By Geoffrey Riddle
David Elsworth still has the appetite for winners at the age of 77 but the veteran trainer revealed he has little fight to take on authority any more after Desert Skyline won the Doncaster Cup on Town Moor on Friday.
Desert Skyline only ran in the Group Two contest because the three-year-old was excluded from Saturday’s William Hill St Leger on grounds that he is a gelding.
The son of Tamayuz came with a late run under Silvestre De Sousa to beat possible Melbourne Cup contender Thomas Hobson by a length and a half and paid a handsome compliment to the chances of Raheen House and Stradivarius ahead of the final Classic of the season.
Elsworth is famously a colourful figure and while he questioned the rules regarding why Desert Skyline could not compete in British Classics, he stopped short of taking the argument to the British Horseracing Authority’s headquarters in High Holborn.
"I don't know why geldings can't run in the Derby,” he said. “Basically we want to know what the best three-year-old is and if he happens to be a gelding, then he's the best.
"I realise the breeding implications. You want the Derby winner to reproduce, but that's not the point. If he isn't the best three-year-old he isn't the best three-year-old.Desert Skyline became only the third three-year-old to land the Doncaster Cup this century after Alleluia and Saddler's Rock (PA)
“I’m not going to change the rules now, am I?
“It is something you might campaign for if you feel strongly about it but I’m not that interested, to be honest.”
It was the second time Elsworth had won the 2m2f contest, having saddled the legendary Persian Punch to win at the age of 10 in 2003. Desert Skyline became the youngest horse to land the famous staying event since Saddler’s Rock in 2011 and Elsworth’s pride was obvious.
"I was pleased with him, of course, as he's only a three-year-old. He had a weight-for-age concession, but it's tough out there.
"It's not like driving a car around the M25 and you just pull out and go! It looked like that, but they've got to dig deep and work hard.
"There's not a lot of him and it's quite a big call to run a three-year-old over two and a quarter miles, but he's tough.
"He's run consistently well at a high level and you'll hear more of him next year."
Both Elsworth and De Sousa were quick to underline Desert Skyline’s immaturity and although some bookmakers were impressed you can still get 16-1 about the winner for the QIPCO Long Distance Cup with BetBright at Ascot next month. Longer term, he is 16-1 with Stan James and 14-1 with BetVictor for next season’s Gold Cup at Royal Ascot.
Wherever Desert Skyline goes next he proved that he would have been at least a respectable contender in the world’s oldest Classic.
Following excellent placed efforts behind Raheen House in the Bahrain Trophy at the July meeting and Stradivarius in the Goodwood Cup, Desert Skyline was narrowly beaten by Marmelo in France last month and was the 2-1 favourite to get back on the winning trail.
High Jinx and the giant Pallasator, ridden by the pocket-sized Rosie Jessop, led the nine-strong field into the straight, but both eventually faltered.
Sheikhzayedroad hit the front with two furlongs to run, but was soon followed through by Willie Mullins-trained Irish challenger Thomas Hobson and the nine-year-old veteran Clever Cookie.
Under Martin Harley, last year’s winner began to veer towards the far rail and hampered Thomas Hobson on his trail to the far rail.
Following that incident, neither of that due had any answers when Desert Skyline came with a late run and he powered clear.
Thomas Hobson beat Sheikhzayedroad to the runner-up spot by a head, with Clever Cookie clear of the rest in fourth.
"David told me to ride him as I found him, he didn't jump (from the stalls) so well, but I was quite happy as he switched off lovely for me,” De Sousa said.Desert Skyline could be in line for a trip to Ascot next month (FocusInRacing)
"He took a bit of time to get going. I was following Ryan (Moore, on Thomas Hobson) and I felt I always had a bit up my sleeve to play with.
"He needs to get stronger and he's still a big baby, but he's lightly raced and he could be a Gold Cup horse."
Desert Skyline is not entered in the Melbourne Cup, although Elsworth suggested the race that stops a nation could well be a possibility later in this horse’s career.
The Flemington spectacular may not be among Thomas Hobson’s targets, either, any more after owner Rich Ricci refused to confirm the odyssey.
"He ran very well,” he said. “It was always going to be tough giving Desert Skyline 12lb, but it was a good run. He certainly ran better than the last day, which is good.
"I don't know about Melbourne, I'll talk to Ryan and Willie. He qualifies now, he's in the ballot proper. We'd have to see, we'll have Max Dynamite (2015 Melbourne Cup runner-up) come out (in a Listed race at Naas on Sunday week).
"It's a big punt, Melbourne, because, rightly so, there's no help with the Melbourne Cup. It's all self-funded and it's expensive, so you want to make sure you go there with a fighting chance.
"There's plenty of stuff for him at home as well but we'll have to see, he's in the mix for Melbourne anyway."