Ed Dunlop has Derby dream for John Leeper after colt lands the Betway Fairway Stakes at Newmarket

John Leeper booked an emotional challenge for his trainer Ed Dunlop in next month’s Derby when overcoming his inexperience to win the Betway Fairways Stakes at Newmarket.

The William Buick-ridden winner has a special pedigree — his sire is wonder horse Frankel while his dam Snow Fairy won six Group One races for Dunlop, including the 2010 Oaks and Irish Oaks.

But even more significant for Dunlop, owner-breeder Cristina Patino has given her colt the christian names of Ed’s trainer father who won the Derby twice with Shirley Heights (1978) and Erhaab (1994). 

John Leeper booked an emotional challenge for his trainer Ed Dunlop (centre) in next month’s Derby

On Saturday, on only his third start, the colt who had opened his winning account on Newcastle’s all-weather track last month pulled far too hard off a slow early pace.

But he still dismissed Tasman Bay, a runner who could also be Derby-bound, by a length and three-quarters, shaping as though the extra two furlongs in the Derby will be made to measure.

Share

Dunlop said: ‘It’s named after my dad so that’s about as much pressure as you can get! William said it was a farce of a race as they trotted for however long. He was a little bit keen and inexperienced but he can only get better with more racing. I’m sure the owner will want to go to Epsom. She has had the dream to do it and as long as he’s OK that’s what we’ll do.

‘He’ll need to step forward again but he deserves to go to Epsom. This is hopefully only the start.’

With Buick in line to ride Charlie Appleby-trained Dante Stakes winner Hurricane Lane in the Derby on June 5, the mount on John Leeper is up for grabs.

Hollie Doyle was on board when he won at Newcastle, while Frankie Dettori, on board Snow Fairy when she won the 2012 Irish Champion Stakes, is also likely to be on the shortlist.

John Leeper (not pictured) overcame inexperience to win Betway Fairway Stakes at Newmarket

Share

Posted on Categories Sport

England’s Richard Bland has Belfry in tears after clinching fairytale victory in British Masters

Richard Bland was in tears. His mum and dad were in tears. The Englishman’s coach Tim Barter was in tears. The TV commentators, all former hard-bitten professionals, were clearly choking up as well.

The Belfry, home of Ryder Cup fairytales, came up with another belter on Saturday as Bland, aged 48 years and 101 days, finally won on the European Tour for the first time at the 478th attempt.

Not just any event, either. The Betfred British Masters, first played in 1946. Now his name is on this prestigious trophy, alongside such legends as Bobby Locke and Peter Thomson, Seve Ballesteros, Ian Woosnam, and Greg Norman. No wonder there was not a dry eye in the house. ‘I’ve done it,’ the winner gasped to Barter, before covering his face with his cap once more.

Richard Bland claimed the British Masters title after beating Guido Migliozzi in a play-off

Share

Bland began the day as one of 22 separated by just three shots at the top of the leaderboard. ‘If I won this event, it would be like all my Christmases coming along at once,’ he said, after leading at halfway.

Two years ago, Bland lost his playing privileges on tour but still would not quit, even at 46. He played on the Challenge Tour, the reserve circuit, and fought his way back.

After 12 holes yesterday, he had clambered on top of the pack. ‘Make the dream come true, one shot at a time, one hole at a time,’ he told himself.

Standing on the tee at the formidable 18th, it was clear he would need a birdie to fulfil his dream. His tee shot, over the vast expanse of water, cleared the hazard by no more than 3ft. His approach shot finished 25ft away. Then came the putt of a lifetime, toppling into the hole on its last breath.

The 48-year-old claimed his first European Tour victory at the 478th attempt on Saturday

He thought he had won but Italian Guido Migliozzi holed a gutsy eight-foot putt to force a play-off. Half Bland’s age, he had a massive 53-yard advantage after their tee shots on the 18th, the first extra hole, but he could not make it count. Sometimes you cannot beat providence.

After his opponent three-putted, Bland found himself with a 3ft putt to win. In 25 years as a professional, he had had three seconds, two thirds, and 26 other top 10s, and when the putt fell below ground he finally had a victory as well. He became the oldest first-time winner in European Tour history and had done so by becoming the first golfer to complete 72 holes at the storied venue with only one bogey.

‘To win just once,’ goes the song by Irish band, the Saw Doctors. ‘That would be enough.’

It was certainly enough at The Belfry. Enough to trigger a universal outpouring of emotion. The next event on the calendar is this week’s US PGA Championship at Kiawah Island, and even the season’s second major surely won’t come up with a more moving feelgood story than this.

The Englishman struggle to contain his emotions after his fairytale victory on Saturday

Share

Posted on Categories Sport

Andy Murray decides to skip French Open and focus on preparing for the grass-court season

Andy Murray has abandoned his plans to play on clay this spring and will instead focus on the forthcoming grass court season.

The double Wimbledon champion’s 34th birthday celebrations on Saturday were perhaps muted by having to return home after his two doubles matches at the Italian Open.

Murray intended to seek a wildcard into one of this week’s ATP Tour events, in Geneva or Lyon. 

Andy Murray’s doubles return at the Italian Open was his first match since March

Share

As it turned out, according to sources close to the player, he suffered discomfort after playing alongside Liam Broady and practising with Novak Djokovic in Rome.

Having been told by the French Open that he needed to show evidence of being properly fit before they would give him a wildcard into the main draw, he decided to cut his losses.

Having last played a singles match in early March, the most likely place for him to come back now is the Mercedes Cup in Stuttgart, which will be played during the second week of Roland Garros, from June 8.

Murray has abandoned his plans to play on clay after feeling discomfort on his comeback

Share

Posted on Categories Sport