The Nunthorpe Stakes, a Group One race run over five furlongs at York, is one of just two races of its kind in the British racing calendar. Group One races rarely produce winners at huge odds but, since 2010, the winner of the Nunthorpe Stakes has been returned at 40/1 (twice) and 100/1. The perfectly flat five-furlong course at York – the course record is just 2.47 seconds outside the world record for the minimum distance – invariably produces a fast and furious contest, in which missing the break is not an option, which may account, at least in part, for the frequency of ‘shock’ winners in recent year.
In any event, one major upset came in 2013, courtesy of Jwala, a hitherto unheralded four-year-old mare, who was making her debut at Group One level. Bred and owned, in part, by Manor Farm Stud, in Oakham, Rutland, Jwala was trained by Robert Cowell, at Bottishead Stud in Six Mile Bottom, near Newmarket, Suffolk. In her early days, Jwala was a fair, if unspectacular, sprinter. She comfortably won her maiden, over 5 furlongs, at Wolverhampton in December, 2011, at the fifth time of asking and, after a 198-day break, subsequently won handicaps at Bath and Goodwood on her first two starts as a three-year-old.
Jwala was restricted to just three starts in 2012, but in September that year made her debut in Listed company, finishing second, beaten 1½ lengths, behind Sole Power in the Scarborough Stakes at Doncaster. Notwithstanding finishing last of seven in a minor conditions stakes race at Chester, in which she was drawn on the wide outside, Jwala continued to run creditably in defeat in Listed company in the early part of 2013. She didn’t win again until July when, perhaps tellingly, she led near the finish to beat Heeraat by a neck in the City Walls Stakes, over the same course and distance as the Nunthorpe Stakes.
On her next start, the following month, Jwala made her debut at Pattern level, in the Group Two King George Stakes at Goodwood. A largely unconsidered 20/1 chance in any case, she fractured an eye socket leaving the stalls and, unsurprisingly, faded inside the final furlong to finish last of the seventeen runners, beaten 10 lengths. Undaunted, three weeks later, connections stepped her up in class again for the Nunthorpe Stakes, for which she was sent off only joint-thirteenth choice of the seventeen runners at 40/1.
However, on ground softened by just short of three-quarters of an inch of rainfall overnight, Jwala was in her element. Under a well-judged ride by jockey Steve Drowne, she was always in the front rank and, when sent for home entering the final furlong, never looked like being caught. Market leaders Shea Shea and Sole Power both finished strongly, but Jwala held on well in the closing stages to win by half a length and a nose. In so doing, she provided a welcome fillip for Drowne, who had missed most of the previous season after suffering what was originally described as an ‘undiagnosed seizure’ – subsequently diagnosed as a heart virus – which led to the withdrawal of his driving licence, without which he could not be insured to ride.
Jwala proved her Nunthorpe Stakes win was no fluke by finishing fourth, beaten just 1¾ lengths, in the Group One Prix de l’Abbaye de Longchamp in October, but her story did not end happily. In December, on what was intended to be her final start before retirement, she contested the Hong Kong Sprint, over 6 furlongs, at Sha Tin. She was weakening when squeezed out between rivals and falling, fatally, in the closing stages. Steve Drowne was carried from the course on a stretcher and hospitalised with a fractured collarbone and a punctured lung.