said. “He’s a Group 1 winner over five furlongs but he’s won more races at six furlongs, so we’re not sure which race to go for – either the Kings Stand or the Diamond Jubilee.”
Ryan said of Astaire: “We all know he is a very good horse. He has such a great attitude. Having him and Hot Streak – I am going to enjoy it because having two sprinters like those two in one year is unbelievable.”
The new York season kicked off in fabulous fashion for North Yorkshire trainers who celebrated five victories.
Clever Cookie (7-1) led home a 1-2-3 for county handlers in the opening StanJames.com Stakes.
The six-year-old, saddled by Malton’s Peter Niven, came with a late run to pip Tres Coronas – the charge of Maunby’s David Barron – by three-quarters-of-a-length.
Awake My Soul, trained by Nawton’s David O’Meara, was third. It was Niven’s first ever winner on Knavesmire and he was naturally thrilled.
“I am absolutely delighted,” he said. “I have had a couple of placed horses here and it is always an ambition of any trainer to win at York, especially northern trainers, so it is nice
“Fingers crossed we can maybe do something."
They also filled all the podium places in the Infinity Tyres Stakes.
Aetna (7-1 jt-fav), trained by Mick Easterby at Sheriff Hutton, swooped to victory in the six furlong contest ahead of Baccarat, saddled by Musley Bank’s Richard Fahey, and the former Gimcrack Stakes winner Blaine, who is the charge of Ryan.
Easterby reckons the four-year-old could be a Listed winner in time – if she gets her required soft ground.
He said: “She got away with it today. Graham Gibbons (jockey) said she didn't want to race so he just sat her out, kept her quiet, left her alone, got her warmed up and delivered her at the death. He is a brilliant jockey."
O’Meara got the defence of his York top trainer title off to the best start when That Is The Spirit (5-2 fav) was an easy winner of the Conundrum HR Consulting Stakes
He said: “Whether he’s won because he’s better than the rest or because he goes in the ground the best, I’m not sure, but I do know that he’s a very good horse."
Barron got in on the act as Mignolino (5-1) comprehensively took the British Stallion Studs EBF Novice Stakes - handing rider Gibbons a York double.
And a glorious day was completed when Streets of Newyork (12-1) won the closing Coopers Marquee Stakes for Norton trainer Brian Ellison and York-based Koo's Racing Club.