Scoring a try on the hallowed turf at Murrayfield might now be just a dream for jockey Jason Hart, but he remains optimistic of causing an upset on his Classic debut on Royal Patronage who he believes has a “live chance” in the QIPCO 2000 Guineas at Newmarket tomorrow (Saturday 30th April).
The 2013 champion apprentice jockey will attempt to make it four wins from five starts on the Charlie and Mark Johnston-trained three year old when breaking from stall six against 14 rivals in the prestigious contest on his return to the Rowley Mile.
While Hart is excited about his latest big race ride, things could have turned out differently had it not been for his decision to choose pony racing over a rugby tour.
He explained: “Rugby has always been a big passion and I played a lot when I was younger. I still take a keen interest, though I don’t play anymore.
“I was tiny compared to most other players but if you put into English terms I got to what was county level.
“I suppose the main turning point was when I was meant to go on tour to Wales with my club Hawick Albion - I had a few pony racing rides that weekend and I decided to do that instead of going on tour.
“I wouldn’t really support one team, I just like watching good rugby. I follow the internationals probably more so than the Premiership. I go up to Murrayfield when the Six Nations is on and I enjoy that.
“Looking ahead to Saturday, Native Trail will be hard to beat as he beat Royal Patronage in a novice at Sandown Park last year, but I don’t think he should be a 33-1 chance.
“He handles the track and he has beaten a few of them before. I think he has a live chance.”
Royal Patronage failed to feature on his final start last year in the Group One Vertem Futurity Trophy at Doncaster, but the son of Wootton Bassett had earlier underlined his Classic credentials over course and distance in the Group Two Juddmonte Royal Lodge Stakes.
With QIPCO 2000 Guineas second-favourite Coroebus filling up the runner-up spot on that occasion Hart believes his mount, who he also steered to Group Three glory in the Acomb Stakes at York last year, should be judged on that effort and not his last one.
Hart said: “He got struck into at Doncaster so I think you could put a line through that run.
“I suppose he was a bit underrated in the Royal Lodge and I know it was a muddling race but all you can do is win and that is what he did.
“I know it was a strange race, the Royal Lodge, but that form ties in strongly with Coroebus so you would like to think that we would be thereabouts with him.
“To be fair I didn’t see him being an outsider that day at York (when he won at 25-1). The night he won at Epsom, even though the ground was a bit easy, he gave me a good feeling.
“Obviously we then took a step up in class at York and Newmarket and we were taking on better horses but it was nice to see him do what he did going forwards after he gave me that Epsom run.”
While not seen in action yet this season, Royal Patronage has already stretched his legs on the Rowley Mile during the bet365 Craven Meeting when participating in a racecourse gallop, which left Hart suitably impressed.
Hart said: “He gave me a good feel at the Rowley Mile in the gallop. The horses that led him were six furlong horses and it was just more of case to see if he could lay up to them for the early part of the exercise.
“They went a good strong gallop and I was able to stick comfortably with them. They weren’t able to lead me to the two pole and then I just left him alone as he done it all on his own terms and he showed his wellbeing. I was happy with him.
“He showed last year that he handled the track fine in the Royal Lodge but it was nice just to get a blow into him and see his wellbeing more than anything.”
Before being confirmed as a runner in the QIPCO 2000 Guineas there was plenty of talk of Royal Patronage running in a Derby trial ahead of a potential tilt at the Cazoo Derby at Epsom Downs on June 4th, a route Hart still believes will more than likely be taken up.
He added: “The speed he showed when he won the Acomb suggested he didn’t look a slow horse that day. He is a year older and stronger now and I think he is a horse that will stay further but to be a good horse you have got to have gears as well.
“To be fair to him he is a straightforward horse. I’ve sat on him a couple of times at home and in his racecourse gallop. He is a stronger horse this year but his mind is still very much the same and he remains a kind laidback horse that enjoys his job.
“He proved that he stayed a mile strongly at two so you would be hopeful he would be staying a bit further this year. This is also a stepping stone for him as it is a proper Derby trial so we will give it our best.”
Last year Hart enjoyed his best ever annual tally after riding 105 winners while away from the race track he married his long term partner Jess McLernon, sister of Jump jockey Richie McLernon, in November.
Having ticked off riding a century of winners Hart now hopes his debut appearance in a Classic is the first of many going forwards.
He added: “Riding 100 winners was something me and my agent set out at the start of the year to try and get. It was nice to get it and then go over it.
“What was good about it was there was a mixture of quality in there as well which helped as well.
“Highfield Princess has been a great filly and it was nice to get a win on her at Royal Ascot and hopefully she will continue to progress this year.
“It would be great if I could win a Classic at some point. Hopefully it will come on Saturday and we have every chance of trying to get it.”
The QIPCO 2000 Guineas is part of the QIPCO British Champions Series.