Owner Doug Graham didn’t envisage 2019 panning out the way it did with his sprinting star Dakota Gold, owned in partnership with Ian Davison.
From overcoming a life-threatening injury to winning five out of his six races over a ten-week period, Dakota Gold’s year was capped off when he took home the Flat Special Achievement Award at the ROA Horseracing Awards earlier this month.
Graham said: “It was really pleasing because it was the horse that was nominated and not the owners or trainers. He was up against some real competition and I didn’t think he would win it.
“For him to win the award was fantastic.”
Yet Dakota Gold’s season could have turned out very differently if the five-year-old had not recovered from a nasty cut to his leg, sustained in January, which had to be treated by the Hambleton Equine team before two months’ box rest at trainer Michael Dods’ yard.
“He’s turned into a fantastic sprinter and I don’t know why”
“It was doubtful that he was going to race again at one point,” said Graham. “He actually didn’t start racing this year until the end of June when the season was well underway.
“In his first race he came fifth in the Gosforth Cup at Newcastle and while it was on the all-weather, which wasn’t ideal for him, we just wanted to see whether he could run again.”
That effort proved to be the stepping-stone to an unforgettable period for owners Graham and Davison. Dakota Gold took the Sky Bet Dash at York in July, the Great St Wilfrid Handicap in August before returning to the Knavesmire later that month to land the Sky Bet And Symphony Group Handicap.
In September, Dakota Gold made virtually all the running to take the Listed Garrowby Stakes at York before finishing second in the Group 3 Dubai International Airport World Trophy Stakes at Newbury.
There was still more to come in October when Dakota Gold captured the Listed Rous Stakes at Ascot to cap off a wonderful season.
Graham said: “Not only did Michael Dods and Hambleton Equine do a great job in getting him back to race fitness, Michael kept him on top of his game for a ten-week period, which was a huge achievement.
“Dakota Gold has done well in previous seasons but this year, he’s stepped up. He’s turned into a fantastic sprinter and I don’t know why. I don’t know what the vet did to his leg but he gave him a turbo boost!”
What has amazed Graham most throughout 2019 is the scale of the sprinter’s popularity away from the northern racing scene.
He explained: “We knew he had a big following in the north as Michael gets inundated with emails. It was only speaking to someone from ITV Racing when we were at York that they told us the horse had such a following up and down the country.
“It was doubtful that he was going to race again at one point”
“I think it’s because of his style of running, as he races from the front and wears his heart on his sleeve; it’s not often they catch him! He can be a bit of a sparky horse and a handful, so Carol, Michael’s wife, has to take him behind the stalls to get him in.
“They have a special camera on ITV behind the stalls to keep an eye on Dakota Gold. I credit the Withefords for bringing him from being a totally unruly horse to one that’s only a handful. They’ve done a great job and passed their knowledge on to Carol.”
With 2020 fast approaching, there is plenty for Graham and Davison to look forward to with Dakota Gold as he makes the step up to competing regularly in Group company.
The pair, along with Alan Drysdale, also have Dakota Gold’s half-brother Commanche Falls, who like his elder sibling was bred by Redgate Bloodstock and Peter Bottow, in training with Dods. A son of Lethal Force, Commanche Falls ran four times as a juvenile this season and struck on his debut over six furlongs at Thirsk.
Graham added: “Next year we’ll be stepping Dakota Gold up to Group level and we’ll be travelling, with the possibility of going to France as well as Ireland. When you get a horse to a certain level there’s a limited number of races he can run in, so it’ll be new ground next year for all of us.”