Monday Musings: The Day Pat Changed The Law

I only met Pat Smullen once, as against bumped-into as we do or rather did on the ever-moving canvas that is or was until March 2020, the world of horse racing, writes Tony Stafford. I’m sure I smiled across at him on one or more of my increasingly-rare trips to Ireland, or his sporadic jaunts to the UK while he was busy winning his nine domestic titles and an immense warmth within the Irish racing community and his own family which is right at the centre of that intense world.

It was with a mixture of delight and trepidation that I learned on July 7th 2016 from Hughie Morrison’s ultra-efficient secretary Jane Bexx –maybe the real Posh and Becks! – that Pat Smullen would partner Raymond Tooth’s home-bred Dutch Law in the 6.05 race on the following Saturday.

It seemed he’d not been required for Tipperary that day and had been booked for six rides at Ascot’s Summer Mile meeting, presumably working around his primary objective, riding Sir Michael Stoute’s Convey in the feature race. Convey was a disappointing seventh that day but Pat’s trip over did provide its dividend when he brought home Ed Dunlop’s 6-1 shot Manjaam to a comfortable success in the 5.35 race, a mile and a half handicap.

So Smullen’s final act of a long day, before he headed off to nearby Heathrow for his flight home, was his mount on Dutch Law.  At that point in his life the gelding was a 13-times-raced winner of one handicap under Martin Harley on the July Course just over a year previously, and less-than-honourable possessor of five second places. Hence the trepidation: the delight was the prospect of what Pat might encourage him to do!

Well he, with the jockey’s help, made it six runner-up slots, with a decent effort which the race close up in the Racing Post reminds me that he squeezed through after being short of room to run the George Baker-ridden Experto Crede, a three-year-old trained by Ed Walker, to just over a length, conceding that younger horse 12lb.

I tried to rekindle the visual imprint I have of that race by pressing the race video feature on the Racing Post site this morning, but was instead shown the first race of Salisbury’s evening fixture, scheduled off five minutes earlier at 6.00 p.m. Inevitable, maybe, with all that racing going on, as was the case last Saturday when three races with their mini-screens, were showing at the same time on Racing TV.

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What I do remember clearly though without any need of a memory jog is Pat spending quite a lot of time being very gracious about a horse that in the scheme of things could easily not have meant anything much to him. I left the track that night reflecting on what a nice man as well as a brilliant jockey he was.

His riding also had an emollient effect on Dutch Law. Next time out, just a week later, back on Newmarket’s July Course, this time teaming up with Oisin Murphy for the only time, he won with a last-stride lurch on the line. Then the partnership did something I’d never previously witnessed on an English racecourse. Oisin was aware that the gap between this 4.55 race, off almost five minutes late, and his intended ride on a Ralph Beckett good thing in Lingfield’s 6.10 race did not leave much spare time for the 95-mile (presumably less as the plane flies) trip.

So there they were actually cantering across the July Course paddock and into the winner’s enclosure with barely room for the announcement of his narrow win with future champion Oisin looking back apologetically saying: “Can’t stop, see you!” He did make it to Lingfield, incidentally, winning easily and as he has often conceded since, it’s the fastest he’s ever gone on a racecourse after pulling up!

Then came the Charlie Bennett show. That 5lb apprentice also showed a good degree of communication when after another successful run on the same Newmarket track three weeks later, Charlie stayed and chatted for at least half an hour following a more comfortable seven-furlong victory with me and Peter Ashmore.

Tried at a mile there six days later he was third, not really getting home, but then came his greatest triumph when together Dutch Law and Bennett came from last to first to collect a £50k to the winner prize in the Albert Bartlett handicap early in September. We had a couple of frustrating eliminations from races we thought he could win from the bottom of the handicap, but did get a final run on that track when for a time looking like winning the £112k first prize in a Heritage handicap before fading into a close 11th of 18 behind Librisa Breeze.

The last rites on Dutch Law’s career were left to Jim Crowley, who in three previous tries on him had never been over-complimentary, in a conditions mile race at Doncaster when he was slowly away and never in contention finishing last of eight.

Jim, never one to mince his words and never mind that Dutch Law had won three nice handicaps in his previous five races, said: “Basically he’s a shit!” That was telling Raymond and me too, but fortunately Raymond was safely at home and never got to hear Jim’s measured condemnation. For some reason Raymond has chosen not to use Charlie, so I’m delighted that the jockey has been getting plenty of rides and winners lately. His performance on easy winner Bad Company at Windsor recently was an excellent example of his developing talents.

Here it’s worth acknowledging Hughie Morrison’s skill with members of Dutch Law’s family, progeny of Ray’s dual-winning mare Lawyer’s Choice, who now is the dam of five winners. They all need careful management as their knees are often not the best.

There is a post-script to the Doncaster run. Only days afterwards, Dutch Law went to the Tattersalls Newmarket Horses In Training sales and was sold for 150,000gns. Constant vigilance has shown only one subsequent public mention of him, an entry in one race in Dubai that wasn’t taken up and he didn’t appear again.

The aforementioned Experto Crede never raced again in the UK after that Ascot defeat of Dutch Law, turning up in Hong Kong, presumably after a whopping private sale. While ultra-busy for the next two years there, Experto Crede never achieved a high level. He did manage to win three of his 31 races, one each with the Hong Kong greats, Zac Purton and Joao Moreira, as well as Silvestre De Sousa also winning on him.

Another major player that day also had only a limited time before his career and almost his life was ended. It’s easy to erase the memory of even recent events and I admit I’d forgotten just how successful George Baker had been.  He is now one of the regular expert guests on Racing TV, mostly for the all-weather fixtures and often with the immensely-talented American, Rachel Candelora. George has overcome the dreadful injuries sustained in a horror fall on the ice track in San Moritz, Switzerland, on a John Best-trained horse in March 2017.

When George won the race at Ascot on Experto Crede, it was one of 1364 winners in an 18-year riding career during which he recorded six centuries, four in a row to 2016. The most unlikely statistic was his tally of 163 in 2014, astonishing in view of the fact that ever since his first rides in 1999 he always had to cram his six-foot frame into riding at 9st, something that even the two brilliant O’Brien boys could handle for only a few seasons once they reached maturity.

There’s something of the Pat Smullen about George Baker, polite and friendly to all, despite his travails. It’s marvellous that he could rebuild such an unpromising life prospect into a successful second career as well as his valued role behind the scenes helping Ed Walker.

There was to be no positive long-term happy solution to Smullen’s cancer, though, after it was first diagnosed in 2018. From that point, Pat, married with three children to Frances Crowley, sister of Anne-Marie O’Brien and therefore uncle to Joseph, Sara, Anastasia (Anna) and Donnacha, worked tirelessly (and no doubt often more than tiredly) in charitable causes and above all organising that memorable race when A P McCoy and many other greats of racing joined together to make such a financial emotional success.

It isn’t unusual for people to be spoken of in a kindly way when they die. What is remarkable is for an entire country to show such shock, dismay and above all love and deep affection for someone. Pat Smullen, only 43, should have had many more years to live and enjoy with his family and legion of friends not only in his native land. As I said, I met him properly only once, but I never forgot the experience. Neither did Dutch Law!

- TS

Monday Musings: Quelle Weekend!

Compacting the 2020 racing season in Europe’s three major nations has caused some difficulties, but when weekends like the one we’ve just witnessed happen, then assuredly it will be remembered for many years, writes Tony Stafford.

The last of four days of the St Leger meeting started on Wednesday with a trial gathering of 2,500 spectators and then neutered back again to selected insiders only by rising Covid-19 infections, if not deaths, both locally and nationally. France, meanwhile, had its customary trials day on Sunday, three weeks ahead of the Arc meeting itself, and Irish Champions Weekend, at Leopardstown on Saturday and the Curragh yesterday, completed the puzzle.

Normally the trainers associated with the big winners would have wanted to be there to witness their achievements. That wasn’t the case for Joseph O’Brien, who completed an astonishing feat in his 28th year by becoming the only man since the great Harry Wragg to first ride and then train a St Leger winner when Galileo Chrome got the better of Berkshire Rocco under Tom Marquand on Town Moor.

As has been widely reported, Marquand fortuitously got the ride on his first Classic winner because his proposed mount, English King, was re-routed to Longchamp’s Grand Prix de Paris yesterday - where he ran disappointingly. Original booked rider Shane Crosse was in quarantine after testing positive for Covid-19 despite showing no symptoms and “feeling on top of the world”.

Harry Wragg, born in Sheffield in 1902, was one of the leading jockeys between the wars. Known as the Head Waiter for his preferred style of leaving his challenge late – a 1930’s prototype of Jamie Spencer - he won two St Legers, although only the first was truly authentic. Sandwich, in 1931, was trained at Newmarket by Jack Jarvis for the 6th Earl of Rosebery, once captain of Surrey CCC. The 1943 winner, Herringbone, trained by Walter Earl for the 17th Earl of Derby, the last of his six St Legers and twenty Classics in all, was a war-time substitute run at Newmarket.

Wragg’s sole training success in the St Leger was in the 1969 race when Intermezzo won under the Australian jockey Ron Hutchinson for Gerry Oldham. Thus Wragg, who began his training career in 1947, took 38 years between riding the winner of the Classic and training one.

Joseph O’Brien had retired from riding by the age of 23 having been a triple champion jockey in Ireland. He was 20 years old when Landing Light won the St Leger. Compared with Wragg he certainly isn’t any kind of “waiter” with just seven years between the two events.

Back in 1980, a year before Wragg’s retirement from training and only five before he died aged 82, I visited him at his Abington Place stables in Newmarket’s Bury Road, accompanied by his son Geoff who would take over the stable with continued success in 1982.

I went there with Prestatyn-born Bryn Crossley, who sadly died two years ago, as at the time I was helping book his rides. We worked together for only that season, when he was apprenticed to Geoff Huffer at Cheveley Park, the racing stables now the location for Cheveley Park Stud. It was mutually satisfying when that very popular and personable young Welshman became Champion Apprentice that year.

Harry Wragg had booked Bryn for his three-year-old filly Popaway, a sound stayer who from (questionable) memory had 6st9lb in the long handicap. The old master, a true innovator, and one of the first trainers to weigh his horses regularly, wanted to go through the race with Crossley and it was quite an experience for us both. Bryn claimed 5lb and was planning to get down to 7st2lb – which he comfortably managed - for only the second time in 1980. The first was on Jim Bolger’s Lynconwise at Leicester, a race he won very easily on Whit Monday.

There was a chance that if the original Cesarewitch top-weight were to come out at the overnight stage as was rumoured, there would be a big hike in the weights, but he stayed in and that left the very tough Popsi’s Joy, owned and bred by the bearded solicitor Victor Morley Lawson and trained by Michael Haynes at Epsom, to run almost loose on 8st6lb.

Haynes shrewdly booked Lester Piggott, still at the height of his powers in his mid-forties, for the ride at his minimum weight. Two furlongs out Crossley took Popaway to the front, but Lester and Popsi’s Joy were always going easily and soon joined the filly. The two horses quickly drew away from the other 25 runners which included Sir Michael, who had won for Huffer the previous year and John Cherry, successful four years previously under Piggott. Popsi’s Joy won comfortably by a couple of lengths with Popaway around five lengths clear of the rest.

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Popsi’s Joy won eight races in 1980 and 17 in all, culminating in a four-length victory as a 10-year-old in the Tote Cesarewitch Trial at Warwick. He survived at Michael Haynes’ stables until dying, aged 25, in 2000.

There was a post-script, as the top-weight, who did eventually miss the race despite having been kept in until the final declaration stage, was to make one further minor footnote in his career.

In those days, the Press Association, where I worked for three years in the early 1970’s, used to issue for Weatherbys a daily bulletin of Official Scratchings in a system far removed from the instant technical processes of today. At the bottom was a sorry final section entitled, “All engagements – dead”. There within a few days of the race, while we were still bemoaning Popaway’s bad luck to be so far out of the weights, was the name of the absent top-weight. If that had happened in 2020, the conspiracy theorists would have had a field day. I think at the time I was just about the only person who noticed.

Incidentally, Morley Lawson had already owned a Cesarewitch winner, the Arthur Pitt-trained Ocean King, ridden by lightweight Tommy Carter in 1974. The previous year, Morley Lawson, then aged 67, won an amateur riders’ Flat race on that horse. I’ve mentioned here a million times about my part-time additional job as Editor of the old Racehorse newspaper. In the first front page piece I wrote for that still revered weekly, I happened to select Ocean King, who won at a long price.

In that issue, it was attributed to The Editor, and on the following Monday morning, my colleague Roger Jackson passed on a letter from Peter O’Sullevan noting the great tip and wishing him a successful career in the future. Understandably Roger’s name, alongside his greyhound selections, was the only one the always very gracious future Sir Peter could find to congratulate.

***

This past weekend was one of tremendous success for Irish stables, not least for the evergreen Dermot Weld who sent over his improving filly Tarnawa to beat Jean-Claude Rouget’s self-professed “champion filly” Raabibah by three lengths in the Prix Vermeille a couple of hours before his Search For A Song repeated last year’s success in the Irish St Leger. Amazingly – and I’d be willing to bet he never expected it to happen – that took him level on nine wins with Aidan O’Brien in that Classic’s long history.

Weld is 72, but he was not the oldest winning trainer at the meeting. Both Jessica Harrington, born a year before Weld, and Jim Bolger, her senior by a hardly-believable five years when you see him, were on the scorecard yesterday. The only notable non-celebrant on the day was Kevin Prendergast, still going strong and training winners. Kevin was born in 1932, the year after Harry Wragg’s first St Leger win as a jockey!

Harrington’s Cayenne Pepper won the Group 2 Blandford Stakes, but it was the exuberant triumph of her two-year-old colt Cadillac in Saturday’s mile Group 2, a win and you’re in ticket to the Breeders’ Cup, that caused most eyebrows to rise.

Over the weekend, British-based – or more accurately Yorkshire-based – trainers won four races, three of them yesterday. The single link is that John Quinn, who won a Group 2 race with the ultra-tough seven-year-old Safe Voyage on Saturday;  Richard Fahey, with a Sunday double, and Kevin Ryan, who won a sprint with Glass Slippers, are all Irish.

Mrs Harrington needs to get somebody, presumably her daughter Kate who often works as an expert – which she surely is! - on Racing TV’s Irish coverage as well as an important cog in mum’s operation, to talk to Wikipedia. That fount of sometimes accurate knowledge, says she is “principally a trainer of National Hunt horses but has had some success in Flat racing”. Well said, Wikipedia.

One of the features of this behind-closed-doors season, which started in Ireland with Naas on June 8, has been the astounding success of the irrepressible Johnny Murtagh. He has already won 41 races, gaining a career-defining Group 1 win in Saturday’s Matron Stakes with the ever-improving Champers Elysees who came from last to first to see off the Group 1-winning  Coolmore pair of Peaceful (Aidan) and Fancy Blue (Donnacha). Johnny, highly successful in his time at Ballydoyle of course, continued riding when he first took out a training licence and was in the saddle in 2013 for his first four stakes winners, three at Group level. Champers Elysees was his first Group 1 and a memorable one.

Murtagh also concluded the two-day and two-venue extravaganza with a spectacular handicap win with his 99-rated (up from 68 three runs ago) Sonnyboyliston, who drew almost five lengths clear of the other 21 runners. Talk about a Group winner in handicapper’s clothing!

Meanwhile Dad and the two precocious sons more than did their bit to keep the family firm in the ascendant. Donnacha had only a handful of runners over the two days but yesterday his Galileo filly, Shale, carrying the Derrick Smith silks, reversed Debutante Stakes form with Joseph’s Pretty Gorgeous when making all in the Group 1 Moyglare Stakes.

Joseph wasn’t content with just the one Group 1 winner over the weekend, though. In a high-class renewal of the National Stakes his once-raced Thunder Moon produced a sensational burst from an unpromising position in the colours of Mrs Chantal Regalo-Gonzalez. Aidan’s duo of Wembley and St Mark’s Basilica avoided trouble in that congested affair to take second and third. It would be more than interesting to see Thunder Moon and Cadillac line up in competition before the end of the year, maybe in Kentucky.

And as ever there was Aidan. His two 2020 Derby winners, Santiago from the Curragh and Serpentine, who made such a mess of the Derby field at Epsom, reappeared, although to be pedantic Santiago had run third to Stradivarius in the Goodwood Cup in between.

Serpentine went across to France for the Grand Prix de Paris and could finish no nearer than fourth to his hitherto disappointing stable-companion Mogul, who had gone into Epsom as the Ballydoyle number one. This was Mogul’s third run since Epsom and he took advantage of his subsequent race-hardening to suggest that those earlier high hopes for him were not illusory. Serpentine, foregoing front-running this time, will have plenty to say in the future, I’m sure.

The two 2019 Derby winners were also out over the weekend. While Curragh hero Sovereign could not keep up the gallop after setting the pace in the Irish St Leger, Anthony Van Dyck avenged that Goodwood Cup reverse for his stable by holding Stradivarius all the way to the line in the Prix Foy at Longchamp. He has not always been able to replicate the form that won him last year’s Derby but on his day, and given fast ground, he’s a formidable Group 1 performer.

Sorry Aidan, it’s not going to get any easier keeping that armada of middle-distance Classic colts apart, especially when you add to the mix Tiger Moth, a four-length Group 3 winner on Saturday in his first race since a strong-finishing second in the Irish Derby. And that’s not to forget where Magical comes into the picture. Good enough to stay close to Ghaiyyath before outpointing her York nemesis memorably in Saturday’s Irish Champion Stakes, this insatiable five-year-old phenomenon will keep her male companions in the shadows for as long as she wants to continue.

- TS

Monday Musings: Weird Ky Derby Looks Authentic!

It’s been a topsy-turvy world for everyone this year, writes Tony Stafford. I bet the connections of Tiz The Law, 7-10 favourite for Saturday night’s re-scheduled Kentucky Derby, run in 2020 as the second rather than first leg of the Triple Crown, wished the race had simply been erased from the schedules. Instead it took place in September rather than the first Saturday in May and the Bob Baffert-trained Authentic outstayed the favourite for a memorable sixth win in the race for his silver-haired trainer.

The Americans have not found it within their powers to re-write the programme books as their European counterparts did to keep their Classic races, if not to the normal schedule, certainly in the prescribed order.

The Stateside authorities changed the distance and position of the Belmont Stakes, but kept it in June, racing having resumed over there a good deal earlier in some jurisdictions than others and well before France, the UK and Ireland in that order.

The Belmont, normally the last leg and over a mile and a half of the biggest oval in North America was reduced in distance to nine furlongs. The Barclay Tagg-trained Tiz The Law was untroubled to beat nine rivals there and extend his career stats to five wins in six starts. He embellished it further with a facile win in the Travers Stakes – normally the August date which identifies the summer champion among the three-year-old colts – two months and more after the Belmont.

By the time the three-race, five-week war of attrition is concluded on that June afternoon in New York, normally most of the Classic generation that managed to keep all three dates are on their knees. It takes a good one to survive it.

Two years ago, Justify was Baffert’s fifth winner of the race and his second to complete the generally-elusive Triple Crown. The Belmont, following the Preakness two weeks after the Derby and then the race in New York three weeks further on, proved to be within Justify’s capabilities, but no more. His career came to a full stop after a training injury soon after, but at least he could be retired as an unbeaten winner of the Triple Crown with six out of six on his scorecard.

Three years earlier Baffert was immediately denied an unbeaten campaign for American Pharoah once he was beaten on debut in a maiden the previous autumn. But by the time he’d won his Triple Crown, his tally was seven for eight, with all bar one of the wins in Grade 1 company – the exception a first-time three-year-old cruise in a Grade 2 to get the competitive juices flowing again.

He was tough, too. He won the Haskell Invitational in early August at Monmouth Park, but then as so many before him, got beat in the Travers at Saratoga, for good reason known as the Graveyard race for Triple Crown race winners or Horse of the Year candidates. He bounced back after a sensible break with an impressive win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic before drawing stumps and preceding his younger fellow TC hero into stud duties at Ashford Farm.

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I was on hand – for the only time - to see Baffert’s third Kentucky Derby win in 2002 with War Emblem in the green and white stripes of Prince Ahmed Salman’s Thoroughbred Corporation. That 20-1 chance made all the running.  Baffert had already sent out Silver Charm (1997) and Real Quiet the following year to score. I’ve no doubt that having put away Tiz The Law in a thrilling set-to up the Churchill Downs home straight, many would have been hoping to see them do battle again at Pimlico racecourse in Baltimore for the Preakness, but immediate post-race reaction suggested one or even both might miss the final leg.

That race, normally run two weeks after the Derby but this year four, unlike the Belmont but in common with the Derby, has retained its traditional distance of one mile and three-sixteenths. This was the course and distance over which California-based Seabiscuit memorably beat the East Coast champion War Admiral, the 1937 Kentucky Derby winner, in that famed match race. This of course was made doubly treasured by Laura Hillenbrand’s book and the film in which Tobey Maguire and Gary Stevens – as good and natural an actor as he has been for so many years an outstanding jockey – played the roles as the great underdog’s jockeys.

As they turned for home in that 1938 race, the big favourite War Emblem had drawn upsides and most of the massive crowd expected him to pull away. Instead it was Seabiscuit, who had become a much-loved symbol of the American working class in those Depression years, who gained the upper hand: courage and toughness outpointing class and evidently superior breeding.

Saturday’s Classic was virtually a re-make of the Seabiscuit film. Two horses came around the long turn between the back stretch and the home run with the favourite poised on the outside and the rest clearly irrelevant. Authentic had moved quickly from an ordinary start into an early lead from his wide position, so it was reasonable watching live to think he could be swamped when Tiz The Law, always well placed, came with his customary wide run to take his rightful place at the top of the podium.

But as with Seabiscuit, this relative underdog, third favourite at a shade over 8-1, kept going much the better for a length and a quarter success.

Going into the race, Authentic, like the favourite, had suffered only a single reverse, in his case behind Honor A P in the Santa Anita Derby, turning over an earlier result between the pair. Understandably, Honor A P edged him for second best in the Derby market, but there can be no doubting the pecking order now, as Honor A P finished five lengths behind the winner in fourth.

A smaller-than-usual field contested the race this year. Normally it’s a bun-fight to qualify for one of the 20 available stalls. This time, only 15 turned up, reflecting that there are fewer untested dreams at this stage of the season from later-developing horses than is customary. What I did notice, possibly because of the smaller field and the fact that the runners have had more racing experience than is customary, hard-luck stories seemed minimal.

Also it was one of the fastest-ever Kentucky Derbys, the winner clocking 2 minutes 0.61 seconds. Secretariat in 1973 still holds the all-time best with 1 minute 59.4 seconds in his Triple Crown year. Monarchos in 2001 has the fastest electronic time, while in 1964 Northern Dancer, the ultimate sire of sires, most significantly the direct line, from his son Sadler’s Wells through to Galileo and then Frankel and the rest, clocked an even 2 minutes.

Other fast times were Spend A Buck, 2.00.2 in 1985 and Decidedly 2.00.4 in 1962.  Authentic, with only five faster than him is right up there in historical terms, certainly in front of Baffert’s previous quintet, the less attritional, more even-tempo nature of the race – on a track that was riding fast – doubtless contributing.

Many times, beaten Kentucky Derby runners avoid the Preakness entirely. This year, of the nine horses beaten by Tiz The Law in the first leg of the Triple Crown, only two – neither in the shake-up on Saturday – tried again.

It would be eminently understandable should either or both the big two miss the Preakness in four weeks’ time. A great shame too as if they did clash they would surely provide another proper shoot-out. Considering, though, how much money is on offer for the Breeders’ Cup Classic in the autumn and how easily future stallion fees can be affected by reverses, maybe it’s more likely that we’ll have to wait for a definitive verdict of the Horse of the Year - Covid19 edition!

*

While the Kentucky Derby was taking all the attention over the water, Enable was fulfilling presumably her last public duties in the UK (she still has entries on British Champions’ Day – here’s hoping) before embarking on her final act of an epic career when easily landing the odds (1-14 are hardly odds!) in the September Stakes at Kempton Park.

She was quickly into the lead under Frankie Dettori and won easily from Kirstenbosch, owned by Luca Cumani’s Fittocks Stud. Lightly-raced and on the comeback trail after an interrupted career, Kirstenbosch looks sure to win more races for the James Fanshawe stable.

Meanwhile Enable will be preparing for her ultimate quest, aiming to add a third Arc win after last year’s agonising second to Waldgeist, interestingly on the same weekend as the Preakness. Dettori has been a fitting co-respondent in the mare’s final glorious chapter along with trainer John Gosden. How typical in sport that a younger rival has come along from out of nowhere – well, Ballydoyle! - to make this possibly the toughest of all her four challenges for the famed French race that has become the true European championship.

Love stands in her way, gloriously after three authoritative and sometimes wide margin wins at Group 1 level in the 1,000 Guineas, the Oaks and the Yorkshire Oaks. I suppose there will be other challengers, but nobody loves a two-man (or woman) sporting tussle more than the viewing public. I’d love Enable to win but I don’t think Love will enable her to do so. If you see what I mean!

On an otherwise quiet weekend domestically, Haydock Park’s Group 1 race, the Betfair Sprint Cup, developed into a battle of the six-year-old geldings. The 5-2 favourite Dream Of Dreams, ridden by Oisin Murphy for the Sir Michael Stoute stable, got up in the closing stages to beat the Archie Watson-trained and Hollie Doyle-ridden 25-1 chance Glen Shiel, the pair leaving the three-year-olds Golden Horde, Art Power and Lope Y Fernandez well behind. The same went for two previous winners, The Tin Man and Hello Youmzain.

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A race with rather more significance for the future was Yesterday’s Prix du Moulin de Longchamp on the first weekend since the racing roadshow decamped back from Deauville and its chewed-up terrain to the capital. Only six turned out, but it was a high-class affair. The Andre Fabre-trained Persian King (by Kingman) turned away Pinatubo by just over a length, with Circus Maximus a long way back in third but still ahead of Irish 2,000 Guineas hero Siskin who seems a shadow of the early-season version.

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Persian King had been three lengths in arrears to Circus Maximus when they were third and fourth behind unbeaten Palace Pier in the Prix Jacques le Marois (also Group 1) three weeks earlier over the same trip at Deauville. This performance requires some re-alignment among the division, but it is clear that Palace Pier stands alone at the top of the mile rankings. Those three Irish fillies, Fancy Blue, Alpine Star and Peaceful, who dominated the finish of the Prix de Diane over the extended mile and a quarter at Chantilly, might prove more of a test to Palace Pier than any of yesterday’s Moulin contestants should they be given the opportunity to tackle him.

  • TS

Monday Musings: Never Mind The (Gender) Gap

Watch out Oisin, and for that matter Tom, Hollie’s on the prowl! The estimable Master Murphy might be a 6-1 on shot to retain his title in the 2020 Flat Jockeys’ Championship, but in the world of sport (yes Sky it’s sport not sports!) momentum is everything, writes Tony Stafford.

The 23-year-old pocket battleship already had one record on her growing honours board – I bet Mr Marquand has to look at it every day in their shared home in Hungerford – that of the 116 best-for-a-female wins in 2019. At Windsor on Saturday, while Tom was an hour and a half away at Newmarket drawing a blank from his five mounts (two favourites), Hollie had five memorable winners at Windsor. While the cat’s away, one might say.

Needless to say, this was the first time a female rider had ever ridden a five-timer on a single UK card. No doubt Julie Krone, the American who retired from professional race riding in 1999 when Hollie was barely two years old, will be aware that in this unassuming young lady, there are many similarities with herself.

In July 1992, the Daily Telegraph sports editor, in his wisdom, despatched me off to Redcar for a Wednesday night meeting that really did attract attention. The first race was the Julie Krone Maiden Stakes and, fittingly, the then 28-year-old Michigan-born sensation was duly set up with a winner. Al Karnack, an 11-2 on shot trained for Ecurie Fustok, major owners at the time, by Mohammed Mubarak, won by 20 lengths.

Four more rides followed, with two wins. I spoke to Ms Krone a few times during the event and, thinking back, like Hollie today, you were immediately struck by her small stature but most obviously the strength in her powerful broad shoulders. Picture Ms Doyle in five years’ time after many more hours in the gym and on the Equisizer and you will have Julie Krone mark 2.

Krone at that time was really about quantity, just as Hollie had been until the recent flurry of Listed and Group wins following her initial Royal Ascot success two months ago on the Alan King-trained Scarlet Dragon. At Windsor she collected two more stakes victories, a Listed on Hughie Morrison's Le Don De Vie and the Group 3 Gallagher Group Winter Hill Stakes on the Roger Charlton-trained Extra Elusive for her new retained boss, owner Imad Sagar. The following summer from that Redcar evening, in June 1993, Krone won her only Triple Crown race, the Belmont Stakes on Colonial Affair, highlight of her 3,704 career wins.

Both Hollie’s big winners and the other three that comprised her epic achievement owed as much to her ability to find a clear course on her mounts and the determination with which she sometimes contrives such a position through sheer willpower. On to Yarmouth yesterday, where three more victories followed and only bar narrow reverses by a short head and then, irritatingly, a nose, was a second five-timer within 24 hours foiled.

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I noticed one race at Beverley on Thursday where the Archie Watson–trained Harrison Point looked in danger of being reeled in by Tony Hamilton on fast-finishing Zip. But as he came alongside, Hollie allowed her mount to edge slightly left, making her own mount’s mind up and possibly persuading the eventually runner-up to think again.

Watson of course, one of racing’s young innovators, was first to give more than a passing acknowledgement of the young rider’s potential – although Wilf Storey says he beat Archie to it! -, putting her on the majority of his flying juveniles painstakingly-schooled at home and often in barrier trials to show their form first time.  She repaid that confidence by almost invariably getting them quickly away from the gate – a vital skill in sprints that many other riders find elusive. No names, as Mr Bolger might say.

At Windsor, on the rain-softened ground, Hollie identified the need to get to the favoured far rail, tailoring her tactics with that in mind. Every time she was first onto the far side, she stayed there until the finish. At Yarmouth, she made it to the front four times, and while it looked as though each of her mounts was vulnerable to a challenge from behind, it was only in the last stride that Jamie Spencer, on a typical last-to-first flourish on Ilalliqa could get to her on the Crisfords’ Late Arrival.

Her other near miss, Little Brown Trout, would have needed only another couple of strides to catch the Tom Queally-ridden Spirited Guest. Ten winners in two days surely would have been too much, for the racing world generally and especially for the boys at the top of the table.

Momentum in the Jockeys’ Championship race can be vital. Oisin Murphy, at 6-1 on might seem uncatchable on 94 wins, bolstered by the first three at Goodwood yesterday, but he has an eight-day suspension to serve out which means he misses the St Leger meeting this week. Ben Curtis, more annoyingly for another of the go-to men for big southern stables when their horses head north for minor meetings, has an automatic  14-day exclusion for his ill-judged foray into the nowadays-sacrosanct owners’ area at Newmarket last week, breaching the strict - but of which many may now say - outdated Coronavirus rules.

Those rules, though, were the basis that racing was allowed to start and remain the cornerstone of its license to persist. Curtis’ mistake was that he chose to talk to the owner of the one horse he was going to ride at HQ, annoyingly a late switch because Hamilton was abandoned through waterlogging. As one trainer who uses Curtis’ talents said to me, “He could have arranged to meet him in the garage half an hour earlier, sat down and had a coffee, no problem.”

So, after a momentous weekend, after Murphy there’s a massive gap to William Buick (7-1) and Marquand (9-2) both on 70. Curtis is next on 63 with Doyle up to 60. She is almost certain to narrow the gap in the coming week given her present rate of progress and while talk of a championship this year might well be so much pie-in-the-sky, second place at the main expense of her partner Marquand looks entirely possible.

Tony Nerses, someone I’ve known for almost 40 years since the time he looked after the racing affairs of Prince Yazid Bin Saud, has been the power behind the upward mobility of Imad Sagar who, with Saleh Al Homaizi, owned Derby winner, Authorized. In recent years, Al Homeizi withdrew from their Blue Mountain stud operation, leaving Sagar to go it alone. Nerses was a constant factor throughout that time and the public face of the operation. I love his ads in the Racing Post when one of the Sagar horses wins a race, which say, purchase Authorized by Tony Nerses.

I’m sure he had more than a minor part in securing Hollie’s services. So far from only seven rides, she has recorded four wins including Group race success in the Rose of Lancaster at Haydock and Saturday’s big race both on Extra Elusive, yet another example of Roger Charlton’s skill in improving horses, along with the beneficial effect a gelding operation can bring.

The main issue here was that while Extra Elusive likes to go from the front, it was almost inevitable that he would be challenged for that position by the Mark Johnston candidate, Sky Defender. But instead of going head-to-head, Ms Doyle allowed Franny Norton to have the lead, tracking him a length behind before moving up on his outside to get the rail position she wanted after the point where the figure-of-eight crosses over. From there she was never going to be denied.

Earlier, on Hughie Morrison’s Le Don De Vie, she engineered a similar position at a crucial stage and the Australia-bound four-year-old won with some authority starting off what was to be a memorable weekend for the trainer.

Yesterday at Goodwood, his five-year-old mare Urban Artist, running for the first time in a handicap after winning her novice race at Windsor second time on the Flat, signalled a profitable future with an emphatic all-the-way win against some highly-regarded younger fillies. A couple of hours later Telecaster, continuing his French love affair with Christophe Soumillon, replicated the mare’s front-running exploits with a six-and-a-half length demolition of his Grand Prix de Deauville (Group 2) opponents.

Both horses are home-bred, Telecaster by the Weinfeld family’s Meon Valley stud and Urban Artist by the late Tim Billington. Morrison was very subdued when I spoke to him yesterday morning in advance of the Goodwood race. He said that Tim had died unexpectedly three weeks earlier. In all the debate about racing and its place in the world he said that Billington had paid £2,000 for yesterday’s winner’s fourth dam and she over time had been responsible for at least 30 winners and Tim, via his syndicates – “he couldn’t afford to own them outright himself” – had brought at least 50 people who would never have thought of owning a horse into the sport.

“That’s what it’s all about – or should be” said the trainer, who at the time could not have envisaged a better afternoon than the one he was to experience. Both yesterday’s winners are excellent examples of the value of continuity in racing and breeding. Telecaster is something like a sixth generation product of one of the two main Egon Weinfeld foundation mares, and the way he has progressed from somewhat flighty and disappointing Derby candidate last year to a potential Group 1 middle-distance winner as a four-year-old is testimony to his trainer’s patience and skill.

When Urban Artist was unsuccessfully tried last winter in a Newbury novice hurdle following two bumper wins (one Listed at Cheltenham) she was stepping outside her mother’s comfort zone. Urban Artist is only the second foal to race of Cill Rialaig. She too won two bumpers, one a Listed also at Cheltenham, but never raced over hurdles. Instead she went Flat racing and got into the 100’s while winning races among them at Royal Ascot. I remember her well, but I doubt she had quite the power of this talented mare who sluiced through the ground to complete the Oisin Murphy hat-trick with complete authority to suggest a big hike from her initial 80 is inevitable.

It was Hollie’s weekend though, so I make no excuse for returning briefly to Julie Krone, about whom it is sad to relate that she never rode again in the UK during her professional career. But to get an estimate of how talented she was, she did ride in two consecutive Legends’ races at the St Leger meeting. In 2011, a full 12 years after retiring, and at the age of 48 she came to Town Moor for the mount on Declan Carroll’s Invincible Hero who started 4-1 favourite in a field of 16. He won with ease. Third that day was George Duffield who had been the runner-up to Krone 19 years earlier when on Richard Whitaker’s Gant Bleu, a 9-1 shot, she rode her second winner. “Led on bit two out and stayed on well” was the close-up comment.

As I said at the start, for me Hollie Doyle is the new Julie Krone. It’s amazing to think that now with Hayley Turner, Josephine Gordon and Hollie, all in turn riders with 100-plus wins in a season on their record, and with a host of French female riders benefiting from their continued (if in the case of the UK trio, unnecessary) weight allowance, the first female champion is not far away. I think we know who that will be!

- TS

Monday Musings: Pocket Talk!

We were looking for performances of championship quality at York last week and Ghaiyyath, Love and Battaash certainly provided them, writes Tony Stafford. Battaash maybe didn’t need to be quite at his best to win a second Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes, benefiting from unexpectedly disappointing runs from Art Power and A’Ali as well as the absence of the Wesley Ward two-year-old Golden Pal. But he overcame difficult ground conditions and had to catch a flying filly in Que Amoro to land the odds.

Love was also an odds-on shot in the Yorkshire Oaks, and she made it three majestic Group 1s in the year following 1,000 Guineas and Oaks supremacy with another flawless performance, galloping five and a bit lengths clear of 33-1 shot Alpinista.

Aidan O’Brien and winning rider Ryan Moore did nothing to dissuade us that Love’s rightful objective and a highly winnable one would be the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in which she would form the third major protagonist along with Enable, wisely pulled out of a pre-emptive clash with her last week in favour of the September Stakes, and Ghaiyyath.

Much was made after the Yorkshire Oaks of the three-year-old fillies’ big advantage in the Arc against their elders and contemporary colts. They need to be good, though, and no female of that age contested last year’s race. Two did the year before, the sadly ill-fated Sea of Class just failed to catch Enable when her 7lb weight pull (10lb from older males) was almost enough. Magical, back at her best trip when a three-length second to the impressive Ghaiyyath in the Juddmonte last week, was tenth in that second Arc victory by Enable.

I think Love will win the Arc, and the way she coped with the rain-affected ground last week was probably the final piece in the puzzle.

I want to gloss over the rest of the big-race action at York to concentrate on three if-only moments, one from the Knavesmire, two of which certainly deserved to have a different result.

Peter Charalambous is an owner-trainer based in Newmarket who breeds most of his own horses but rarely has more than ten in training at any one time, many now running in the partnership name of pcracing.com. Over the years he has been particularly successful on the July Course at Newmarket where Trulee Scrumptious has been a standing dish, winning seven times on that track, usually at the Friday Newmarket Nights meetings, so greatly missed by regulars this year.

Before Trulee Scrumptious, Peter did even better with the higher-class mare Boonga Roogeta, who over five seasons won 11 of her 46 starts, at one time achieving an official rating of 96.

Now she is one of his most valued broodmares but when her 2018 foal by Equiano hit the track on the Rowley Mile this month, there was little hint of expectation in the overnight betting market. Called Apollo One, the colt, who went unsold through Book 3 of Tattersalls yearling sales last October at 3,500gns, opened at 33-1, drifting to 40’s before the Charalambous insiders caused him to drop to 22-1 at the off.

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Difficult to load, he was slightly slowly away but Martin Harley allowed him to lead and despite setting only a modest pace, he was soon clear. Eased some way before the finish, he won pulling up by four lengths from the Richard Hannon-trained Keep Right On.

That was only a maiden auction race and he was receiving 3lb from the runner-up in a field of 11, so when he turned out for yesterday’s Solario Stakes, Group 3, at Sandown he was again an under-valued contender. Charalambous might be excused for thinking the horse was disrespected just as he, pointing to his Greek Cypriot heritage as a possible underlying reason, has often felt shunned and excluded by the Newmarket establishment.

In the race, faced by the highly-regarded Hannon colt Etonian, Apollo One, and this time the complete outsider of the field at 28-1, he was again was the subject of late support. He ran accordingly. Fast away under Luke Morris, he led until inside the final furlong where Etonian finally got to him and it was only in the closing strides that second-favourite King Vega got up to deny him second place by half a length.

The Racing TV team certainly gave Apollo One more than a passing complimentary mention and I’d love to see him win a Group race to give this enthusiastic and talented professional’s many years of hard graft some financial reward to go with the already secured black type recognition. Certainly Boonga Roogeta’s subsequent foals will get more attention at future yearling sales. It was nice, too, to see Julie Wood’s colours, after a quiet time, coming to the fore again with Etonian.

Like most of her horses in a much-reduced string compared with a decade ago, Etonian was bought as a foal, in his case at Goffs in Ireland for €14,000. Re-submitted in Tattersalls Book 4 the following year, fortunately he was led out unsold at 10,000Gns. A son of Olympic Glory, originally owned by Mrs Wood, but then bought by Qatar’s Sheikh Johann at the time when he was becoming briefly a major player, he won three of his four races in her colours. His first run for new connections was a victory in the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere on Arc day, so it would be a nice piece of symmetry if, as planned, Etonian takes in that same race this October.

I’ve been following the William Knight-trained Sir Busker all season, delighting in his wins, at Newcastle before lockdown when beating subsequent Royal Hunt Cup winner Dark Vision and then again in the consolation Hunt Cup. Since then he’s probably been the unluckiest handicapper in training, first throwing away a winning chance by hanging violently left in the last furlong of the Bunbury Cup at Newmarket before recovering to chase home Motakhayyel.

At Goodwood he was possibly the pick of all the many “stuck on the rails in handcuffs” victims, but at York this week came the unkindest cut of all. Dropped out by Oisin Murphy in the ultra-competitive 17-runner Clipper Logistics Handicap, he was easily spotted, moving along serenely up the inside under the champion jockey.

Then approaching the bend into the straight with nothing apparently to hinder his course, Murphy suddenly was confronted by a vision in light blue, the 50-1 shot Red Bond, on whom John Egan effected a wholly-unnecessary, highly-illegal and totally-damaging abrupt left turn onto the rails right in Sir Busker’s path.

Instead of turning for home in midfield, he now had five more horses than would have been the case to re-pass once he was able to re-engage forward movement. In the straight, with the whole field coming up the middle, Sir Busker, who, as he showed in the Bunbury Cup tends to go left, drifted across to the far rails with absolutely no cover. He had maybe five lengths to make up from less than two furlongs out only failing by a neck with once again a Hamdan horse, this time Montatham, denying him victory.

Rated only 92 at the start of the season, he was running off 15lb higher at York and in finishing second in a race where the first four home in that big field were the quartet at the top of the betting, should mean that his handicapping days are almost over. Knight though has long felt that the Cambridgeshire, over nine furlongs at his new home course Newmarket, is the ideal race while acknowledging he’ll need another personal best with the probability of another small rise in his mark to win that for all that it’s ideal in terms of getting cover and room to make your move. Then of course there’s the three-year-olds to worry about.

There was another instance of an unlucky loser at Cartmel yesterday on a day where massive prices, a week on from the 300-1 winner in Ireland, were once again commonplace, not just in Ireland, but also in England and France.

Ben Haslam was the star of the show at Cartmel, winning with a 66-1 chance, Black Kraken, in the opener and book-ending the card with 22-1 shot Ever So Much. The latter, an 11-year-old in the J P McManus colours was winning for the 13th time in his career, off a mark of 92. As the Haslam double came out at a massive 1,540-1, it is doubtful whether J P had too much on it! And, if he did, he’s very likely cursing his other Haslam runner, Demi Sang, finishing second at 9/1, narrowly foiling a 15,400 treble!

For much of the closing stages it appeared that his veteran would have to be content with second place as the 40-1 shot Artic Quest, having his first run for 13 months and stable debut for Micky Hammond, looked the certain winner three hurdles from home.

Unlike Ever So Much, Artic Quest had never managed to finish in the first three in any of his previous 16 races in Ireland, under Rules or in points. He achieved a solitary fourth place and that was the only time he got within hailing distance in any race.

In his last Irish outing, on July 6 last year, he ran in a three-mile hurdle, by which time the official Irish handicapper had given him an initial mark of 87. In a field of five at Bellewstown he started 100-1 and finished last, 47 lengths behind the winner and 20 lengths adrift of the fourth horse.

Three days later, Ever So Much, already a 12-time winner, ran his last race over hurdles before yesterday and was well beaten running off 99. In the interim he won one of five chases. In his wisdom, the handicapper dropped him 7lb to 92 for yesterday’s return to hurdles. The same official saw fit to rate Artic Quest, whose deficits in his 13 previous runs were (in bumpers) 25 lengths, pulled up and 19.5; then, over hurdles, 38 lengths, 9.5, PU, PU, 3.5, 55, PU, 116, 40 and 47. No wonder he rated him 7lb HIGHER than his Irish counterpart had done, so that yesterday he was GIVING weight to a prolific winner!

I spoke to Micky Hammond before the race and he said that while his form in Ireland was poor, Artic Quest had been working well, although the early-morning 25-1 had become double that before some small correction into his 40-1 SP.

Just like Sir Busker, ill-luck was to step in. At the sixth flight, as Becky Smith was just allowing the eight-year-old to move closer to the leaders, one of the front runners fell immediately in front of him, interrupting his progress. He recovered and, remarkably, was cantering all over the three leaders, with the rest already well beaten off jumping two out.

I can hardly call Micky at four a.m. to check if his horse, dismounted by Becky immediately on passing the line, had finished lame as I feared he may have done, but the way he weakened markedly while the winner plodded on halfway up the long run-in would tend to suggest he might have.

You guessed it. Sir Busker, Apollo One and Artic Quest, I was on them all. As I said, if only!

On a day when there was a 48-1 Group 1 winner in France for James Fanshawe, his third Prix Jean Romanet in six years; those two big prices at Cartmel and winners at 20-1, 22-1, 50-1 and 22-1 at Naas, why couldn’t I be allowed a 40-1 winner of my own?

- TS

Monday Musings: Lies, Damned Lies, and…

Don’t look now, but York starts on Wednesday and every year for me that means the beginning of the end of summer, writes Tony Stafford. The nights start to draw in; evening race meetings begin at 4 p.m. and if they want to stage ten-race cards as they have been doing recently, they’ll need to be over by 8 p.m. at the latest, except on all-weather.

I’m still not going racing, instead waiting for the day that, like the French, the British (and Irish) public can attend. Harry and Alan are going up to York and have got a great deal in the Marriott at the mile and a half gate. All they need now are some of the highly-regulated owners’ badges to go their way. Wednesday looks good apparently, but some of the other days are more questionable. It might be a case of watching on the hotel telly.

There’s been a fair amount of goalpost-moving lately. I’m delighted that I can get back from today to ice-rink chauffeuring. In the end Mrs S and her skating chums didn’t have to resort to chaining themselves to the Downing Street railings like latter-day suffragettes to get their pleas heard. Now she needs to see if she can still skate after six months off since her latest leg operation.

But the biggest movement, and one more than relevant to someone who has meticulously – as you all will be aware – kept the Covid-19 UK daily death figures since mid-March, immediately after the conclusion of the Cheltenham Festival, is how they are reported.

Spikes and the now seemingly-defunct “R” number have kept us all in check – bar the odd quarter of a million on Bournemouth, Brighton or Southend beaches when it got really hot. But in the middle of last week, suddenly the Government finally proved that there really are “three kinds of lies - lies, damned lies and statistics” as commonly attributed to the American writer Mark Twain, though whose true origin may predate that great wordsmith.

Back in mid-April, in the week to April 12 there were 6,425 recorded Coronavirus UK deaths, an alarming figure that mercifully began to reduce steadily. By mid-July we were in the realms of below 500 a week and still falling. During the same period, testing was increasing exponentially from the starting point of barely 10,000 tests – in other words, at that time people were really only tested when it was obvious they had the virus. But, by July, between 100,000 and 200,000 tests were available every day.

Then suddenly last week, the Ministry – amid renewed local lock-downs where clusters of positive tests were revealed – concluded it would no longer count as Coronavirus deaths, anyone tested as having the virus but who died more than 28 days afterwards.

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So from July 31, when the brave new world came in, and when positive tests were going back up again to 1,000 plus each day the daily deaths in the UK were not. Starting on the last day of July the number of deaths has been 5, 1, 18, 14, 18, 12, 3, 5, 17, 14, 20, 18, 11, 3 and 5. Those numbers are probably smaller than many other routine causes of deaths in a population of 60 million. In all honesty, if that is the basis by which it’s judged, shouldn’t we be getting back to normal?

If they don’t yet have a vaccine ready, shame on them. There have been plenty of people willing to act as paid guinea-pigs, especially if their jobs have disappeared. You might even say if the figures can be presented thus, what’s all the fuss been about?

To the racing. It’s expected to be fast ground at York – amazing news for anyone who has been waiting for the action to start at the Test match at Southampton over the past few days, and they are the conditions I prefer to see on the Knavesmire. Frankie Dettori won’t be there but as the great man approaches his 50th birthday in December, he is showing a rare facility for making correct choices.

While the racing goes on at York, he’ll be staying in Deauville having had the news on Friday that the newly-re-imposed 14-day self-isolation period for people returning from France and some other countries has been modified for elite sportsmen. They, it seems, need only face a seven- or eight-day spell under specific conditions in self-isolation at home before resuming full activity.

Frankie was anxious not to miss either Mishriff, the French Derby winner, impressive again at Deauville last Saturday, or the unbeaten St James’s Palace hero Palace Pier in yesterday’s Prix Jacques Le Marois. That fast-improving colt came through to beat Alpine Star with the older horses led home by Circus Maximus, and best of the home team, Persian King, well beaten off. He is now being lined up for the QE II Stakes at Ascot in the autumn.

Alpine Star had been narrowly pipped in the French Oaks by the Donnacha O’Brien-trained Fancy Blue who went on to take the Nassau Stakes at Goodwood with authority. Jessica Harrington trains Alpine Star, and the two Irish fillies – along with the Aidan O’Brien-trained Peaceful – comprise a formidable trio of mile/ten-furlong star sophomores.

None of them will be at York, but the best of the lot among the Classic generation of females will be.

Potential opposition to Love in Thursday’s Yorkshire Oaks again seems to fall principally on Frankly Darling, who disappointingly failed to provide much of a test at Epsom for the Coolmore filly as she added the Oaks to her 1,000 Guineas honours in spectacular style. The four-year-old Manuela De Vega is smart but conceding lumps of weight? Hardly! Dettori’s absence from York – he’s staying en France an extra week – tough! – to wait for a Wesley Ward runner in next weekend’s Prix Morny.

That will still give him time for the requisite eight and a few more days before teaming up with Enable in Kempton’s September Stakes, a cleverly-thought-out target from John Gosden which obviates the need to tackle Love before the Arc. Enable won the September Stakes two years ago as a prelude to her second win in Paris in October. How they would cherish a third as a six-year-old after the shock of being caught close home by Waldgeist last year.

The York meeting opens with another Gosden star, Lord North, the major loss this week for Dettori judged on the four-year-old’s upward-mobility this summer. Winner of six of his nine career races with two seconds and a luckless eased last of eight in the other, Lord North has progressed from a laughably-easy Cambridgeshire winner to outclassing his Prince Of Wales’s Stakes opponents at Royal Ascot. James Doyle is the beneficiary, as he was at Ascot when Dettori rode Mehdaayih. Who’s to say Lord North cannot progress enough to beat Ghaiyyath, as well as the 2,000 Guineas winner Kameko and possibly Magical in the Juddmonte International?

We won’t have Saturday’s Ebor Handicap runners until around 1 p.m. today and I can’t wait to see which potentially top-class horse Messrs Gosden, Haggas or Varian will have lined up to win it. Even though the total prize pool has been slashed from £600,000 to a relatively frugal £250,000 I’m sure there will be enough horses to fill the 22 available stalls. It would be great if a hard-knocking horse from the North could see off the aristocrats from Newmarket.

Another race that I’m looking forward to is Friday’s Nunthorpe Stakes, not least because Wesley Ward is bringing a lightly-raced but clearly talented juvenile to tackle Battaash, Art Power and A’Ali. His Golden Pal, runner-up after making the running to The Lir Jet in the Norfolk Stakes will be going there as a maiden with form figures of 22, having earlier been beaten when favourite for a Gulfstream Park maiden in the spring.

He will be echoing to a large degree the pre-Nunthorpe record 13 years ago of the John Best-trained juvenile Kingsgate Native, a 66-1 debut runner-up in the Windsor Castle Stakes and then second again in the Molecomb at Goodwood.

Backed down to 12-1 (among many, by me!), Kingsgate Native easily beat Desert Lord with future stallions Dandy Man and Red Clubs the next two home. I note the weights will be unchanged from then, so Battaash carries 9st11lb; three-year-olds Art Power and A’Ali 2lb less and Golden Pal only 8st1lb. He will have Andrea Atzeni, who rode him at Ascot, back on board.

I know the other three are highly-talented, and it would be another feather in the Charlie Hills cap if Battaash could win a second Nunthorpe, but I’d much prefer Wesley’s undying love for British racing to get a reward after a couple of less than wonderful years. He certainly seems to have all his ducks in line this time.

So in conclusion, I say enjoy York, if you are, like Harry and Alan, fully documented-up. If not, the wonderful coverage – free and flourishing on ITV though I still doggedly stick to Racing TV – deserves watching for all four days. Please then, start taking off the restraints, Mr Boris. Five months using only two tanks of fuel has been sacrifice enough.

Monday Musings: Charlie Gives Maurice the Blues

Until York next week, there isn’t very much of great moment happening on the racecourses of the United Kingdom, but Sunday in France and Ireland was highly interesting and informative, writes Tony Stafford.

Every year the Prix Maurice De Gheest offers a fascinating mid-season barometer of the relative merits of the classic and older generations. At the same time its 1300-metre (6.5 furlong) straight trip brings together pure sprinters and horses that stay further. Often it’s the latter grouping that comes out on top and so it proved yesterday when the four-year-old Space Blues got the better of a field chock-full of Group 1 performers.

Space Blues is trained by Charlie Appleby who sent the four-year-old over 12 months earlier to finish a staying-on third behind the Martyn Meade-trained Advertise.

Appleby showed great enterprise in bringing him back for this repeat attempt, barely a week after a smart win at Goodwood. The field was headed, form- and betting-wise, by the Andre Fabre-trained but also Godolphin-owned Earthlight, unbeaten in six starts and twice a Group 1 winner in a five-race unblemished 2019 juvenile campaign.

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Earthlight had every chance throughout and was moved into contention by Mickael Barzalona in the middle of the track, while Space Blues seemed to be struggling after making a sluggish start close to the stands rails.

But then William Buick could be seen to be manoeuvring him into a challenging position and once he secured a gap inside the last furlong, he breezed through and comfortably held Hello Youmzain and Lope Y Fernandez with the favourite only fourth.

Space Blues began life by winning a late-season Nottingham juvenile maiden over a mile and started out last year over 10 furlongs at Newbury, finishing fourth. Dropped in trip he won two seven-furlong races, a York handicap and Epsom Listed before that initial trip to Deauville.

This year – following a single run in Dubai in the winter - he has moved quickly though the grades, collecting a Haydock Listed; a Longchamp Group 3, and then up one more level for the Lennox Stakes (Group 2) at Goodwood where his turn of foot quickly settled that argument.

His ability to quicken characterised yesterday’s display and I have no doubt that for the rest of the season he will be hard to beat at the highest level at anywhere between six and eight furlongs. Considering his pedigree, it was understandable that initially middle-distance racing was at the forefront of Charlie Appleby’s plans.

The son of Dubawi was bred to Miss Lucifer, a triple winner for Barry Hills, and a daughter of Noverre. Noverre was trained for his first seven races by David Loder, all as a two-year-old when Loder had just re-located to train at the recently de-commissioned Evry racecourse near Paris. Noverre had already won twice before retaining his unbeaten record when coming over to Newmarket for the July Stakes.

In all, his form figures with Loder in Europe were 111212, but the decision to send him to Churchill Downs for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at the end of that year proved unsuccessful, Noverre finishing nowhere: 11th of 14. Sent to be trained at three by Saeed Bin Suroor, he was to win only once more from 14 starts, but that one was pretty good, the Group 1 Sussex Stakes at Goodwood!

Space Blues enlivened events at Deauville barely half an hour before another exceptional performance, this time by the Jessica Harrington-trained filly Lucky Vega in the Keeneland Phoenix Stakes at The Curragh.

This six-furlong race attracted most of the best of the Irish juveniles to have raced so far as well as The Lir Jet, Michael Bell’s Royal Ascot winner. Steel Bull, so impressive when winning the Molecomb Stakes at Goodwood was also in the very strong line-up.

Lucky Vega had been caught late on in a recent run at The Curragh by the big outsider Laws Of Indices, but here she had that rival well in arrears as she strode to a near four-length margin in a style that suggests the Matron Stakes must be on her agenda, as well as all the top fillies’ races elsewhere in Europe.

- TS

Monday Musings: Trouble’d Times

Last week I wrote in this space that I would not be trying to join the 5,000 racing optimists who were all set to travel to Goodwood for the test meeting set to confirm that the country is indeed coming out of the worst effects of the now almost five-month agony of the Coronavirus pandemic, writes Tony Stafford.

Barely 24 hours before this new departure for so many, the word came of the frustration for the 5,000, the feeding of which was not the matter of a Biblical “five loaves and two fishes” miracle. It was a major logistical exercise involving butchers, bakers and if not candlestick makers, certainly outside caterers who had worked night and day on menus, the provision of champagne, lobsters and smoked salmon as well as the beer, pies and burger vans that keep all us hungry racegoers happy.

My wife’s interest in racing is about as deep as that of Josephina, the Yorkshire terrier’s, but Boris’ statement did strike a nerve and possibly the beginning of a protest movement with the prospect of  ice skaters standing outside 10 Downing Street or as near as security will allow them, wearing their skates. She (not Josephina), in what was to be her first try-out of her repaired broken leg, had lessons booked for today, tomorrow and later in the week. But once again, with the rinks having gone to the expense of getting the ice prepared for action after all that time, they got the same two-week delay as beauty salons, bowling alleys and indoor theatres.

Coaches have lost their income but now, happy to be back had set up the initial appointments, which have now spun on for two more weeks. Champion skaters, those young kids who practice at crack of dawn before school every morning and then again straight after to try to do well enough to represent their country in international competition, often when they are among only a handful of people in the arena, have another fortnight at least to vegetate and try to keep the enthusiasm going. As she says, public sessions should be treated as a separate issue.

The ramifications, as with what happened to all that food prepared for Goodwood, are far-reaching. I hope the bulk of those choice provisions was able to be diverted to people who would have been grateful for it, but you have to wonder whether some was just chucked into a nearby bin with losses covered by insurance.

The cause of the delay was a “spike”, or an increase in parts of England in the mystical “R” figure. As I’ve been boring readers for months, I’ve kept a daily record of the numbers of new cases and deaths and every week since the peak on April 12, the number of deaths had been decreasing. Percentage-wise from the week of April 12th (incidentally in 2020 it would have been my dad’s 100th birthday, and how he would have celebrated Saturday’s Cup Final result!) it has gone down initially by 3%, then 11%, 14.6%, 28.8%, 18.4%, 22.4%, 21.4%, 5%, 28%, 19.2%, 11.5%, 16.2%, 10%, 20% and in the week to July 25th, another 7%.

From 6425 in the week to April 12th, deaths had dropped by 93%. Even though many more people had been tested as the weeks went on, new infections have continued to fall. The last week did show some modest increases on its immediate predecessors in new infections, but fatalities were almost static in the week of “new spikes” and an increased R number. Last week it was 452 and contrary to what we are being subliminally persuaded to believe, this week to yesterday it was still down, albeit by only three.

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If the government thinks that bowling alleys, ice rinks and theatres are going to cause the much-feared second wave, then what about pubs where the boyos could watch the Cup Final in close contact with each other, or indeed Goodwood and Galway and celebrate backing a winner? Or the beaches, where in the near 90-degree heat of Friday and Saturday, the crowds were much in evidence again? Social distancing, where?

I’m just waiting, having stayed indoors to all intents and purposes since Cheltenham, to resume normal life, as no doubt we all are. As predicted, I enjoyed Goodwood and Galway, mostly for the amazing performance of Stradivarius, when I confidently expected the Irish Derby winner Santiago to take advantage of the 15lb weight-for-age allowance. The way Frankie Dettori extricated him from a typical Goodwood pocket was a measure of his enduring greatness as a jockey. I expect a big run from him in the Arc. Can he beat Enable and Love? Maybe!

Battaash emulated Strad’s four-timer in the Goodwood Cup with one of his own in the King George Qatar Stakes, but his task was far less onerous. Charlie Hills, a trainer who seems to get very little recognition for his skills - maybe it’s his mild, polite manner or just that he is his father’s son - has done wonders to concentrate all of Battaash’s once-wayward tendencies into track record-breaking brilliance.

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In the 20 years since Betfair was launched onto an innocent market place many things have changed, especially in the horse racing world. Its arrival coincided with the last two of my 30 years at the Daily Telegraph and I remember writing in that publication that I believed anyone on the new exchange sites who laid horses should be required to be licenced as bookmakers– and pay for the privilege.

Nothing has changed that opinion, but what is different today is the degree to which Betfair Exchange odds lead running “industry” (as they are almost exclusively now) prices and influence SPs.

Another thing that hasn’t changed is that bookmakers do not give money away willingly. So when as happened in the 8.30 race at Thirsk on Wednesday, a horse that the owner had been backing, not excessively, but significantly all afternoon and at 8 p.m. or thereabouts was firm at around 10-1, could, by 8.20, just before the first show in the shops, be available briefly at 60-1 on Betfair, you knew something was probably “funny”.

The horse in question was Trouble Shooter, a five-time winner for owner Simon Lockyer in 2019 under trainer Shaun Keightley but now with Richard Guest. This was to be his debut for the Yorkshire-based trainer and in the build-up to this first run for seven months, expectations had been high. I’ve known Lockyer for just over a year and in the winter we met one of my friends who had been interested in buying into one of the owner’s horses. That didn’t happen but he obviously keeps a close eye on matters racing and betting and called at around 6.30 to say he’d seen that Trouble Shooter “has gone from 12’s to 7’s so presumably it’s fancied.”

I called Simon, and learned that yes they were more than hopeful, at the same time revealing that an associate connected to one of his horses had just called to ask him about Trouble Shooter’s chances.

“He said,” Lockyer began, “that he doesn’t like ringing to ask about another owner’s horses but would like to know if he thought it had a chance. He said he’d had a multiple bet, finding some long-priced winners and that if Trouble Shooter won, it would come to £300,000.”

Upon ending the call, I related that information to my friend and we haven’t discussed it since. Hopefully he didn’t rush to take the reduced price as he would have been no more shocked than me and of course Lockyer when the first show at the track was 25-1. That did prompt some modest mid-market support down to 12-1 but by the off he was out to 20-1 having touched 28’s according to the betting report. After at one time getting as close as fifth, around three lengths behind the leader, he eventually dropped away to finish eighth of the ten runners.

As I said earlier, bookmakers do not give money away. The trainer assured the owner that Trouble Shooter would run well, only reducing his assessment from ten out of ten to nine in the last hours before the race, but I’ve found over 50-odd years’ experience of talking to trainers that even the best of them have slightly diluted optimism as race-time approaches.

It is well known that Betfair have an open line to the BHA, one which has brought about suspensions of a number of jockeys and owners, who contrary to the rules had been found to have laid their horses on the Betfair Exchange. I trust - and I know Nick Rust sees these words every Monday - that Wednesday’s 8.30 race at Thirsk will feature in their deliberations. Not least identifying which bookmaker stood to lose £300k.

The consequences of what happened are still unravelling where Simon Lockyer is concerned, but I repeat someone must have known rather than suspected that Trouble Shooter would not win, and I was aware beforehand that one punter stood to win £300,000 if he did win, or to be Devil’s Advocate, claimed that he would. I think the lay bets should be investigated down to the minutest of transactions. I know at least one other person that could provide evidence of his actions (exclusively backing not laying!) that morning and afternoon.

How can a 7-1 shot (I think they took 10’s at 8 p.m.) open at 25-1? The Editor of this web site was interested as the former Chair of the Horseracing Bettors Forum. Since I originally wrote these words it was he that informed me that Trouble Shooter had never won previously off a layoff of more than 30 days; and that he had been ahead of the eventual winner, the favourite King’s Charisma, three furlongs out; and that he was running off a seven pounds career high mark.

Fair points, I agree, but I still contend that somebody KNEW Trouble Shooter would not be winning. It would be interesting to know who was so certain that he was prepared to offer 60-1 against it happening.

  • TS

Monday Musings: Marvellous Mares

The prize money may not be there, but thanks to sensible planning by the major European authorities, since racing resumed, the races and the horses assuredly have been, writes Tony Stafford. Over the past weekend, Enable and Magical put in typically dominating performances at the top level.

These two mares, respectively the greatest and arguably the nearest to her in terms of achievement and durability, each took home yet another Group 1 prize, brushing aside the opposition. Small fields do not normally excite the senses but in each case the clock told the tale. Enable in outclassing the 2019 Irish Derby winner Sovereign to gain her third King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot on Saturday, won in six seconds faster time than the ten-runner handicap later in the day. On Sunday, Magical’s time was three seconds faster than a hotly-contested premier handicap as she collected the Tattersalls Gold Cup in a canter, making all the running.

Enable now has 14 wins from 17 starts with eleven (count them!) Group 1’s to her credit at the age of six. Since over-turning the odds-on Rhododendron by five lengths in the Investec Oaks three years ago, only two horses have beaten her, Waldgeist in last year’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, and the brilliant Ghaiyyath when she made her seasonal debut in the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown three weeks ago. Only once in the intervening period has she started at odds-against, 5-4 when winning her first King George as a three-year-old.

The John Gosden-trained daughter of Nathaniel missed much of the 2018 season, returning to take advantage of a once-only descent into Group 3 company for the September Stakes on the all-weather at Kempton. Enable also benefited from an 8lb pull that day from the penalised Crystal Ocean, easily beating Sir Michael Stoute’s horse, who was to get within a neck of her on normal Group 1 conditions, receiving only the 3lb sex allowance, in last year’s King George.

Now all that remains is a fourth attempt at the Arc. It was a surprise when she was caught late on last October by Waldgeist, but the French-trained son of Galileo had been close behind the first two in the King George a couple of months earlier, so it didn’t need too much of a form adjustment. Emotionally, though, it was a shock of seismic proportions, but rightly it did nothing to change either the public or professional acclaim in which Enable is held.

Magical, meanwhile, has raced more often than Enable, and as the very shrewd Jane Mangan asserted on Racing TV yesterday, she would have been a world champion if Enable hadn’t been around. Magical was only fifth in Waldgeist’s Arc, confirming as if it were necessary, that a mile and a half sometimes stretches her. Ten furlongs, as again she showed yesterday, is her optimum and the domestic Group 1 races in Ireland are more plentiful at that distance.

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Yesterday’s Curragh opposition had no answer from the moment Wayne Lordan launched her into the lead and it was left to Derby hero Emmet McNamara to come through for second on Sir Dragonet. The beaten 2019 Derby favourite hasn’t won since his easy Chester Vase victory the month before Epsom, but he ran on nicely to suggest more good races will be within his grasp.

That was also the message sent out at Ascot by Sovereign, who stuck to the task when Enable surged past, while the more-fancied Japan, the only other runner, toiled home well behind for Ryan Moore.

Five times Enable and Magical have met, and each time Enable has beaten her year-younger rival. Their first confrontation was in the 2018 Arc when Magical was only tenth, but she surpassed that with a battling three-quarter length second to the champion in the Breeders’ Cup Fillies and Mares race at Churchill Downs the following month.

That margin was replicated in last year’s Coral-Eclipse but stretched to almost three lengths in the Juddmonte at York before the second attempt at an Arc. After yesterday’s success, Aidan O’Brien said that next month’s Juddmonte is a possible target for Magical, with the Irish Champion as an option if he decides to give her a break over the summer.

I have been very excited by both Sovereign’s runs this year. Absent for 363 days since his spread-eagling 33-1 win in last year’s Irish Derby, he was an eye-opening third to the very talented Twilight Payment over 1m6f at The Curragh, atypically dropped right out at the back of the field and staying on stylishly into third under minimal encouragement from Seamie Heffernan.

On Saturday he reverted to a mile and a half and front-running tactics. Before the race I preferred his chance of bustling up Enable to that of Japan, for all that the latter colt hadn’t been beaten too far when third in the Coral-Eclipse. Sovereign looks a tough performer ready to step up, possibly over further but he’s quick enough to stay at Saturday’s distance too.

That stamina option has already been chosen for this year’s Irish Derby winner Santiago, who was the 2-1 favourite for the Classic but now steps up to two miles to challenge the reigning champion stayer, Stradivarius, as John  Gosden aims Enable’s fellow six-year-old at a fourth successive win in the Goodwood Cup.

Intriguingly, Stradivarius made his first successful foray into Group company when winning the Queen’s Vase over a mile and three-quarters on his previous start to Goodwood. Gosden has plotted his course wisely since, in 2018 and 2019 collecting £1 million bonuses for owner-breeder Bjorn Nielsen for the selected four-timer of Yorkshire Cup, Gold Cup, Goodwood Cup and Lonsdale Stakes, a promotion by Weatherbys Hamilton that understandably has been discontinued.

Stradivarius has not been unbeatable in that time, falling victim to three O’Brien-trained stayers in Capri (2017 St Leger), and Order Of St George and Kew Gardens in the Qipco British Champions Long Distance Cup at Ascot in 2017 and last year. His latest defeat was his third to Ghaiyyath and Anthony Van Dyck in the re-sited Coronation Cup at Newmarket, a fine effort over that inadequate trip. The race set him up nicely for his ten-length demolition of Nayef Road at Royal Ascot as he completed a Gold Cup hat-trick last month, possibly his best-ever performance.

Now, though, Stradivarius faces another O’Brien challenge and on 2lb worse terms than he was able to meet Big Orange and the rest three years ago. I have always understood that over time Admiral Rous’s weight-for-age scale was being inexorably altered and modified in favour of the older horses, partly to encourage owners to keep their good horses in training in their maturity, but also because it has long seemed so one-sided in favour of the Classic generation.

Yet here we have the sole three-year-old getting 15lb and on the way he finished at Ascot in the Queen’s Vase, you’d have to conclude he must be a major threat tomorrow. Certainly it was a great performance to drop back a quarter-mile to win the Irish Derby, and in relation to that race, I can’t wait to see runner-up Tiger Moth in the Gordon Stakes at Goodwood on Thursday. His price of 5-1 would look very tempting if he shows up.

We’re getting brilliant entertainment as racing post Covid-19 gradually opens up. I haven’t tried to get either a press or owner’s pass to go anywhere yet, nor will I go to Goodwood on the first “public” day on Saturday, there being at least 5,000 people more deserving of a ticket than me. But there has been so much to enjoy from the sofa and, like the Sky Sports Racing team, I especially enjoyed the Group 3 Princess Margaret Stakes 1-3 yesterday at Ascot of David Loughnane with Santosha and Caroline Dale.

He trains in Shropshire at Helshaw Grange which was once the base for Richard Kent who is now a few miles away at Mickley Stud. For a short time I had a share with Richard in the stallion Contract Law. I would imagine that from being a stud farm to turning it into a training centre with capacity for 60 horses has meant quite a transformation. Loughnane is clearly a young trainer going places.

- TS

Monday Musings: Noel Martin’s Quest Lives On

Two events, either end of the past seven days, were a cause for sadness and poignancy, writes Tony Stafford. Last Monday Noel Martin, the Jamaican-born Birmingham resident, died age 60. Yesterday at Chantilly, the three-year-old filly Onassis, daughter of Martin’s brilliant but luckless race-mare Jacqueline Quest, won a Listed race at Chantilly.

Martin’s life story was well-known. A lifelong racing fan, he had been among a large group of British construction workers based in Germany in the mid-1990’s. While driving his car one day in June 1996, Martin was targeted by a Neo-Nazi, a 17-year-old youth who threw a 6-kilogram concrete block at the car’s windscreen simply because of his colour. Martin lost control, hit a tree and was left as a quadriplegic with no control of either his legs or arms.

Amazingly, he pursued his love of racing, becoming an owner and winning two Royal Ascot races in 2006 – the well-tried double of the Ascot Stakes and Queen Alexandra Stakes – with Baddam, trained by Mick Channon.

This came at a time when he was considering travelling back to Germany to have an assisted suicide, so greatly did he suffer. He related in one interview, “Sometimes I didn’t leave the house more than two or three times in a year”, talking of non-stop pain in his feet. A television documentary was made about his planned suicide, but Martin took exception to elements of it. Soon after, he changed his mind about ending his life and founded a charity aimed at challenging racial hatred.

An exchange scheme between young people in Germany and Birmingham became the focal point of his later years. Jacqueline Quest was certainly a major part and nobody who was on the Rowley Mile at Newmarket for the 2010 1,000 Guineas will ever forget the scenes. Martin, in his wheelchair, having welcomed back his Sir Henry Cecil-trained 66-1 winner, had to endure the shock of her being disqualified in favour of the Criquette Head-trained favourite, Special Duty.

Watching the race again now, it is possible to see why the result was amended as Tom Queally, on the winner, changed his whip into his left hand late on. It did provide the impetus to wrest the initiative back from the French filly, but also contributed to her general right-handed drift throughout the closing stages. That said, actual interference seemed minimal and it must have been a tight decision in the stewards’ room.

Martin’s stoic acceptance of the result was admirable and, while Jacqueline Quest – named for his wife Jacqueline who died in 2000 from cancer, very early into his many years of infirmity – never won another race, she was destined to have quite a say in the world of thoroughbred breeding.

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For mares to succeed, they need to find the right owners, and in Major Christopher Hanbury of Triermore Stud, Co Meath, that was certainly the case. Even though Jacqueline Quest’s subsequent racing years were unproductive, finishing at nearby trainer Ian Williams, who had also handled Baddam later in his career, she still realised 600,000gns when sold as a four-year-old at Tattersall’s December sales. Not a bad return for a filly, originally bought for €60,000 in Ireland as a yearling.

Hanbury mated her with Galileo, a union which has been repeated several times since. The first two products, Hibiscus, sold for 625,000 gns, and World War (1.2 million gns), were minor winners for Aidan O’Brien and Ger Lyons respectively. They, and all those that followed, were prepared for the sale at Peter Stanley’s New England stud. Next came Hidden Dragon, who was twice withdrawn from sales, first as a yearling and then as a two-year-old catalogued from Ballydoyle. Now an unraced five-year-old, he is listed as being in the ownership of J P McManus with Joseph O’Brien.

Triermore’s fourth Galileo mating resulted in the October 2017 sale of Line Of Duty for 400,000 gns to Godolphin. Charlie Appleby trained him and memorably won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf race with him at Churchill Downs. That proved his last win. He finished eighth in Anthony Van Dyck’s Derby and sadly died at the end of last year.

For his 2017 mating, Hanbury switched to Galileo’s great rival, Dubawi. Obviously, Line Of Duty hadn’t started racing yet and I’m sure the Dubawi mating was planned with a Godolphin yearling purchase in mind. Instead, at the sales, Jacqueline Quest had her least lucrative result, the filly that would be named Onassis going to a bid of “only” 200,000 gns. It was effectively a buy-back which resulted in a partnership between Triermore Stud and Peter Stanley.

They sent the cleverly-named Onassis to Newmarket trainer Charlie Fellowes and the pair must have been delighted when she won at the sixth time of asking a Newcastle fillies’ nursery off a mark of 75 last October with Hayley Turner in the saddle.

Onassis was subsequently off the track until last month. Returning in the Sandringham Stakes at Royal Ascot, again partnered by Turner, she won at 33-1, exactly repeating for connections the previous year’s result in the same race when Thanks Be, trained by Fellowes, also won at 33-1 giving Hayley her first Royal Ascot victory.

After this year’s Ascot, Turner suffered an injury which kept her off the track for three weeks, so she was unable to ride Onassis in the Princess Elizabeth Stakes at Epsom. Onassis finished a creditable fourth under Ryan Moore in that Group 3 event.

Hayley, though, was fit again for Chantilly and she brought Onassis through from some way back to win nicely. There was a brief reminder of that Guineas disqualification a decade earlier when the Chantilly stewards looked into their winding route through, which seemed slightly to inconvenience one of the runners, but the result was soon confirmed. Maybe in less enlightened days, the Jacqueline Quest family might have suffered another “injustice”.

Onassis has raced nine times for three wins, and Turner is three for three on her. As the first woman to ride 100 winners in a season and only the second after Gay Kelleway to win a Royal Ascot race, she is a true icon of the sport. Twenty years on from her first win, she retains all her charm and riding talent. How fitting that in Hollie Doyle she has a successor who may one day (how about this year?) challenge for the jockeys’ championship. She, too, has a century and a Royal Ascot win to her name. A Group 1 is the next ambition for Doyle to match Turner’s achievements.

There remains one more chapter in the Jacqueline Quest story waiting to unfold as Charlie Appleby has charge for Godolphin of the latest product of that well-tried marriage. Line Of Duty’s full-brother, now a two-year-old, sold last year for 1.1 million gns, and will hopefully appear on the track in the not too far distant future.

Meanwhile, it seems that Appleby has decided against confronting Enable again with Ghaiyyath, who beat her with such panache in the Coral-Eclipse Stakes earlier this month in Saturday’s Qipco King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot. The entries will be eagerly anticipated this morning, but you get the feeling from that first run back that the great mare might be as good as ever at the age of six.

Presumably Ghaiyyath will wait for York, whose race committee will be hoping that, like Goodwood next Saturday, they might be permitted to have at least one day with public attending. A crowd of 5,000 will be allowed at Goodwood on Saturday week. I’ve always wanted to excuse myself one year from the Sussex Downs in favour of a first look at Galway, as they clash every year. Seems like I’ll be stuck on the sofa for an 18th straight week instead of doing either!

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Like Noel Martin, the recently knighted Sir Graham Wylie enjoyed his racing, so much so that at one time he had 80 horses in training with Howard Johnson in Co Durham. The partnership was already creaking a little when Johnson lost his licence over a serious horse welfare issue, since when Wylie had his reduced team of 20 split between Willie Mullins and Paul Nicholls. And now the founder of the Sage software company has decided – at Noel Martin’s all-too-young age of 60 – to take a step back from ownership.

Over in Ireland, one trainer who is inexorably moving into the top echelon of his trade is Ger Lyons. Already trainer of Irish 2,000 Guineas winner Siskin this year, he followed with success in Saturday’s Irish Oaks with the 10-1 shot Even So. Lyons runs Siskin in the Sussex Stakes next week when Frankie Dettori is on the bench waiting for the call if Colin Keane decides not to suffer the two-week quarantine requirement by coming over.

Even So had a trio of Coolmore-owned fillies as well as Jessica Harrington’s favourite Cayenne Pepper to beat on Saturday, but she readily outstayed the Harrington filly. She runs for a partnership of the wives of John Magnier and Paul Shanahan, hence the pink colours.

On Sunday at The Curragh Lyons followed up in the Group 2 Kilboy Estates Stakes for fillies with Lemista. This was the fourth win in succession for the daughter of Raven’s Pass, but the first in the colours of her new owner, Peter M Brant. Yes, Ger Lyons is truly in the big time now.

Monday Musings: No More Lockdown Barnett!

As one of the world’s leading football agents, Jonathan Barnett, with his business partner David Manasseh, through their Stellar Group, heads up probably the biggest “stable” of footballers in the world, writes Tony Stafford. Always a racing fan, Barnett has lately been making tentative moves into racehorse ownership but for much of this year he would have been excused for thinking he might never have another runner.

Injuries have either delayed or ended the careers of three of his hopefuls, one with Wesley Ward being a particular disappointment.

Over the winter, Eden Gardens, owned in partnership with Manesseh’s father Maurice, and trained by Simon Crisford, did at least have a couple of all-weather runs without much luck. All his horses are partnerships, usually with his share carrying the name of his son James, who also works in the family business.

Like all owners Barnett’s aim is to win a Group race one day and failing that to have the all-important “Saturday horse”. Well he might not yet have achieved the former part of his wish-list, but on Saturday, as was readily trailed by Alex Hammond on Sky Sports Racing beforehand, he did have a runner in a three-year-old fillies’ race on that Ascot card.

Margaret Dumont, named after a regular character in the Marx Brothers films, is listed as owned by Tactful Finance and J Barnett. Tactful Finance is the father-and-son team of Cyril and Jonathan Shack. Cyril was one of the mainstays in the Paul Kelleway stable in the 1980’s, often in partnerships with, among others, David Dein, one-time Arsenal Vice-Chairman and the man who recruited Arsene Wenger.

The younger Shack is a Marx Brothers devotee and he sourced the Camelot filly at the 2018 yearling sales, paying only 20,000gns for her. Mark Johnston agreed to take her having approved her looks even though she didn’t meet his own strict rating criterion for one of his own purchases.

The Ascot race included three other well-connected fillies, home-breds owned respectively by the Queen and Bjorn Nielsen, with a third bred by David and Diane’s Nagle’s Barronstown Stud but now in different ownership.

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Joe Fanning set off in front on Margaret Dumont, encouraged by the stamina she had shown when third on debut over ten furlongs at Thirsk last month. The Queen’s Lightness, a daughter of Shamardal trained by John Gosden, had had three previous placed runs behind her; and when she took up the running in the home straight, Barnett was resigned to her fate.

But then the renowned Johnston factor kicked in and Margaret Dumont rallied to beat the 82-rated favourite in a tight finish. This promising filly has a bright future, especially when allowed to race over further. Charlie Johnston was quickly on the phone saying her entry in a sale later this month would not be fulfilled.

Barnett also bought into a French-trained horse last year, but the then two-year-old Fitzcarraldo was always going to take time to come to hand. A big, backward son of Makfi, again relatively-cheaply bought at €27,000, he came strongly recommended by Nicolas Clement, but as the spring and lockdown wore on, there was little sign of any action.

Those planned trips across to Paris and Chantilly for weekend breaks were just a forlorn illusion, but then suddenly the by-now gelded Fitzcarraldo started pleasing the ever-patient Clement. He was ready for a first run early this month over 10 furlongs at Compiegne and, having turned for home well behind the principals, stayed on all the way home to finish an eight-length fifth to Zaykava, a son of top French stallion Siyouni out of the unbeaten Arc winning champion, Zarkava.

Barnett has a half-share in this potential stayer with the trainer and his breeder Hubert Honore taking the other half. With the public now being allowed back on track in France, starting at Deauville yesterday, those summer – what’s left of it – excursions on Eurostar might still be possible.

Deauville featured the full restitution to Group 1 success – if not yet domination of his generation - of Pinatubo. Beaten in both the 2,000 Guineas and St James’s Palace Stakes, he was a deserved winner of the Prix Jean Prat, run over seven furlongs (formerly a mile) since last year. Runner-up yesterday was Lope Y Fernandez, twice well behind Charlie Appleby’s champion last year, but now within three-quarters of a length, spectacularly out-running his 40-1 odds.

Pinatubo’s exploits last year were a fitting closing memento for sire Shamardal’s career which ended with his death earlier in 2020. Winning a Group 1 (and hopefully for Godolphin more) as a three-year-old adds credibility to the obvious stallion appeal of an unbeaten champion juvenile.

Saturday’s highlight in the UK was the July Cup and I’ve not heard a single negative word about Oxted’s trainer Roger Teal who goes around the whole time with a smile on his face. Anyone who has met Roger will find it hard to believe he was once a jumps jockey, but he’s a talented trainer as his previous handling of 2,000 Guineas runner-up (to Saxon Warrior) Tip Two Win amply testified.

Now his training career has gone into a different orbit. Oxted, a four-year-old son of Mayson, fully justified Teal’s decision to avoid Royal Ascot after his Palace House Stakes success last month, by beating the winners of both the Commonwealth Cup (Golden Horde) and Golden Jubilee (Hello Youmzain) as well as Sceptical and Khaadem, who were third and fourth in the latter event.

There was no hint of a fluke about the result as this former handicapper was always up with the pace and found much the best speed up the hill. His sire won the same race in his four-year-old season on officially heavy ground, something that is always thrown up to diminish his excellence as a racehorse.

This progressive sprinter, who as a gelding will have no stud future to worry about, will be free to continue to give pleasure on the track to his trainer and three owners who include Tony Hirschfeld. Tony’s had plenty of success over the years with horses trained by Susan Piggott and later William Haggas.

Mayson has always been close to my heart having carried in his racing days my former colours, now more realistically of David Armstrong. Raymond Tooth has bred a number of horses from him, notably Sod’s Law, but one Mayson in which he has a share was a breeze-up purchase last year by Shaun Keightley. Mayson Mount, owned in partnership by Ray and Clive Washbourn runs tonight at Kempton with decent chances of a first win.

Another much more famous Raymond Tooth-owned horse was Punjabi and his finest hour, winning the 2009 Champion Hurdle, was remembered again yesterday when Barry Geraghty, the man who rode him , announced his retirement at the age of 40.

After the epic victory over Celestial Halo and Binocular up the Cheltenham hill, Geraghty once described him as “the bravest horse I’ve ridden”. Whether in the manner of all things ephemeral in racing, that accolade was traded elsewhere about earlier and later triumphs in his 24-year career, no matter. We’ll take it.

Barry was always polite and professional, calm and powerful in a finish. He fitted neatly somewhere between his other contemporary fellow Irish-born greats, McCoy and Walsh in terms of strength and subtlety. Now all we have to admire of the four riding giants of this latest era is Richard Johnson and he is now in the unusual post-McCoy position of no longer being champion jockey.

It wasn’t all gloom for the Queen on the racetrack last week. Her home-bred colt Tactical followed up his Windsor Castle triumph at Royal Ascot by stepping up a furlong to win the July Stakes at Newmarket. Andrew Balding intends looking for Group 1 prizes now for the son of Toronado, with the Prix Morny as a likely first step.

Godolphin and Charlie Appleby have a very talented juvenile with Classic pretensions in the Superlative Stakes winner Master Of The Seas. In what looked an above-average renewal of the seven-furlong event, the son of Dubawi drew clear for a three-length verdict, and must rate right at the top among this year’s juvenile colts.

- TS

Monday Musings: Serpentine Tributary to Sea of Galileo

In late April when the first clamour for a resumption of racing was brewing up with, at the forefront, particular criticism of the BHA in the person of Nick Rust’s perceived failure to hurry the process along, there were still more than 5,500 UK weekly deaths from Covid-19, writes Tony Stafford.

By the time the announcement came that June 1 would be the witching hour, the figure was still above 2,500. Time and history will show that the starting date coincided with numbers in the 1600’s and by yesterday, over the last week, the fifth since racing resumed, the number was down to 680, barely ten per cent of the peak in early April. New daily infections, despite massively greater testing, were around only one-sixth of the peak figures.

The BHA, in conjunction with France, who started two weeks earlier, and Ireland, a week after us, has managed to salvage a great part of the Pattern. So in the short time since the resumption, we have seen the crowning of a true champion filly in the emphatic 1,000 Guineas and superlative Oaks heroine Love; the development from an occasional soft-Group bully into a fully grown-up superstar in Ghaiyyath, conqueror of Enable and Japan in the Coral-Eclipse; the confirmation of Stradivarius’ place in the pantheon of great stayers and so much more. A start any later than June 1 would have made all that impossible while any earlier would have been highly contentious.
I have a feeling that Love will be the Horse of the Year and I hear Ryan Moore believes she is better than Minding, her predecessor to a 2016 1,000 Guineas/Oaks double on the way to seven Group 1 wins in a career tally reading 9/3/1 from 13 starts. The common link of course is Galileo, also as if it were ever going to be in question, once again sire of the Investec Derby winner on Saturday, albeit not the most likely one, either by riding arrangement or betting prominence.

Five Galileo colts turned out in the 16-runner Derby line-up on Saturday, including the spectacular five-and-a-half length all-the-way winner Serpentine, and the other four were all in the seven-horse cluster from second to eighth, supplemented by two Andrew Balding runners, 50-1 second Khalifa Sat and the 2,000 Guineas winner Kameko, who was fourth. He, like all the other fancied runners, was never nearer at any time than the finish. English King, the mount of Frankie Dettori, also ended in that group, fifth after a tardy start from stall one, more in the manner of an unraced two-year-old than a race-hardened Classic contender.
You can bet that there will be much more to come from the other O’Brien/Coolmore team members in that respectful grouping as the season progresses.

Amhran Na Bhriann, a 66-1 shot, was, like the runner-up always nearest and clear of the remainder if never close enough to challenge the winner. Their more-fancied trio of Mogul, Russian Emperor and Vatican City, who filled sixth to eighth places will have plenty of opportunities as the season progresses.

Emmet McNamara’s ice-cool ride, a week after his near-miss on Tiger Moth in the Irish Derby shows that the riding talent on the gallops at Ballydoyle extends well into the support team.

This was a fifth Derby triumph for Galileo, himself one of the best winners of that race. Serpentine follows New Approach, Ruler Of the World, Australia and Anthony Van Dyck as the champion stallion’s quintet. The last four were trained by O’Brien, who with eight wins is now the leading trainer in all the 240-year history of the great race. Michael Tabor and Mrs Sue Magnier both appear in the partnerships of nine Derby winners, the most ever, a figure equalling the long-standing tally of Lester Piggott’s unique riding record.
If anyone had suggested to the East End-born former hairdresser and bookmaker that one day he would make history in this respect, he would have laughed. You’re not laughing now, Michael!

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Actually, probably you are.

In his run before the Derby, Serpentine was still a maiden, something he corrected in very similar fashion to Saturday’s virtuoso show just six days before his great success. That statistic fuels the suggestion that ten- and 12-furlong maiden form in Ireland early in this truncated season is probably equivalent to UK Group 3 level at least. Such as Tiger Moth (Irish Derby second) and Ennistymon (Oaks third on Saturday), are among 19 winners for the sire back home since the resumption on June 8. In that time Group 1 wins for Magical, who seems sure soon to resume rivalry with Enable after their impressive respective returns to action, and Peaceful in the Irish 1,000, have been the domestic highlights.

The latter filly’s rider, Seamie Heffernan, her greatest admirer, might well have been in not quite the best frame of mind when partnering Peaceful to a close third in the Prix De Diane in Chantilly yesterday. In the first colours of Michael Tabor he was always struggling for room as Coronation Stakes winner Alpine Star set the pace from the Donnacha O’Brien-trained Fancy Blue, sporting the all-blue cap second colours of Mr Tabor.

Seamie had clearly forgotten the newly-installed French whip requirement of hitting a horse no more than five times. In the Prix Du Jockey-Club (French Derby) which preceded the Diane, he was found to have hit pace-setter Order Of Australia 11 times on his way to seventh place only four and a half lengths behind the winner Mishrif, trained by John Gosden for Prince AA Faisal.

In Ireland or the UK you could imagine a maximum few days for a similar effort but the French not only frown on numbers, they took the importance of the race (and presumably the greater likelihood of public sensibilities being offended) into account and came up with a number for the Heffernan misdemeanour, 22.

Given that Heffernan was already resigned to spending the first 14 days after fulfilling his trip to the Derby Days of the UK and France in quarantine back home, he will now be free to concentrate his efforts fully on the Ballydoyle gallops as he will be off the track until... August 9.

Blimey! Lockdown mark 2!

It’s not taking long for Donnacha, 21, to follow his equally precocious elder brother Joseph into adding Classic success as a trainer to Classic wins and championships as a jockey. His first turf winner as a trainer came only last week by which time Fancy Blue had already given him a placed runner when second to Peaceful in the Irish 1,000. Now, under former French champion Pierre Charles- Boudot, the same filly raced just ahead rather than a few lengths behind her rival and did well to hold Arctic Star and Peaceful in a tight finish.

In the UK since the resumption there have been fewer Galileo victories, 11 in all since June 1, but four of these, two for Love, one for Septentine, and also Circus Maximus in Ascot’s Queen Anne Stakes have been at Group 1 level, and two more at Group 3 for Russian Emperor and Nayef Road. Four of the other five have been in handicaps, three of them for a modestly-rated horse who also started out under the Coolmore banner.
Until this year the seven-year-old Le Musee was regarded as a decent chaser with a 147 rating. His last run before racing’s resumption was at the Cheltenham Festival where he finished 13th of 23 in the Kim Muir having won twice in the previous summer.

Nigel Hawke is his trainer and the West Countryman has for many years been highly-respected as a jumps handler with successive tallies over the past seven seasons of 19, 19, 11, 28, 17, 16 and 17. Contrastingly, before this year from a total of 76 runners on the Flat over 23 years he didn’t send out a single winner.

Then In January, between runs at 100-1 at Newbury and latterly in that Kim Muir, he decided to try Le Musee on the Flat, and he was rewarded with his and the horse’s joint first Flat-race success at Southwell in January.

When he originally showed up for sale in France as a yearling, Le Musee was bought by Coolmore for Euro 300,000 and was sent to be trained by Andre Fabre. Unraced at two, he finished a 20-length sixth in the Tabor colours on his sole three-year-old start in a March Compiegne maiden. His next outing was at the Arqana summer sales where Hawke picked him up for Euro 3,000.
He took his time, gelding him the following October and before making the track Le Musee had a wind operation in July 2017. His first start for Hawke was as a five-year-old over hurdles and he proved quite useful, winning twice. By the time he shipped up at Cheltenham this spring he was having his 24th run for the stable within 26 months, a compliment to the trainer’s skills at keeping fit and well a gelding that had proved hard to train for the redoubtable M. Fabre.

Already a winner on the Flat, post-lockdown Hawke decided to exploit his gelding’s great stamina and also a highly-tempting handicap mark in the 60’s. This was more than 80lb lower than the jumps figure and therefore potentially a stone or two too low. In the past five weeks Le Musee has gone to the track three times and won them all, first at Newcastle and then twice at Chepstow. Judged on the economical way he races, just getting up late, more success should follow.

It seems only poetic justice for Hawke who must have spent the last seven years regretting his actions over another bargain sales recruit who stayed in his care only long enough to make a winning debut in a juvenile hurdle. That horse was a son of another Derby winner, Authorised, out of a mare by Mrs Magnier’s and Michael Tabor’s Entrepreneur, winner of the 2,000 Guineas and beaten odds-on favourite for the 1997 Derby.

Unraced for Sheikh Mohammed, Tiger Roll cost the princely sum of 10,000gns from the Darley consignment at Doncaster sales in August of his three-year--old season. On debut at Market Rasen in early November he won easily at 12-1 and if they got a few bob there, another £80k came into the coffers of his owners when Mags O’Toole paid £80,000 for him at Brightwells sale at Cheltenham racecourse the following month.

Within three-months Gordon Elliott had produced the gelding to win the Triumph Hurdle on his way to more than £1.3 million in prizes, two Grand Nationals, four Festival wins and greater national fame than Love, Serpentine or even Enable will earn in their careers. Nigel Hawke deserved to get one back after that. It’s nice that a Coolmore reject should have persuaded him that he can indeed train Flat horses.

For most ordinary owners, picking up crumbs from the rich man’s table is often the only realistic route to racing success. There are three days of breeze ups and Horses in Training on offer at Tattersall’s in Newmarket from Wednesday and in this strange year of all years there will undoubtedly be some cast-offs with more than a little potential for the shrewdies to unearth. Good luck!

-TS

Monday Musings: Bjorn to be King?

Almost a month in from the resumption of racing, today we await the publication of the names of the horses that will comprise the first-ever five-day entry for the Derby, writes Tony Stafford.

Historically a race which closed long before any of its eventual protagonists had even flexed their muscles on a racecourse, this year owing to Covid-19 the original entry stage structure had to be scrapped.

Many years ago, changes of ownership after entry meant horses were barred from running in the race and, famously, the death of one giant of the industry, owner-breeder Major Lionel B Holliday, meant that his colt Vaguely Noble was ineligible for the 1968 Epsom Classic.

The seven-length winner of the Observer Gold Cup (now Vertem Futurity), a month earlier Holliday’s son Brook, realising this issue, had entered him for auction at Tattersalls where he was sold for a record 136,000gns. Switched to race in France as a three-year-old, eventually running in the colours of Nelson Bunker Hunt, in the care of the great Etienne Pollet, Vaguely Noble proved himself the undisputed champion of his generation.

Sir Ivor had been favourite for the 1968 Derby and the Vincent O’Brien-trained and Raymond Guest-owned colt exuded class and speed when he easily cut down the raw Connaught, trained by Noel Murless in the last furlong at Epsom. Sir Ivor went on to Longchamp but was no match for Vaguely Noble who was his equal him for speed but had much the greater stamina.

Less than a generation after Vaguely Noble, buying Epsom contenders after they had shown their mettle in the trials had become commonplace, and one man constantly on the look-out for potential Classic horses was the Italian industrialist Antonio Balzarini. In May 1988 he bought Carroll House from his original owner-breeder, Gerald Carroll, after he had finished a close second in the 1988 Italian Derby.

Balzarini wisely left the colt with Michael Jarvis, his original trainer, and was rewarded in November the following year when Carroll House won the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. A sale to stand in the Yoshida family’s Shadai Farm in Hokkaido, Japan, soon followed.

Jarvis had also trained the owner’s Prorutori to win the Italian Derby the same year. Balzarini, through my Daily Telegraph colleague and long-time friend George Hill during that period did the deal, acquiring the filly Atoll from Robert Sangster. She won the 1990 Italian Oaks and was the neck runner-up to Knight’s Baroness in that year’s Irish Oaks.

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Two years later, Balzarini was impressed by the Lingfield Derby Trial victory of Assessor, a staying-bred colt trained by Richard Hannon for Bjorn Nielsen who 28 years further down the road, will be hoping that his own life-long love affair with the Derby might be finally realised on Saturday through the favourite English King, also the Lingfield Derby Trial winner.

I had got to know Bjorn Nielsen as a racecourse acquaintance a few years before that, and I am indebted to Alastair Down for today’s Racing Post profile of the owner to fill in some forgotten details. As Down relates, Nielsen was born and raised in South Africa – to Swedish parents. The family moved to Australia where he developed his love of racing and pedigrees, before they came to live in Epsom in Bjorn’s teenage years. Talent on the tennis court brought a sports scholarship to the United States, excelling on the highly-competitive college circuit. A lucrative career as a trader in the metal exchanges followed, eventually founding his own company, which funded his racing and breeding exploits.

George Hill knew I often saw Bjorn on the racecourse and, seconds after Assessor won, he called me and passed on a bid from Mr Balzarini. At the time I did not believe he could win what was going to be a good Derby, so fully expected the offer of £1 million to be enough to sway the colt’s owner. After a short period of balancing the pros and cons, he told me: “No, thank him for the offer, but I grew up in Epsom and I can’t pass up the chance of winning the Derby”.

I remember seeing Bjorn and his family in the owners’ dining room before the race. I was there, obviously in my journalistic role, but also as a friend and supporter of Mrs Virgina Kraft Payson, owner of St Jovite, trained by Jim Bolger to whom I had introduced her. He ran a great race finishing second to Dr Devious, trained at Robert Sangster’s Manton stables by the young Peter Chapple-Hyam.

St Jovite turned the form around in the Irish Derby, winning by 12 lengths in record time at The Curragh, but then, having won the King George and Queen Elizabeth Stakes by an unchallenged six lengths, was pipped by Dr Devious in the Irish Champion.

Over the next few years I made numerous calls to the New York office of Mr Nielsen, always being reminded by his secretary that my voice was uncannily like that of the English-born journalist Robin Leach, who had made his fame and fortune in Las Vegas fronting and producing the television programme, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.

Then in October 1995 I stayed for a few days at Mrs Payson’s house on Long Island, and arranged to meet Bjorn at his office on Wall Street. After making my acquaintance with his secretary who repeated my inner-London vocal exactness with the Perivale-born Mr Leach, we went out to a deli for a six-inch thick beef sandwich after which I was advised to catch the race special to Belmont Park.

Arriving at Grand Central station, I found I was too late for that service, having to abort at Jamaica station where I was told a taxi could be found. Apparently my driver, the only one available, had recently arrived in the City and his lack of local knowledge, and the general direction of Belmont Park was only exceeded by his non-grasp of the English language.

After asking “Balma?” a couple of times; on seeing a green expanse on the left side he pointed and said “park!” Luckily we soon arrived at a bus stop where a queue of around 15 women waited. I asked him to stop, rolled down the window and called out: “Does anyone know the way to Belmont Park?” One lady said she did and offered to join me to help direct the driver towards the destination.

She said that her son Joe was in the racing business: “He works for Godolphin in Dubai”. I apologise to the kind lady who did indeed put us right for Belmont for not remembering her surname. She had been among a crowd of 75,000 people attending a blessing by Pope John Paul II at Acqueduct racecourse that morning.

I told her that my son had been based in Dubai the previous winter and I can exactly pinpoint the date of his departure for a six-month stint in Sheikh Mohammed’s sports club coaching his young kids in various sports. It was Saturday November 19th 1994, the date when the National Lottery was launched. He was based in the same apartment complex with Vince (now Victoria) Smith and Johnny Murtagh and the trio played plenty of cricket together while he was over there. Joe, I discovered when I checked later with my son, had also been staying in the same block. Papal intervention indeed!

Bjorn Nielsen’s study of pedigrees has famously produced one of the greatest stayers of any generation, one to stand comparison with Ardross, Le Moss, Sagaro and Yeats. If there’s ever been a better example of the speed that is still required for a champion stayer, you would struggle to improve on the latest of his three Gold Cup wins at Ascot.

Now Nielsen is relying on his €210,000 Arqana sales purchase to fulfil that Epsom ambition. By a Derby winner, Camelot, who just missed out on the Triple Crown, himself a son of French and Irish Derby winner Montjeu, he has more than enough genetic quality for the job. His Derby Trial triumph was much more obviously compelling than Assessor’s all those years ago. Assessor, for his part, raced on until six years of age, winning good staying races, later becoming a successful jumping stallion.

It must have been more than a little disconcerting for the English King team and the rest when Aidan O’Brien suggested after Santiago’s Irish Derby win on Saturday that it was not impossible that one or more of his runners, which included the first four home in that race, might be joining his already formidable Derby squad, headed by Russian Emperor, if they make the right signals on the gallops this morning.

I would be especially wary if he comes across with the neck runner-up, Tiger Moth. In only the third race of his life he stayed on so well in the last furlong that it momentarily looked as though Emmet McNamara might be following Padraig Beggy as a second consecutive unlikely winner of the Irish Classic. By the inevitable Galileo, he would seem an ideal candidate for Epsom Downs.

Beggy’s win on Sovereign last year was questioned in many parts after the apparent pacemaker capably fulfilled the first part of his task but palpably failed in the main objective, to usher home the Epsom hero Anthony Van Dyck, who never got nearer than his six- length second place at the line.

Sovereign had been off the track from one Derby Day to the next and put in a totally different type of display. He showed clear signs that, like the recently-retired Kew Gardens, who got the better of the Gosden champion on Champions Day at Ascot last October, he could become a challenger for the important staying prizes.

Seamie Heffernan held him up at the back of the field, and his strong run into a closing third behind smart stayer Twilight Payment in the Group 3 Vintage Crop Stakes was one of many highlights on a great Curragh weekend graced in magisterial style by Magical. Her Pretty Polly exhibition was a fourth Group 1 success among ten wins from 22 starts.

Meanwhile, back at Epsom, The Oaks is also up for grabs on Saturday and it will not be easy to wrest the initiative from the two Ballydoyle 1000 Guineas winners from either side of the Irish Sea, Love and Peaceful.

- TS

Monday Musings: He Who Dares…

In the event, I didn’t dress up for Royal Ascot, writes Tony Stafford. Lockdown Tuesday has become our day for Tesco shopping and Mrs S didn’t see any reason to alter the schedule even for a fixture she likes to visit once every year. She timed it nicely, so I was able to watch the first four races before setting off. I listened to Battaash and Nazeef, two of the endless stream of Hamdan/Jim Crowley winners, courtesy of John Hunt’s Radio Five Live Radio commentary, while the two-metre queue inched forward, and we were back just in time to see Blue Laureate trail the field for almost the entire 4,390 yards of the Ascot Stakes.

It would have been inconvenient on Tuesday, having to change out of Fashion Show week catwalk mode into car park waiting mufti halfway through the piece. So I didn’t bother.

Having missed it on Tuesday, the incentive to “Go Royal” after so many had already had their first-day home champagne parties lost its glister. Indeed that was more and more the case as the week progressed. By Thursday I was wondering how we had ever managed to get there at all in all those years. Driving across to pick up Harry and Alan; negotiating the M25; employing the well-worn but not generally-known short cuts like Watersplash Lane which leads down to the Golden Gates and doing all that to arrive by midday for a coffee in the box and a 2.30 start was always a real trial. Now we had to be ready for a start at 1.15 and I found it was almost impossible even without the travel.

Parkinson’s Law states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion” and that adage, first formulated in the 1940’s, certainly mirrors my experience of the long weeks of isolation during lockdown.

The normal Royal Ascot routine post racing always required a quick departure after the last and a brisk stroll past the community singing as the bulk of the crowd, unaware of the potential horrors of delaying, would be left behind. Talking of the singing, I wonder if the obvious changing tide of popular sentiment in the UK will ever allow such jingoistic throw-back melodies to be allowed in future, a thought that symbolically coincided with the death of Dame Vera Lynn last week at the age of 103. Even when we got back to the car park before the queues started in earnest, the M25 was still the major obstacle, and I rarely managed to get home much before 8 p.m.

One nonagenarian who would have managed to find elements of the cut-down menu to enjoy was Her Majesty, at 94 still vigorous and, in Dame Vera terms, a relative spring chicken. While denied for the first time since the War of the full Ascot experience of which she is always such a centre-piece for so many, including Mrs S., she had to find a private way of celebrating the success of her home-bred colt Tactical. How odd that she – I presume that’s where she remained after the Trooping the Colour transposition the previous weekend – was in Windsor Castle at the precise moment that her colt was winning the eponymous event!

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Her carriage routinely passes along our Watersplash Lane/ Cheapside Village route. No doubt the bunting will have been out as usual last week and the locals will have been feeling among the most penalised of all those denied that early summer feeling of normality. Now, as the days grotesquely start to grow shorter, and with Coronavirus deaths finally dropping below a thousand for the past week from a peak of 6,500 in mid-April, hopes of some degree of normality are rising.

For some stables the outward impression of the status quo remains. Royal Ascot success was largely the province of the big yards, but not exclusively so. Possibly the most remarkable were the achievements of Alan King, once almost exclusively regarded as a National Hunt specialist, but now a man for all seasons.

Royal Ascot encompassed 36 races over the five days. King had runners in five races. His Tritonic finished a half-length second to Highland Chief in the one-off Golden Gates Handicap which opened Thursday’s card and 40-1 shot Painless Potter was a creditable fifth in Saturday’s Coventry Stakes which will live long in the memory. Its victor, the Clive Cox-trained Nando Parrado, ridden by Adam Kirby for Mrs Marie McCartan, a 165,000 guineas buy as a foal, won at 150-1, the longest-priced Royal Ascot winner in its history. That exceeded two 100-1’s: Fox Chapel, who won the 1990 Britannia Stakes and Flashman’s Papers in the 2008 Windsor Castle.

Nando Parrado had run two weeks previously in one of the highly-competitive Newmarket races where trainers anxious to give preps to their nominated Royal Ascot hopefuls, took advantage of being guaranteed a run. Nando Parrado finished fifth behind Bright Devil whose trainer, Andrew Balding, opted for a step up in distance in Thursday’s Chesham Stakes. He finished fifth to the promising Coolmore colt, Battleground.

As well as Nando Parrado, three other subsequent winners started in that race. The fourth, Saint Lawrence, and sixth, Jimmy Sparks, both won races impressively last week, and London Palladium, last of 11 in that debut, was a 16-1 victor at Redcar yesterday.

Amazingly all three of King’s remaining runners won the final race of their respective days. Coeur De Lion made it third time lucky in Tuesday’s Ascot Stakes; Scarlet Dragon, at 33-1, gave Hollie Doyle a first Royal Ascot success in Friday’s Duke of Edinburgh Handicap and the final accolade of the week went to the redoubtable Who Dares Wins, just too tough for The Grand Visir, ridden by Hollie’s partner Tom Marquand in the Queen Alexandra Stakes for which he was the hot favourite.

Who Dares Wins, at eight, is the oldest of the King trio and has proved durable enough to run 44 times in his long career. The others are seven, Scarlet Dragon, with 45 runs on his card, and Coeur De Lion, 35.

Let’s deal with the other two first. Scarlet Dragon had 23 of his 45 runs for Eve Johnson Houghton before switching to King three seasons ago. He won five Flat races for Eve and, until Friday, his only wins for King had been in two hurdle races. He put that right here with a spectacular run from the back of the field, Hollie emulating Hayley Turner’s repeat win for Charlie Fellowes, this time aboard Onassis, in the Sandringham Handicap, Thursday’s finale.

Coeur De Lion has been with King from the start, the son of Pour Moi winning six races, two over hurdles, three on the Flat turf and one all-weather race. Who Dares Wins, with whom he has occasionally shared a horsebox to the races, had a remarkable time of it in 2019 and the first part of this year.

He was second in the Chester Cup on his third attempt. He was fourth in 2017, third the following year, and beaten only by Making Miracles last season. Between the two later Cup efforts he’d been off the track for almost a year before finishing a warming-up third under 9st 12lb behind Coeur Blimey and the inevitable Coeur De Lion in a long-distance Newbury Handicap.

Next came the Northumberland Plate, only a third all-weather run, but in the event a second triumph with a career-defining £92k winner’s prize. After that he was fourth to the smart Withhold in a valuable (but slowly-enough-run for him) two-mile handicap and then fourth in the Group 1 two-and-a-half-miler At the Arc meeting in Longchamp before finishing seventh to Stratum in the Cesarewitch.

So now Kingy would surely be giving him a break? Certainly not! Next came, of all things for a rising eight-year-old, four chases. Second places at Kempton, then (at 2-7) Plumpton before a Grade 2 win, showing all his stamina back at Kempton. His final run, in the Ultima Handicap at the Festival, probably owed more than a sideways look to the King stable sponsors, and his 13th of 23 was probably as well as could have been expected against “proper” chasers.

In the context of this weird season, a run on March 10th happily made him one of the less ring-rusty turning out for the Queen Alexandra, whose extended two miles, five furlongs could well have been written almost specifically with his requirements in mind. It needed many of those qualities to get him home ahead of The Grand Visir, who had been good enough to win last year’s Ascot Stakes under top weight. In truth, no other outcome seemed likely once the pair stripped off to do battle up the home straight.

Who Dares Wins fully lives up to his SAS-style motto. He could easily have been a Special Forces hero. In syndicate owner Henry Ponsonby’s eyes he surely is. It was such a pity that we couldn’t be there to celebrate, apart from everything else, the most heart-warming of his 11 victories and pay tribute also to Alan King, who has kept these three veterans of 124 races going to such wonderful effect.

  • TS

Monday Musings: Trainers with Form

A few hours from now (I’ve started even earlier than usual today) UK betting shops will be opening for the first time in three months, writes Tony Stafford. Those frustrated souls who do not have access to computer or telephone betting will therefore be back in the game. With the two-metre social distancing rule, sort of still in place, it will be interesting to see how it will be managed by designated employees.

Over time, many betting shops have become denuded of staff, often appearing at quiet times to be one-man or –woman affairs. So while Tesco, Sainsbury, Morrison, Lidl, Asda and the like can provide employees to monitor the outside queues, who can be spared by Hills, Coral, Ladbroke and the rest to ensure safety entering the betting emporia?

But, as we saw in various public demonstrations last week, the British red-blooded male (and sometimes female) is all-too-willing to ignore such niceties when the mood takes it. Let’s hope the much-sought-after “R” number was not too much inconvenienced by the various scrums in London town and elsewhere.

On my weekly analysis, Monday to Sunday, another 452 fewer deaths brought the latest tally to 1156, a fall of more than 32% on the week, more than maintaining the trend. So if the premature return to lemming-like crowd scenes did not damage the “R”, the return of the public to the racecourse in probably a limited degree, might not be too far off. Goodwood and York must be the two tracks most hoping for that prospect.

Many other shops are opening – even hairdressers! – from today, so anyone dressing up at home for Royal Ascot as I’ve promised myself to do tomorrow, can go for a quick tidy-up in preparation.

The overnights for the first two days are now set and the trainers who have made the most dynamic re-start, Messrs Gosden, Johnston, Hannon and Balding, all have double-figure representation. Six extra races have been added, bringing more opportunities for smaller stables, but the top teams still dominate with multiple chances in the handicaps especially.

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From the first two weeks’ action, John Gosden, who will be expecting success from 11 overnight declarations on the first two days, and with Stradivarius in the Gold Cup to wait for on Thursday as he goes for a third Gold Cup, clocked up 29 wins from his 93 starters. Mark Johnston has 17 declared on the first two days, and he too has made a flying restart, with 20 winners from his 128 runners.

A Saturday four-timer, all in Michael Tabor colours and with Seamie Heffernan in the saddle, projected Aidan O’Brien on to the domestic 13 mark at home in the first week, plus Love in the 1,000 Guineas. The Saturday quartet was spearheaded by Peaceful’s emphatic triumph in the Irish 1,000, yet another Classic winner, along with Love, for Galileo. The suggestion – it must have come from somewhere, but I’m not sure where – that Peaceful might join the team and come over for Saturday’s Coronation Stakes is both mouth-watering and eminently possible, knowing the ambition of owners and trainer.

I’ll be hoping to be still wide awake around 1 p.m. today waiting for the five-day entries. If only we could go on Saturday. The eight races kick off with the Silver Wokingham, like Wednesday’s Silver Hunt Cup, a 24-runner innovation, with the Wokingham itself staged as the seventh race on the card.

Then it’s the Queen Mary, the Coronation, the Coventry and St James’s Palace, with the chance of 2,000 Guineas runners coming on from Newmarket and Ireland. It would be great to see Siskin, especially after his fine display in the Irish 2000 Guineas, his power finish seeing off the Ballydoyle hordes. It’s more likely, however, to expect a few of the supporting cast from Newmarket and The Curragh to get an entry. Then it’s the Diamond Jubilee, the Wokingham and ending fittingly with the Queen Alexandra as the 36th race of the week. I can’t wait.

Eight races and, as so many are saying, a great chance for racing to get a bigger profile than has been the case hitherto. ITV will make it accessible to all who want to watch it, but without the pomp, ceremony and fashion we’ve come to love. Maybe this emasculated, work-a-day version will leave us with as much regret as pleasure, but I think the BHA and racing’s trainers and owners, jockeys and stable staff, and racecourses, have all done a wonderful job in getting the show back on the road in the  most challenging of circumstances.

The Queen has had plenty of interest from her horses on the track in the past fortnight. So far only First Receiver, a facile seven-length winner at Kempton in the opening week for Sir Michael Stoute and Ryan Moore, has been successful; and he looks to hold a great chance in Wednesday’s Hampton Court Stakes. I thought it also reflected well on the organisers that they were able to do the low-key televised Trooping the Colour ceremony from Windsor Castle on Saturday, on her official birthday. She was actually 94 on April 21st and the way the cameras picked up her still mobile, fully engaged and alert self was a great pick-me-up for everyone watching.

How irritating it must have been for her that the usual venue for the ceremony, Horseguards Parade, tucked in between the Cenotaph and Trafalgar Square in Central London, was being invaded by rent-a-mobs at the precise moment her first official engagement since lockdown was continuing with such dignity and efficiency 25 miles to the west.

If there is one constant irritation for me even in the general goodwill generated by the simple fact of there being some racing – and good stuff – to watch, it’s that “his stable has been in form” routine by various presenters. Form is governed by opportunity and the 200-plus stables by definition, just as the top riders, can have a string of fancied losers, but get another good chance in the next race after which the inevitable “in good form” line is trotted out.

What I think is worth noting, is to identify the up-and-coming operations. Archie Watson has already gone from upstart to top trainer usually with horses sent forward from the start. That rewarding pattern, almost A P McCoy-like, has been a constant factor, apart of course from natural talent, in the emergence of Hollie Doyle, already flying past the 50 mark for the year.

Now she’s getting the best out of all her mounts, for Archie and everyone else, and from the back of the field as well as the front. She, no doubt, will be one of the riders gaining the most attention, if not necessarily the most success, in the coming week.

Among the trainers, it’s been very good to see the emergence of Tom Clover. He had the good sense to learn his trade as assistant to the highly-accomplished David Simcock, and even more to marry Jackie, daughter of the late, great Michael Jarvis.

Last year the couple made the switch from Willie Musson’s Savile House just around the corner from Newmarket’s Clock Tower, a few strides up Fordham Road to Kremlin House, scene of Michael Jarvis’s greatest achievements.  So the Tottenham fan married into an Arsenal household, but harmony is clearly the name of the game. And talent, too, as Tom has fired in six winners from only 16 runners in the two weeks since the restart and 11 from 42 overall this year.

That puts him within reach of last year’s tally of 19, following seven in each of the previous two years, his first two full campaigns as a trainer.

Another to have switched yards even more recently is William Knight, up to HQ after a longish stint in Sussex to take over Rathmoy Stable, formerly the base for the legendary Neville Callaghan and more recently David Lanigan, who is departing for the US.

Knight has also been quick off the mark, and in his case, the “trainer in form” comment is fully deserved. From 14 runs, he’s sent out three winners (13-2, 22-1 and 33-1) and three third places. Four of the eight also-rans have started at 50-1 and above, and talking of opportunity, the average price of ALL his runners has been 33-1. Gosden’s 93 have averaged 4-1. Now that’s making the most of one’s opportunities and Knight I’m sure will continue to be a man to follow, as will Clover.

- TS