Those with long memories of British racing, observing LONGINES Hong Kong International Races trackwork at Sha Tin this week, may have mused about a connection between the names of the trainer of Sir Dancealot – Europe's flag bearer in the G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint – and the work rider who has been harnessing the speedster's energy all week.
And they would be right to do so. Working together are David Elsworth – arguably Britain's finest dual purpose handler (flat and jumps) and Ryan Holley, the lad whose father Paul guided Elsworth-trained horses to many a jump-race success during some memorable years.
Ryan Holley on Sir Dancealot, photo Liesl King
After Thursday's morning trackwork, Elsworth – who will be 79 next week – found himself besieged by a gaggle of press, some of whom might have been a quarter his age. Now with a round-shouldered gait he appeared to welcome the pause as he headed along the Sha Tin walkway in the direction of breakfast.
With his easy charm, witty observations flowed. The trainer darted from subject to subject including anecdotes about the great grey steeplechaser Desert Orchid, and the popular flat stayer Persian Punch – both much loved Elsworth-trained horses for whom the word 'legend' can be attached without debate.
Plus, Elsworth reminded all that he was the original trainer (and owner) of Cape Of Good Hope who become a high class sprinter, and round the world winner, after his sale to Hong Kong.
Later he discussed the Holley connection. “I trained the father and his son, and Ryan has been involved with my yard since before he left school,” he said.
“Paul was a terrific jockey and Ryan has plenty of his father in him, even though he doesn't want to be a jockey himself. But he's a horseman down to his fingertips and I knew that Sir Dancealot would be in the right hands for this Sha Tin adventure.
“And like his father, Ryan is a terrific athlete. In fact his father still is and has run a marathon in two hours forty minutes. That's something isn't it?”
It was during a golden spell in the 1990's that the Elsworth and Holley connection was hitting the headlines. The yard was then based at Whitsbury in the West Country with Holley senior booting home fantastic jumpers like Oh So Risky, Muse, Absalom's Lady and Givus A Buck for big race successes.
Later Elsworth moved to Newmarket, by which time the stable had switched to a purely flat race operation, and Holly senior became assistant trainer. Plenty more success followed but problems too, including a stubborn cough in the yard which left 'Elsie' – as he is affectionately known – on the verge of giving up. But only on the verge because as he said at the time: “I'd miss it. That's the problem.”
Meanwhile, Paul Holley moved across Newmarket to work for rising star Simon Crisford.
“I'm only a small time trainer these days with 35-40 horses, and you can't blame anyone for looking for the bigger opportunities to be found in the larger yards,” Elsworth said, adding: “Getting the staff for the smaller stables at home is now very difficult.”
But as we have seen this week, the Elsworth - Holley connection is still strong and it wouldn't do it any harm at all were Sir Dancealot – a dual G2 winner this season – to give a big show in the HK$20 million G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint (1200m) on Sunday.