Monday Musings: Baffert and O’Brien United in Cushioned Defeat

You’d be hard pushed to stand Bob Baffert alongside Aidan O’Brien and suggest they have too much in common, apart from the obvious knack of winning major races around the planet, writes Tony Stafford. Baffert, 64, is the white-haired extrovert who specialises in the big-money pots – Arrogate, for instance collecting both last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic and the Dubai World Cup in March this year.

He also ended US racing’s 37-year wait for a Triple Crown winner two years ago when American Pharaoh added the Belmont Stakes in June to his Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes triumphs, the first since Affirmed and Steve Cauthen won all three races in tight finishes with Alydar back in 1977.

I had a fleeting and slight connection with Baffert during his two earlier Triple Crown near-misses, both with horses he trained for Prince Ahmed Salman’s Thoroughbred Corporation, with which I had a much closer association. He was already approaching 50 years of age when Point Given, a disappointing Kentucky Derby favourite in 2001, atoned with triumphs in the Preakness and Belmont that spring/early summer.

Then the native Arizonan sourced War Emblem, winner of the 2002 Illinois Derby, securing a 90% share for the Prince, with original owner Russell Reineman retaining 10%. He immediately won the Kentucky Derby, from the front, and followed on in the Preakness. That made four successive Triple Crown race victories for trainer and owner, but a bad stumble at the start and an early bump meant the intended New York coronation was never to be. Baffert had to wait another 13 years for his place in US Turf history.

It is with some element of disbelief that we realise Aidan O’Brien has yet to win an English Triple Crown. The quietly-spoken Irishman, busy founding a family dynasty set to dominate his country’s racing industry for many years – wish I could look into that particular future, or else live to 110! – did go agonisingly close, though. Still a few years younger than Baffert was when I first encountered him, Aidan would appear to have plenty of time to find the right horse to complete that elusive treble.

In 2012, Camelot shrugged off French Fifteen to win the 2,000 Guineas before an odds-on five-length romp at Epsom preceded another simple task (if such a thing is possible in a Classic) at The Curragh. All that remained for the champion and his young rider Joseph O’Brien was the St Leger, but despite getting the trip well enough, he could not peg back Encke.

The subsequent involvement of that horse in the Godolphin steroids scandal which cost Mahmood Al Zarooni his job must leave O’Brien feeling cheated out of the right to have prepared a 16th Triple Crown winner, and the first since Nijinsky, handled by Ballydoyle predecessor, but unrelated Vincent O’Brien in 1970.

The only other dual 2,000 Guineas and Derby winner of the present millennium was Sea The Stars, in 2009. In a sequence of unbroken success following a debut fourth place, the John Oxx-trained colt was guided to shorter-distance races after Epsom, and won successively the Eclipse, the Juddmonte International and Irish Champion before ending his stellar career back at a mile and a half in the Arc. He never won by more than two and a half lengths, but always looked far superior to his opponents.

As a stallion he has already produced Taghrooda (Oaks and King George) and Harzand (Derby and Irish Derby), while three of his late-developing sons, Stradivarius, Crystal Ocean and Raheen House are among the strongest candidates for this year’s St Leger.

But to come back to my point about the similarity between the two disparate characters, it is their ability to shrug off defeat for a star inmate, even when the star is beaten by a stablemate.

It happened to each of them over the weekend. On Saturday night in Del Mar, Arrogate, officially and also by popular vote, the Best Horse in the World, suffered a second successive defeat in the Pacific Classic, following an earlier inexplicable fourth at 1-20 in the San Diego handicap, his first run since Dubai in March.

Baffert had been at a loss to explain that “out with the washing” run, but had a more optimistic reaction to the half-length reverse behind his Collected on Saturday. Here he was again sluggish, but rallied to good effect behind the all-the-way winner, who now has an identical seven wins from ten starts career tally to Arrogate. Where they differ is that Collected, whose only defeat in his last six runs was in the 2016 Preakness when he was distanced, has yet to make the £1 million mark, while Arrogate has amassed more than £13 million.

While clearly disappointed, saying it was like his younger son beating his elder son, Baffert managed a similar philosophical reaction to O’Brien’s yesterday when Magical and Donnacha O’Brien, his younger son, beat Happily, ridden by Ryan Moore (successor as stable jockey to elder son, Joseph), with September (Seamie Heffernan) fourth in the Group 2 Debutante Stakes at the Curragh.

“I expect they’ll all go to the Moyglare”, said the trainer, confident in the knowledge that victory for one of these Team Coolmore fillies represents shared success for them all. Once again it was the Galileos to the fore with Rhododendron’s full-sister coming home ahead of Gleneagles’ and Marvellous’s full-sibling.

The Camelots have been a little slow to get going, as did the Nathaniels last year, but with Enable, in line for yet another win this week in the Yorkshire Oaks, leading the way, Nathaniel’s owners, headed by Lady Rothschild and Newsells Park, have been enjoying watching a flurry of winners, generally at a mile and a half.

Since the King George, where Enable joined Winter as the best of a top–class generation of fillies, products of Nathaniel have won nine more domestic races with five in a row from August 11-16 and a Newbury double on Saturday.

The only potential opponent for Enable from Ballydoyle is Alluringly, who ended a losing run with a strong-finishing win in a Gowran Listed race over just short of ten furlongs, but whether connections fancy a third go at Enable after progressively emphatic beatings from the Gosden filly at Chester and in the Oaks is questionable.

Wednesday’s Juddmonte International at York throws up the tantalising prospect of Churchill stretching out to a mile and a quarter (and a bit) after his St James’s Palace reverse, and an encounter with Cliffs of Moher, second to now-retired Wings of Eagles in the Derby and hampered when fourth behind Ulysses in the Eclipse last time out. It would help Churchill’s stud prospects if he could get that Group 1 win at the longer distance, but stablemate Cliffs of Moher could easily give him a run for his money, never mind the others.

I hope Raheen House takes his chance in the Great Voltigeur, a race I’ve loved ever since Hethersett won it in 1962 and helped me collect a vast sum – possibly £50 – after a small stakes patent copped, with Sostenuto (Ebor) and Persian Wonder the other legs, as a 16-year-old. That a Bournemouth betting shop manager would allow my bet and then pay me out after my round of pitch-and-putt at Tuckton Bridge remains a source of wonder 55 years on – we were on holiday and mum and dad went shopping! – but he did and I followed up with a nice bet on Hethersett, my favourite horse of all time, in the St Leger. For the record, my favourite jumper ever was L’Escargot.

Years later, Hitman, in whom I had a share, broke down in the Voltigeur, but I still look forward to it as the best guide to the Classic. Let him run there Brian, please.

Monday Musings: Fate’s Fickle Fingers

Sometimes when watching a televised race, some of the late action gets missed as producers hone in too tightly on the principals, writes Tony Stafford. On Saturday night, the Arlington Park coverage lingered on the winning line just long enough to catch a spectacular, but horrific, moment when a stricken Permian faltered and fell and William Buick was projected somersaulting over his head.

As I was switching forward and back to my normal Saturday night viewing of yet another overseas series – into its final stage – I didn’t keep up fully with the aftermath, save being pretty certain that the brave Permian’s career was at a tragic end. But until the following morning, I was unaware of Buick’s injury to a vertebra. I’ve known William and his father Walter for a long time and hope and trust that his recovery will be swift.

It befell Charlie Johnston to be on hand to accept family responsibility in the midst of a season of hitherto unparalleled success for the Middleham stable. Permian had been the standard bearer, winning the Dante and King Edward VII before failing by an agonising nose in the Group 1 Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud.

He’d only been uncompetitive previously in the Investec Derby, but for once not because of unsuitability to the track, over which he previously collected the Derby Trial. Here he was beaten a long way from home, the serious leg injury which caused the fall proving an undeserved and premature end to a brilliant career.

The Johnston stable has been in the midst of an exceptional run, most times getting somewhere around 18 wins in the fortnightly portions as reported daily in the Racing Post trainers’ feature.

Among the three most active stables – the others being Richard Fahey and Richard Hannon – Johnston has been winning at a considerably higher rate, both in percentage wins to run terms, and on the winners to horses standpoint.

So far 156 victories have been achieved from 914 runs, with 94 individual winners from 184 horses and a domestic prizemoney tally of £2,333,676. The stable’s best of 216 was managed in both 2009 and 2013, while the most prizemoney of £2,992,112 came in 2014. Both those optimum figures, wins and money, must be within reach given the overall well-being of the team.

To compare and contrast, Fahey stands on 127 wins from 1088 runs with 100 individual winners from 261 horses. His prizemoney of £2,834,692 has been swelled by the exploits of such as Ribchester.

Hannon’s 126 wins from 846 runs – 96 individual winners from 227 horses – and domestic earnings of £1,926,341 leaves him some way back in third among the three biggest strings. John Gosden always operates on a more selective level. His 78 wins have been earned from only 385 runs and from 62 individual horses of 153 to run. He has earned £3,137,442 and is in line to beat his previous best of £4,241,991 in 2014, given that more mammoth prizes are likely to fall to his champion middle-distance filly Enable.

A cursory look at the official handicap marks of the 84 horses at present in action in Gosden’s stable explains the high conversion rate from runners into cash. Of 84 with official marks, 20 are rated above 110; 20 more in the bracket 100-109. A further 22 are in the 90-99 category; 16 stand between 80 and 89, with only four in the 70’s and just two in the 60’s.

In the face of such an overall high standard from Gosden, and the greater numerical opposition from Fahey and Hannon, Johnston’s achievement of winning so many races already, with a stable of wide-ranging abilities, is outstanding.

The Raymond Tooth team can hardly claim 2017 to be a vintage year in either money or winning terms so far, but there was more than a chink of light from the Mick Quinn-trained Stanhope when he came right back to the form of his Newmarket late June win when a length runner-up to the progressive Dark Power at Leicester yesterday.

That was creditable as Stanhope had been raised to 82 (from 74) after beating the subsequent dual winner Hart Stopper by three lengths on the July Course. Fran Berry, in the saddle on both good efforts, had been unavailable when he trailed home last after losing a shoe in between the Berry runs. He thinks the gelding has another pay-day in him.

Berry was also on the Quinn team when Great Hall – once owned by the boss – fulfilled stable expectations (backed at 20-1 by the trainer in the week, by all accounts) in the Shergar Cup on Saturday, a first Ascot success for Quinny. I know Tony Hind, Berry’s agent had been hoping for a real run at the jockeys’ title this year, but the early-season breach from his retainer with Ralph Beckett – and Silvestre’s ridiculous run of success – disrupted those ambitions.

With Buick likely to be out of action for a while it will be interesting to see developments in the Charlie Appleby branch of Godolphin, but whoever gets the majority of those rides, big-race opportunities will spread further, and after enjoying the publicity of winning the Shergar Cup Saddle, Fran Berry will be in the frame for his share.

A disappointing Arlington Million meeting for the Aidan O’Brien – Ryan Moore team, headed up by Deauville’s close third in the big race, did not dampen spirits for long, as they collected a Curragh treble yesterday.

Sioux Nation, contesting favouritism with the Gordon Elliott-trained Beckford in the Phoenix Stakes, got home half a length in front to give the trainer his 16th win in the race – a clear case for a referral to the Irish Monopolies Commission.

That followed the encouraging first win of the $3million Keeneland yearling Mendelssohn, like Sioux Nation, a son of the late lamented Scat Daddy, the cost of whose early death at the start of the 2016 stud season, is being acutely realised. When Washington DC ended his run of near misses by taking the Group 3 sprint later in the card, he completed a rare O’Brien treble. Washington DC (by Zoffany) made it three wins in a day, not unusual, except that none of them was for a Galileo!

As for the Tooth team, at least four trainers are reporting imminent action from a hitherto unraced juvenile. I will probably have news of an intended debutant this time next week, but whether we can expect first-time success is quite another thing.

Monday Musing: Making Hayes

Today is not the first time I’ve felt obliged to moan about the difficulty I have in prising information out of the Racing Post statistics data bank, writes Tony Stafford. The new version has all but defeated my ham-fisted attempts. Bring back the old one, please.

Why today, you might ask? It’s all about an image from yesterday’s racing from Galway, which prompted me to undertake a little research. Trainer Brian Ellison and jockey Chris Hayes celebrated a second successive win for the Ellison-trained Dream Walker in the valuable Ahonoora Handicap, feature race on the Festival’s seventh and final day.

Ellison also employed Hayes on the horse for a similar last-gasp win a year ago, and was making it a personal four in a row as Baraweez, caught close home yesterday in an Ellison 1-2-3 completed by Be Kool, had won the two previous runnings, under respectively Donnacha O’Brien and Colm O’Donoghue.

At this point I wish to declare an interest. Back in early 2005, I was at the sales at Newmarket and sat down for an enjoyable coffee with former jockeys and, at the time, trainers Declan Gillespie and Charlie Swan. They both contended that Ruby Walsh was the best rider of either code they’d ever seen, but when I quizzed Declan, whom I’ve known well since his days as Jim Bolger’s stable jockey, as to who he rated the best young apprentice at that time, he had no hesitation in nominating Chris Hayes.

Hayes rode eight winners as a 16/17-year-old in 2004 after a successful pony racing career and was still short of his 18th birthday when he turned up at Hamilton station (if memory serves – it might have been Glasgow Central!) to await onward transportation to the track on April 25 2005.

His Irish weighing room nickname, then and now, was Chesney, as he had more than a passing facial similarity to actor Sam Aston, aged ten at the time and the face of Chesney Brown in Coronation Street. Hayes looked barely twelve when he rocked up in Scotland and first impressions were that it was unlikely he would fulfil Gillespie’s expectations - except that it was Declan.

We had two rides for him, the first on a filly named Ekaterina, named in honour of my future wife. The horse did not live up to even the modest expectations we had of her and after trailing home seventh of eight under Hayes, had only one more run before leaving Wilf Storey’s stable. Dimple Chad, once with Luca Cumani, performed a little better in fourth in his race, but again had no long-term future and was also soon on the way out.

The most significant part of that day, though, was a conversation I had with Brian Ellison, suggesting he might want to employ Chris Hayes when he needed a decent claimer. He watched his two rides and took the opportunity a couple of weeks later when Chris was coming over again to ride Wilf’s handicapper Singhalongtasveer in a Beverley claimer.

That was the second race on the card and Wilf’s horse ran an excellent close second to a Martin Pipe winning favourite, ridden by Alan Munro. By that time, though, Hayes had already been in the winner’s spot after partnering Ellison’s 50-1 shot Seifi to a battling success in the two-mile handicap, going unbacked in this disbelieving quarter.

Twelve years on, the pair still team up occasionally, but of Ellison’s nine Galway runners over the week, Hayes came in for just the ride on Dream Walker.

I’ve still yet to go to Galway because of its direct competition with Goodwood and I’m sure there would have been plenty of those at the normally Glorious Sussex track who would have traded places with their Irish counterparts.

Luckily, I missed Sussex Stakes day, just like Churchill, whose connections, wisely I believe, chose not to subject him to the deluge that turned the ground to heavy. Ribchester, odds-on in the O’Brien horse’s absence, will have had no knock to his reputation after his brave near miss against Jim and Fitri Hay’s veteran Here Comes When in the feature in what was a great week for trainer Andrew Balding.

Instead I was up at Redcar for the belated debut of the boss’s three-year-old filly Betty Grable, who started her career in a quite competitive maiden over seven furlongs. This daughter of Delegator was always immature when with Hugo Palmer as a juvenile, indeed the trainer told me more than once that she was the typical model of a backward horse, with the back end much higher than the front.

With that conformational issue came occasional minor lameness and when she left Newmarket for Kinsale stud, the prognoses were far from optimistic. Eventually she went the way of a long line of Ray Tooth under-achievers, up country to Muggleswick, and the rather rugged grasslands of Wilf’s sheep farm.

Luckily, the Storeys detected after a while she had gravel foot and once they released the stinky build-up of ancient blood from the hoof, she immediately came sound and has never had a lame step since. From minute one she showed talent up the demanding Storey hill, and her debut, returned to Ray’s colours – “she was too good for me to take”, said Wilf – resulted in a promising sixth, a couple of lengths off third.

Of the 13 fillies that took part last week, only two are eligible for another seven furlong maiden there this Saturday, a median auction with a £28,000 ceiling. The only other qualifier is the filly that finished a tailed-off last at 250-1 on Wednesday.

Hopefully Paul Mulrennan, who especially liked the fact that despite an eight-minute wait in the stalls while three recalcitrant rivals refused to go in - she stood stock still, never budging, yet came out running - will be available. She’ll probably get much further in time – she is half-sister to the decent two-miler Gabriel’s King – but this race was too enticing to miss.

For me the highlight of Goodwood was the performance of Winter in the Nassau Stakes. Coming as it did just 24 hours after the trauma of Churchill’s late withdrawal from his objective, it must have taken plenty of soul-searching on the part of Aidan and the owners to let her take her chance on what was pretty much heavy ground.

The fact that she came through it in her first attempt against her elders on that going and over a new extended trip, spoke volumes for her ability and constitution. Pre-race scrutiny revealed she has done very well physically for her short break following her earlier Group 1 treble exploits. Those big feet would have helped her cope with mud, too!

In winning both English and Irish 1,000 Guineas and then the Coronation Stakes, she already has a unique set of big-race wins. This latest triumph must make it easier for the boys to accept that Minding is no longer around to win more Group 1’s. I would not be surprised if Winter were to exceed Minding’s tally of seven by the time she finishes.

- Tony Stafford

Monday Musings: Almost Autumn, But First A Glorious Winter

Don’t look, but it’s August - or will be tomorrow, writes Tony Stafford. Darker mornings and what used to be Glorious Goodwood, but now is officially the Qatar Goodwood Festival, are upon us. I don’t believe Goodwood has ever started as late as August 1 and by the time we get to the weekend, autumn will almost be here.

It has been positively wintry the last few days, but there will not be a shred of discontent from the Coolmore/Ballydoyle contingent if Winter, the second-most predominant filly of her generation after the peerless Enable, should carry her successful run through Thursday’s Nassau Stakes.

Some people may be suited by the various switches to the Goodwood programme, but I fail to see why there is any benefit in moving the Nassau, a perfect counter-point to my mind to the cavalry charge of the Stewards’ Cup and the always-competitive consolation race which precedes it, to the Thursday.

The Goodwood Cup, traditionally staged on Thursday, goes forward a couple of days to the opening stage of the five days, but at least the Sussex Stakes remains on the Wednesday, so not too long to wait for Churchill’s attempt at rehabilitation against Barney Roy and Ribchester, a handy Godolphin double act.

It was hot enough when Churchill could finish only fourth behind his nearest 2,000 Guineas victim Barney Roy in Royal Ascot’s St James’s Palace Stakes – 93 degrees Fahrenheit to my recollection. People everywhere were complaining about the heat, so no wonder some of the horses might have under-performed and maybe that was Churchill’s major reason for a sub-standard effort.

I pass on a slightly amusing story. I was fortunate enough to be based in a box that day and, arriving early with Harry Taylor, had the chance of a leisurely cup of coffee in an otherwise deserted location. Coming inside, I suggested there was a nice breeze outside as I accepted the offer of a second cup. This was greeted with the news that I was sitting with a fan whirring full on right behind me.

The King George duly provided Enable with a third successive Group 1 romp after her Oaks and Irish Oaks successes and firmly propelled her to the top of all the middle-distance ratings, and rightly so. The irony of the result is that while everyone pointed to the fact that she was getting 14lb from the older colts, so success was always highly likely, only one other three-year-old, the Godolphin colt Benbatl, even tried to take advantage of that generous weight concession, in his case 11lb from his elders.

Benbatl had been fifth in the Derby behind the now retired Wings of Eagles and then narrowly won the Hampton Court Stakes at Royal Ascot in a close finish with the Aidan O’Brien-trained Orderofthegarter. His fifth place here was in keeping with those runs and suggested that others of his generation might also have made an impact.

O’Brien ran last year’s King George winner, Highland Reel, and that admirable horse’s full-brother Idaho, but the former was clearly – and as expected – hampered by the soft ground. Fourth place, some way behind his sibling and also Eclipse winner Ulysses, who was a gallant second, represented further testimony to his toughness in adverse conditions.

I also admired the fact that O’Brien apparently had no hesitation about running Highland Reel, never mind Idaho. The pair collected a joint £185,000 for their exertions after which Highland Reel can be rested for a time before more highly-remunerative world travel.

Enable was much too good for this group of colts and indeed the only time she has been beaten, it was her stable-mate Shutter Speed who crossed the line first at Newbury back in the spring. Shutter Speed is one of a handful of potentially-dangerous opponents for Winter on Thursday, as she returns for the first time since her close but weakening fourth in the Prix de Diane in June.

John Gosden also has So Mi Dar to make things interesting, while Nezwaat (who, like Enable, has a recent verdict over Rain Goddess), Queen’s Trust and Godolphin’s Wuheida are other likely runners.

Wuheida, unbeaten at two when she won the Prix Marcel Boussac on Arc day, made a spirited return to be runner-up to the tough Roly Poly at HQ, a performance which looks even better after that winner’s follow up in yesterday’s Prix Rothschild (Group 1) on the opening Sunday of Deauville’s summer meeting.

Last week, I put forward my friend Lew Day’s Raheen House as a potential St Leger winner. Whatever his fate there, Raheen House does have one unique distinction – he is the only male yet to finish ahead of Enable as he split the two Gosden fillies Shutter Speed and Enable in that Newbury race back in the spring.

The outstanding performance on the King George undercard was undoubtedly Nyaleti’s five-length demolition of the previously unbeaten Dance Diva in the Princess Margaret Juddmonte Stakes. Nyaleti had been comprehensively outrun, first by September in the Chesham Stakes at the Royal meeting and then, dropping back to six furlongs, by Clemmie in the Duchess of Cambridge Stakes at Newmarket’s July meeting, but got back on track here in devastating style.

Mark Johnston’s filly is clearly improving and as one pedigree student pointed out to me before and, with more energy after, the race, she probably benefited from the softer ground as her sire, Arch’s, and maternal grandsire Verglas’ produce are usually effective in the soft.

So one might think that the two Ballydoyle fillies that beat Nyaleti are the front-runners for next year’s 1,000 Guineas, but by all accounts you must think again. For hidden away last Thursday night in an otherwise anonymous Leopardstown card, which contained just the four Aidan O’Brien winners – all, incidentally, as Paul Smith might say : “In the purple and white” - was another juvenile who might be the best of the lot.

Running in the Group 3 Silver Flash Stakes, Happily, a full-sister to both Gleneagles and 2014 Irish 1,000 Guineas winner, Marvellous, stretched five lengths clear of her rivals and impressed Ryan Moore. As ever, the biggest task for the trainer will be to plan a path that maximises the potential of all these, and no doubt others to come later. Already it looks as though the English trainers will struggle to make much of an impact in the major juvenile fillies’ races, Johnston and Nyaleti apart.

One of the more interesting aspects of the still embryonic jumps season has been the fantastic run of form of the Dan Skelton stable, enjoyed in equal measure by his younger brother Harry. Both are already into the 40’s for the season and a treble at Uttoxeter on Sunday even had the distinction of achieving the almost impossible – beating an Olly Murphy favourite.

While still in his first month with a licence, Murphy, son of trainer Anabel and former assistant to Gordon Elliott, has won with eight of 15 jumps runners and three of nine on the Flat, for almost a 50% strike-rate.

If the BHA handicappers keep giving his horses ratings like the 47 (won off 50 even with Jamie Spencer’s 3lb overweight at Newcastle on Saturday) for Banff (100 jumps after his second at Stratford on his Murphy debut) or the 43 allotted to Gold Class (103 jumps after beating Banff in that race), then he’ll continue to thrive, even without the obvious ability he clearly has to call on. [In both cases, the mark was achieved before the horse arrived at Murphy’s yard – Ed.]

Monday Musings: On Racing’s Transience

It’s my wife’s birthday today and we’re going to the Whitstable Oyster Festival down on the North Kent Coast, writes Tony Stafford. The last time I was there, I was strolling past the fishermen’s huts along the quay when the phone rang with a six-figure offer for the boss’s then three-year-old Fair Trade.

The offer, from agent Stuart Boman, was greeted by trainer David Elsworth, when reported to him by the owner, with the response: “Don’t take it. I’ll get you a lot more than that!”

Seven years and four trainers on from that memorable remark, I saw Fair Trade on Thursday morning in a field in Muggleswick, Co Durham, where he continues to waste his, and everyone else’s, time. Winner of a Newbury maiden race before finishing tenth in Makfi’s 2,000 Guineas, a run which brought an unnecessary 18lb hike in his rating, he never won again in conventional Flat races, but took a jumpers’ bumper and two hurdles when in the care of Alan King.

Two days earlier, I’d just dropped off Raymond Tooth at Heathrow on his way to a week’s holiday when the phone rang. Former jockey Tom Morgan told me the sad news that David Wintle had died at the age of 82. Tom is married to Dave’s daughter, Alison. I’ve not seen her or her brother James for a long time, but often bump into Dave’s other daughter Becky, who is married to another bloodstock agent, Stephen Hillen.

Becky always kept me aware of her father’s up and down health and then one day in the spring, she suggested I call him. We had a nice chat, reminiscing about horses he’d trained for me and how a Terry Ramsden gamble – I’d brought them together in the early 1980’s – led to Wintle’s losing his licence for a while.

Without that connection, I would never have met Wilf Storey, one of my longest-standing friends in racing, and custodian of the field in which Fair Trade idles the days away. I had a filly with Wintle, called Maid of Ireland, and managed to persuade Tick Vergette – later Saunders – who I’d known when she was Geoff Huffer’s secretary at Cheveley Park Stables (now Stud) to let me use the filly as a makeweight in a deal to buy Fiefdom. Originally he was to be a riding horse for a local girl.

Once a useful handicapper with Bruce Hobbs – he was fifth as a three-year-old in the Cambridgeshire – Fiefdom flopped over hurdles for Tick’s father George, and after a dreadful final run for them over Easter, they were willing to let him go.

Relocated to Rod Simpson, he took a while to get fit, but then won twice in a week, at Folkestone and Lingfield, before running fourth in the ladies’ race at Ascot on King George Day. In those days it was a non-handicap, and the older horses gave lumps of weight to the three-year-olds.

Fiefdom was ridden there by Celia Radband, a very nice girl who made many appearances in Eastenders and other television shows. She recommended Fiefdom as a potential jumper to Wilf Storey’s daughters Fiona and Stella, against whom she competed in ladies’ races, as she knew I’d been trying to sell him immediately before the two wins.

Wilf’s polite and understanding reaction when I said that I’d changed my mind for now, struck a cord and so, soon after when I needed to off-load a couple of horses that had been misbehaving on the Lambourn gallops - “Give ‘em away!”, said Rod, I asked Wilf if he had anyone “with two grand”. He gave the same reply that he still does: “No”, but they went up to him anyway. One was a lunatic and had to be put down, but Santopadre won three in a row and was fifth in Solar Cloud’s Triumph Hurdle.

A couple of months later, I did sell Fiefdom, and fully primed, was able to enjoy a touch when he won a Sedgefield novice handicap hurdle by ten lengths from 10lb out of the handicap first time out. He won a load of races and yesterday at Redcar, Mr Sundowner, the only son of Scat Daddy ever sighted in Muggleswick, gave Wilf a career-equalling eighth Flat winner of 2017.

On Thursday night, I travelled south to Mark Johnston’s for a Friday gallop when Tarnhelm, a promising Helmet filly was making her first comeback gallop after sustaining a chip in her joint, days before her proposed first run in April. To everyone’s apparent surprise, she trailed her two companions up the gallop. Mark and son Charlie, who watched with me, pointed out it was her first gallop since her injury and advised waiting until she could have another go next week.

In racing and generally when watching sport, the disappointments exceed the successes as the recent Murray and McIlroy results again proved. After Tarnhelm, at least there was the expectation of a follow-up win for Stanhope, three weeks on from his course and distance romp in first time visors on the July Course at Newmarket.

They worked well enough the first time, but now he seemed not to want to go down to the start, and he came back even more reluctantly to finish a remote last of seven. “I wouldn’t put them on again,” helpfully suggested jockey Pat Cosgrave. I’m sure Mick Quinn agrees.

It doesn’t only happen to us. I bet trainer Bob Baffert approached Saturday night’s San Diego Handicap with supreme confidence that Arrogate, the world’s unchallenged top racehorse on official figures, would resume with another triumph after that Dubai World Cup master-class by putting away his five vastly-inferior rivals. The Racing Post even suggested that TV viewers should stay up until the off time of 2.10 a.m. BST to watch the “Best Horse in the World” live on At The Races.

In the event, starting at 1-20, he put in a dreadful display, finishing more than 15 lengths fifth behind the winner Accelerate. In the US, even five runner races have three places in the Show Pool, and pay a minimum dividend of 10 cents on a two dollar stake. Thus the value-thieves who lurk around American racing dive in, resulting in the Show Pool’s being at least as big as the Win, while the Place (1-2 in the US) is almost ignored.

Not for nothing is the term “Bridge Jumpers” used to describe them, as the practice, while more often than not profitable, in time and return terms far more favourable than US and UK interest rates, is hardly fool-proof. Usually it takes injury or some other mishap for such a negative outcome to occur. In this case, Arrogate, generously treated in the weights by the Del Mar handicapper, ran stones below his normal level, and no doubt some of the “jumpers” might well have been looking for the nearest bridge from which to propel themselves.

As I prepare for a trip down to the coast and some fresher-than-fresh sea food, I would like to pass on my best wishes to Ana O’Brien in her recovery from that horror fall at Killarney last Monday night. I saw it live and was so relieved that this wonderful young lady’s injuries were no worse than they are.

There can be no such relief for the family of Stephen Yarborough, the senior stalls handler killed at Haydock on Friday in a stalls accident. Both these unrelated incidents show just how dangerous the sport is for those who put on the show, while those who write about, watch or bet on it, are safe to pontificate about what far too many see as the shortcomings of the brave entertainers.

Monday Musings: Emerging into the uplands once more

Until three years ago, a fundamental part of my life involved getting up at 4 a.m. on a Thursday morning and driving the near-100 miles down to Manton for work morning at Brian Meehan’s stable, writes Tony Stafford. This evolved from wanting to be there principally to monitor the progress of the handful of Raymond Tooth’s horses stabled there in those days.

Over time, I had a more specialised involvement as work watcher and owner liaison, keeping a record of the work which gave a rare insight into the progress of all the horses in Brian’s care. It quickly became the favourite part of my week, the early start having its own reward.

Nowadays, it’s Monday and the writing of this column that revives that discipline and it’s with a degree of pleasure that I can record a revival in the Meehan fortunes this year.

For many years Brian worked with the agent Johnny McKeever in the recruitment particularly of yearlings, but that connection has diminished significantly as Sam Sangster has become the main buyer for the stable.

Sam, son of the late Robert Sangster, fundamental in the establishment of Coolmore Stud with John Magnier and the late Vincent O’Brien, Magnier’s father-in-law, signed the ticket on the majority of the sales purchases over the past few seasons, including recent winners Raheen House, wide-margin juvenile scorer Barraquero, and progressive three-year-old I’vegotthepower.

Barraquero runs under the Manton Thoroughbreds banner and carries the same blue, green and white colours that adorned Robert Sangster stars like Derby winners Golden Fleece and Dr Devious, and also among many others, Storm Bird and Sadler’s Wells, sire of Galileo.

There are five Sangster sons, Ben, Guy and Adam before Sam, and Max, the youngest. Of the quintet, many people believe Sam might end up the closest approximation to his father. It’s not a bad start that he knows which end of a horse kicks and which eats if he’s going to make a success of the always-precarious racing game.

Meehan’s recent flurry of form includes two big-race wins for one of his least well-known owners, Lew Day, whose horses run under the ownership handle of J L Day. Spark Plug was his first entry into the yard, prompted by an enquiry to me from a mutual acquaintance in the summer of 2013 that “someone would like to buy a two-year-old”.

Midsummer is hardly the time to be getting anything any good that wasn’t already snapped up, but Brian did have a number of horses, speculatively bought at the sales and at that stage without an owner. They included a son of Arc winner Dylan Thomas, at that stage an under-performing stallion for Coolmore.

I’d been watching this unnamed youngster progress week on week, gradually creeping up the juvenile pecking order, and Brian confirmed that “yes, he can be bought”. I met the would-be purchaser in a pub near the Carlton Tower Hotel in Knightsbridge, but he hesitated about the asking price, even though his careful research of Meehan with veteran trainer Eric Wheeler got a strong affirmative.

Wheeler at the time was still training Lew Day’s sole horse, a modest handicapper called El Libertador, once owned by Katie Wachman, but running under Lew’s dark green livery for 79 of his 80 starts, four of them winning ones.

With no deal forthcoming, the Dylan Thomas colt, who was out of the Group 1-winning South African mare Kornikova, was named Spark Plug and duly won on his Bath debut, minutes before Raymond’s Great Hall ran unplaced in the St Leger.

Lew renewed his interest on the Monday morning: “Can he still be bought?” he asked and the delayed deal was eventually done. Four years on, and a spectacular Cambridgeshire success and last time out’s Sandown Group 3 win behind him, Spark Plug, at six, remains at the top of the Meehan stable hierarchy, a position challenged only by Raheen House.

The latter’s purchase, at 35,000gns, was a notable bargain for Sam Sangster, as he was a handsome son of Sea the Stars and Meehan did well to convince the owner to double his involvement. Raheen House would have been the name for Spark Plug had Mr Day acted with more alacrity back four years ago, as that is the identity of the family hotel in Clonmel, not far from Coolmore, which has staged occasional events there.

Meehan has long regarded Raheen House as a potentially high-class stayer and the care with which he has planned his three-year-old career is reaping its reward. A fast-finishing fourth to Permian in the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot, he stepped up to win Thursday’s Bahrain Trophy at Newmarket, coming home strongly enough to convince trainer – and jockey Jamie Spencer – that he’ll be a major player in the St Leger in two months’ time. With no Ebor Handicap entry on the stocks, it could be we’ll see him next in the Great Voltigeur, the accepted St Leger trial, at that York meeting.

Permian added lustre to the form when failing by a nose to win the Grand Prix de Paris on Friday, so Lew Day, the man with two horses, can dream he might have a Classic winner to add to a Cambridgeshire hero. I’m delighted for Brian, who is no novice in winning big international races, but who had gone through the mill in recent years. It’s always a long way back, but he’s starting to emerge into the uplands again.

Rarely does a champion go through a career unbeaten, so while it was a disappointment that Caravaggio could not maintain his unblemished record in the July Cup on Saturday, the victory of Harry Angel, from the classy older sprinters Limato and Brando, was well merited.

Harry Angel had chased home Caravaggio in the Commonwealth Cup after helping set a strong pace, but here he lasted longer. The favourite’s pacemaker Intelligence Cross, a 100-1 shot, was only a neck behind Caravaggio at the line in fifth place, so there was clearly a disparity in the pace compared with Ascot. Equally, though, Clive Cox was confident that Harry Angel was in prime shape to have a good chance of revenge.

As is the way with Aidan O’Brien, others moved forward from the Royal meeting, Clemmie overturning the smart Nyaleti in the Duchess of Cambridge Stakes; and perennial bridesmaid, Roly Poly, appreciating Winter’s absence to win the Falmouth Stakes with an all-the-way romp that had Breeders’ Cup written all over it.

O’Brien had another notable success at the Curragh on Sunday when Spirit of Valor stepped up from his 66-1 Jersey Stakes neck second to the smart French colt Le Brivido, to win the Minstrel Stakes (Group 2) in a canter under Ryan Moore. That race’s under-estimated merit had been underlined the previous day at HQ when Parfait, fourth at Ascot, strolled home in a valuable handicap.

Much the most significant result over two days on the Curragh concerned Oaks winner Enable. John Gosden’s Nathaniel filly, under Frankie Dettori, followed up in the Irish Oaks, beating the Pretty Polly runner-up Rain Goddess by five and a half lengths. Talk afterwards of the King George or the Arc was certainly not fanciful, given trainer John Gosden’s excellent record in those championship races.

 

 

 

Monday Musings: Moore’s Nightmare of “The Beggy”

If Ryan Moore is having the odd nightmare these days, I reckon it’s coming in the form of a spectre-like being going by the name of “The Beggy”, writes Tony Stafford. It first came into his consciousness in the last 50 yards of the Investec Derby at Epsom, careering past him on the outside on Wings Of Eagles to deny Cliffs Of Moher close home.

Then five weeks later, down the road at Sandown, it was the same Padraig Beggy, this time on the designated pacemaker Taj Mahal, whose slight move into the rail around the seven-furlong marker in the Coral-Eclipse Stakes, led to the same luckless Cliffs of Moher suffering severe interference from which he could never recover. Wonder what Ryan thinks of the eight-day ban?

The problem with writing these words at the unearthly hour I do, is that otherwise easily checkable facts cannot be satisfactorily ascertained. Thus when I needed to find the whereabouts of Seamie Heffernan, fresh from yet another Group 1 win on Capri in the Irish Derby as Wings Of Eagles suffered a career-ending injury during the race last weekend, I could not.

The simple fact is that he has not ridden in public since Thursday and has no booked rides according to the Irish racing web site for the coming days. So whether he’s injured, suspended, or just taken a holiday to spend some of the Capri money, I’ve no idea.

There are plenty of jockeys in Ballydoyle. Two of the more frequent, after Moore and Heffernan, are Wayne Lordan and Colm O’Donoghue, but both were in action at Belmont Park at the weekend, O’Donoghue principally for Jessica Harrington, his main employer these days.

Apprentice Donnacha O’Brien rode three winners on Saturday’s Naas card, two for his father and one for elder brother Joseph, while Ana, out of luck in an international lady riders’ event in Sweden during the week, rode a single unplaced runner for Joseph the same afternoon.

So Beggy, reformed scallywag, was back again in the big time, and there seemed to be a fair degree of input from the first jockey before the race as to what he thought Beggy’s role should be.

What could go wrong? A nice-sized field set off at a reasonable pace, but then came the moment the stewards were later to blame Beggy for initiating. As he edged into the rail on the first bend, he interfered with Decorated Knight, who in turn hampered Cliffs of Moher, causing him to hit the rail and almost come down.

Cliffs Of Moher could never regain full momentum, managing just a laboured fourth place as the Sir Michael Stoute-trained Ulysees continued the Niarchos big-race revival by edging out Barney Roy in a thriller.

This first middle-distance big-race clash between the generations therefore ended narrowly in favour of the older brigade, 1-3 with Ulysses and Decorated Knight against 2-4-5 for the three-year-olds: Barney Roy, all but making a winning start at 10 furlongs, the vanquished favourite, and Frankel’s son Eminent, who showed a tendency towards aggression with an attempt to take a chunk out of the third’s neck.

If the Frankels are not quite getting there yet at the top level, the Galileos certainly intend staying there and Ulysses was yet another top-level winner for the super stallion – 66th in all – being the product of Coolmore’s blue-blood and Oaks winner, Light Shift. A job at the Niarchos family stud clearly awaits, while Godolphin will have lofty expectations too for Barney Roy.

The coming week is always important for Darley Stud and Godolphin, and many of the leading lights in the business will be in attendance at the Darley Stallion Parade and lunch during the July meeting, which also features three days of sales along with three days’ exceptional racing.

Darley/Godolphin may well have another potential stallion in Thunder Snow, like Barney Roy beaten in a 2,000 Guineas by Churchill. He won the Group 1 Prix Jean Prat at Chantilly yesterday and is now fully rehabilitated after his inexplicably mulish display at Churchill Downs in the Kentucky Derby.

Having gone close to a quick follow up with Barney Roy after he reversed Newmarket form with Churchill in the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot, another recent Godolphin acquisition will be stepping out quickly for revenge.

The Clive Cox-trained Harry Angel, denied only by the flying Caravaggio in the Commonwealth Cup and now in line for a rematch with the unbeaten Ballydoyle sprinter in the Darley July Cup on Saturday, is the beast in question. With the Bunbury Cup and Superlative Stakes, the last pair supported by bet365, this is indeed a brilliant card.

Unfortunately, the continuing resistance to what at one time appeared a willingness on the track’s part to revert to a midweek (at least Wednesday to Friday) date means once again the ridiculous triple clash with York’s £200,000 added John Smith’s <Magnet> Cup, Silver Cup and City Walls Stakes and Ascot’s £130k Summer Mile clogs up the afternoon, while Chester is totally off the radar.

In the old days, when the Stewards’ Cup first moved from Tuesday – the first day of the Goodwood Summer meeting – to the Saturday, I was silly enough to make a futile protest and go instead to Newmarket for a few years on that day.

It is probably unthinkable that I might swerve two races that I look forward to more than most – the July and Bunbury Cups – but it is equally likely that York, Chester and Ascot couldn’t care less anyway as all three are likely to attract bigger crowds than the day’s premier fixture.

Clive Cox seems to be a level-headed enough type of trainer, so for him to relish another crack at Caravaggio with Harry Angel is at least interesting. I saw him (the trainer) close up the other morning and he is clearly taking great care in the preparation of the juvenile that Raymond Tooth has with him. Hopefully, when that part of Berkshire sees a little rain, this big son of Mount Nelson could be getting a run.

We were up in Shropshire at the stud on Thursday, running the rule over the yearlings and foals, when the decision was made not to put any in the sales, for this year at any rate. With a handful of two-year-olds, like Cox’s Nelson River yet to run, we are in holding mode for the most part.

The exception is Equiano’s son, Stanhope, quite impressive when opening his account at the ninth attempt on the July Course late last month. The handicappers were hardly kind, putting him up a full 8lb. They can obviously say that was shown to be fair enough when three-length runner–up Hart Stopper, left alone after our race, popped up nine days later at Haydock with a win for Michael Bell. The Queen’s trainer had another winner, runner-up the previous time in the past few days. That one was raised 1lb and bolted up! Micky Quinn wants to know his secret.

 

Monday Musings: Taking (Live)Stock

As one of the trainers I work with in my job as Raymond Tooth’s racing manager said, perhaps indelicately, recently: “Where there’s livestock, there’s dead stock”, writes Tony Stafford. He was reacting to the news that on his lad’s arrival at the yard that morning, our unraced three-year-old was found dead in his box with no previous warning.

The other horse we have there, a two-year-old, happily is alive and well, but needs time. Therein the conundrum for owner-breeders - you get what you get. Happily Ray’s youngsters are for the most part pretty correct, but force them at your peril.

The Tooth experience is a microcosm of what happens with the top teams. Take Ballydoyle and Aidan O’Brien’s latest Classic-winning weekend, which arrived not via Epsom Derby hero Wings of Eagles, but with Capri, unplaced at Epsom, but now edging out Cracksman and Wings of Eagles.

On Sunday it fell to the trainer to report that Wings of Eagles had suffered a serious injury to his near-fore sesamoid joint during Saturday’s race and that he would be retiring to stud after undergoing surgery.

Dr John Halley is Ballydoyle’s senior vet and he has had to accept that Minding, the team’s champion older mare and seven-time Group 1 winner, may have run her last race. Further, Halley revealed that Somehow, a progressive older filly placed in both Group 1 runs this spring, had to be put down after suffering serious injury on the gallops.

Saturday’s three wins all avoided the grasp of the stable’s number one jockey, but Ryan Moore redressed the situation with a Curragh Sunday treble via the juveniles Gustav Klimt and Clemmie, and the improving Johannes Vermeer in a 10-furlong Group 3 race.

Needless to say all three are products of the insatiable Galileo, as of course is Capri, but after viewing the x-rays of Wings of Eagles over the weekend, John Gosden, Cracksman’s trainer, reckoned Wings of Eagles must have confirmed the Derby form by some margin without the injury.

Ryan Moore said he’d never been going particularly well during the race, so the frustration is that, like his sire Pour Moi, who was unable to run after the Derby win at Epsom, Wings of Eagles cannot fulfil what was clearly considerable potential. He was the only representative of the sire among the 170 horses listed at Ballydoyle in 2017, and was not a home-bred, but bought in France as a yearling by M V Magnier.

As for Pour Moi, his story as a stallion, with only three crops to represent him on the track, is already one of extreme highs and lows. For those breeders who supported him in his early days at Coolmore, the low point came with the news earlier this year that he’d been transferred onto the jumping stallion roster.

Then there was the unexpected euphoria of Wings of Eagles’ win, and a general upswing of the sire’s fortunes. On four successive days in the UK last week, for example, Pour Moi products ran and all four won, each suggesting imminent improvement and not just in middle-distance races. Back home in Ireland, Only Mine continued her impressive career with another Group race win at the minimum trip.

Two stallions who have made a winning start to their first season have been Dabirsim, whose daughter Different League saw off Alpha Centauri to win the Albany at Royal Ascot – a race in which Churchill’s full-sister Clemmie was only seventh - and Camelot, the 2,000 Guineas hero for Ballydoyle. Both had debut winners at Saint-Cloud yesterday.

The last week also brought a welcome change of luck for TalkSport radio presenter Mick Quinn when Stanhope, owned and bred by the boss, came good in a decent six-furlong handicap on the July Course.

Whenever Mick has a fancied runner, he can be relied upon to give it an optimistic mention on the air, but this time, the racing slot was commandeered by the Bell family, still glorying in the Gold Cup win of Big Orange. Michael’s brother – and therefore Olly’s father – Rupert, apparently took so much time blathering on about Andy Murray and Wimbledon there was room for nothing more than for Quinny to read out the fixtures.

That cost the punters a 10-1 winner, as ‘Stan’, wearing a first-time visor and benefiting from soft ground for the only occasion since his debut a year before, sluiced home by three lengths under Fran Berry, from the Bell-trained favourite, no less. Thursday was the first time I’d had much to say to the jockey, but the intelligent way he drew on the horse’s apparent discomfort when close to other horses on the way to the start, shows how vital experience in the saddle can be.

Strangely, in his third run as a three-year-old Stanhope is closely echoing the example of Dutch Law, also a home-bred and an initial winner on the July Course, from a mark in the mid 70’s in June two years ago. Dutch Law added three more victories, two on the same track, last year and hopes are high that Stanhope might have a similarly bright future.

The Tooth horses have done excellently on the July Course. It’s a track I’ve always loved although there was one rather sticky moment, almost 20 years ago, after Hitman, a horse I’d bought as a yearling and then syndicated, broke the 10-furlong track record in the valuable three-year-old handicap for Henry Cecil.

After he had won in the name of the Paper Boys - the syndicate’s boss Tom Mines still has a box on the winning line at Cheltenham - Brought Scott exhorted me to “do an interview”. You’d think I might have known better as the arrangement, while common knowledge on the racecourse, did not generally stretch to a certain part of Hertfordshire - until that day.

One racing fan among those stationed at Herts Police in Hertford, saw the interview and called my then wife, who worked in the office there, to congratulate her on my horse’s big win. “What horse?” she asked. Needless to say she was on hand when Hitman was a beaten short-priced favourite next time in the Gordon Stakes and then when he broke down in the Great Voltigeur.

This week I’ll be travelling around a bit, taking in the north, then Lambourn and finally Shropshire, the last trip in company with the boss and Steve Gilbey, to take an inventory of the young stock. Amazingly around the country, yearlings are getting ready to go to the preparation experts ahead of sales like Doncaster and Arqana. The season seems barely to have started – especially for us – but with all bar the St Leger gone for the Classic candidates, in some ways it’s almost over!

 

Monday Musings: Ferguson’s Royal Ascot Legacy

I saw John Ferguson in the stands at Ascot on Saturday, writes Tony Stafford. He said he wasn’t making any immediate plans, but that he’d keep me posted when he does. He should have been giving himself a big, silent, inner thumbs-up after the perceived revival of Godolphin’s fortunes – since his departure.

The irony is that the six wins for the Boys in Blue, equalling the six of Aidan O’Brien for Coolmore, were in large part of Ferguson’s making. Two home-breds, Benbatl in an outpouring of emotion for his trainer Saeed Bin Suroor after winning the Hampton Court Stakes; and Sound and Silence (Charlie Appleby) in the Windsor Castle, contributed to the score, but otherwise it was pretty much all Ferguson.

The other quartet included Ribchester, bought privately from David Armstrong and successful in the opening Queen Anne for Richard Fahey’s stable, and Barney Roy, acquired after initial promise for Richard Hannon, and now a Group 1 winner after turning 2,000 Guineas tables on Churchill.

In the handicaps, Rare Rhythm (Duke of Edinburgh), knocked down to Ferguson as a 2013 yearling for 650,000gns, was an example of Charlie Appleby’s skill, being brought back a year from his previous run in the corresponding race to win readily. Then later in the week, there was a convincing success for Atty Persse (King George V). He was a private buy from owner-breeder Bjorn Nielsen after a debut win for Roger Charlton last autumn, who prepared him for last week’s victory. It must have been great for Nielsen when another home-bred, Stradivarius, won the Queen’s Vase for him and John Gosden.

Ferguson could also point to the excellent Group 1 second places of his two recruits from Clive Cox: Profitable, second to Lady Aurelia in a brave bid to repeat last year’s King’s Stand success; and Harry Angel, who needed a flying Caravaggio to deny him and fellow Godolphin sprinter Blue Point (Appleby) in the Commonwealth Cup.

The sprawling Godolphin “empire” also of course informally extends to the satellite operations of Sheikh Mohammed’s friends such as Saeed Manana, and family members like his son Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed. Sheikh Hamdan’s Permian came back from Derby disappointment to show his Dante- winning quality for Mark Johnston in the King Edward VII over the Classic trip.

They were screaming St Leger for the next three home in that race, and here I’ll declare an interest and suggest that my friend Lew (John Lewis to you) Day can win it with Raheen House. The Brian Meehan-trained Sea The Stars colt turned for home last of 12 and had to be switched outside, but in the last furlong he was going on much the best. He was less than three lengths behind the winner in fourth, making up a conservative six lengths in the straight, and this long-striding colt will love Doncaster’s long finishing straight. He was a close fourth in the Racing Post Trophy over a mile there last autumn.

If he were mine, I’d be tempted to have a look first at the Ebor, three weeks before the St Leger where the 10lb or thereabouts of his weight-for-age concession from his elders might be enticing even from his present mark of 109. That should not change much after this, as the top four in the King Edward were rated 113, 111, 110 and 109 before the race and a tape measure could not have been any more accurate.

Coolmore’s two major reverses were Churchill, out of fettle and never looking like getting into it when a sluggish fourth to Barney Roy, and Order of St George, just too late to get to grips with the ultra-determined Big Orange in his Gold Cup repeat attempt.

They more than redressed those disappointments with three performances of supreme quality. Winter headed home yet another Ballydoyle 1-2-3 in the Coronation Stakes to add to the English and Irish 1,000 Guineas while Caravaggio’s acceleration in the Commonwealth Cup was matched the following afternoon by pocket-rocket September in the Chesham. Until, if ever, her mini-stature inhibits her development, it’s hard to see what can stop her in the major races in 2018, given her stamina-laden pedigree as a daughter of Japan’s supreme stallion Deep Impact and multiple Group 1 winning mare Pepping Fawn.

At this point, I’d like to throw a compliment to one of the O’Brien supporting cast. Roly Poly was having her 12th career start and hasn’t missed a dance since making an early start to her career as a juvenile in April last year. She ran the following month, twice in June and again in July, August and September, by which time she had three wins on the board and second places in the Lowther (Group 2) and narrowly behind stable-companion Brave Anna in the Group 1 Cheveley Park.

Instead of running again in October, she headed over the Atlantic for the Breeders’ Cup, where she was the unplaced favourite on Nov 4. Back again in April, she was over to Newmarket for the Nell Gwyn, but was unplaced, as she was next time in the French 1,000 Guineas, sixth behind Precieuse. But she was back in the frame when runner-up to Winter in Ireland and on Friday harried Precieuse for the first part of the Coronation, seeing that filly off before rallying again to deny Rhododendron the runner-up spot.

There are few more desirable qualities than honesty, in people as much as horses, and you certainly get that from all the inmates, human and equine at Kingsley House, Middleham. Ascot’s a great place to bump into people – you don’t say, Ed! – and I saw Charlie Johnston after one of the stable’s fillies won at Newmarket. In response to my “well done”, he replied, “that’s three there today, but we could do with one here”.

They duly got one in the last race and it took a supreme effort and no shortage of courage from Oriental Fox to wrest back the initiative from Thomas Hobson after Tuesday’s Ascot Stakes hero looked sure to give Willie Mullins and the Ricci’s the meeting’s traditional marathon double. To repeat his 2015 win in the race, he also needed to see off the classy pair of US Army Ranger (rated 112) and Qewy (110). The last-named won races in Australia last winter, having been re-cycled from the Bloomfields jumping team operated under John Ferguson’s hands-on supervision.

Few mid 70-year-olds can have a more hands-on role than Wilf Storey, my friend of more than 30 years. A Co Durham (just inside the Northumberland border) sheep farmer, he had careers as stallion keeper for Arthur Stephenson and cattle brander before succumbing to the love of riding of his daughters Fiona and Stella, to take out a training permit.

I’ve known him for, as, I say, more than 30 years since he bought Fiefdom and Santopadre from me, turning both into prolific winners. That caused me to get a visit from Jockey Club Security who believed that far from being trained by the unknown Wilf, they’d heard they were actually still with Rod Simpson 300 miles further south.

Having put their man right on that score – we met funnily enough at Ascot racecourse – I’ve watched as Wilf struggled with the odd decent horse and a lot of lesser ones for all those seasons, often going a whole year without a winner.

Now the yard has fewer horses, but with Stella riding out every lot, feeding, driving them to the races and leading them around when they get there, with excellent help from some local lasses, the formula seems to work. On Saturday Ardakhan made it seven wins from fifty 2017 runs and Wilf needs just one more to equal his best full seasonal tally of eight, set in 1996 and 1997 when he had three times as many horses.  I’m betting on at least 10 this year, and if he gets there, nobody will deserve success more than him (and Stella). [Hear hear! Ed.]

Monday Musings: Defending the Royal Castle

It is unusual in my experience for Michael Bell, the long-serving and usually affable Royal trainer, to stick his head above any particular parapet, writes Tony Stafford. Last week, though, he saw fit to take Ascot to task for allowing Wesley Ward to work his Royal meeting candidates on the course.

Bell, who has ten horses in the Queen’s ownership – only Sir Michael Stoute and William Haggas (11 each) have more – reckoned it gave the American an unfair advantage. This theme was followed up by Sheiklh Fahad Al Thani, the boss of Qatar Racing and David Redvers, the Sheikh’s senior advisor who runs Tweenhills Stud.

Nick Smith, the Royal meeting’s main overseas talent-sourcer for many years, replied that Ascot have always allowed overseas challengers to get to know the track. He says this mirrors the situation for British and other overseas challengers on US tracks who have the opportunity to work their horses on turf, whereas the home team cannot.

Maybe the Qatar Racing gripe stems from the fact that a recent acquisition, the Ivor Furtado-trained Marchingontogether will line up in tomorrow’s Windsor Castle Stakes against not just one, but two of Ward’s flying juveniles.

I stopped off at Leicester one night last month, before continuing on to Chester, and while taking advantage of the new owner food facility – well done Nick Lees! – had a minute bet on said Furtado horse, who duly won on debut at 14-1. The fact that Silvestre De Sousa was her jockey assisted my pin on its way down the card.

Until that day, Marchingontogether had been a financial flop for her breeder Whatcote Farm Stud. From the first crop of Havana Gold, one of Qatar Racing’s stallions at Tweenhills, she would have cost her breeders a fee of £8,500 to be covered, but went through the ring as a foal around 18 months later for just 1,000gns.

Her temporary new owner re-presented her almost a year later at Doncaster’s Goffs sale and her price dropped again to £800. Early indications are that Havana Gold has a future and Marchingontogether is one of six individual winners from the stallion, headed by Havana Grey, winner of Sandown’s Listed National Stakes last month for the Karl Burke stable.

When Michael Bell (and his brother Rupert on TalkSport, and possibly Rupert’s son Olly, on the telly), speak of unfairness, they might think of Whatcote Farm Stud and the interim temporary custodian of the filly and what they think is fair as they watch their former property line up in the Sheikh’s maroon. At the same time, the lucky recipients of Marchingontogether once Furtado had added her to his string – she is one of just two juveniles listed for him in Horses in Training 2017 – namely Bgc Racing & Partner, will be laughing all the way to the bank.

The two Wesley Ward adversaries to Marchingontogether, both owned by Hat Creek Racing, have single wins on their record and coincidentally both beat the filly CJS Suzie Byu. Nootka Sound, a daughter of Australian-born stallion Lonhro, was first in to bat, winning by more than five lengths over four and a half furlongs at Keeneland in late April.

Four weeks later, the Goffs Ireland recruit Elizabeth Darcy, by Camacho, started out at Indiana Grand. She was the even-money favourite and had almost eight lengths to spare over CJS Suzie Byu, despite that filly’s connections’ hopes for better as the 7-5 starting price suggested.

As ever the Windsor Castle will take plenty of winning with representatives of Charlie Appleby’s almost invincible juvenile team and one-time Coolmore Coventry Stakes contender Declarationofpeace (by War Front) aiming to add to last year’s win by Washington DC in the same race.

Rather than Hat Creek Racing, there is a better known ownership group on what is probably Wesley Ward’s best juvenile contender of the day, Arawak, a son of Uncle Mo, and winner by seven lengths on his Belmont debut last month.

Arawak is due to wear blinkers and carry the colours of Derrick Smith, while Aidan O’Brien’s pair, first-choice Murillo and US Navy Flag will be similarly attired. It will be interesting to see which of the three is entrusted with the first-choice cap.

Wesley’s biggest fish of the entire week, though, will almost certainly be Lady Aurelia, the dominating Queen Mary Stakes winner from last year and later on more workmanlike at Deauville before her third place behind Brave Anna in the Cheveley Park Stakes. She returned with an emphatic victory at Keeneland last month and is the favourite for tomorrow’s King’s Stand Stakes ahead of Marsha and French-trained Signs of Blessing.

Lady Aurelia gets a 6lb allowance from her older filly rivals, including Marsha and Temple Stakes heroine Priceless, whom Alan Spence will be half shouting for, seeing he will get another big chunk from Godolphin if their acquisition Profitable follows last year’s success when in his red, white and blue livery.

The re-match between Churchill and Barney Roy from the 2,000 Guineas, and for that matter Churchill and Thunder Snow from the Irish 2,000, will go a long way towards whether Aidan O’Brien and “the Lads” dominate another Royal meeting.

Churchill starts off in the St James’s Palace in a week when Order of St George (Thursday’s Gold Cup) and the Friday pair of Caravaggio (Commonwealth Cup) and Winter (Coronation Stakes) are all overwhelming favourites. No doubt there will be considerable liabilities for ante-post bookmakers linking the quartet and the layers will be hoping for an Annie Power-type reprieve from at least one of them.

Today’ Racing Post was embellished by news of a gamble on the Jeremy Noseda-trained Abe Lincoln, out of action on the track since a possibly unlucky second place in the Britannia Stakes 12 months ago. Most of the principals in that race find a home immediately afterwards, often for massive money in Hong Kong, but Paul Roy has stayed faithful to the now four-year-old and will be hoping for another win in the race he and Noseda took with Forgotten Voice in 2009.

The Post also tried to link the Abe Lincoln challenge with the background to the Wokingham Stakes success of Jeremy with Laddies Poker Two the following year, in her case after two years off the track. Noseda said the two situations were different. He is correct on one score, Abe Lincoln will certainly not be responsible for producing a dual Classic winner, unlike Laddies Poker Two, dam of Winter.

As to my idea of the handicap bet of the week, it’s another from the Noseda/Roy team, Sixties Groove, who can win Friday’s finale, the Duke of Edinburgh Stakes, after a nice run round on his comeback at Epsom the other day.

- Tony Stafford

Monday Musings: On the Loss of True Blue Leadership…

The Lady in Blue just about managed to cling on to power after a humiliating election result that brought the “Dead Woman Walking” jibe from a former close colleague late last week, writes Tony Stafford. There was just as seismic a shake-up among the Boys in Blue, but in their case, the Top Blueboy went with barely a backward glance.

John Ferguson has been the great survivor at Godolphin for decades, constantly Sheikh Mohammed’s strong right-hand in various roles while others, notably Mohammed Al Zarooni, paid the price for uncomfortably controversial events with their jobs. Ferguson even found time recently for a highly-successful role as an NH trainer under the Bloomfields banner at Cowlinge, near Newmarket, manufacturing extended careers for one-time smart Flat-race stayers after it seemed their usefulness had ended.

Indeed some of them, once Fergie had to finish that sabbatical to become the supremo who would bring Godolphin to match up with Coolmore and Ballydoyle, were recycled again. Several have reappeared as versatile dual-purpose performers, like yesterday’s impressive Goodwood scorer London Prize for Ian Williams, while others, extraordinarily, won valuable and prestigious Flat races in Australia.

Ferguson’s younger son Alex developed rapidly as a pupil assistant/ amateur rider with Ben Pauling, where High Bridge kept the Bloomfields identity going last jumps season, while elder son James continued his highly-visible role as first an in-house junior Godolphin executive and later assistant trainer to Charlie Appleby.

But it seems the tensions had been growing between Ferguson Sr. and Saeed bin Suroor, the genial long-serving main trainer of Godolphin from the 1980’s onward. Saeed rarely appears anything other than politely content with his lot, but the distribution of the 2016 batch of yearlings between his Snailwell Road stables and Charlie Appleby’s Moulton Paddocks operation produced a major rift.

It apparently festered on for a while and then manifested itself publicly with a Racing Post article in which Julian Muscat revealed Saeed’s anger at the disparity between the precocity of many in the Appleby part of the operation and what Saeed described as horses in his care that were untrainable at two.

First-time wins for Appleby in the divisions of the juvenile maiden on Newmarket’s opening July Course meeting on Saturday, including the £2.6 million buy, Glorious Journey (Dubawi ex Coronation Stakes winner, Fallen For You) immediately added fuel to the argument.

Those two winners, both by Darley’s brilliant home-bred sire Dubawi – their response to the supremacy of Galileo – made it ten wins from 14 juvenile runs for Appleby, who will carry Godolphin’s Royal Ascot hopes in that age division. He has 53 two-year-olds listed in Horses in Training this year.

Meanwhile Saeed, from the 58 youngsters in his list – though probably eventually there will be considerably more under both trainers’ care as the year progresses – has yet to have a runner, never mind a winner. His complaint was that the horses came in much later than usual, a similar situation to that experienced by Mark Johnston, whose intake under the Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed (Sheikh Mohammed’s son) ownership also arrived later than previously.

Outside the younger division, Appleby and bin Suroor have had broadly similar seasons, Appleby with 24 wins from 99 runs with three-year-olds and up; Saeed 26 wins from 89 runs. But if there was a time when the divisions were heightened, surely it has to be Derby Day, when with a full Maktoum entourage, headed by the Boss, HH Sheikh Mohammed, Ruler of Dubai, his trio of runners, all trained by bin Suroor, finished fifth (Benbatl), 8th (Best Solution) and 11th (Dubai Thunder) as Wings of Eagles and Cliffs of Moher produced yet another dominating Derby result for Aidan O’Brien and Coolmore.

That, coming fresh from the Ballydoyle Guineas double double of Churchill and Winter, and the humiliating non-performance of Thunder Snow, acting like a circus horse rather than competing in the Kentucky Derby but admittedly largely smoothed by his creditable second to Churchill at The Curragh, was probably the final straw.

So Ferguson graciously fell on his sword unlike the diminished Mrs May, although there are suggestions under the radar that maybe he helped stage-manage his own departure with his boss. Whatever the truth of that speculation, he leaves a massive void to fill. A cursory review of the last fortnight’s activity for the Godolphin world-wide empire, certainly shocked me.

The fact that Godolphin SNC, the handler of the team’s runners in France, had 20 runs between main trainer Andre Fabre and Alex Pantall in the past fortnight for six wins was no surprise. Between the two exclusively Godolphin domestic trainers, plus John Gosden and three Irish handlers, Jim Bolger, Mick Halford and Willie McCreery, there was a total of 43 runners in the period.

Yet even this large composite figure was comfortably exceeded in Australia where former top jockey and now their main trainer Darren Beadman provided six winners from a massive 49 runners. Just to keep tabs on that number of horses would be a major task for the Godolphin Racing Office. I understand that Nick Luck is in for the job, should there be a vacancy, and it would be hard to imagine a better candidate, especially as he seems to have no ambitions in politics, for which he would be equally suited.

Beadman, a multiple champion jockey in Sydney, echoed Charlie Appleby in stepping up to the main job after a period as an assistant, in his case, to the disgraced Al Zarooni. Beadman spent three years understudying John O’Shea, who moved over at the end of April. O’Shea’s big successes during his spell have been with Group 1 winners, Exosphere, and the former Mark Johnston stayer, Hartnell. From 19 starts for O’Shea, Hartnell won five times, but latterly has been frustratingly a minor player behind champion race mare Winx, finishing runner-up to her four times.

O’Shea in his turn, succeeded another highly-successful Godolphin trainer Peter Snowden, who developed smart juveniles Helmet and Sepoy, both now promising stallions at Dalham Hall stud. Clearly, the powers that be <whoever they might be> at Godolphin are hoping that another trademark stallion, in the manner of Dubawi, might be in the Australian pipeline. Certainly Henry Plumptre, Godolphin’s managing director in Australia, urgently needs to find an ally back at HQ.

Royal Ascot offers a quadruple chance to celebrate the Ferguson legacy. Last year’s purchases, Ribchester (Richard Fahey, Queen Anne Stakes) and Profitable (Clive Cox, King’s Stand), and more recent Ferguson acquisitions Barney Boy, fancied by the Hannons to turn around the 2,000 Guineas form with Churchill in the St James’s Palace, and Clive Cox’s Harry Angel (Commonwealth Cup) after his impressive Sandy Lane Stakes triumph, could give the Sheikh an immediate reminder of what he might be losing.

Monday Musings: Terrific Derby Pour Moi!

Derby winner, Pour Moi, sired Derby winner, Wings Of Eagles. Tony's guv'nor is delighted

Derby winner, Pour Moi, sired Derby winner, Wings Of Eagles. Tony's guv'nor is delighted

It is very easy to understand the appeal of horserace ownership, writes Tony Stafford. Most often, men or less frequently women that have done well in their chosen occupation, find attractive the thought of competing with the giants of the sport, the Maktoums, Juddmonte, the Qataris and, above all, Coolmore.

Often they will have enjoyed going racing with horse-owning friends, and even betting. Upon taking the plunge, they are immediately faced with the conundrum, to buy or breed? As prices at the upper end have continued to rise over recent years – the effect intensified by that latter Qatari influence, rewarded yesterday after they had bought into Brametot, the Prix du Jockey Club winner - some existing owners have felt compelled to move into breeding.

I must declare an interest at this point. Regular readers will know of my working relationship with high-profile lawyer and punching-above-his-weight owner, Raymond Tooth. He is in precisely that nether-land where yearlings you might want cost fortunes, and stallions you might choose for your mares are often excessively-priced.

Over recent years, the programme, guided by Rachael and Richard Kempster at Kinsale stud in Shropshire, has developed steadily. Major winners have not been too evident, but from minor- winning mare, Lawyers Choice, first Dutch Art Dealer and then the talented Dutch Law (both by Dutch Art) who made almost £90,000 on the track and afterwards £150k at the autumn sales, suggest Ray’s on the right path.

Every year we try to anticipate what might prove a hidden jewel among stallions – a putative Galileo hiding in the back sheds of Coolmore, Juddmonte, or own regular favourites, Cheveley Park and Newsells Park studs.

Dutch Art was our pick when he was covering for one-sixth of his peak figure a few years later, and in Mayson and now Garswood, we’re hoping that connection with Cheveley Park will continue to thrive.

Down in Royston, we liked Mount Nelson, now sold for a jumps stallion, but sire of a promising unraced colt called Nelson River at Clive Cox’s, and also the consistent Equiano. The other Newsells Park stallion is Nathaniel, who was available at around £20,000 for his first few crops.

We also tried Coolmore, but have been a little unlucky there so far, one mare slipping a foal in the autumn before we could ascertain whether we’d go back to St Leger winner Kingston Hill. Another didn’t get in foal, and so from two years’ patronage there, we have three youngsters, two yearlings and a foal, all by one stallion.

Imagine how many sires there are to pick from. Massive books with hundreds of pages and portraits assail the would-be small or even hobby breeder, all with the probably-unrealistic hope of competing at a high level. Why else would Richard Aylwood want to run his home-bred filly Diore Lia as a 1,000-1 shot in Saturday’s Investec Derby?

Well he might say he’d paid his full entry fee and also €6,000 to send her mother to Coolmore to be covered by four-time Gold Cup hero Yeats. True she’d been rolled over in two maidens for Jane Chapple-Hyam; and that trainer’s reluctance to let her run with an apprentice rider, who had just a single riding win to her credit in Ireland years ago, caused the filly’s removal to John Jenkins, down the road from Newsells Park.

Plenty has been said of the BHA’s refusal to allow Gina Mangan to ride. The more experienced Paddy Pilley was then due to take over but happily, from where I sit anyway, a muscle problem prevented Diore Lia from lining up at Epsom.

Yeats was immediately earmarked for the NH stallion job after his epic Flat-race career and as time goes by he’ll get plenty of dual-purpose horses. Derby winners, though never Galileo, often make an average start before going through the gears or more likely go onto the NH sire route.

In a year when Aidan O’Brien has won five of the six English and Irish Classics to be run to date, the thought of being able to go to a stud farm and look at a youngster from a Classic-producing stallion and contemplate what might happen in the near future would be a cheery prospect indeed.

Raymond Tooth has seven yearlings, but because of the death of one of his younger mares and the slipping of a foal I mentioned, just five live foals. That makes 12 in all. I can tell you that 41% of them, therefore five of the 12, are sons or daughters of stallions that have produced England Classic winners during 2017. We were never going to get anywhere near Galileo, responsible for this spring’s two dual Guineas winners Churchill and Winter, but did use Nathaniel and Pour Moi.

Enable, from the first crop of Galileo’s son Nathaniel, easily beat Galileo filly and 1,000 Guineas runner-up Rhododendron in Friday’s Oaks. Not only was Enable from Nathaniel’s first crop, it also means he has beaten his superior racetrack contemporary, Frankel, to a first European Classic win, although the fellow Galileo product already has a Japanese Classic to his credit.

The 40-1 Wings Of Eagles, who came through late to deny Cliffs Of Moher, the Ballydoyle/Coolmore first string, ridden by Ryan Moore, is from only the second crop of Pour Moi, a son of the late Montjeu, the other big Derby winning producer from Coolmore in recent times.

In that regard, Pour Moi has in common with Galileo that he is a Derby winner who produced a Derby winner from his second crop: in Galileo’s case, New Approach. Unlike Galileo, Pour Moi had been seconded to NH duties this year after some disappointing results, but no doubt he’ll be back from his “loan” spell in the Championship and in Premier League action again in 2018.

Wings of Eagles’ starting-price was extraordinary, given he could easily have won the Chester Vase had the race worked out a little more favourably and had Seamus Heffernan been a little less complacent in his pursuit of Ryan Moore on Venice Beach.

Venice Beach, who on Saturday finished twelfth, was only a 12-1 shot, but probably the fact that Heffernan settled for Capri, with heavy rain forecast at the time the jockey plans were firmed up, and the appearance of Padraig Beggy on Wings Of Eagles caused the lack of interest. As the song, <with apologies to “Living next door to Alice”>, says: “Beggy? Who the xxxx is Beggy?”

Well Beggy, we discovered, was a former Irish export to Australia who was banned after taking “certain substances”. When he returned without a licence, friends managed to get O’Brien to take him on as a work rider at Ballydoyle and that most loyal of men told him he’d get his chance if he worked hard. Three years on, he did, and how well did he take it? As for the Derby winner, he might have a battle in the Irish Derby, but I reckon he’s a dish for the St Leger.

Back to Ray and why we went to Pour Moi. As I said, he was a Derby-winning son of Montjeu, another of whose sons Motivator produced Treve, from the Anabaa mare, Trevise. We had a daughter of Anabaa in the dual French winner, Ms Cordelia, but it was only by a few days that she survived worsening foot problems, to foal to Pour Moi.

Instead of being able to nurture her second foal, she had to be put down, so the resulting filly was raised, with the patient care of all at Kinsale, by a 14hh Welsh cob foster mother, who produced a fountain of milk, once she had been “conned” into thinking this was her own “baby”. Let’s hope the effort was worthwhile and Ray gets his own version of Treve!

- Tony Stafford

Monday Musings: Winter Scorches into Spring

Your eyes told you it was good, writes Tony Stafford. Reflection overnight on the times over the weekend more than confirmed that Winter had stepped up a notch on her 1,000 Guineas victory at Newmarket. It also suggested that Rhododendron, the runner-up that day, will be very hard to beat on Friday in the Investec Oaks.

There were two supporting Premier handicaps on the 1,000 Guineas under-card. The first, half an hour after Winter stopped the clock in 1 min 39.78 secs, was also a fillies’ race for three-year-olds. Constant Comment, rated 80 but a daughter of Fastnet Rock out of a Galileo mare, twin Coolmore influences, completed the mile a full 4.30 seconds slower than the Classic finale.

Then to finish proceedings for an epic meeting, run at a Curragh track denuded of stands and by all accounts facilities, Sea Wolf, a tough 101-rated handicapper, defied 10st1lb in beating 19 rivals. Although the difference in weights carried on the day might seem to have given an obvious advantage to Winter over Sea Wolf, an older colt or gelding would concede the identical 15lb to a three-year-old filly if they were to meet in the eight and a half furlong Diomed Stakes (Group 3) at Epsom on Saturday.

Sea Wolf’s time in a hotly-contested affair was 1 min 42.45 secs, almost three seconds more than Winter’s, reflecting a margin of around 50 yards, if you take an average 13 seconds per furlong.

Racing Post Ratings as ever were quick to offer assessments, suggesting this was a 2lb improvement on the defeat of Rhododendron. Time may well show this to be an over-cautious mark. Caution clearly is inhibiting the other big stables from tackling the O’Brien Classic generation, to such an extent that Roly Poly and Hydrangea were able to participate in yet another 1-2-3 for Ballydoyle, just ahead of Joseph O’Brien’s Intricately, but almost five lengths behind the imperious winner.

The previous afternoon, Churchill preceded his stablemate by also completing the 2,000 Guineas Newmarket – Curragh double with a fuss-free two-and-a-half length win in the Tattersalls-sponsored event. Thunder Snow, at one time travelling apparently better than Churchill until that embryonic champion’s decisive surge, rehabilitated himself after his mulish and inexplicable effort at Churchill Downs with a sound second place.

There was much made of the fact that these two Classic triumphs for O’Brien came 20 years after a similar double set him up for a total to date of 72 European Classic wins. Eleven of these have come in the Irish 2,000 Guineas. Not even Mr Wenger (seven FA Cups in the identical period) can match that.

There is sure to be a blanket attack on Royal Ascot from the Coolmore partners, with the Classic hero and heroine stand-outs for the St James’s Palace Stakes and Coronation Stakes respectively, while on Friday night Order Of St George warmed up for a second Gold Cup challenge with an emphatic success in the Saval Beg Stakes.

In this game, reflecting on triumphs achieved soon has to give way to concentration on future objectives. The proximity of The Curragh’s fixture to the Oaks and Derby, earlier this year due to the timing of Easter, and also relative to Chester and York’s trials has meant that any quick bounce on to Epsom from The Curragh was probably even outside O’Brien’s comfort zone. Luckily Ascot beckons soon after, though not as soon as is usually the case.

Rhododendron’s defeat at Newmarket was attributed by many as partially the fault of Ryan Moore. True he did find a little interference, but as I thought at the time, Winter showed no more sign of stopping up the final incline at HQ than than she did on Sunday. Rhododendron was flying at the finish to secure second and she looks set to make it three UK and two Irish 2017 Classic wins for Galileo, ever more the super-sire.

Without Churchill, the O’Brien Derby challenge looks more questionable, but of seven possible runners, only one, the promising Chester Vase second Wings of Eagles (by Pour Moi) is not by Galileo. Cliffs of Moher, the Dee Stakes winner, rather than Vase hero Venice Beach, seems to carry the principal hopes of connections on a day that looks sure to be characterised by observers as the chance for Frankel to put one over on dad.

He could easily do so with the Anthony Oppenheimer/John Gosden colt Cracksman proven on the track, having beaten Permian (Teofilo, by Galileo) there in the Derby Trial before Permian franked the form in the Dante Stakes at York.

Then there is 2,000 Guineas sixth, Eminent, expected by Martyn Meade to prove better suited to the longer trip, and the unexposed Mirage Dancer, who is highly regarded by Ryan Moore. He represents Sir Michael Stoute, who has a tradition of producing major forward strides with this type of horse in the Derby, but his patient trainer believes this may be too much too soon.

At present odds, there is decent value available about Mark Johnston’s Permian, who won the prime trial for the race, and the fact that the trainer has not had a Derby runner for a long time and needs to supplement him are positives. This time he has a proper candidate, but like O’Brien, I have a soft spot for the Chester trials: I was racing manager when Oath won the Dee Stakes for Henry Cecil and the Thoroughbred Corporation before winning at Epsom under a peach of a ride by Kieren Fallon.

Friday’s second feature, the Coronation Cup, has been selected as the 2017 European comeback for the five-year-old Highland Reel, whose trip to Dubai in March was doomed when the ground turned against him.

Previously, in winning the Breeders’ Cup Turf, he supplanted the lifetime earnings of Found, his contemporary and stablemate, thereby avenging his defeat by her when they were one-two in the Arc at Chantilly last October.

Both are over the £5 million mark and therefore their sire’s top two earners. With Found now retired, Highland Reel can be expected to confirm his status as the “new St Nicholas Abbey” by making a winning Epsom debut on Friday. Should Highland Reel be found wanting, then Idaho looks a worthy alternative in the field, should be run.

If you call a horse Profitable and he wins  a Group 1 race, then you have to take yourself at your word and take the profit, as Alan Spence did last year from Godolphin after Clive Cox’s sprinter won the King’s Stand Stakes.

Then to call a filly Priceless and watch her win the Group 2 Temple Stakes, following Profitable’s example of 2016, the only option is not to sell. She is indeed Priceless to Mr Spence and while the original idea was to go to Profitable when she retires, maybe watching the example of Wokingham winner Laddies Poker, now dam of Winter, and other sprinters, he might consider a date with Galileo. Whatever course he takes, the arch-negotiator holds all the aces.

I did notice that it is not just Derek Thompson who refers to Spence as a Director (sometimes Chairman, even) of Chelsea FC when his horses go to post where Tommo is acting as commentator. That description did apply in the Ken Bates days, but he’s now just a humble Vice-President, contrary to the Racing Post’s report on Priceless’s smart win. Had he been at Haydock rather than wasting his time at Wembley, Alan could have prevented the normally punctilious David Carr from making a rare error.

Monday Musings: Palmer Loses Gold-en Touch?

Palmer and Galileo Gold were not at their best at the weekend

Palmer and Galileo Gold were not at their best at the weekend

Regular readers of these thoughts will be in little doubt that I enjoy digging out statistics, writes Tony Stafford. Many will be suspicious of them, indeed the well-worn phrase, popularised by the American author Mark Twain, who attributed it to the 19th Century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, says “there are three kinds of lies - lies, damned lies and statistics”.

Senior politicians on either side of the Atlantic have had cause to question the worth and veracity of public opinion data following several elections, but I still go with the credo, “facts is facts”.

I’ve no idea whether the ever upwardly-mobile Newmarket trainer Hugo Palmer sets much store on figures, but after the tame effort by Galileo Gold, last year’s 2,000 Guineas and St James’s Palace Stakes winner in the Lockinge Stakes, sponsored by his owners Al Shaqab at Newbury, maybe the alarm bells are starting to ring, if only sotto voce.

Before the big race, Palmer was stood in front of the exit from the parade ring, exhorting his horse’s groom to “go straight out” onto the track, only for an official to bar his way and point out the Group 1 requirement for “a parade” and therefore the need for the horses to go out in a precise order.

Palmer’s body language, and where one could hear it, audible language both suggested irritation. A second irritation soon followed when the expected pacemaker, Toscanini, there to give a lead to Godolphin’s Ribchester, missed the break.

That left the two principals out in front, and while Ribchester, leading the main group up the middle stayed there, Galileo Gold raced more freely than desirable under the stands rail where he had been taken by Frankie Dettori. He faded away into sixth, a dozen lengths or so behind the emphatic winner.

Towards the back end of last year, Ribchester twice inflicted defeats on Galileo Gold, thereby reversing the relative positions of the pair from midsummer. Here the market anticipated a similar outcome, but hardly one with such a disparity. The trainer had said before Newbury that the harmonious partnership between horse and jockey was back where it was at 2,000 Guineas time last spring, but whatever the reason, that was not the case this time.

With two stables, one on either side of Newmarket and a horse complement according to Horses in Training of 170 inmates – less the odd inevitable departure through erosion – the expectation from Palmer will be again to beat his latest annual tally of 71 winners. That followed scores of seven, then six and the acceleration to 15, 24, 34 before more than doubling that tally in 2016.

Last week at York, the Makfi filly Vintage Folly delighted her trainer when runner-up to Shutter Speed in the Musidora Stakes, encouraging Palmer to make optimistic noises in his post-race TV interviews about her prospects of going one better in the Oaks, in which his Architechture was second a year ago.

But in all honesty – no lies, or damned lies in sight – Hugo’s stats for the past fortnight have been poor, and for the past few days since Vintage Folly, simply dreadful.

From 28 runs in the two weeks analysed, with horses from Kremlin Cottage and the new Yellowstone stable in Hamilton Road, he has had a single winner of a Lingfield maiden race. Of the remaining 27, Racing Post ratings calculated that three had improved on previous figures; four, presumably debutants, got no rating and the remainder ran below form, many to an alarming degree.

The 28 runners were beaten a total of 353.5 lengths, at an average of 12 lengths per run, the precise distance by which Galileo Gold was beaten. Since Vintage Folly, beaten less than two lengths, the distances by which all his subsequent runners have trailed the race winners have been 6.25 lengths, 3.75, 13.5, 41, 18, 81, 4.5, 12.5, 28, 10, 28 and 7.75  Many of these were prominent in the betting.

Palmer’s 2017 tally has been boosted by eight all-weather wins, all with three-year-olds, from 45 runs, but on turf, his 55 contestants have managed only four wins, for a combined tally of 12. Richard Fahey, admittedly with a stable containing many more inmates than Palmer’s, has sent out 59 winners, 35 on turf.  There’s plenty of time for the tide to turn, but the combination of few wins and poor performances that have typified recent activity cannot be argued.

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One trainer friend who has rather less regard for BHA handicappers than me trotted out his favourite phrase: “You couldn’t bend wire like them” about one piece of evidence on today’s Carlisle card. It was in response to my own pointing out the apparent idiotic handicapping of a well-known stayer.

Over the years, the now 10-year-old Teak has been up to the high 80’s and was at that point early in 2016. By the autumn he was running off 80, and his Cesarewitch 13th of 33, 14 lengths adrift of Sweet Selection, was hardly a sign of deteriorating ability, with 20 decent stayers behind him.

That race was his last Flat outing on turf, as after that he ran unplaced in a stayers’ race at Chelmsford; made a fair stab at a Newbury hurdle race, before switching his attentions to the sharp mile and a half around Wolverhampton.

It was at that track that he won the first two races he had for his new (and still) trainer Ian Williams after switching from Adrian Maguire (who I was delighted to see, beat a Mullins hotpot in yesterday’s Limerick bumper, ridden by Finny, his talented son. Let’s hope Adrian reconsiders his decision to retire soon).

Nowadays Teak, former winner of the two mile five furlong handicap at Glorious Goodwood needs further, so it was with some surprise that I noticed the official responsible for two-mile handicaps, allowed Teak’s rating to drop from 80, via 74, his all-weather mark for the Chelmsford race to 62 after the triple Dunstall Park whammy. And whammy it was, with apprentice Luke Catton, who is yet to ride even a single winner, entrusted with the mount on each occasion.

Today at Carlisle, Teak steps back into turf stamina tests in the two mile, one furlong finale, and, blow me down, not with Luke Catton, but last week’s Group 2 Dante Stakes-winning jockey Franny Norton stepping in. It’s as near to a certainty as you’d get, an 80 horse running off 62 on his next comparable appearance, and it should certainly be enough to foil Jan Smuts’ bid for victory in his 100th start.

Frankel, possibly to media relief, got his first Classic win in Japan over the weekend, but over here, six wins for his old rival and fellow Galileo-sired stallion Nathaniel, offered hopes that the Newsells Park inmate is beginning to flex his own Group-race muscles.

Natavia, carrying the Frankel colours of Prince Khalid Abdullah, was an emphatic winner at Newbury on Saturday and trainer Roger Charlton has a high opinion of the filly. Maybe the Ribblesdale at Royal Ascot will suit her.

It was horrible to hear about Hughie Morrison’s predicament. The only good thing of his anabolic steroids situation is that nobody who knows him and the way he runs his stable, believes for a moment that he would ever have anything to do with giving a banned substance to a 50-odd rated filly, or anything else. He seems convinced that unless the police can uncover the true culprit, he is sure to face a long ban. I’m not so sure. The BHA writes its own Rules, so it can change them if the situation fits.

- Tony Stafford

Monday Musings: The Blooming Flat Season

After three days at Chester’s May meeting, when the improving weather encouraged all-comers to show off their finery, thoughts are already turning to the Derby and Royal Ascot, writes Tony Stafford. There seems no limit to the appetite of the female of the species for horse racing and Nottingham on Saturday continued the trend.

It’s always been said that Nottingham has a much higher proportion of females to males in its population than anywhere else in England, so if the racetrack chose to declare any meeting “Ladies’ Day”, as Colwick Park did on Saturday, then a large attendance would almost be guaranteed.

Well they did and it was, 5,000 and more turning out for a strong card featuring the Listed Kilvington Stakes for fillies. In the Directors’ Room, chairman Richard Pilkington entertained the connections of the German-based filly Artistica, and they were later delighted to collect the bulk of the £40,000 prize with their 33-1 chance.

For one reason and another I didn’t actually stay for the race – needing to get home fairly sharply I claimed – but more possibly as a result of a disappointing run by the boss’s Stanhope, the first sub-standard effort of his career, in the opening maiden.

Paddock duties meant I didn’t get the chance to talk to the filly’s owners, Gregor and Julia Baum, who run under the Gestut <stud in German> Brummerhof banner, before the race and they were busy with the excellent lunch when I returned. Unfortunately for the Racing Post reporter, he assumed the stud’s name was also the owner’s, but he did correctly point out that Herr Baum owns Hannover racecourse.

Not that I was entirely remiss in approaching the visitors. They had a familiar face among the entourage, namely Billy Newnes, who spent a long time riding in Germany and since retirement has advised the Baums and their trainer Dominik Moser, who was having his first winner in the UK, and we had a lengthy chat.

Newnes told me that the Baums had three or four other fillies of a similar standard in their stable and they were keen to get a handle on their level in relation to British and French fillies before planning their season. He was also delighted that Henry and Virginia Candy were expected and Billy looked forward to remembering the days when he was Time Charter’s regular pilot.

Richard Pilkington, son of Sir Thomas, took over from Peter Jensen, now the boss at Sandown, for this year and he is one of the rising stars in the Jockey Club Racecourses hierarchy. He was fulsome in his praise of his senior management team at the track, and the show they put on certainly impressed Gregor Baum who, according to Newnes, gets big attendances at Hannover.

Yesterday was a big day for Champion Jockeys, with Ruby Walsh (38), Johnny Murtagh (47) – who impressed with his insights on ITV at Chester, and Bob Davies (71), triple jumps champion in the 1970’s, all celebrating birthdays. Davies is father to Karen Quinn, wife of Mick, trainer of Stanhope, whose run mystified us all.

Clive Cox never got anywhere near the title during his time with Fred Winter, though he did emerge with a friendship with his long-term landlord, John Francome. He was also born on May 14, which was his 53rd birthday. Clive had a promising first-time runner in our race, but was in France for Profitable’s seasonal comeback second place in a competitive Prix de Saint-Georges, won emphatically by Signs of Blessing. He’ll be on top form for next month’s attempt for a second King’s Stand at Ascot.

We have our first horse with Clive this year, Raymond Tooth’s juvenile Nelson River, a big, well-developed son of Mount Nelson, who is waiting for ground and seven furlongs.

Chester proved almost a straight match between the two major protagonists for the British Flat-race trainers’ championship. Aidan O’Brien and John Gosden have quickly moved ahead of the field in prizemoney terms, and without Gosden’s double intervention, the fixture would have been an O’Brien benefit.

The visitors collected the Chester Vase (Venice Beach), Dee Stakes (Cliffs of Moher) and Huxley Stakes ( Deauville), but had to give best to Gosden in the Cheshire Oaks, where Nathaniel’s daughter, Enable, beat favourite Alluringly; and the Ormonde, won with a last-stride thrust by Western Hymn and Frankie Dettori, who just outstayed US Army Ranger and Ryan Moore.

Sources close to Ballydoyle were suggesting Alluringly might be their best chance of the week and afterwards they reaffirmed that continued faith in her would be rewarded. As to Derby prospects, the late-developing Cliffs of Moher might well be a strong candidate, but whether he will supplant Churchill as number one is questionable.

Coolmore may have little impact on the three days of York this week, with some of the Aidan O’Brien apparent lesser lights in the Dante where Joseph O’Brien, among the winners under his jumping guise yesterday, may have better prospects with the Lloyd Williams-owned Rekindling.

Like 1,000 Guineas winner Winter, Rekindling was with now-retired David Wachman as a juvenile, but moved to the younger O’Brien and duly beat a trio of his father’s in the Ballysax Stakes at Leopardstown last month. He could prove a big threat to Gosden’s Frankel colt, Cracksman, whose Epsom Trial win has been well advertised. It will also be interesting to gauge the progress of David Elsworth’s Swiss Storm, another Frankel colt, who could not be readied in time for the 2,000 Guineas, but of whom his experienced trainer has a high opinion.

Elsworth had a long association with Chris Harper, renting his yard at Whitsbury for many years before relocating to Newmarket. He has also had a strong connection with products of the flying filly Swiss Lake, who was the fastest to grace the colours of the late Prince Ahmed bin Salman’s Thoroughbred Corporation.

Swiss Storm is one of nine winners from the mare, owned by Lordship Stud’s Trevor Harris and whom he owns in partnership with Godolphin. In that regard it is unsurprising that Elsworth has a son of Swiss Spirit, whom he trained with some success and is also out of Swiss Lake, listed in his string for 2017.

Swiss Spirit stands at Whitsbury Manor, where fellow resident Foxwedge had a decent first season last year both in the UK and his native Australia. Over there he was a sprinting rival and contemporary of the Darley stallions Helmet and Sepoy, but John Gosden clearly believes there is stamina to find in his DNA.

On the day at Newbury where Shutter Speed won her Listed race decisively, Gosden collected the fillies’ 10-furlong maiden with Gracious Diana, who holds the Oaks engagement. Then on Saturday, another daughter, Hertford Dancer, outstayed O’Brien’s Pocketfullofdreams in the Lingfield Oaks Trial over just short of a mile and a half. No doubt we’ll see her in the Ribblesdale at Royal Ascot.