Monday Musings: Of Black Type and Newsprint

What is it about Frankie Dettori, Ascot racecourse and Magnificent Sevens?, writes Tony Stafford.  On September 28 1996, aged 25, he totally monopolised a single Champions Day (as it was to become) card by riding all seven winners. In the process he bankrupted a number of bookmakers – most vocally the larger-than-life Gary Wiltshire – and caused some extra work for your correspondent.

Between June 18 and 22, 2019, at the peak of the summer solstice and almost exactly twenty-two and a half years later and therefore at almost double the age, the master jockey compiled another seven wins during the five days of Royal Ascot. Thus Dettori gained his first championship at the meeting since 2004, in the days when he was still riding for Godolphin.

Fundamental to the latest extravaganza was Thursday’s opening four-timer, which for one member of a famous racing family, could have been the precursor to potential financial ruin.

Mylo Sangster, grandson of Robert and son of Guy, was part of a group of racing and gambling enthusiasts who started the company Black Type Bet three years ago. Their idealistic aims of providing a service whereby punters could actually get their bets on might well have become compromised in the meantime by the particular issues of the gambling industry, but until Thursday all seemed serene.

Then came Dettori’s 449-1 four-timer, but worse, tons of money running onto Turgenev, his mount in the following Britannia Stakes which caused his starting price to contract to 7-2 in the manner of Fujiyama Crest (2-1 from 12’s), Dettori’s last of seven winners all those years ago.

As Turgenev was sent to the front in the last two furlongs of the 28-runner handicap, the partners of Black Type were quaking in their boots, Sangster relating on Sunday that there had been the potential for a crippling £750k shortfall. As he drew three lengths clear they watched with bated breath, awaiting the coup de grace.

They needed a knight in shining armour, and in Harry Bentley they found one. Riding Biometric, appropriately a son of Bated Breath, in the Khalid Abdullah colours for the Ralph Beckett stable, Bentley brought the 28-1 shot (55-1 on Ascot’s Tote: I know, I backed him, only very small!) from way back to collar Dettori 100 yards from home.

If ever there was an appropriate winner this was it as Bentley is sponsored by, wait for it, Black Type Bet. Talk about earning your fee, I think Harry might well be in line for a nice bonus.

Apparently when seeking a jockey to sponsor, they contacted Johnno Spence, racing’s media fixer supreme and Donald Trump body double – almost! Spence initially suggested Oisin Murphy but when he had already been snapped up, turned to Gentleman Harry with Saturday’s spectacular business-saving result.

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I discovered the Black Type connection with the youthful Mylo – not that it hadn’t been in the public domain since the start – while chatting to his mum Fi at Ascot on Saturday. She put us promptly in touch, possibly as reward for having tipped her Cleonte to win the Queen Alexandra, after which she had no opportunity of doing back her winnings. Mylo revealed he was one of a team of six original start-up execs, a number that has expanded to around 14, of whom he is the main horseracing trader.

Like his older brother Ned, leading light in the Mull of Killough syndicate with Jane Chapple-Hyam a few years ago, he has the Sangster family heritage in racing and indeed punting in full measure. The third generation is carrying on the example of his own father and uncles Ben, Adam, boss of Swettenham stud in Australia, and Sam. His cousin Olli, Ben’s son, looks after the Wesley Ward horses at Manton, the family base now owned by Martin Meade.

At the top I mentioned that Dettori’s 1996 Ascot extravaganza caused me some extra work. I had been commissioned by Pete Burrell, Frankie’s business manager, to write an account of his year in racing in 1996. At the time as a complement to my newspaper responsibilities I was also doing some work with David Loder, then one of Frankie’s major supporters, so came across the jockey quite a lot.

The idea was to write Frankie Dettori – A Year in the Life – as ghost writer. There were some amusing incidents on the way. Often we’d settle down for an hour or so and while I was fresh enough after a normal start, it would nearly always be after a long morning on the gallops for him. It wouldn’t take long for him to look wistfully out the window onto the paddock and say:  “You know what I mean,” leaving it to me to finish the thought in question.

One incident I keep recalling was when early on, for some reason I asked him about his reading habits. He said: “I only ever read one book, Ten <20> Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.” Jules Verne would have been horrified that Frankie had managed to navigate only half of it!

Anyway, as the fateful Saturday arrived, Frankie’s book was fully printed and ready to roll for the Christmas market. It had the benefit of a high-powered literary agent, Christopher Little, who went on to fill a similar role for the Harry Potter books. What a come-down!

So what to do? Publishing vintage 1996 had little bearing on the push-button era of today. But everyone agreed we had to do another chapter and duly managed it over the next couple of days. I think one or other of my three children, who all came to the launch of the book, has retained a copy, but I don’t have one and cannot tell you whether the extra words were at the front or back of the book.

Publishing had been part of my life ever since the Greyhound Express in the late 1960’s and one event which happened between that entrance into the business and the Dettori episode was brought back to life at Ascot last week.

I was introduced in the paddock to Peter Brant, and amazingly it was the first time I’d met the New York newsprint magnate and racehorse owner-breeder since November 1982. That was during my first visit to Kentucky.

David Hedges, the late founder of the still-active International Racing Bureau in Newmarket secured an invitation for me to go to Kentucky for the November Breeding stock sale, as a guest of celebrated owner-breeder Robin Scully at his famed Clovelly Farm in Lexington.

Apart from the novelty of seeing tobacco hanging out to dry in one of the Clovelly barns, I was taken around town and one of the first jaunts was to the Hyatt Hotel on the Sunday, the day before the sale in Keeneland started. Kentucky was “dry” on Sunday in those days, but the Hyatt was very busy with the sales in town and Robin introduced me to Henryk de Kwiatkowski, whom I would soon get to know much better, and Mr Brant.

Upon finding out my job, Peter said: “You know, if the big UK newspapers could sort out the union problems they would be one of the best investments anywhere in the world.”

At the time, the Berry family which owned it would have considered a bid and I suggested to Brant maybe he should buy it. I asked him at Ascot whether he recalled the conversation and amazingly he did.

In the meantime a couple of days later at that sale I discovered an exclusive that should have made a decent racing story on the Daily Telegraph pages. Danny Schwartz, one of the Sangster team of investors, revealed across the bar (and me) to Henryk that they had bought the top lot of the sale. I knew it had been knocked down to Sir Philip Payne-Gallwey, Stavros Niarchos’ legendary agent, so this had to be news of an alliance between Sangster and Niarchos.

I prepared the article, which I then transmitted over the phone to one of the telephonists back in Fleet Street. Imagine my frustration when not just that article but everything else I sent back never appeared in print. An ongoing dispute over a new printing machine developed into a full week’s strike by the printers, which only ended when management agreed to repay the boys all their lost money along with a few extra concessions.

As Peter Brant said, UK daily newspapers should have been a great investment, if only you could be sure that the unions would allow the papers to be printed!

- TS

Monday Musings: Royal Ascot Friends Reunited

It’s here, less than a week away from the longest day of the year, Royal Ascot begins tomorrow with a trio of Friends Reunited races, writes Tony Stafford. I can’t wait to see Battaash, Blue Point and Mabs Cross going at it again in the King’s Stand Stakes, and Phoenix Of Spain and Too Darn Hot dusting off their Irish 2,000 Guineas rivalry in the St James’s Palace Stakes.

But the most intriguing of all for me is the opener, the Queen Anne Stakes, featuring not just the one-two-three from the recent Lockinge Stakes at Newbury, that’s Mustashry, Laurens and Accidental Agent, but also five of the also-rans, in finishing order, Romanised (fourth), Le Brivido (fifth), Sharja Bridge, Beat The Bank, Mythical Magic and Lord Glitters.

It’s as if none of the seven beaten trainers could accept that the Sir Michael Stoute-trained and Hamdan Al Maktoum-owned Mustashry had been a feasible winner. Yet here was a gelded six-year-old who has won eight of his 18 career starts and, since last summer when he beat Spark Plug half a length in a Sandown ten-furlong Listed race, has improved markedly winning twice at Group 2 level before Newbury.

Laurens, runner-up on that Newbury comeback, was the glamour element to that race having won four Group 1 races last year to add to her Fillies’ Mile win at the same level the previous autumn.

Then there’s Accidental Agent, 33-1 winner of this race a year ago, with all the attendant history of trainer Eve Johnson Houghton’s family. The horse was bred by Eve’s mother and named in honour of her maternal grandfather, John Goldsmith, a trainer either side of World War 2 in France and then after the War in England. He filled in nicely between the two parts of his equine career doing a little spying for MI5 behind enemy lines in Europe as Jamie Reid’s “Blown” so graphically describes.

I trust Jamie will not forget to send me a copy of his impending portrayal of Victor Chandler, whose intervention a decade and a half ago, asking me to go to Moscow and saying “this could change your life” had no idea just how right he was. As Eric Morecambe might have said, “not necessarily for the right reason!”

The Lockinge fifth, Le Brivido, earlier an eye-catcher on his debut for Ballydoyle after Michael Tabor bought a half-share from original owner Prince Faisal bin Khaled, is another interesting participant, given his 2017 Jersey Stakes win for the Andre Fabre stable. It’s a race of countless possibilities, but it’s equally likely that the Newbury form will be upheld as Mustashry did win it emphatically.

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When you have as much success and as many good horses in your stable as John Gosden, you could probably afford to describe your 2019 handling of Too Darn Hot as appalling, or whatever term he actually used.

So far the colt has been second, after a spring setback, in the Dante, trying out for a possible tilt at the Derby, and when that plan was aborted, switched to The Curragh and the Irish 2,000 Guineas. Another second place, creditable enough but maybe a shade embarrassing for the master trainer after the unblemished two-year-old campaign, resulted there, and the second of the big three re-matches, against that surprise winner Phoenix of Spain, comes in the St James’s Palace Stakes.

In fact the pair had some previous ‘previous’. They were one and two, in reverse Curragh order in the Champagne Stakes, with Too Darn Hot a length and threequarters to the good, in the third of his four juvenile wins, rounded out in the Dewhurst.

Between those two runs Phoenix of Spain was runner-up to subsequent Newmarket 2,000 Guineas winner Magna Grecia in the Vertem Futurity at Doncaster and the Irish 2,000 was his comeback run. Magna Grecia, only fifth when attempting the 2,000 Guineas double misses the race and Derby sixth Circus Maximus drops back to a mile as the principal sub for the O’Brien team.

The third re-match which brings at least as much anticipation as the other two is the King’s Stand. Last year Blue Point comfortably beat Battaash and a strong-finishing Mabs Cross. He went on to dominate the major sprints over the winter in Dubai and returns freshened up for his repeat attempt.

Charlie Hills, who did such a good job to win the Irish 2,000 with Phoenix of Spain without a prep run, can be equally proud of the way in which Battaash, often uneasy before his races in the past, seems to have been calmed down as a five-year-old. He took advantage of favourable weight conditions to beat Mabs Cross in the Temple Stakes, but I have a feeling in the recesses of my mind, that the filly will come good, appreciating the slightly deeper test with the ground possibly riding on the soft side after last week’s rain. I think 9-1 about Michael Dods and the Armstrong family’s star is value, but then I thought Justin Rose at 7-4 was a gift last night!

Ryan Moore must have breathed a sigh of relief when the 48-hour acceptors for the Coventry Stakes did not include Visinari, the Mark Johnston colt who made such a superb debut under the former champion on the opening day on the Newmarket July Course.

I joked here last week that he was probably advising Mark (via son Charlie on course) Johnston to give him more time after that exceptional performance – which apparently did not over-excite the Racing Post’s experts – judged on his RPR’s at the entry stage compared with the rest of the Coventry field. Do they still sell Fudge?

Now with Visinari’s non-acceptance, and indeed if he is to appear at all at the Royal meeting it would have to be in Saturday’s Chesham which closes later today, Ryan’s Coventry mount Arizona, a son of No Nay Never who won by eight lengths second time out at The Curragh, heads the market. My advice, if you want to back him, is not to take the 9-4. With a full field, surely those odds will lengthen as the boys on the boards react to the Betfair-led market.

A couple of weeks ago coming back on the coach after the Derby I was talking about the day-to-day betting market with Alan Newman and he was aghast at the way apparent manipulation is an everyday occurrence.

In the old days, in a match race, if one horse was 4-6, by definition the other would be automatically 6-4 but understandably bookmakers need a margin, so maybe 4-6 and 11-10 would be more like a fair return in such instances.

If Alan had been at Doncaster yesterday I guarantee he would have been on the phone to a long-ago partner at the defuct Wembley greyhounds. In the days several decades before Michael Tabor became a vital cog in Coolmore, he was a bookmaker, but I can imagine what he and Alan would have thought of the betting on the third race of the afternoon up there.

Three of the five runners were no-hopers and priced up accordingly. Also there was a guaranteed favourite, Sea of Faith, trained by William Haggas and a 10-1 on shot, who duly beat the second favourite Bullion Boss by nine lengths. No 10-1 against though or anything near it for Bullion Boss. Just before the off, that gelding trained by Michael Dods and ridden by Paul Mulrennan, was shortened up from 4-1 to 7-2! Who says the betting world hasn’t gone mad?

- TS

Monday Musings: A Visinari Visionary

Peter Ashmore and I stood hanging over the rail at the top end of the paddock adjacent to the saddling boxes before the opening race of Newmarket’s July Course season on Saturday, writes Tony Stafford. A big grey colt came by and we agreed: “It’s a giant! Surely he’s come in early before the following handicap!”

Further inspection revealed it was Visinari, a tall, leggy son of Dark Angel trained by Mark Johnston and ridden by an unusually-available Ryan Moore, taking some non-Coolmore mounts on home turf while Seamie and Donnacha shared a juvenile winner apiece at Navan.

A year before, Calyx – earlier in the week reported to have suffered an injury when losing for the first time at Doncaster which will put him out of Ascot’s Commonwealth Cup – won his debut in the corresponding six-furlong race by five lengths and six.

Thirty minutes later Gunmetal, rated 93, won the handicap in 1min 10.76sec, 1.80 sec faster than Calyx’s recording of 1min 12.56 sec on good to firm going. Gunmetal now has an official mark of 104. With the weight-for-age scale decreeing that in the first week of June, two-year-olds should receive 38lb from their elders, for Calyx to run within 1.80 sec (nine lengths) of a five-year-old was meritorious.

So how can one begin to explain what Visinari was about to show us after those few languid spins around the paddock? He was bought at Arqana as a yearling for €55,000, apparently breaking the mantra of Johnston buys requiring dams to be rated at least 90; but Visinada, a daughter of Derby winner Sinndar, has already produced two winning progeny exceeding that level.

It is so easy to forget. Sinndar dominated racing in 2000, winning all but one of his eight career races including the Derby, Irish Derby and Arc for his owner-breeder the Aga Khan. He brings to Visinari’s pedigree an obvious stamina influence, but his winning siblings both showed decent speed on the track.

Anyway, on debut and faced with a well-touted Godolphin colt with previous experience, the clearly well-schooled Visinari went off in front. Moore needed to push him out when Ottoman Court, a son of Shamardal tried to join him on the outside at around the two-furlong pole, and he responded to the tune of an always-extending three and a half lengths.

There were echoes of Calyx in the result as it was another ten back to the rest. Just to confirm what the eyes told us, half an hour later the four-year-old Flavius Titus, rated 95, won the all-aged handicap in a time 0.14 sec SLOWER than Visinari’s 1 min 10.41sec. Add the 32lb (four-year-olds get 6lb from their elders in the scale at this stage of the season) and Visinari has run to somewhere near 127! One can only surmise that with the official going both this year and last “good to firm” and a disparity of only 0.21 sec in the times of the two all-age handicaps, Visinari must be something special to be two seconds faster than Calyx.

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Maybe it’s a freak result but looking at Visinari before and listening to what Charlie Johnston was saying afterwards: “He’s all legs and because he’s so big we kept delaying running him until after one more impressive gallop” or words to that effect. The clock doesn’t lie as I could hear Phil Bull saying and those days of yore were imprinted again on my mind in the middle of the night as I prepared to begin this epistle.

George Hill, who one must remember is younger than me, sent me four pages from different editions of the Racehorse from 1965 when he would have been 18 and I had only just left school, almost a decade before I edited the same weekly.

He wrote a couple of columns talking in one about trainer Earl Jones – someone he got to know very well 50 and more years ago – and his horse Honey End, who later finished an unlucky second as the favourite in Foinavon’s notorious Grand National.

Thanks for that Georgie, when will you start coming racing again?

But I digress. So what now for the grey giant? You can imagine Ryan saying in the de-brief: “Well really, he’s so big I’d give Royal Ascot a miss, give him time to mature and bring him back here for the July meeting.” Maybe they will, but you’d have to be thinking Coventry and a clash with the best of Ballydoyle.

Whether that would mean the winning Navan debutant Royal Lytham, a son of first-season sire Gleneagles, who among others had an odds-on stable-companion (by War Front) well beaten in fourth when causing a mild surprise at 10-1 on Saturday.

Thus he became the third winner by Gleneagles and first in Ireland for the dual Guineas-winning son of Galileo. It was always the hope that the king of Coolmore would produce top milers to go with the middle-distance and staying champions, and Gleneagles is the first in a plentiful pipeline hoped to bring precocity to the breed.

Gleneagles has won with three of nine runners so far, and the non-winners include Daily Times, a John Gosden-trained half-sister to the 2018 juvenile champion Newspaperofrecord who incidentally suffered a second defeat of the year at odds of 3-20 (1.15 in Betfair parlance) at Belmont Park on Thursday. Daily Times, the 9-2 second favourite, was fourth behind Visinari, just edged out for third after being prominent for most of the race.

Charlie Johnston spoke about the yard’s Royal Ascot team “taking shape” and referred to a number about to run with the possibility of aiming at the Chesham. That seven-furlong race is not until Saturday week, opening up the fifth day and requires sire or dam to have won at ten furlongs or above.

That qualification lets in Romsey, a daughter of the Coral-Eclipse winner Mukhadram, who opened her account with a smooth success second time out at Chelmsford on Saturday. Unlike the top-end home-breds and sales buys, Romsey started her public life in unprepossessing fashion.

Entered in Tattersalls Book 3 last October from Lavington Stud, she didn’t attract a bid and was recorded as “Vendor 800gns”, the minimum. She ended up with Hughie Morrison. After a promising debut third over six furlongs at Windsor, she went on to Chelmsford and upped to seven, won by four and a half lengths.

When I asked Hughie about the sales debacle, he said. “I went to see her at the stud during Goodwood last year with a bloodstock agent and we both told Al <Alasdair Macdonald-Buchanan> that she’d struggle at the sale as she was so weak.

“I must say, though, I don’t think I’ve ever had a two-year-old improve so much so quickly. Even allowing for her weakness, you must have expected some interest as she’s half-sister to two two-year-winners including Indian Viceroy who won twice for us last year.

“The Chesham might be an option. The alternative, carrying a 7lb penalty running for three grand against horses from top stables, is most unattractive.”

Hughie cheered up the Raymond Tooth team when bringing out Say Nothing for a much-improved run under 9st10lb at Haydock last week and she might turn out again at Sandown on Friday. Stable-companion Sod’s Law will definitely run there, stepping up to a mile and a quarter with P J McDonald’s endorsement after his running-on fourth over a mile on the firm at Leicester. Wish us luck. We need it.

But I can’t stop thinking about Visinari!

- TS

Monday Musings: Moore frustrated than ever

Three championship races defined Epsom’s 2019 Derby meeting, writes Tony Stafford. Three times Ryan Moore struck the front in Classic Lester Piggott mode at around the two-furlong pole, the first twice on horses just shaded for favouritism but with outstanding claims and finally on the clear Derby favourite. All three times he was usurped in what in time might come to be regarded historically as a one-off Golden Highway up the far rail.

Traditionally Epsom’s camber takes hold of tiring horses, especially at the end of the mile and a half Group 1 trio of Investec Derby, Oaks and Coronation Cup. Routinely it deposits them struggling for balance on the rail where any recent rain, especially when combined with excessive watering (very rare with Andrew Cooper in charge), would slow the ground compared with higher up the camber and interfere with faltering stride patterns.

This time, fast conditions and, particularly on Saturday afternoon, hot weather and a drying breeze more than countered the three millilitres Cooper decided to put on the track on Friday night. First Defoe in the Coronation Cup, then Anapurna in the Oaks, and finally Anthony Van Dyck in the Derby came late and fast to deny Ryan in turn on Kew Gardens, Pink Dogwood and Sir Dragonet in the Derby.

It was easy to criticize Moore (as many did) and I went home on Friday having imagined seeing him go clear on both Kew Gardens and Pink Dogwood, but the reality was that neither ever got far ahead of their eventual nemeses.

Equally, it was unusual in the extreme just how Andrea Atzeni aboard Defoe, Frankie Dettori on Anapurna and above all Seamie Heffernan, the Peter Pan-like 46-year-old rider (really?) of Anthony Van Dyck found a clear course along the rail. In Heffernan’s case he was actually wider than Moore as the Coolmore number one rider launched his mount to the lead.

A right-hand tap on a horse clearly going very well, took him left and as he stayed on strongly, the same leftward course found the rail. In the same moment, four rivals on his outside contrived almost to manufacture a quadruple dead-heat, AvD’s stamina kicking in to pass them all 100 yards from home for a half-length victory.

For the record, the only interloper in an O’Brien multi-coloured justification of his block entry of seven in a 13-horse field, Madhmoon, rallied late to pinch second back with on the outside Japan and Broome staying on strongly, all three catching Sir Dragonet and relegating him to fifth in a miasma of a nose and two short heads.

You could understand Ryan cursing his luck. Not only had he ridden Anthony Van Dyck to victory in the Lingfield Derby Trial when O’Brien believed the Galileo colt to be well short of peak fitness, he had been in the saddle on five of his eight previous races including when unplaced behind Line of Duty – never sighted on Saturday – at the Breeders’ Cup last backend.

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Had the decision to supplement Sir Dragonet at a cost of £85,000 not been made – at a time when there was an expectation of imminent rain – Ryan almost certainly would have been on the winner. But would he have won if he had taken the same up-the-middle course?

So quickly did the picture change in the Derby that if it were run multiple times, who could say which of the O’Brien four in their respective pink (Magnier second colours), purple (Derryck Smith), blue and orange (Michael Tabor) or dark blue (Magnier) – or the Prendergast one – would have prevailed.

The tendency in any close finish is to condemn the whole lot as ordinary. That could be a very dangerous assumption. Sir Dragonet showed class and speed enough to win the race and failed by less than a length. He did wonderfully well to make light of his inexperience – the first race of his life was only 37 days previously – and he was also in his first contested finish on an alien track and under novel fast conditions.

Japan and Broome flew home on the outside, Japan finding at least 14lb on his Dante run when acknowledged as well short of peak fitness by his trainer before and after the fact, while Broome continued to show the kind of stamina that could make him the number one St Leger candidate come the autumn.

But what O’Brien manages to a degree that no other trainer can – and of course he has the raw material, not just in quality but numerically – is to identify the right horse for the right target.

The Derby comes early in the season, just nine weeks since the start and we’re already 80 per cent through the English Classic races. This year it was the earliest possible, so these staying horses are still in a semi-embryonic stage. Which of them will go to the Irish Derby? By late July will any be ready to take on the older generation, and that possibly means Enable in the King George?

And then there’s the Eclipse, the Grand Prix de Paris, as zealously sought as the remodelled (some time ago now, but we live in the past!) French Derby which yesterday had its normal token Ballydoyle attention: Epsom Derby Trial winner Cape of Good Hope, first string of three at 24-1, was guided to a creditable fourth by that man Moore behind the impressive winner, Sottsass.

Moore suffered a frustrating weekend. That Derby slide from second to fifth in the last 20 yards was costly indeed. Second spot was worth £350,000 and fifth £43,000. Eight per cent or thereabouts of the 300k he forfeited will be hard to stomach.

I happened to be walking through along the side of the weighing room as Chris Hayes came out wheeling his little case and still sporting the “I got Ryan’s money!” grin. I couldn’t help remembering that his first trip to the UK came when I booked him to ride my filly Ekaterina, named after Mrs Stafford, but of widely differing abilities as a 16-year-old when he looked about ten.

“I thought I had it!” he said without a glimmer of regret. It’s great when nice people do well and as one of the Irish jockeys young enough and with no weight problems to have multiple chances in the future, I’d be amazed if he didn’t win the race one day.

I felt truly sorry for Hughie Morrison and the brother and sister team of Mark Weinfeld and Helena Ellingsen that Telecaster found Derby Day all too much. The most obvious sweater in the paddock, he was also the least compliant as they went out for the parade, possibly exacerbated by being last of the 13 to go out.

There was concern that number two draw had been a guarantee of failure in the past, but watching the initial stages, it could only be a mathematical anomaly rather than a physical negative. What was not arguable was that he was the first of the leading bunch to be beaten and, along with his Doncaster conqueror Bangkok, never looked like denting the Irish hegemony.

At least the Weinfeld family had the Oaks win to cheer them and soften the blow of the blown 85 grand. Anapurna is a direct descendant of Egon Weinfeld’s 1979 1,000 Guineas winner One In A Million. No such luck for Morrison, whose father James was owner of the other 1979 Classic winning filly, Scintillate.

The Queen unveiled a bronze statue of Lester Piggott, nine-time Derby- winning jockey, on Saturday. Aidan O’Brien, in equalling that number, also equalled the record for training the winner and surely as night follows day, will beat it sooner rather than later.

Galileo, the 2001 hero, is now responsible for four Derby winners. John Magnier and Michael Tabor have been associated with all five horses and three other Derby winners, so are one ahead of O’Brien in the official records, although one report suggested Magnier had reached number ten, presumably as a minor partner in Robert Sangster winners.

Whatever the accuracy of that account, the astonishing fact is that six of the winners of the years between 2011 and 2019 have been in their ownership, all with Derrick Smith, a late entry into the team. Only Pour Moi, trained by Andre Fabre, did not hone his Epsom credentials on the Ballydoyle gallops.

Some wonderful trainers based in England have massive strings of expensively-bought or home-bred colts with Classic pedigrees. Gosden, Haggas, Varian, Charlie Appleby and the like you would think, might be feared but every year the one to beat is Aidan O’Brien. It’s not very often that he is.

Monday Musings: A Moot Point?

You read it here first, folks. Hermosa runs in the Investec Oaks on Friday. No I wasn’t in Ireland yesterday. I haven’t spoken to Aidan, to any of the owners – or even Harry! But one thing I do know, it’s been done more than once before, writes Tony Stafford.

Then again I’ve just seen (8.30 p.m. Sunday, that’s right I couldn’t wait!) that the Racing Post is talking about Hermosa’s going for the Prix de Diane. Now I can understand the appeal in terms of timing, and also the fact it’s worth considerably more than the Oaks, but it’s a race Aidan has never won.

He has won the Oaks though – seven times in fact, so even if I’m wrong, I’m not going to waste the fruits of my research and if it’s to go to waste well nobody will have died. So here goes!

Admittedly none of Aidan’s seven Epsom Oaks winners has needed to overcome as short a gap as five days.  But by the same token none has won the Irish 1,000 Guineas by anything like yesterday’s four lengths. Or indeed having already won the English 1,000 on her return to action.

Four of O’Brien’s seven winners ran in the Irish race. Of the other three, Was finished only third in a Naas Group 3; Qualify was last of 13 in the Newmarket 1,000 before her 50-1 shock and, in May last year, Forever Together prepped in the Cheshire Oaks. There she was an eye-catching runner-up to stable-companion Magic Wand and comprehensively reversed the form at Epsom.

Aidan’s second winner, Imagine (by Sadler’s Wells), won the 2001 Irish 1,000 Guineas by a couple of lengths before her comfortable success as the 3-1 favourite at Epsom. She never ran again. There is a parallel in her case with Hermosa. Imagine raced six times as a two-year-old, all between August 20 and October 14. The admirably-resilient Hermosa had seven runs as a juvenile, the last five also between August and October and all at Group level, mostly Group 1.

The first O’Brien winner had been Shahtoush, in 1998, owned by David and Diane Nagle, who bred the Alzao filly (in association with Ron Con Ltd) and they raced her in partnership with John Magnier.

It might be slightly shocking to know that of the Magnificent seven, only three are by Galileo, predictably the sire of Hermosa. Alexandrova, the 2006 heroine, was also a daughter of Sadler’s Wells, Galileo’s dad, and her renewal coincided with Galileo’s first year with three-year-olds.

There were two in the Oaks field from that first crop, and I’m sure Rae Guest must often hark back to the fact that he trained a filly bought by Emma O’Gorman as a yearling for just 20,000gns at Tattersalls. She was called Guilia and came to the Oaks with an 81 rating. Despite this she started only 8-1 and finished fifth behind Alexandrova, one place behind the 1,000 Guineas winner Speciosa. She was straight up to 100 after that! Mick Channon also had a Galileo filly in that line-up, namely Kassiopeia who was seventh home as a 66-1 shot.

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The following day Sixties Icon became the first Galileo colt to run in the Derby. Trained by Jeremy Noseda, he was also 66-1 despite having won a Windsor maiden on his second start. He finished seventh, not much more than four lengths behind Sir Percy in a 17-runner scrum that included five sons of Sadler’s Wells and three by the other Coolmore Derby winner-producing staple, Montjeu.

By that September, the Classic die was cast. True, two each by Sadler’s Wells and Montjeu populated an 11-horse field for that year’s St Leger, run at York while Doncaster was being tidied up. An astonishing five by Galileo dominated the race, starting with the first three, Sixties Icon, maintaining his pioneering role, winning from The Last Drop (Barry Hills) and Red Rocks (Brian Meehan).

When Red Rocks went on to beat a field containing Better Talk Now, English Channel, Scorpion and Hurricane Run – the last two trained by O’Brien – In the Breeders’ Cup Turf race at Churchill Downs at the end of that season the last vestiges of doubt were expunged. Here was the one. Here remains the one!

Of the last four Oaks winners, only the unconsidered Qualify, a bit of a maverick as she was sourced by John Murrell from Anne-Marie O’Brien’s breeding stock, is not by Galileo. This Fastnet Rock filly caught Legatissimo near the line for the blood-bath. Was (2012), Minding three years ago, and Forever Together last year are all daughters of the King.

The outstanding Minding did run in both races, but with a 12-day gap. It was probably a matter of putting the record straight in her case as she’d been beaten as a 4-11 shot at The Curragh having previously won at Newmarket.

Hermosa has the chance – if she is allowed to take it as I believe she still could be – to improve on the Minding record. Certainly I cannot remember any winner of both mile filly Classics, trained by anyone, winning both after making all the running. I thought Ryan Moore’s judgment of pace yesterday was outstanding. And if you are worried that she’ll get the extra half-mile being out of a Pivotal mare you only have to go back two years to find her full-sister Hydrangea winning the Group1 Qipco British Champions Filly and Mare Stakes at Ascot over the trip.

That year O’Brien not only had Hydrangea and Rhododendron, but also Winter, re-located from the retired David Wachman, as a triumvirate that comprised three of the best three-year-old fillies in Europe. Glancing down the list of Friday’s Epsom acceptors, Ballydoyle seems to be reliant on recent Listed winner Pink Dogwood, who clearly must have shown plenty of ability at home but nothing in public to put her in the Classic-potential bracket to date.

Otherwise it’s a case of bit-players that might step forward, so the temptation must be in there somewhere to bring a fast-improving dual Classic winner to tackle the two John Gosden hopes, Anapurna and Mehdaayih.

All eyes this morning will be on the five-day declarations for the Investec Derby to see whether Sir Dragonet or Telecaster or both is supplemented following varying elements of doubt from both the O’Brien and Hughie Morrison camps.

Hughie grew up around racing – his father James owned three Classic winners, among them Scintillate, the 1979 Oaks winner. Coincidentally, the 1,000 Guineas that year was won by One In A Million, with Reprocolor one of the foundation mares of Egon Weinfeld, whose Meon Valley Stud bred both their direct descendants, respectively Anapurna and Telecaster.

It is easy to believe that the trainer would be itching to have the chance of emulating his father and win a Classic. As stated here more than once recently, Castle Down Racing, in whose name Telecaster runs, is the racing name for Meon Valley colts retained having not made their reserve – in his case at 180,000gns. Anapurna meanwhile sports the far better-known black and white of Helena Springfield Ltd, and brother and sister Mark Weinfeld and Helena Ellingsen will be delighted not to have to worry about any supplementary entry fees in the easy Lingfield Oaks Trial winner’s case.

It has been wonderful to see Barry Hills in such great form lately. Years ago we all feared he’d be leaving us. He’s looking and sounding great just now and clearly returned to health, so it was heart-warming that his son Charlie could collect the Irish 2,000 Guineas on Saturday with Phoenix of Spain, three-length winner over Too Darn Hot with Magna Grecia, apparently unhappy on the ground, further behind. Having seen the ease of that win and the quality of the defeated opposition, it might be surprising to note that the winning time was almost a second and a half slower than Hermosa’s.

Barry still has plenty of input into the family business, while it was good to see Simon Whitworth in the winning picture from the Curragh. I’ve still got a framed photo in my office of Simon coming back to scale at Beverley 37 years ago on Charlie Kilgour, the first winner in my old red and white colours, now being put to far better use!

Simon’s dad contacted me out of the blue a couple of years before to ask if I could find an opportunity for his son, who’d broken his leg while at Michael Stoute’s. It was sad to hear that Eric Whitworth, a solicitor from Rochdale, died recently.

Of course we were all looking back at the result of the Vertem Futurity at Doncaster, Phoenix of Spain’s previous run back in October, and earlier form with Too Darn Hot, concluding that he had been over-priced. Didn’t think to look beforehand! Did anyone?

I think Battaash’s win at Haydock in the Amstrong Aggregates Temple Stakes, Charlie’s second big win within half an hour on Saturday, was smoothly achieved. It would have been something of a shock if this Group 1 winner had not been able to cope with the sponsors’ Group 1 winner Mabs Cross in receipt of weight. She also had to concede the same 2lb to Alpha Delphini, who had pipped her in the Nunthorpe last year. In the King’s Stand Stakes at Ascot, the Michael Dods filly will be 5lb better with both, giving her a decent chance of revenge on a track which will better suit her strong-running style.

- TS

Monday Musings: Too Darn Confusing

The Temple Stakes at Haydock, like all the races on next Saturday’s card sponsored by Armstrong Aggregates and Amix Concrete, the Bolton-based businesses run by David and Emma Armstrong, is building up to being a very warm affair, writes Tony Stafford.

Yesterday Charlie Hills revealed that last year’s winner Battaash will begin his 2019 campaign, aimed in the short-term to the King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot, in the Haydock race. Last year he shrugged off a 5lb penalty, earned with his four-length demolition of Martha in the Prix de l’Abbaye de Longchamp the previous October at its temporary home of Chantilly while Longchamp was gaining some new stands and an extra two syllables turning it as if by magic to Parislongchamp. Do even the French bother to call it that?

Penalties, 3lb for a Group2, 5lb for a Group 1, only kick in from August 31 last year. Battaash escapes the extra burden this time as his final win as a four-year-old came in the King George Qatar Stakes at Goodwood on August 3 where Take Cover respectfully followed him home, four lengths back.

His later odds-on fourth in the Nunthorpe to Alpha Delphini (40-1) and Mabs Cross and then fourth again as an 11-10 shot behind Mabs Cross in a bunched finish to the Abbaye, betrayed recurring hints of temperament issues which Charlie seems to believe he has overcome.

Apart from Blue Point, freshening up after dominating the massive sprint pots during Dubai’s Carnival over the winter, and also the conqueror of Battaash and Mabs Cross in last year’s King’s Stand, we can expect a field chock-full of potential King’s Stand contenders.

Mabs Cross, winner of half her 14 races in the Armstrong red and white colours which mimic the livery of their lorries and concrete mixers travelling around the country, particularly in the north-west, will be there as a standard-bearer once again.

Last year carrying 9st 1lb she stayed on strongly into fourth behind Battaash (9st 9lb), Washington DC (9st 4lb) and now a stallion with Terry Holdcraft, and Kachy (9st 4lb), a minor co-star in the Haydock race for the past three years but once again this winter the star of all-weather sprinting.

In 14 starts, Mabs Cross has won seven times and not since her debut has she ever been beaten more than two lengths in any of her other six appearances. She was two lengths back, as ever finishing fast in the 2018 King’s Stand and was a paper-thin second in the Nunthorpe, actually looking for all-the-world on the play-back that she’d won.

Earlier this month she repeated her 2018 Palace House Stakes victory, defying a 7lb penalty for the Longchamp win. This suggested, on her return, that she is continuing to improve as a five-year-old. What is not in question is that finishing burst, exhibited in every race. Whether she will be up to conceding 2lb to Battaash rather than, as last year, receiving 8lb and not being quite good enough that time will be the issue for the Michael Dods-trained filly.

Saturday’s Haydock card is the third sponsored by the Armstrongs Group. Up to 2016, when Profitable won the race for Alan Spence from another Dods-trained superstar filly in Mecca’s Angel, the Temple Stakes was the feature on the first of two Haydock late-May cards on successive Saturdays.

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Now there is only a single May Saturday with the latter date moving to early June and run this year the week after the Derby on June 8. The Pinnacle Stakes and John O’Gaunt, both Group 3, are now part of the June date, but the Group 2 Sandy Lane Stakes for three-year-olds over six furlongs has been added to this weekend’s card which also features the £80,000 added Amix Silver Bowl.

The Group 2 sprint has been a wonderful race for Spence. In Profitable’s year, it was the middle leg of a Palace House/Temple/King’s Stand hat-trick which brought a multi-million pound deal with Godolphin. Profitable is now a stallion with Darley Stud.

The following May, Alan’s filly Priceless, like Profitable trained by Clive Cox, beat off very strong opposition to win the Temple Stakes. Previous Palace House/King’s Stand winner Goldream, trained by Robert Cowell, was second ahead of Alpha Delphini, Final Venture (second at Naas yesterday), Kachy, Washington DC and Take Cover.

I saw Alan at Newbury on Saturday. He tells me he recently went to see his filly foal by Dubawi out of Priceless and is looking forward to the imminent arrival of a full-sibling. Profitable, Priceless – but Alan even YOU don’t always get what you wish for. He may even have to accept second best for Chelsea against Arsenal (in the Mabs Cross red) in the Europa Cup Final.


The wait for a decision on whether Sir Dragonet or Telecaster or both will be supplemented for the Investec Derby seems certain to be drawn out until next Monday, the date when the requisite £85,000 must be paid, five days before the great race.

On Sunday at Naas Aidan O’Brien, in between winning four races, put forward the possibility of instead supplementing the unbeaten colt to the Prix du Jockey Club at Chantilly. He has the significantly-backed pair of Broome and Anthony van Dyck to call on as well as Japan and Circus Maximus (and maybe others) at Epsom, so Sir Dragonet might not be needed.

Hughie Morrison and the Weinfeld family have no other colt to challenge for the Derby if the temptation to run Telecaster is resisted, although they do have the six-length Lingfield Oaks Trial winner Anapurna as a strong possibility for next week’s fillies’ Classic.

On my way to York on Thursday with Harry and Alan, the car featured a stream of calls to the former stressing that the Dante “was Too Darn Hot’s Derby” and that “Frankie says he’s unbeatable”, coming in from different people, but possibly, in the way of racing, emanating, via Chinese Whispers, from a single original source.

Again in the way of racing, the reaction to a first-ever defeat of the champion 2018 juvenile, was that “he didn’t stay” or “he wasn’t ready”. Maybe it was just a case of “he didn’t win”.

John Gosden reckoned he had been “too free” in the early part of the race, while various observers referred to a “muddling pace”. From my vantage point, I thought that the pace set by Too Darn Hot’s stable-companion Turgenev was anything but “muddling” and that while it was only Telecaster that went with him, the rest following five lengths or so behind, that horse as his trainer asserts “raced even more freely than Too Darn Hot”.

The favourite wasn’t ridden as though he was too under-cooked for the comeback, for all the fact that he’d missed important work in the build up to the 2,000 Guineas, Frankie being at least if not more vigorous than Oisin Murphy on the winner.

After looking sure to prevail, he was seen off late by Telecaster. What might be worth remembering is that this was the first time the Morrison colt had been asked to win in a contested finish. On debut behind Bangkok at Doncaster, he was looked after in the last furlong by Charlie Bennett but still put impressive distance between himself and the rest.

At Windsor, Murphy sent him into an immediate lead and he trounced 15 other maidens without coming off the bridle. York was his first proper examination. He obviously had a race-fitness edge over Too Darn Hot, but nothing like the experience drawn on from an unbeaten two-year-old campaign.

Further evidence that maybe Too Darn Hot was not too darn exhausted but simply bettered on the day by a superior animal came as the cameras stayed on the front two as they went away from the winning line.

Both Murphy and Dettori initially allowed their mounts to continue to roll along, but round the bend they both began to ask them to ease down. The camera stayed on Telecaster the entire time, briefly leaving Too Darn Hot. A few seconds later he came back into the frame, with the sight of Dettori having almost to strangle him to stop him, at which point the coverage returned to a recording of the finish.

At the time of the departure from the pulling-up coverage, I noted a 36-second interval after they had passed the post. I cannot believe that a horse that lost because of not staying, would take that long to pull up. Usually they would be all too happy to obey instructions and get a much-needed rest.

My conclusion is that Too Darn Hot was beaten by a bit of a freak. The rest of the field was four lengths and more behind. If Telecaster hadn’t been there, Too Darn Hot would have beaten Surfman by four lengths and been odds-on for the Derby. I doubt he’d have been going back to a mile in the St James’s Palace in that case!

Talk of a muddling pace would suggest horses were falling all over each other. Here soon after the turn for home all the rest after the front two were being ridden with various degrees of energy. Telecaster was still on the bridle until being asked to pass the pacesetter. In fact he took a while to realise what to do by which time the favourite was on his inside having quickly cut back the deficit.

He saw him off too and my belief is wherever he runs, be it Epsom or The Curragh, he’ll do some more seeing off. It certainly won’t hurt if Sir Dragonet is not in the line-up wherever he goes.  We probably won’t know any more about either of them until after this periodical appears next week.

Monday Musings: Trials and undulations

After 2,000 Guineas number ten, on Sunday we had a fifth 1,000 Guineas, again not with the most expected candidate, for Aidan O’Brien and so it went on with the Derby Trials, writes Tony Stafford. Circus Maximus (Dee Stakes), Anthony Van Dyck (Lingfield Derby Trial) and Broome (Derrinstown Stud Stakes) were all favourites when winning their Epsom preps, but Sir Dragonet, a Shergar-like winner of the Chester Vase, emphatically was not.

It’s just a year short of 40 since Shergar exploded around Chester to propel himself into Derby favouritism. My recollection of a 20-length margin was corrected by Wikepedia early this morning which relates to a 12-length win but in an article which suggests a non-racing author. I looked in vain once again for the 1980 form book!

What is not in question is the ten-length romp at Epsom for which I watched sat next to John Oaksey overlooking the old paddock there. For some reason I had been co-opted to “help” the Noble Lord but what assistance I actually provided I cannot recall. It was great of course to be at Epsom for one of the epic Derby performances.

Sir Dragonet is NOT a son of Galileo. Neither is Broome, although he is from the first crop of Galileo’s Derby winning son, Australia. Anthony van Dyck and Circus Maximus do have the standard Coolmore Galileo branding but Sir Dragonet is a son of Coolmore’s other multiple Derby winner producer, Montjeu.

Three weeks ago Sir Dragonet had never even been heard of outside his stable. When he turned up at Tipperary on April 25 he was a 14-1 debutant, ridden by Seamus Heffernan in a mile and a half maiden where another son of Camelot, the previously once-raced King Pellinore was a 4-5 shot.

In the manner of races where the ground changes to soft, the field swung around the final left-hand turn and aimed for the stands side, causing traffic problems for a number of horses, notably King Pellinor. Those who laid the odds soon knew their fate, Donnacha O’Brien giving up the ghost some way from home.

Meanwhile the stable neglected was being guided from some way behind to the inside, getting a clear run. He still needed a fair engine to sweep past the entire field to win by three clear lengths, so it was possibly a surprise that he could start as big as 13-2 for his Chester challenge 13 days later.

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This time Donnacha had the mount as Ryan Moore partnered the dual winner Norway (9-2) in a seven-horse field. O’Brien sat a long last as Dashing Willoughby set a good pace, but could be seen making very comfortable ground on the outside coming to the last half-mile of the 12-furlong test.

The result was never in doubt, Sir Dragonet drawing clear to win by eight lengths from a staying-on Norway with the rest trailing in at intervals. Sir Dragonet, despite no direct Galileo-ness, does have an element of the great sire’s bloodline as his dam, Sparrow, is a grand-daughter of Urban Sea, via Galileo’s full-sister, All Too Beautiful, herself runner-up to Ouija Board in the 2004 Oaks.

Urban Sea’s other main claim to fame of course is as dam of a second Derby winner in Sea The Stars, who for good measure also collected the 2,000 Guineas on the way. Camelot for his part, would have preceded the two now Coolmore-owned US Triple Crown winners American Pharoah and Justify by becoming the first English Triple Crown winner since Nijinsky in 1970 bar Encke’s intervention. Encke, clean on the day, was subsequently found to have been one of the Godolphin horses under the disgraced Mahmoud Al Zarooni’s care to have traces of a steroid in his system.

It would require an £85,000 supplementary entry fee for Sir Dragonet to take his place in the Investec Derby in just short of three weeks, probably not an insurmountable problem. I think he’ll win at Epsom and as Aidan O’Brien has said since his Chester win, the colt needed to go there for his education. At no stage did he seem to need much more tuition and O’Brien’s and the Coolmore team’s seventh success in the Classic is most likely to come from him.

As mentioned before, Telecaster will also require supplementing for Epsom should he convince his owners, Castle Down Racing, by his performance in Thursday’s Al Basti Equiworld Dubai Dante Stakes at York.

Over the years the Dante has been the best of the trials and to win it Telecaster, yet to race out of maiden company, will need to beat last year’s champion juvenile Too Darn Hot (John Gosden and the Lloyd Webbers) and O’Brien’s Japan, for some time regarded as Ballydoyle’s prime Derby hope.

Like Anthony Van Dyck, so comfortable at Lingfield on Saturday, Japan reportedly had a minor setback around a month ago. He narrowly won the Beresford Stakes (Group 2) from stablemate Mount Everest last September but has not appeared since.

Should Telecaster come through the test on Thursday, Hughie Morrison and his owners, brother and sister Mark Weinfeld and Helena Ellingsen, will have to restore their home-bred to the race from which he was a March withdrawal, a few weeks before his promising second to Bangkok on debut at Doncaster.

As with Too Darn Hot, unable to take up his planned date at the yearling sale, Telecaster would normally have found other owners but nobody would pay the price and he was retained for 180,000gns.

The family race their fillies in the well-known name and black and white colours as Helena Springfield Ltd and they were prominent last week. On Friday their Twist ‘n’ Shake, a daughter of Kingman, romped away with a Nottingham maiden after making all the running; then on Saturday, Anapurna, by Frankel, cantered clear of her Lingfield Oaks Trial opposition under Frankie Dettori.

Afterwards, an elated John Gosden was happy to add her to his similarly-easy Cheshire Oaks heroine Mehdaayih as Oaks-bound. If O’Brien apparently has the Derby covered – unless Too Darn Hot or one of the others on Thursday argues otherwise - Gosden surely is more likely to collect a third Oaks rather than O’Brien recording number eight.

This weekend’s highlight will be the always-informative Lockinge Stakes at Newbury where the ante-post favourite is Le Brivido ahead of Magical and the wonderful Laurens. Le Brivido ran an astonishing first race for O’Brien – transferred from Andre Fabre – when third after rearing at the start at Naas, staying on strongly into third.

Le Brivido won last year’s Jersey Stakes in the colours of Prince Faisal bin Khaled and judged on that Naas comeback could be an upwardly-mobile performer for Prince Faisal and his new partner Michael Tabor.

Monday Musings: Classic Parallels

Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose, writes Tony Stafford. Apart from a cedilla (again) under the “c” of ca and a circumflex accent on the first “e” in meme – my keyboard probably does them, but I don’t know how - little happens that hasn’t happened before. Thus, the more things change the more they stay the same.

Except for the Kentucky Derby. Once again the elements conspired against the 150,000 crowd at Churchill Downs, Louisville, Ky, on Saturday night, heavy rain turning the dirt track into something resembling a swamp and presumably bringing back all too clearly to Ryan Moore his nightmare ride on Mendelssohn last May.

In all the general early buffeting that guaranteed the Aidan O’Brien/ Coolmore colt’s obliteration, there was no official sanction against any jockey contributing to the mayhem and quite a few of them did. It seemed in that race, for all its pre-eminence in the US Racing Calendar, anything went. Indeed never in its history had a winner been disqualified from first place for a riding or traffic misdemeanour.

Saturday night, though, one was. Maximum Security, unbeaten in his three previous races, forged ahead from the start, but moved off a straight line before the home turn. This caused general bunching and inconvenienced several of his opponents, although nothing so extreme as befell Mendelssohn. He was straightened out again by Panamanian jockey Luis Saez and despite looking briefly in trouble, pulled away once more for a convincing near two-length win.

Here we had, it seemed, another Justify, the career unbeaten (six in six) Triple Crown winner from last year and indeed American Pharoah, also a Triple Crown hero, if not quite, in his case, unbeaten from three years ago. What could beat him in the Preakness or the Belmont?

You could almost sense the Coolmore team getting out the stud books to assess what the colt’s sire, New Year’s Day, would be bringing to the party if they had indeed continued their monopoly of Triple Crown winners at Ashford Stud, Kentucky.

New Year’s Day had been on the Tabor/Magnier/Smith radar seven and a half years earlier. Their colt Havana (in Michael’s silks) looked sure to win the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita until New Year’s Day, trained by Bob Baffert,  swept past to win going away.

He raced in the same maroon colours as the first-past-the-post colt, those of Gary and Mary West, who stand New Year’s Day. His 2018 fee was $5,000! Their home-bred, trained by Jason Servis, maintained the characteristics of his sire – unraced after that Juvenile triumph – by winning “going away”.

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Then the stewards, much to almost everyone’s surprise, decided to take a second look, then a third, and from their bunker under the stands a 32nd, 42nd and probably 142nd view from five simultaneous screens calibrated to show every angle of the incident.

In the end, possibly 15 minutes after they went past the post, the news came that the 65-1 shot Country House, ridden by Frenchman Flavien Prat and trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott had got the race. Understandably, UK punters might have expected Maximum Security to be relegated to second, but as the stewards found Long range Toddy, who finished 16th of the 19 starters, to be one of those affected, the original winner goes down as finishing 17th. Long Range Toddy therefore will have dual infamy in history, as his rider Jon Court, 58, is the oldest jockey ever to take part in the Derby.

So we had a race where the second favourite crossed the line ahead of a 65-1 shot, who in being awarded the race, became the second-longest priced winner in the history of “the greatest two minutes in American sports”. The 4-1 favourite, one of three runners for Bob Baffert, was Improbable, who finished fifth of the 19.

While Ryan Moore might have been relieved this time not to be on the other side of the Atlantic on 2,000 Guineas Day, unlike last year when Donnacha O’Brien stepped in to ride the winner Saxon Warrior, metaphorically speaking, he appeared once again to be on the wrong side of the divide at Newmarket on Saturday.

As in Kentucky, 19 horses faced the starter in the UK’s first Classic of 2019. As in Kentucky, the second favourite won; and as in Kentucky, a 66-1 chance followed him over the line and the favourite, Ryan’s mount Ten Sovereigns, finished fifth. Once again Donnacha O’Brien collected the prize on Magna Grecia.

I know Andrew Balding was confident that his candidate, Shine So Bright, the Free Handicap winner, was drawn on the right side, near the stands rails.  His main worry was the King Power colt might lack sufficient stamina and so it proved.

A similar stamina question mark was posed about the favourite, winner of the Middle Park last year. His gallant effort from mid-track perhaps understandably ran out of steam up the final climb and he was only third of the main bunch as Craven Stakes winner Skardu, and Madhmoon, passed him close home. He will probably join the more than a handful of Guineas non-stayers (Mozart, US Navy Flag et al) that later excelled in sprints and I feel a July Cup, if not Royal Ascot, coming on.

Meanwhile on the largely-unpopulated stands side, where surprisingly just the three saw fit to race, far removed from the rest who congregated in the middle, Shine So Bright set a strong pace. Magna Grecia comfortably followed and Richard Hannon’s longshot, King of Change, also kept in touch with them.

A long way from home, the trio could be seen to hold an advantage over the rest and Donnacha had merely to choose his moment to take the lead and secure Aidan O’Brien’s remarkable tenth training victory in the race. Once again Doncaster’s Futurity (now Vertem) provided the key to the result, last October’s narrow winner Magna Grecia following the example of Camelot and Saxon Warrior in recent years.

It was windy enough at Newmarket and although there had been a fair amount of rain, times were very similar to last year’s. That was true in the Guineas where this year’s running was 0.29sec slower than Saxon Warrior.

There was also a close relationship between the last two versions of the Zoustar Palace House Stakes. My favourite sprinter, Mabs Cross, won them both, the 2019 edition similarly slightly slower than last year’s in line with the Guineas. Mabs Cross was 0.23sec slower this year than last.

That said, in 2018 Mabs Cross met her contemporaries on level weights, apart from her 3lb female allowance, but yesterday she was burdened by a 7lb Group 1 penalty for last year’s Prix de l’Abbaye success, compensation for her paper-thin defeat in the Nunthorpe at York.

After Newmarket last year, when she had the benefit of a previous run, Michael Dods took her to Haydock where she finished a strong fourth before again running on well to be third as a 20-1 shot behind the fliers Blue Point and Battaash in the King’s Stand at Royal Ascot.

The Dutch Art mare is so tough and yesterday’s win under 9st 10lb I am sure will be the prelude to her becoming yet another Palace House winner to follow up in the King’s Stand. I still get a vicarious thrill when the Armstrongs’ red, white spots on cap, go over the line in front. What delights me equally is when they do, Emma Armstrong doesn’t mind my coming into the winner’s enclosure to help celebrate their success.

- Tony Stafford

Monday Musings: Making Sense of the 2000 Guineas

So here we are on the cusp of May, a third of the way through the year, with the two Guineas races upon us and the 2018-19 jumps season all packed away, writes Tony Stafford. Richard Johnson and Altior continued their sequences in the jumping world while in Hong Kong yesterday Beauty Generation maintained his upward course with yet another £1milllion canter around Sha Tin. That’s one horse I’d love to see at Royal Ascot.

I’ve tried to make sense of the 2,000 Guineas but, even among the main contenders, guaranteed stamina for the mile and – surprisingly, especially for Coolmore – the normal quality of broodmare present in Churchill and his ilk seems elusively absent.

The boys’ resources still reside at the head of the market with the returning pair Magna Grecia and Ten Sovereigns recently switching places. Ryan Moore, no doubt delighted not to be required for Kentucky, still has the conundrum of which to choose.

He did partner Magna Grecia on debut in his maiden but Donnacha O’Brien had the mount the next twice, significantly in the Vertem Futurity at Doncaster and also had exclusivity in Ten Sovereigns’ three runs including the Middle Park which concluded his 2018 campaign.

Magna Grecia’s dam, Cabaret, is by Galileo, so in that regard she perhaps surprisingly appeared not to train on after a bright juvenile year, at least with three domestic wins before trailing home at Longchamp in the autumn. She missed all the Guineas races for whatever reason, started back with another flop in the Musidora and two more “unsighteds” in the Oaks and Ribblesdale.

There is much residual potential benefit for Coolmore’s partners and associates if Ten Sovereigns can stretch out his stamina sufficiently to last the mile. He seemed close to being regarded as a sprinter by trainer Aidan O’Brien and his younger son when winning the Middle Park but, as a son of No Nay Never, now a €100k stallion, it would mean another potential hike if a mile Classic were to come his way.

No Nay Never has another son who casts at least some reflected light on the race via gambled-on Madhmoon, cut to 6-1 fourth favourite in recent days. Madhmoon won his two races at two and was very much expected for his Leopardstown return but was narrowly outspeeded in that seven-furlong test by Never No More, fit from an earlier handicap win and also the recipient of 3lb. That horse has the Irish 2,000 Guineas among his targets.

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It is unusual to find Craven Stakes runners as prominent in the 2.000 Guineas market as Royal Marine, the poorly-ridden favourite and ultimate winner, Skardu, who are both in the 6-1 range. Not since Haafhd in 2004 has a Craven winner gone on to success in the 2,000 Guineas although Masar followed last April’s victory with triumph in the Godolphin colours at Epsom.

That quintet is followed by the Dettori-ridden, Martin Meade-trained Advertise, a Cheveley Park sprint-bred colt whose three wins were supplemented by runner-up slots to the two Gosden defectors, Calyx at Ascot and Too Darn Hot in the Dewhurst. It would be a brilliant prospect if Advertise and Ten Sovereigns were to engage in a burn-up. What will win? I’ve no idea!

We’re a little further along the Derby path and, as we possibly thought a week ago, Bangkok did prove plenty good enough to win the Classic Trial at Sandown and book his place for the big race.

Last Monday I suggested that with the evidence of the impressive Windsor win of his immediate Doncaster pursuer, Telecaster, and the comfortable Nottingham success of Dubai Instinct, fourth (another dozen lengths or so behind on Town Moor), Bangkok had to be rated well into the 100’s. He was left unchanged on 88 after Doncaster, seemingly ridiculous to me in view of the extended gaps after the runner-up.

In the manner of a kid saving his favourite parts of his dinner until last, I looked first on Tuesday morning at Dubai Instinct. He had beaten an unraced Gosden/Oppenheimer home-bred by almost two lengths in an eight-runner field which did not contain any horse with a handicap mark. I doubt that Brian Meehan was too impressed by the 86 – it certainly surprised me.

I thought I’d next check Telecaster, 11 lengths ahead of Dubai Instinct and at an experience disadvantage with that colt, once-raced at two and with the winner Bangkok, who’d raced three times as a juvenile. Predictably the official felt unable to quantify his two performances, but there seemed a fair degree of symmetry in that he’d beaten everything other than Bangkok at Doncaster by at least nine lengths, which was the winning margin over the best of his 15 opponents at Windsor.

So what of Bangkok then? He’d beaten the now 86-rated Dubai Instinct by more than 12 lengths and the second horse, only just behind the winner at Doncaster has run at least as good a race against a host of Classic-bred middle-distance horses at Windsor. I know, said the handicapper. Let’s call it 92, in other words he’s actually only three lengths, not 12, better than Dubai Instinct!

Three days after the rating appeared on the BHA site, Bangkok went to post for the Classic Trial as the 10-11 favourite. Three of the five opponents ranged against him had handicap ratings, third-placed Persian Moon, a 7-1 shot, had a mark of 102, fourth-placed Travel On, unchanged on 85 since winning a Lingfield maiden at odds-on for Gosden  was 7-1 while last-home 105-rated Kuwait Currency started 28-1. If the bookmakers found it so obvious, then why didn’t the handicapper? To me it seemed ludicrous. That gentleman’s good fortune is that he can now give him somewhere near 110 and most people wouldn’t have noticed.

I’m delighted for David and Diane Nagle that in Bangkok their Barronstown Stud has produced such a high-class colt from the first crop of Australia. The sire also has Broome, brilliant comeback winner for the Coolmore boys at Leopardstown earlier this month, as a potential hope to emulate his own Epsom success.

Andrew Balding had no hesitation in committing Bangkok to Epsom, while at Summerdown Stables, plans were heading towards the Dante Stakes for Telecaster. Victory there – usually the prime Epsom trial but possibly slightly complicated by the unusually-short gap between the two races this year – would make for a delicate albeit delicious conundrum for Hughie Morrison and the Weinfeld family.

No such heart-searching it seems next season for Nicky Henderson and Patricia Pugh for their pride and joy, Altior, who is set for a switch to longer distances. If the turbo that kicks in so routinely at the end of his two-mile races can be drawn out in contests like the King George and perhaps more fancifully the Gold Cup, in effect we have another entirely new career to look forward to. Dessie did it, so why not Altior?

It was not all joy for Hendo on Finals Day at Sandown. Alan Spence’s grand servant Josses Hill battled on gamely to the last in the Oaksey Chase won by the returning Bryony Frost on Black Corton, but collapsed and died immediately afterwards.

I had not seen the incident and later wondered why Alan had gone home, not staying even to watch On the Blind Side run a good second to Younevercall in the Select Hurdle. This was an unfair way for such a gallant horse, winner of seven of 30 races after being bought after a bumper second behind Faugheen, to end his career.

From that point Josses Hill, whose best win was in the Peterborough Chase over his favoured trip of two and a half miles at Huntingdon, met most of the best and competed with distinction in four consecutive Cheltenham Festivals. He will leave a big gap in the team at Seven Barrows and in the hearts of the Spence family.

- Tony Stafford

Monday Musings: Broadcasting a potential Classic winner

Three weeks ago, following the first weekend of turf Flat racing in the UK in 2019, I could hardly contain myself, writes Tony Stafford. I’d witnessed what I’d believed to be a new star and suggested that Telecaster could go all the way to the top after his debut performance behind the clearly useful thrice-raced Bangkok.

It wasn’t that he got within a length of Bangkok in the 17-runner 10-furlong maiden race but rather the way he accompanied the winner in formation as the pair drew from one length to nine lengths clear of Noble Music in the last furlong without Charlie Bennett even brandishing the stick in the final stages. Silvestre De Sousa was rather more animated on the winner.

Behind Noble Music, an outsider from the Ralph Beckett stable, it was a couple of lengths to Dubai Instinct of whom Brian Meehan was very positive in the paddock before the race. Those observations were proved correct when Dubai Instinct made all in a Nottingham maiden on Saturday evening.

After him came two previously-unraced Frankel colts, both heavily-supported and from the stables respectively of Hugo Palmer (Ironclad, 9-2) and Charlie Appleby (5-2  shot Just You Wait, a half-brother to Teofilo).

Imagine my surprise on the Tuesday after Doncaster when I noticed the BHA handicapper had allowed Bangkok to remain unchanged on his initial rating of 88, achieved in three juvenile defeats at shorter distances.

If that were accurate, then Dubai Instinct would have run to a rating of perhaps 62 and the two Frankels would have been hard pushed to be competitive in a 0-60 classified stakes.

Not that Andrew Balding will be testing that rating – and tomorrow morning I’m sure Mr Handicapper will be having second thoughts – we’ll know at 7 a.m. I’ll be astonished if it’s less than 100 and even that would be conservative.

Last week, having gone along to Hughie Morrison’s Owners’ Day, I couldn’t resist a drive the following afternoon to Windsor. Telecaster looked resplendent as he paraded on Sunday and again by the Thames with both senior travelling lads, Hughie and Mary Morrison and assistant Olli Rix (son of the great Henry) all in attendance.

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His physique is impressive, not just his size but also quality and all in proportion, while his coat gleamed. He looked a class apart from his 15 rivals – another big field, this time around a tricky track – yet was only narrowly preferred to another Frankel colt, the Sir Michael Stoute-trained Deal A Dollar ridden by Ryan Moore.

The in-the-know vibes had been strong about Deal A Dollar, runner-up at less than a length on his only start to the highly-regarded Roger Varian colt Kuzaam at Kempton in December, where there were another seven lengths back to the third.

As Ryan took his horse onto the track, he was heard saying: “I can’t believe we’re not favourite”. In the race, once Oisin Murphy had navigated Telecaster outside initial leader and previous winner Ginistrelli - yet another Frankel! – Telecaster made the rest of the running without ever being challenged.

Deal A Dollar belatedly put his head into second place after the two previous winners Ginistrelli and Ragnar had endeavoured to keep pace. At the line it was nine lengths to the running-on Stoute hope, half a length to another Ralph Beckett outsider Future Investment, while the rest trailed along some way behind.

An indication of how hard it is to win a maiden over this sort of trip in the spring can be shown by the identity of the sires. The winner is by New Approach, Derby winner and sire of the 2018 Epsom hero, Masar. After Deal A Dollar, the third to tenth home were respectively by Mount Nelson, Sea The Stars, Frankel, Motivator, See You Then, Toronado, Camelot and Australia, multiple Group 1 winners all and mostly Classic and even Derby heroes to boot.

You can bet there will be some decent animals in there but the Meon Valley Stud homebred simply annihilated them. No wonder the Dante Stakes was being mooted afterwards by Morrison and Mark Weinfeld who, with his sister Helena Ellingham, look after the family’s racing interests.

Luck often plays its part in racing and the fact that nobody wanted to bid above 180,000gns when Telecaster was presented at the 2017 yearling sales, meant he reverted to the family, which races their unsold colts as Castle Down Racing. The fillies of course run in the much more famous black with white spots of Helena Springfield Ltd.

The Weinfelds’ father, Egon, established the Hampshire-based Meon Valley Stud and made its name with the foundation mares Reprocolor, Home and Away, One in a Million and Odeon, all smart racehorses before embarking on their stellar breeding careers.

The level of their achievements is best explained by the home-bred Colorspin, dam of both King George and Queen Elizabeth Stakes winner Opera House and top stallion and perennial champion NH sire Kayf Tara, both by Sadler’s Wells. The stud also bred, having sold her, the Oaks winner Lady Carla.

Telecaster is a son of Oaks and Irish Oaks runner-up Shirocco Star, a direct descendent of Reprocolor, this colt’s sixth dam, if my accounting at 5 a.m. was correct. Part of the plan to win a maiden as soon as possible after the Doncaster eye-opener was to eliminate the obvious fear that Telecaster might inherit his dam’s propensity to finish second as well as her 112-rated ability. Those fears look unrealistic now.

When I spoke to a delighted Mark Weinfeld after the race I suggested he’ll think of nothing else but Telecaster for the rest of the year. Nor will everyone at Summerdown Stables, and indeed nor me. I’m totally smitten. No wonder then that the natural extension of winning (should he do so, of course) a Dante would be a spin around Epsom on June 1.

As Mark rather wistfully pointed out, Telecaster, as befits his pedigree, was entered in the Derby but was withdrawn at the March 5 stage, three weeks before his Doncaster debut. Now he will need a hefty £85,000 supplementary fee to be re-instated. The Dante prizemoney of £93,000 – the winning owner gets just short of 60% of that – almost makes up for it, but I’d question whether two weeks and a couple of days is an appealing or even manageable gap between two top races. Hughie Morrison will know better than anyone.

The style, size and sheer majesty of Telecaster suggest to my eye the Irish Derby, where if he was not entered already for the initial Euro2,500 entry fee, connections would have until May 22 to pay a realistic Euro20,000 and there would still be a last-gasp opportunity at Euro100,000 after the Derby itself.

Of all the considerations – which a spectacular win at York in the manner of Windsor would undoubtedly negate – the 16-day gap is what would nag at my brain. As they always say, there’s only one Derby but, as the late Robert Sangster proved after Pat Eddery’s Epsom lapse on El Gran Senor, beaten by Secreto, was corrected at The Curragh, the breeders rate the Irish Derby almost as highly.

- TS

Monday Musings: Never Say No Nay Never

I happened to call Wesley Ward on Friday, writes Tony Stafford. The California-based Royal Ascot juvenile specialist trainer was typically bullish about having a half-sister of his brilliant Queen Mary/ King’s Stand speedball Lady Aurelia ready to make the trip to the meeting in June.

Indeed, after Lady Pauline’s near 10-length debut Keeneland win on dirt a week before our chat, he is even considering aiming the Munnings filly at the newly-branded Trials Day at Ascot on May 1. A £9,000 winner’s prize for the five-furlong conditions race might not be much of a financial draw but the chance to give this precocious filly a sight of the track is something he is trying to sell to connections.

Wesley was also understandably bullish about No Nay Never, his easy 2013 Norfolk Stakes winner at the meeting. Few horses better illustrate the topsy-turvy world of international bloodstock than No Nay Never, originally sold as a foal at Keeneland for $170,000 on 11/11/11 (any significance there?) but picked up at the same venue the following September for only $95,000.

Since then it’s been a case of an upward course all the way. Ward raced him only six times in all, going unbeaten at two at Keeneland, Ascot and in the Group 1 Prix Morny at Deauville. He stayed in the US at three, winning a Grade 3 at Keeneland in between second places at Gulfstream Park (Grade 2) and in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) when Frankie Dettori joined forces with the trainer.

Dettori, associated with around half of Lady Aurelia’s career, John Velazquez stepping in when the Italian had to miss Ascot in 2017, will be hoping to jump up on Lady Pauline. Lady Aurelia had a similar winning juvenile start as No Nay Never, at Keeneland, Royal Ascot (Queen Mary, by seven lengths!) and the Morny.

No Nay Never’s first-season exploits as a Coolmore stallion were so exceptional that his stud fee for 2019 has been quadrupled to €100,000, from €25,000 last year, and Wesley, who has an interest in the stallion, is understandably delighted that the colt he put on the path to the top has done so well.

There was a non-Coolmore No Nay Never colt on view in the Naas opener on Saturday and it would not have upset Ireland’s premier stud that Ming Warrior, a €75,000 yearling, bred incidentally by Anne-Marie O’Brien and trained by the talented Michael O’Callaghan, could fare no better than second.

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The winner, ridden by Ryan Moore, was the Aidan-trained and Coolmore (plus Peter Brant)-owned Monarch Of Egypt, the first son of US Triple Crown winner American Pharoah to make the track. The winning margin for the odds-on chance was close to three lengths.

The name of the game is producing stallions so the fact that American Pharoah was off the bat straight away will have been a source of much joy. Equally the Lads would not have minded that when Highland Chief, Gleneagles’ initial runner, also won on debut at Newbury the previous day, it was in Mrs Fitri Hay’s colours, especially as the Hays are well-established associates of the team.

Highland Chief’s SP of 16-1, despite his being in the care of Paul Cole, one of the all-time skilled handlers of juveniles was a big surprise. I realise it’s a long time ago, but when Cole gets a good horse he exploits its talents to the full. I well remember when he won three major two-year-old races at the 1991 Royal meeting all for the late Prince Fahd Salman. Magic Ring won the Norfolk, Dilum the Coventry and Fair Cop the Chesham. The last-named obviously has no connection with the filly of the same name that runs this afternoon at Windsor for Andrew Balding. She could well win.

Another more than shrewd participant in various areas of the industry is the veteran jockey John Egan, now 50 but well-established as a pin-hooker par excellence as well as father of the brilliant young rider David Egan.

Egan Sr. has been honing the talents of his US-bred pin-hooks, colts by American Pharoah and War Front (this one out of Coolmore notable, Quarter Moon) in preparation for this week’s Tattersalls Craven Breeze-Up and his investments of respectively $350,000 and $400,000 could well be lavishly repaid, with many of the big hitters expected to be around.

He was justifiably thrilled that Monarch Of Egypt has already made it to the track, emphasising a potential precocity in the breed, a remark that goes too for the progeny of Gleneagles when they turn up at Breeze-Up sales this spring and early summer.


There was a nice result in the Coral Scottish National on Saturday when the Nicky Richards-trained Takingrisks won the £122,000 first prize under Sean Quinlan by four lengths from Crosspark. Before the race Richards had pointed out that his 10-year-old had form on good ground – even though his preceding win at Carlisle had been on heavy! – and that he would get the four-mile trip.

With five non-runners from the original 28-horse acceptance because of the fast surface, it was something of a surprise that Takingrisks started at as big a price as he did, and for the last mile of the marathon he was always going like the probable winner.

Richards afterwards spoke emotionally about the fact that there are trainers in the north of England perfectly capable of competing with their relatively better-off southern counterparts and with some pride that Takingrisks’ owner, Frank Bird, is based down the road from Richards’ Greystoke stables in Cumbria.

I do a daily early-morning job (needs must!) compiling the thoughts of around a dozen trainers on a web site and Nicky is one of them. Apart from being unbelievably frank and accurate about his horses, he can come up with the funniest remarks. I could not have been happier when Takingrisks won, although I must admit to having a small each-way bet while at Newbury on seventh-placed 40-1 shot Red Infantry. Hill’s paid each-way first six. Plus ca change! (sorry no cedilla!)

To give an illustration of Richards’ frankness, I recall his comments about Glinger Flame before that horse’s recent handicap debut at Hexham. The horse had been beaten a couple of times when “expected” for decent novices while appearing not to go through fully with his effort. Nicky said “I never like to call a horse ungenuine…” leaving little doubt that he feared internally he might be.

Different tactics were employed, along with first-time cheek-pieces, in an attempt to find the key and Glinger Flame won by 18 lengths. Wisely Nicky is not letting him back into another handicap, for which he would be 16lb higher after that romp, but instead allows him to carry a penalty in the opener there today. Wise indeed. No wonder he’s long odds-on despite the 13-runner field.

- Tony Stafford

Monday Musings: Tiger’s No Red Rum… Yet!

So they wound up the clockwork horse once again at Aintree on Saturday and it all went, well, like clockwork, for Tiger Roll, Davy Russell, Gordon Elliott and Michael O’Leary in the Randox Health Grand National, writes Tony Stafford.

Once we first caught proper sight of the tiny star on his bay forehead coming down to Becher’s first time round, there was an air of inevitability about his second win in the great race. Indeed there wasn’t even a frisson of tension unlike last year when Pleasant Company rallied late to get within a head of the diminutive winner.

That horse’s departure from the leading group when unseating his rider Paul Townend at the fourth-last fence took away just about the last potential threat to the reigning champ. Thus the Summerhill-trained nine-year-old was left with the unexpected challenge of the year-younger and sole mare in the 40-horse line-up, Magic of Light.

Her trainer Jessica Harrington will have been especially proud of Magic of Light, running in the colours of the late Ann and Alan Potts, but originally in the ownership of the trainer’s daughter Kate and briefly after the couple’s sad death a couple of years ago, the trainer herself.

Since late December Magic of Light has raced six times in all, including once at Fairyhouse when unseating Robbie Power in the Bobbyjo Chase won by Saturday’s third Rathvinden. The other five represented a tour of the UK respectively at Newbury, Ascot, Huntingdon and Cheltenham before Saturday. One trip encompassed two runs, victory in a Grade 2 mares’ hurdle at Ascot and six days later runner-up spot in a mares’ chase over an inadequate two and a half miles at Huntingdon behind Happy Diva. She spent the intervening days with Paul Webber I seem to remember.

Last week in a very brief footnote to the article I suggested that potential pitfalls of the Grand National course vintage late 2010’s are very few once the legendary Becher’s (no Brook these days for fallen jockeys to roll back into for refuge) is negotiated second time round.

That obstacle’s once problematic nature has been eroded, happily with equine safety and public sensibilities to consider. In three races over the three days of the meeting, started in horrible weather on Thursday for the Foxhunters, better for Friday’s Topham and in glorious spring sunshine for the big race, only one horse was victim to Becher’s.

That was in Thursday’s Foxhunters when the 12-year-old Seefood unseated his rider, Miss Charlotte Crane. He has been racing in hunter chases this season for Justin Landy. The once Dessie Hughes-trained chaser started favourite for last year’s Topham for Dr Richard Newland but fell having made an earlier mistake at Becher’s.

Race-day absentees meant there were 27 rather than 30 runners in the two races over the Grand National fences before Saturday.  Twelve completed in the Foxhunters, with none actually being recorded as falling; three unseated and the remaining dozen pulled up.

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The stats were slightly different but in a way just as remarkable for the Topham. Twenty of the 27 completed the course, with three fallers, while two each unseated and pulled up.

The Grand National itself sadly did feature one fatality, the Willie Mullins-trained Up For Review, brought down when the much-fancied Vintage Clouds in the Trevor Hemmings colours, departed at the first fence. In the bad old days it was commonplace for approaching double figures to come down at that early stage.

The third fence also featured in multiple departures, but on the second circuit, as the 18th fence (normally 19th, but the 17th was by-passed because of the stricken Up For Review). Two of Gordon Elliott’s 11-strong team were eroded here, Jury Duty unseating and General Principle falling, bringing down Rock the Kasbah.

But 19 did complete, and of the remaining 21 only three actually fell, with two each unseating and being brought down and 14 pulling up.

It is easy, especially with only the statistics to draw upon, to mention Tiger Roll in the same breath as Red Rum, the first part of whose epic Aintree story was matched 45 years on with a second consecutive victory.

Starting at the same age as Rummy, he still has a fair way to go but the time also to achieve it. There can be little doubt that it will not be easy to gain a third victory next year even though the suggestion has been aired that he “would have won with another stone”, to which I offer the counter-claim “rubbish”.

Tiger Roll was relatively leniently treated by the handicappers. He won off 150 last year when he carried 10st 13lb. On Saturday he was 9lb higher on 159 but carried only 6lb more, 11st 5lb. After his second successive win in the Cheltenham Foxhunters last month, the UK chase handicapper said he would have put him up 8lb for that if the weights had not already been framed. So that will be the starting point before any extra massaging of his rating.

Red Rum’s first win in 1973 was achieved under a weight of 10st 5lb, relatively light in face of the opposition of the top-class two-miler, Crisp. He went agonisingly close after Richard Pitman took him miles clear all the way only to be foiled in the last 30 yards.

The following year Red Rum, like Tiger Roll flat-race-bred - he even dead-heated in a two-year-old race at Aintree six years before his initial National triumph - won under twelve stone top-weight, a demanding 23lb more than before.

One regard in which Tiger Roll has beaten Red Rum was in Saturday’s winning time of 9 min 1sec. Rummy’s fastest unsurprisingly came on his first attempt, but was 0.9 sec slower than Saturday’s time (though the start has of course moved forward in the interim). None of the four Nationals he featured in from 1974-7 was run slower than Tiger Roll’s 9min 40sec last year on heavy going. Twelve of 38 finished last year, the more testing conditions bringing six fallers, five unseated riders, two brought down and 13 horses pulled up.

Realistically it should be possible that faster times can be achieved nowadays with the demands of the old bigger, less forgiving fences with their exaggerated (especially Becher’s) drops on the landing side having been largely eliminated; and with the shortening of the run to the first fence.

Red Rum followed his second win with a gallant second in 1975 on very soft ground behind double Cheltenham Gold Cup winner L’Escargot, who still after almost half a century is my favourite racehorse; another runner-up spot to the very smart Rag Trade (Fred Rimell)  in 1976 and then his march to immortality the following April.

Trainer Ginger McCain had by now replaced Brian Fletcher, successful the first twice, with Tommy Stack, and the 12-year-old again carried top weight, though with only 11st 8lb in the saddle. My earlier reference to the relative demands of the fences was borne out by the fate of many of the 42 starters that day.

Eleven completed but seven departed (five falling, one unseating and another brought down) at the first; four fell at the third, the big ditch and three more fell at first Becher’s. That obstacle claimed five more (three falls, one pulled up and one refusal) second time and it was left to Churchtown Boy, carrying 10st to follow Rummy up the run-in in reverence, 25 lengths behind. Two days earlier Churchtown Boy had easily won the Topham.

Everyone loves a hero and in these days of social media, Tiger Roll is in danger of becoming an object of hyperbole if not hysteria. He’s great and he’s unique in his versatility – evidence his Graded hurdle win this year – but as yet he’s not Red Rum.

For a start to make it three he’ll have Magic of Light, now she’s shown her Aintree credentials, and my on-the-day each-way bet, fourth-placed Walk in the Mill, especially if it comes up soft, to worry about. Never mind what revenge the slighted handicapper will be planning. No wonder Michael O'Leary, his owner, is talking of retirement post-Cheltenham 2020.

What is not in doubt is the amazing popularity of the race, with ITV claiming an audience of ten million. Sorry ITV, I watched it on Racing TV and it was pretty good viewing there too!

- Tony Stafford

Monday Musings: Doncaster Debrief

I rarely watch race videos but I’ve made an exception of the 4.45 race at Doncaster on Saturday, writes Tony Stafford. To my everlasting regret I left the track not long after Sod’s Law’s personally disappointing, but to trainer Hughie Morrison’s point of view entirely-predictable, unplaced run in the Spring Mile.

As he told readers in that morning’s Racing Post: “He prefers soft ground and hasn’t come in his coat” and as we watched the main rivals and their gleaming summer coats, he repeated: “I’ve no idea why he’s favourite!”

You spend the winter expecting at least softish ground at Doncaster.  At the beginning of last week, it looked possible, but a dry few days brought good, good to firm in places. Sod’s Law was brought to the outside for a clear run by P J McDonald, but the rider reported afterwards: “He was rolling around on it”. And so it appeared on the screens.

Hughie stayed around. A couple of hours after what had been a frustrating couple of minutes: “I walked the course beforehand and it’s rough. Where there was damage from the jumping, they’ve just filled in with soil. And, of course, they’re blood-testing him!”

Those frustrations were, if not forgotten, put on the Morrison back-burner by the performance of the previously-unraced Telecaster in the mile and a quarter maiden for three-year-olds.  That’s the race that’s been exercising my player this morning. It was won by the heavily-backed 88-rated Bangkok, ridden by Silvestre De Sousa for the Andrew Balding stable.

With three placed runs behind him as a juvenile, Bangkok, a son of Australia, represented a decent level of form in the 17-runner line-up, but had predictable market opposition from two Dubawi colts, 5-2 shot Just You Wait, a Godolphin / Charlie Appleby half-brother to Teofilo; and Ironclad, third-best at 9-2 and representing Khalid Abdullah and Hugo Palmer.

Bangkok, using his experience, raced close to the front from the outset, but on the turn for home, the major contenders were getting into formation for the near five-furlong gallop to the line. At this stage both James Doyle on Just You Wait and Adam Kirby on Ironclad were poised as was Charlie Bennett, a few places further back but clearly going extremely well on Telecaster.

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This son of Derby winner New Approach is out of Shirocco Star, runner-up in the Oaks, Irish Oaks and pretty much everything else in her three-year-old year for Morrison and owner-breeders Meon Valley Stud.

As Bennett easily cut through the pack to sit immediately behind Bangkok, who was already striking for home past pacemaker Allocator, Kirby made a more urgent move outside him to which Bennett responded and the Abdullah horse never actually got past Telecaster. Doyle was also in full drive on Just You Wait, but he proved a little one-paced on debut.

With Silvestre now taking dead aim on the winning line, Bennett allowed a single light tap with his right hand, a couple equally gentle with his left after pulling the whip through before settling to a sensible hands and heels motion for the last furlong and a bit.

But this was where the visual credibility was stretched. Bangkok, kept solidly up to his work by de Sousa, would normally have been stretching right away from his rivals. It was true in the case of his relative position with the other fifteen - the nearest was another newcomer, Ralph Beckett’s Noble Music, a son of Sea the Moon, the German Derby winner, who had an excellent first stud season in 2018.

But the first two kept formation, drawing away in unison, with Bennett keeping his cool and resisting even a single tap once the furlong pole was passed. When I spoke to Hughie on Sunday morning, inevitably he referred to the dam’s predilection for narrow defeats: “I hope Telecaster isn’t a bridesmaid like his mother, but he is a gorgeous-looking horse and that was a great start.”

Having had a close connection with one owner’s (Ray Tooth) horses in the yard and consequently a more than cursory appraisal of his other inmates, I couldn’t have a much higher regard for the trainer’s skill. One only needs to refer back to the Melbourne Cup last November and the five-year-old Marmelo’s one-length defeat by Cross Counter, to whom be conceded 9lb.

Marmelo is waiting for his usual diet of European stayers’ tests but Cross Counter, by Teofilo, starred on his first run since Melbourne by winning the Dubai Gold Cup over two miles on Dubai World Cup night at Meydan. Charlie Appleby trained that winner, also Blue Point in the big sprint and then watched from Dubai as Auxerre made all under James Doyle to win the Lincoln with ease.

I’ve not seen the World Cup itself yet, but it was suggested to me that Thunder Snow’s second successive victory, in this case by a nose from Gronkowski might have been questionable. The now UAE-trained Gronkowski, still owned by Phoenix Thoroughbreds, was still a nice pay-day for Oisin Murphy with his share of the £1.889 million second prize. Stepping up a place would have meant a chunk of an extra £4 million or thereabouts.

We had a nice Mother’s Day at Ascot, taking Peter and Jacqueline’s mum Elizabeth to lunch and she backed David Pipe’s Legal History in the (UK not Dubai!) valuable handicap hurdle. She never had a moment’s anxiety either. How on earth did he get beaten the previous Saturday when we (not Elizabeth) took the 16’s early price at Newbury only for The Knot Is Tied to outstay him?

Alan Spence kindly provided the Ashmore tickets for Ascot and certainly deserved a better fate than the first-fence departure of his talented but latterly-frustrating Josses Hill. Maybe that was divine payback for his team Chelsea’s outrageous luck against jinxed Cardiff the same afternoon.

We’ll both be anxiously monitoring the potential field for Friday’s Randox Health Topham Trophy at Aintree, a race in which Alan’s Kilcrea Vale ran an extraordinary race 12 months ago, staying on like a lion on the run-in to finish fourth after getting a long way behind. Kilcrea Vale also ran well there in the Grand Sefton in the autumn, and if the requisite five horses defect, he gets a run and must have a chance, one in 30 anyway. It’s a day I always enjoy.

After his domination of a very good Cross-Country field at Cheltenham, the remarkable Tiger Roll may only need to be wound-up in the manner of Red Rum, into his ever-developing  “clockwork horse” mode to gain a repeat victory in Saturday’s Grand National. Once past first Becher’s the potential pitfalls are greatly reduced and while he’s hardly backable, I won’t be trying to find an alternative.  Let’s hope all 40, the 30 in the Topham and all the rest over three thrilling days, come back safe for their owners and trainers.

- Tony Stafford

Monday Musings: Opening Day Far From Flat

The joy of Flat racing on turf – it’s here again, Naas yesterday stepping in for the opening Curragh fixture delayed in the manner of Tottenham Hotspur’s new ground, writes Tony Stafford. Both will be with us, shiny and welcoming soon enough.

Amid all the new and newish names on parade at Naas, especially among the trainers, quite a few old staples were to the fore, none more so than Jim Bolger, who revisited his former reputation as a fast starter with a treble from his 11 runners on the card.

As if in recognition of the Coolcullen stable’s instant discovery of form, they won at declining odds as the day went on, but none of Western Dawn (20-1), Solar Wind (16-1) or Normandel (14-1) could be reasonably described as “expected”, at least by the punters if not the trainer. That’s 5,354-1 for the treble if you were on, Jim.

The first two winners were Bolger home-breds running in wife Jackie’s colours. Normandel, at five, a mare owned by long-time Bolger ally, Ballylinch stud’s Jock O’Connor, was a fitting winner of the Listed Lodge Park Stud Irish EBF Park Express Stakes. This event commemorates one of Bolger’s best female performers during his long illustrious career since switching from car sales company accountant to major owner/trainer/breeder 43 years ago.

Many racing immortals set off on their road to success with Bolger, and every list begins with Aidan O’Brien and A P McCoy. Less well known is Brendan W Duke, but he was a valued staff member there for many years before leaving to train in Lambourn, where he was always a popular figure on racecourses especially around London.

His time as a small-time trainer was constrained by the financial crisis of the mid-2000’s as he found there were not quite so many UK-based Irishmen with the bundles of ready spare cash as had previously been the case.

So he went home to Ireland, eventually taking out a licence and training for a few friends. The Bolgers soon started to send him a number of their lesser lights to train. For the past few seasons, he has picked up a small number of races each year, usually three for the most part, but 2018 was a fallow season. He managed only one win in 56 runs from ten horses, six for Jackie Bolger.

The signs yesterday were better. In the opening juvenile maiden won in good style by Michael O’Callaghan’s Red Epaulette, Brendan’s Value Chain, carrying the first Bolger colours and starting at 9/1 finished almost two lengths ahead of Jim’s third-placed Dawn Approach filly, Feminista, a 7-1 shot, in a race he’d won a year earlier. The runner-up, by Garswood, must give him high hopes of imminent success.

Then in the concluding seven-furlong maiden, Duke was again in opposition to Bolger, and will have been delighted when his 33-1 newcomer Vocal Duke finished a creditable eighth, only a short-head behind the boss’s Son of Beauty. Both are geldings by Bolger’s own stallion Vocalised, whose progeny have been regular inmates at Brendan’s Curragh yard.

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Through all his vicissitudes, Brendan Duke has never been short of either enthusiasm or confidence. I remember talking to him less than a month into my Raymond Tooth Racing Manager job, in the days when there were plenty to manage, before Punjabi’s first of four consecutive runs at the Punchestown Festival in April 2007.

We agreed that maybe Punjabi’s Triumph Hurdle fourth and Aintree second behind Katchit entitled him to start favourite. But then Brendan appeared on the stage - from which a family of Slovakian string musicians had been entertaining the crowd - and told the crowd why he thought his Katies Tuitor was a good thing.

I’ve never actually studied that Kayf Tara gelding’s form before this morning, but I now see why he was hopeful. Easy wins at Kempton under Noel Fehilly and Sandown (Graham Lee) were decent pre-Christmas efforts. No wonder he was so proud of the horse - he bred him!

Katies Tuitor was a good fourth as Punjabi collected his first Grade 1, and the next two, the Irish Champion at the same venue a year later, and the Champion Hurdle in 2009 were the highlights of a great career.

Katies Tuitor didn’t do so badly either. Transferred at the end of that season to Charlie Mann, he won four more hurdle races, each time ridden by Fehily, who conceded on the event of his retirement with a farewell winner at Newbury on Saturday, that Mann had been his mentor.

After the Punchestown run, Katies Tuitor went three weeks later to Aintree and finished second as the 4-1 favourite to the 20-1 shot Lord Baskerville, trained by Charles Pogson. This was the 11th run and fourth win since Pogson had claimed Lord Baskerville out of Wilf Storey’s yard for six grand after a Hexham second in a selling handicap.

That annoyed Wilf, who reckoned that following 39 unsuccessful runs for him after my good friend and the horse’s original owner, Peter Ashmore, moved him on from the Michael Quinlan yard, he was primed to win. So it proved, Pogson collecting three-in-a-row straight off the bat.

I’ve often said how so many of my past activities have drifted away from my memory. I’d certainly forgotten that between February and 25th March 2004, I was the registered owner of the horse. So if you’re reading this Wilf, it is 15 years to the day that Mr Hutchinson took charge of him from me, so we ought to have a birthday drink! In all, Charles Pogson won six of 31 races with Lord Baskerville. I remember watching his promising debut at Doncaster on Derby Day 2003 from a box in the Epsom grandstand 20 minutes after Kris Kin’s big race triumph for Sir Michael Stoute.

Peter and his girlfriend Lorraine Botbol are horse-lovers extraordinaire. Peter had a beautiful horse with the Quinlans called Flashgun, who suffered injury as a three-year-old and had to retire. The vets were ready to put him down but Peter and Lorraine had other ideas. They have kept the son of Lemon Drop Kid for ten years and last week he finished fourth of 16 in his first dressage competition near Newmarket.

Both Peter and Lorraine are learning dressage riding – Peter rode along with sister Jacqueline at a riding school in Mill Hill, North London, in their teens, where Andrew Reid trained with some success years later – and they are precisely the sort of people that racing and equestrian sport should embrace.

Fehily’s retirement and his all-round-good-guy persona were the highlights of the weekend, but I enjoyed watching that day and Sunday on the box, other responsibilities keeping me from the racecourse. I hope I can make it for Sod’s Law in the Spring Mile (Lincoln consolation) at Doncaster on Saturday. He could well win.

I bet Racing TV are dreading having to make the sort of commentary decisions that followed the late off-time of the Irish Lincolnshire yesterday, caused by the re-shoeing of Bolger’s well-fancied Theobald, winner of his previous three at Dundalk.

The Irish boys on duty on course, already having seen a treble from the Co Carlow maestro, opined “it should not be a problem”. Sorry boys it was, Theobald finishing last of 20 behind ex – Sir Michael Stoute/ Hamdan Al Maktoum trainee, Karawaan, an easy first-time winner for Ger Lyons. Problem too for Tom Stanley, having to cut in on the 4.20 from Exeter to say: “Naas will finish first”, about the 4.10-scheduled first major handicap of the Irish season. It did, maybe by five seconds.

As the season draws on, there will be multiple times when a similar eventuality arises. Meanwhile Sky Sports Racing (At the Races to you maybe?) had to be content with a solo from France – good job they secured those rights – while Racing TV (ex-UK)  had to splice in Carlisle and jumping from Downpatrick, pretty much all long distance races, with Naas and Exeter.

Sky Sports Racing is lucky to have the highly-competent and ever-watchable Alex Hammond as their lead presenter and was not too badly fixed for French jumping yesterday with Laurent Berberin, Mick Fitzgerald and Mike Cattermole. Berberin is more Sacha Distel than Claud Charlet’s Inspector Clouseau. They were lucky, too, to have France’s best hurdler, the six-year-old mare De Bon Coeur, on show as she came back from a ten-month absence to stroll home in a Grade 3 hurdle, bringing her career tally to 12 victories from 14 starts.

Never mind, Sky Sports Racing had Bangor for the first time on Saturday; look forward to getting sister-track Chester from May and next Saturday will be able to supplement their Lincoln coverage with the return of jewel-in-the-crown, Ascot. Confused, with the Irish on Racing TV and Ascot on the other side? So am I!

- Tony Stafford

Monday Musings: A Paisley Tinted Festival

It is three months since I first met Andrew Gemmell at Tattersalls December Sales in Newmarket’s Park Paddocks, writes Tony Stafford. From the outset I was astonished by the acuity of his hearing which clearly compensates to a degree of his denial from birth of what most of us will agree is the most vital sense – sight.

On mutually introducing each other, he recalled listening to my broadcasts on BBC Radio London in the early 1980s. Since then I have been doing some new work where it is necessary to record and play back short interviews. Hearing my own slow, boring tones is something of a shock. No wonder Adrian Lee – I think that was the name of the man who decided who should be on the shows when At The Races returned from the ashes of the old Racing Channel, where I did get the odd gig -told me “You are too dull”. Why not say what you really mean, Adrian?

There’s nothing like building your confidence. After an early go on the channel I once bumped into Richard Hannon senior who opined, “You always look a bit uneasy on the telly”. If he meant I was constantly looking over my shoulder, for reasons any regular reader would understand, he wasn’t far wrong.

Would that I could be as comfortable in front of the camera as Richard junior, enjoying Cheltenham last week, obviously is. I asked him when he might have a runner in the Champion Hurdle as the old man often did with excellent, close to winning, results a generation ago, and his reply suggested he might like to.

The weeks go so quickly. In that initial article about meeting Andrew Gemmell, I related his remark that I constantly referred in those broadcasts to a horse called Honegger that I’d suggested to Michael Dickinson might make a hurdler. I kept talking about him, probably because the Dickinson’s did buy him and he kept winning – to the tune of 20-odd races.

Well I see from a quick perusal of the intervening dozen articles since, that Paisley Park gets a few mentions, starting with the suggestion that 14-1 for the Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle “might be over-priced”. After his victory in such devastating style at 11-8, despite a shuddering mistake at the last hurdle, that was a fair observation.

A month after the first meeting, I mentioned I’d started looking at the daily race cards again after years’ meandering along with not much more than Ray Tooth’s horses and their possible targets on my mind. Diminishing numbers have lessened that part of my day, and I’ve needed (and fortunately secured) some additional employment where it helps to keep abreast of events.

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It doesn’t quite keep the head above water, but as I said in that issue two months ago, “I’m looking” and when I find something “I’ll pass it on”. Last Monday, forgiving Howard Wright for his part in the Racing Post birthday non-appearance fiasco the previous week, I made what he suggested was a 20th consecutive foray up the A1(M) to Langford FC and the Cheltenham Preview Night, “the last but the best” as Howard, who in his 70s is as silly as me, always calls it.

We did find some winners, quite a few nice ones I fact, but with the wi-fi at the hotel anything but reliable, by the time I finally managed to get to the track every day I’d completely forgotten what I’d said and allowed Le Breuil, City Island, Band of Outlaws, Ch’tibello, Hazel Hill and the Altior-Politologue forecast, as well as the obvious Paisley Park to go unbacked. I did manage on the last day to have a few pennies on Ray’s home-bred Nelson River in the Triumph Hurdle and he confirmed his jumping potential by finishing fourth for Tony Carroll.

Thus he did what all good each-way bets do, finished just outside the money. At the time of my single-figure wager on the Tote, seconds before the off, Nelson River was paying 77 for a win and 16 for a place. I’d managed to blag my way onto the fourth floor of the old main stand where the hospitality boxes are and felt obliged to make a vociferous – if slow and boring – protest at the absence of any live pictures at the Tote betting points, quite a number of which there are at that level. Most of the boxes are over-filled, often with racegoers who are reluctant to curtail conversations even during the races, so hearing the commentary can be almost impossible. It would have been nice to step outside and get a noise-free view. Next year please, Mr Renton?

All those years at the Daily Telegraph entitled all of us without question full media credentials. The main Press facility on the second floor of the same stand is of limited capacity but was ours by right. Many more of the mushrooming media crowd are housed nowadays just near the North entrance, below the paddock in a vast building. I crept in there a couple of times, without being challenged <someone wasn’t doing his job although they were with great enthusiasm everywhere else> and as Gina Harding wistfully suggested: “This isn’t the main one”. Know how she feels.

I can’t complain. The wonderful Sophia Dale sent me for the first time Club badges for every day rather than a rectangular Media badge to sling around the neck, which actually does little more than get one through the door with the hoi-polloi, God forbid! If you persist or look as though you are entitled to be there, as in the fourth floor box level, you might just be all right.

At the Trials day, back in January when Paisley Park won the Cleeve Hurdle in such devastating fashion, I stood next to Andrew in the paddock as he listened to and we watched the definitive rehearsal to Thursday’s great triumph. This time, from the back of the new Princess Royal stand, I watched on the giant screen as my ticket did not get me into the paddock, any more than I was able to see Punjabi parading before the opening race in both 2017 and last year.

There were still more than enough people to congratulate the owner and trainer Emma Lavelle, who has done such a wonderful job on the gelding, bought as a young horse by the trainer for €60k. As ever, Emma gave plenty of credit to her husband, Barry Fenton, who rides the champion stayer every day at home. I hope he doesn’t run again this time.

While not exhibiting any of the eccentricities of the great Baracouda, twice winner and twice runner-up in the same race, his owner and trainer believe he hits a “flat spot” in his races, but as Andrew says: “It didn’t hurt Big Buck’s, did it?”

Coming back to Baracouda, he was also a seven-year-old at the time of his first Stayers’. While Paisley Park was winning the race on his tenth lifetime start, Baracouda did not get there until his 22nd career appearance. The first seven on the Flat were for his original owner/trainer, Mme Jacqueline Mathis, who also gave him an initial Auteuil spin before he was transferred to Francois Doumen.

By the time of that first Stayers’ success, Baracouda had already been a frequent cross-Channel traveller with wins at Ascot (Long Walk), Fontwell, Sandown, then the next season Ascot twice (another Long Walk) and Kempton before Cheltenham.

Once that significant barrier was passed, Doumen and owner J P McManus were happy to fire down his targets. In 2002/3, only two runs at Ascot (winning the Ascot Hurdle but only runner-up to Deano’s Beano in the Long Walk) preceded a Cheltenham repeat. He had three outings before Cheltenham the following season, wins at Newbury, Ascot (a third Long Walk) and Sandown but was surprisingly beaten by Iris’s Gift at the Festival.

Another short campaign followed in 2004/5, comprised of victories at Newbury and Wetherby before his usurping by the next stand-out champion, Inglis Drever, at the Festival. The end was now approaching, the 11-year-old following a Newbury second to Inglis Drever with a final fifth at Cheltenham behind My Way de Solzen, who was benefiting from Inglis Drever’s absence through injury.

Brilliantly handled so far by Emma Lavelle, Paisley Park is sensibly staying over hurdles, where he can become a multiple champion in the manner of Baracouda, Inglis Drever and Big Buck’s. There is no need to do anything else and certainly granted freedom from injury and the manifold potential problems racehorses can acquire, he should dominate the staying hurdles division for a long time.

Meanwhile, it’s the Lincoln next week, believe it or not. I’ve had an update from Hughie Morrison about Sod’s Law who will definitely not make the main race, but if the required 14 above him do come out, he’ll get in the Spring Mile. He’s on target according to the trainer, despite hanging onto his winter coat longer than most in the stable, but we’ve been waiting for this race and the straight mile should be right up his street. Count that as a tip, not that you can have a bet until the final entries are known on Thursday week.

- Tony Stafford

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