Monday Musings: The Apples of Charlie’s Eye

I finally made it to Ascot on Saturday, my first visit to a racecourse since the last day of the 2020 Cheltenham Festival, writes Tony Stafford. As I drove the last few miles the excitement was almost making me breathless and I was delighted that by waiting until there was an element of normality, my trip was just as I remembered all those wonderful big-race summer afternoons.

The best part, apart from seeing a great winner of a very good King George, was the thing that I, as a now very senior citizen, always regarded as my private, exclusive club. When you’ve been racing in a sort of professional role you get to know hundreds, probably into the thousands, of people in the same narrow environment.

When loads of them stop to ask, “How are you? Long time, no see!” and variations of those sentiments having been stuck mostly at home for 16 months, it is so energising. I always used to say, “Most people my age probably see half a dozen people a day if they are lucky. I go racing three or four days a week and see maybe an average of a hundred or more that I know.”

And Ascot on Saturday was as normal as it ever was. Bars, restaurants and boxes open and fully extended, the always beautifully attired Ascot crowds basking in the better than predicted weather and fast ground befitting the middle of summer.

One person who didn’t make it was the “You’ve been pinged!” trainer of the brilliant Adayar, Charlie Appleby, who had neglected to do what people increasingly have been doing, removing the app from their phones.

Not too many Derby winners have followed their Epsom success with victory in the same year’s King George. It was more commonplace in the first 50 years of the race’s existence after its inauguration in 1951. But in this century, until Saturday only Galileo, Adayar’s grandsire via Frankel, had managed the double.

Appleby therefore made it four mile and a half Group 1 wins since the beginning of June with his two Frankel colts, the home-bred Adayar and his stablemate Hurricane Lane, the Irish Derby and Grand Prix de Paris hero, bred by Philippa Cooper’s Normandie Stud.

Both horses won maidens in the last part of October, Hurricane Lane on debut and Adayar second time out. Both therefore were far less trumpeted at the beginning of this season when again Hurricane Run started with more precocity, indeed until he finished third to Adayar, the apparent third string at Epsom, he was unbeaten.

Adayar’s juvenile victory came in the Golden Horn Maiden at Nottingham, the race name being awarded to the great Derby winner the year after his Classic triumph. Previously it was known as the Oath Maiden Stakes in honour of the 1999 Derby hero owned by the Thoroughbred Corporation, who won the same maiden to get his career on the go the previous autumn.

I thought I would have a look at Charlie Appleby’s 2021 three-year-old complement courtesy of Horses in Training. Charlie had 70 horses of that age listed at the start of the season, 21 fillies and 49 male horses. Of the 21 fillies, eleven are by Dubawi, also the sire of 27 Appleby colts and geldings. Surprisingly, as many as 12 were already gelded at the start of the campaign and at least a couple more have subsequently experienced the unkindest cut.

Appleby had three colts by Dubawi as major candidates for the 2,000 Guineas: Meydan Classic winner Naval Crown, who beat Master Of The Seas that day; Master Of The Seas himself, who went on to win the Craven Stakes; and One Ruler, runner-up to Mac Swiney in the 2020 Vertem Futurity, also went to the Guineas. Master Of The Seas did best, losing out in a desperate thrust to the line with Poetic Flare and, while that Jim Bolger horse has gone on to run in both the Irish (close third to Mac Swiney) and French (easy winner) Guineas, and then dominated the St James’s Palace Stakes, we are yet to see Master Of The Seas again.

Another Dubawi colt to do well has been Yibir, winner of the Bahrain Trophy at Newmarket’s July meeting, while the geldings Kemari (King Edward VII) and Creative Force (Jersey Stakes) both at Royal Ascot have been to the fore.

It is noticeable that several of the gelded group have been either difficult to train or simply very late developers.

Meanwhile, the five-strong team of Frankel sons have been nothing short of spectacular. It will be of great satisfaction for the organisation that Adayar is out of a Dubawi mare and not an especially talented one.

What of the other three? One, Magical Land, has been gelded. He won the latest of his seven races for Appleby and has an 80 rating. The others have not been sighted this year. Fabrizio, placed as a juvenile, is a non-winner but Dhahabi is an interesting horse I’d love to see reappearing.

At 3.1 million guineas this half-brother to Golden Horn carried plenty of expectations. He won on debut and, last time in the autumn, was third to One Ruler in a Group 3 at Newmarket. Just the five Frankels, then, and I bet Charlie wishes he had a few more. The list of juveniles shows 48 sons and daughters of Dubawi and 11 by Frankel.

For many years the ultra-loyal and ever agreeable Saeed Bin Suroor was the only and then the principal Godolphin trainer. His stable is now increasingly the junior partner with half of the 140-odd complement listed as four years of age or older, and many of these are probably more suited to the structure of racing in Dubai over the winter. Saeed has three Dubawi three-year-old colts and one filly this year, but none by Frankel. The juveniles listed reveal one by each stallion.

How ironic that in the year of Prince Khalid Abdullah’s death in January, the all-conquering owner of Juddmonte Farms never saw the crowning of Frankel, already the greatest racehorse certainly of the past half-century, as a Derby-producing sire.

He will surely progress again from this situation and, now with Galileo also recently deceased, is in position as the obvious inheritor of his sire’s pre-eminence.

The other younger contenders will take time to earn their prestige and it can only be good for racing that a horse that went unbeaten through 14 races has made such a statement at the top end of the sport.

To win his King George, Adayar had to see off the challenge from the tough Mishriff, stepping forward from his comeback third to St Mark’s Basilica in the Eclipse Stakes. His owner, Prince Abdulrahman Abdullah Faisal, was one of the people I’ve known for half a lifetime that greeted me on Saturday. Also, Adayar had to consign Love to her first defeat for 21 months. The concession of so much weight to a younger colt by an older mare – 8lb – is never easy, but her race didn’t go as expected either.

Her pacemaker Broome missed the break and then only gradually moved into the lead. In the straight Love looked poised and then Mishriff tightened her up on the outside as Ryan Moore was beginning to move her into a challenging position. Having to change course, as the Coolmore filly did halfway up the short Ascot straight, is never the recipe for success.

It is fair to say, though, that Adayar would have won whatever. It will be interesting to see how Appleby shuffles his pack. Someone suggested the St Leger. If you wanted to make Adayar a jumps stallion, that’s what you would do. He won’t go anywhere near Town Moor in September. With due deference to the fifth Classic, he will have much bigger fish to fry.

- TS

A Racing “Guess Who”

When people have been around the racing game for a while, especially when they haven’t had the good fortune to crack it in the way of a Henderson or an Aidan O’Brien, a good way of teasing out their identity is to offer snippets from their lifetime, writes Tony Stafford.

We all know about Mr Frisk, the Kim Bailey-trained Grand National winner ridden by the amateur Marcus Armytage, son of trainer Roddy and brother to the first female Hennessy Gold Cup winning rider Gee, later Tony McCoy’s secretary.

Marcus was subsequently a colleague of mine at the Daily Telegraph – indeed he is still there. But our mystery man beat the youthful Old Etonian to it, winning five chases in a row, and unbeaten in six on the gelding in an invincible season as a novice, at one point telling an interviewing journalist that he and Mr Frisk would win the Grand National. Events would subsequently conspire for the combination of horse and jockey to be broken through no fault of our rider.

Next clue, born and bred in West Ham, East London, he went to the same school as did - a good few years earlier of course - Michael Tabor and the late and much-loved David Johnson, owner of all those wonderful jumpers with Martin Pipe. Our hero’s father Norman, youngest of a family of 13 after serving with distinction in the army, joined the Daily Telegraph as a printer.

In the days of hot metal linotype he and his many skilled colleagues would stand one side of the “stone”, the flat piece of the print room’s furniture along which the individual pages would be laid out and constructed. He would help the sub-editor – very often me on the racing pages – standing on the other side to fit it all in from my upside-down, back-to-front perspective. My job was assisted by having paper printers’ single long “takes” of the individual stories and racing cards which had to be cut to length – rather different nowadays with instant editing for all, not least without all the sensitivities of not crossing other unions’ demarcation lines.

Knowing what and how much to cut was the key but a good stone man on the other side made it easy and Norman knew his stuff all right. I loved those days and can still read newspapers upside down – maybe not the most helpful attribute these days, rather like knowing Latin declensions and conjugations!

A bit sketchy so far, well how about this? At 6ft 2 1/2inches he was the tallest jump jockey of his time. One season he broke his right collarbone nine times; it was only when ironically riding Bailey’s Just For The Crack at Newbury that both went in the same fall.

After retiring from race riding in the mid-1990’s he would not begin training in his own right for a few years, instead working as Norman Mason’s assistant – the assistant to the amusement machine magnate from the North-East was in effect the trainer.

Mason also had a Grand National winner, but Red Marauder’s success in 2001 when one of only four finishers happened after the mystery man’s departure having overseen his novice win. He was already setting up his own stable by then. What has defined him in the intervening two decades has been his extreme patience waiting, it seems, forever to land a touch for his owner, then carrying it off with certainty.

If you haven’t got it yet you never will so here we go - say hello to Alan Jones. From West Ham to the West Country via Northumberland has been a stretch. He still stands just as tall and with a season-best of ten a while ago and more likely four or five every term from his ten-strong string of individually and minutely prepared jumpers, he keeps the show going for his owners.

One of them enjoyed such a winning punt on his veteran horse Tiquer in the winter of 2017-18 that he decided to invest at a higher level. “He won 140 grand”, recalls Alan, “so decided to go to Goff’s in Ireland that October to look for a smart yearling. He had been using an agent but he thought his fees excessive, so he asked me to go along and find a nice filly for around 100-110k”, recalls Alan.

“We started with a dozen but boiled it down and eventually settled on a Camelot filly. To my surprise we got her for €100,000. The wind came out of my sails a bit when the owner sent her to Richard Hannon, but she was from a major Coolmore source, consigned by Timmy Hyde’s Camas Park stud, so you would have expected her to go to a big Flat yard. In any case, he is my biggest owner so you’d want to keep him happy.

“Of course, I kept my ear to the ground, listening for news on how she was doing at Hannon’s. It seemed she didn’t make the expected progress and it was as much an economy measure as anything else when I was asked to take her for the winter as a two-year-old”, said Jones. The next season as a three-year-old soundness was again an issue with her so it was back again to Mr Jones for some more rest and recuperation.

Ironically, recalls Jones, it was just when he detected the filly was starting to shape up that the owner nearly brought the project to an untimely end. “She was improving every day and then suddenly there was a potential buyer wanting to send her to stud unraced. I told the owner I thought we could still do something with her and luckily he finally agreed.”

Thus on Sunday, prepared on the same type of hill up which Martin Pipe, who in Jones’s estimation, completely changed the science of training racehorses, Lady Excalibur was finally ready to go.

The chosen target, a bumper at Stratford last Sunday, came along 1,021 days after Alan Jones signed the docket to re-invest that big chunk of his owner’s massive touch. After the event he reckoned “she’s not quick” but if you watch the video of where she is turning for home and where she is at the finish with Tom O’Brien sitting pretty you might have another opinion. The world is her oyster and whatever she does on the track she will always have a value as a potential broodmare.

As Tom told him afterwards, “You are just like my Uncle Aidan, you can perform miracles. This one certainly is”. Praise indeed, but when your stable is limited to a handful of animals, candidates for such miracles come along only rarely. In 60-year-old Alan Jones’ case 1,021 days from purchase to payoff is a bit of a sprint!

- TS

Monday Musings: The Middle Distance Ranks Are Massing

Until Wednesday evening in Paris it was all plain sailing for Aidan O’Brien, writes Tony Stafford. He could pick his Group 1 spots for the rest of the year with his team of Classic colts and more plentiful top fillies and wait to see what presumably ineffectual opposition Europe’s other major stables would be able to throw at them.

But then along came Hurricane Lane, only third to lesser-fancied stable-companion Adayar in the Derby at Epsom but subsequently a workmanlike winner in the face of a good late challenge by English-trained Lone Eagle (Martin Meade) in the Irish Derby at The Curragh.

Neither run could have prepared us for the Frankel colt’s storming performance on Bastille Day (14 July) as he ripped away the home team’s barricades <couldn’t help myself> beating the Prix du Jockey Club also-rans with possibly more ease than St Mark’s Basilica had managed a month earlier.

Die-hard traditionalists have already been put in their place in France. In the old days the Jockey Club was 2400 metres (12 furlongs) in line with Epsom and The Curragh and was reduced to its present distance of 2100 metres in 2005.

That move coincided with the moving up to a mile and a half of the great Fête Nationale celebration race on a movable feast of an evening card at Longchamp. The Grand Prix de Paris, until the arrival of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in 1920, had been the most prestigious and valuable race in France and was run over 3000 metres (15 furlongs), and even 3100 metres for a shorter intervening period.

In 1987, though, it was reduced significantly in distance to 2000 metres (1m2f) and it was at that trip that Saumarez won the 1990 race prior to his victory in the Arc that October. Previously trained to place in the Dee Stakes at Chester by Henry Cecil, Saumarez made Nicolas Clement, who had recently taken over the stable when his father Miguel died, the youngest-ever trainer to win France’s greatest race.

It works for France because, as Hurricane Lane showed so eloquently, a horse could run in and even win either or both the Epsom and Irish Derby, or indeed the Jockey Club, and there would still be time to prepare him for the Grand Prix.

That is just what Charlie Appleby did with such skill and the most notable element of it was how much he had in hand of the William Haggas colt Alenquer whose form with Adayer in the Sandown Classic Trial over ten furlongs in the spring appeared to give him a collateral edge on Hurricane Lane.

Alenquer not only beat Adayer on the Esher slopes but afterwards comfortably won the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot. But he was put in his place as Hurricane Lane stormed <that verb again!> six lengths clear of Wordsworth, first home of the O’Brien trio. It looked at first appraisal a major improvement on The Curragh but closer inspection reveals that Wordsworth had been beaten slightly further in his home Classic.

So where does that leave Adayer? Well, according to a conversation Charlie Appleby had with a friend who visited his luxurious stables in Newmarket before racing on Saturday, Adayer is fancied to run a very strong race as he faces up to last year’s O’Brien Classic superstar, Love, in Saturday’s King George.

The filly has the edge in the market after her comeback win over an inadequate ten furlongs in the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot but Appleby, mindful that the weight-for-age scale favours three-year-olds, is by all accounts confident he will do so. Love concedes 8lb to the Derby hero while William Muir and Chris Grassick’s Coronation Cup hero Pyledriver gives him 11lb. Ascot is also the probable target for Lone Eagle.

Like O’Brien, Appleby is a modest man who often deflects praise to the people around him. Indeed as my friend left, Charlie said, “If you couldn’t train horses from here, where could you?”

Guesses that maybe St Mark’s Basilica might step up in distance on Saturday have been scuppered by his trainer’s single-mindedly pointing him towards the Juddmonte International. Those three days in York next month will also feature the next step towards the stars of Snowfall, following in the footprints of Love from a year ago by taking in the Yorkshire Oaks.

By the way, Jim, get my room ready! I’ll see how my first day back racing on Saturday at Ascot goes and then I might take the liberty of giving you a call. Where have I been? Too busy with all this Covid lark, mate, but I have been thinking of you!

However short a price Love was on what was to prove her last run of 2020 after the easy wins in the 1,000 Guineas and Oaks, the latter by nine lengths, 4-9 will be looking a gift if that is available about Snowfall. Could be 1-5!

Many felt the exaggerated superiority, indeed a UK Classic record-winning margin of 16 lengths, could in part be ascribed to the very testing ground at Epsom. Just as many were predicting that on faster ground in Saturday’s Irish Oaks she might go for economy.

Leading two furlongs out under Ryan Moore, delighted to be riding her for only the second time – he was on board for the shock Musidora win at York on May 12 three weeks before Epsom and that Frankie Dettori benefit – she drew away by eight-and-a-half lengths in majestic style.

As we know, the Coolmore boys like all the boxes ticked and the opportunities covered, but I can categorically tell you that they did not expect her to win at York. Even when she did, the beaten horses’ connections were dreaming up reasons why you could not trust the result.

After all she was rated only a modest 90 on the back of her juvenile exploits, the most memorable apart from winning a small maiden race was the mix up when she wore the wrong colour hat when well behind in the Fillies’ Mile at Newmarket last autumn.

After the Epsom and Curragh regal processions there is only one place you would consider for a soft-ground loving but equally comfortable on quicker turf three-year-old filly of her status - the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. It took me a while – having discarded my European Pattern Races 2021 book with hundreds of others in advance of a hoped-for downsizing move – to work out why she had not been one of the dozen O’Brien horses entered for the Arc.

Six older male horses – Mogul, Broome, Armory, Serpentine, Japan and Inisfree (where’s he been for 20 months?) – are supplemented by Love. The five three-year-olds are the colts St Mark’s Basilica, along with domestic Classic flops Bolshoi Ballet, High Definition and hard-working Van Gogh whose dance in four Classics (the UK and Irish Guineas, when third behind Mac Swiney, and French and Irish Derby) brought that one positive result.

That left room for one filly and, considering Santa Barbara took until last week to gain Grade 1 winning honours in the New York Oaks while four of her supposedly inferior female counterparts beat her to it, the evidence is there. They did indeed think she was far and away the best.

At least that was the case until 3.15 p.m. on the afternoon of May 12. The Arc closed at France Galop’s HQ around four-and-three-quarter hours earlier.  Now they have to wait until September 27 to get her in and pay a heavy penalty to do so.

In all, 101 horses made it. I am sure that date is writ large on the Racing Office wall and, if she enjoys another exhibition round back at the Yorkshire track she first consented to tell her trainer and owners how good she is, the supplementary entry will be made. Chances to win the race do not come along very often.

For all his and his owners’ successes in big races around Europe and in the US, the Arc has proved elusive. Two victories, with four-year-olds Dylan Thomas in 2007 and the brilliant filly Found five years ago, leave him still with a blank to fill. No Ballydoyle three-year-old has won the race since the days of Vincent O’Brien, who took the first of his two Arcs with Alleged in 1977. His second win, doubling up for Lester Piggott the year after followed Ballymoss in 1958, showed once again just how tough a race it is to win.

As mentioned, two O’Brien fillies are entered, Love and Santa Barbara. The latter might continue to make up for her earlier limitations in the Nassau Stakes next week but, as we know, a trio of Classic-winning alternatives, Joan Of Arc, Mother Earth and Empress Josephine, are equally qualified to step in and possibly pick up the Goodwood fillies’ Group 1.

Meanwhile Kevin Ryan has been exploiting the early juvenile Group contests in France with Atomic Force. Beaten first time out and gelded before a win in a small race at Hamilton, Ryan took him to Longchamp last month and he won Group 3 Prix du Bois nicely.

Returning yesterday for the Group 2 Prix Robert Papin, he started 2-1 on and bolted up. He will probably return for the Prix Morny at Deauville next month. Having watched that win the Sky Sports Racing team suggested the Nunthorpe might be an option given how much weight juveniles get from their elders. This year though that could be a hot race if newcomers on the Group 1 sprinting scene like Ed Walker’s Starman and Tim Easterby’s flying filly Winter Power turn up.

- TS

Monday Musings: Remembering a True Legend of the Turf

Reassuringly he was always there; then, half-watching Racing TV the other day, suddenly he wasn’t. People of my generation always used to ask, “Where were you when the news came through that JFK was assassinated?” For the record I was in a little street in Bow, East London, with just about my first proper girlfriend and her family, writes Tony Stafford.

Bloodstock people of all ages now will relate their whereabouts at the time of the passing of the greatest stallion of all time. Galileo, aged 23 and sire of 91 Group and Grade 1 winners at the time of his death late last week is no more. No longer is that the figure either, Bolshoi Ballet making it 92 in New York on Saturday completing an Aidan O’Brien / Ryan Moore Grade 1 double with Santa Barbara, now respectively Derby and Oaks winners after all.

Galileo’s legend though will continue to develop, with a couple more crops of those whole-hearted, ultra-genuine performers yet to grace the track, mostly from Coolmore Stud and Ballydoyle who monopolised his progeny from the time Teofilo and others showed him to be a sire for all seasons and more importantly all ages. Messrs (and Mrs) Magnier, Tabor, Smith and of course the whole Aidan O’Brien family owe him a massive debt of gratitude.

Having had him as my equine hero for a decade and a half and as the password on almost all my electronic devices such as they are, it was gratifying that on a visit for the Champions Weekend in September 2018 along with Harry Taylor and Alan Newman I got to meet him.

Minutes later we were allowed into the Coolmore museum and saw the life-size and oh so realistic embodiment of his sire Sadler’s Wells whose apparently never-to-be broken tally of records has indeed been shattered by this phenomenon.

Typically Alan gave him a cuddle and for months afterwards would show anyone within reach the pictures, asking, “Who do you think this is?” I, of course, would have been tempted to say, “Surely it’s you!” but most people are less unkind.

I remember sitting in the late George Ward’s Ascot box, along from the Royal Box – a fair way along if I’m honest – telling the heroic combative boss of Grunwick, the company that produced the Instaprint and Tripleprint photo services long before cameras did the same job instantly, about him.

George had been through an awful front-page making ordeal with the unions decades earlier but came through it and got interested in racing, becoming a major sponsor and a leading light in the Racehorse Owners Association.

I told him, “George, you have to send a mare to Galileo, he’s only €30k!” He said, “That’s too rich for me, I’ve just a few ordinary mares.” Fair enough and of course by the time the next lot of nominations were considered his fee had already increased notably.

Sadly George died soon afterwards and now the equine object of my admiration, long since designated as having a “private” fee is gone, too.

One quote I saw (and a figure too that was often bandied about) was that you needed to stump up €500k to unlock the golden gates to his magical semen. But such was the flexibility of John Magnier’s marketing skills that the way to Galileo’s heart (as far as breeders’ mares were concerned) could often be through foal shares. The mare had to be pretty good in most cases but the numbers also needed to be kept up, so “private” had to be the way to go.

I could imagine breeders sitting down around a table at Royal Ascot, Longchamp or Newmarket sales asking each other: “How much did you pay?” I bet they always erred on the high side!

A slow computer early this morning limited my intended analysis of the Coolmore stallion roster 2021 but as far as I could tell, from 24 of the 26 other sires listed to be standing as Flat stallions this year, their combined fees amounted to just about half a million Euro – equivalent to one top-priced (no deals) Galileo.

Two exceptions are the highly-promising pair Wootton Bassett, a relative newcomer, but now raised to €100,000 and No Nay Never, up to 125K after his progeny’s exploits in his first few years’ activity. Two nice Wootton Bassett winners over the past weekend will keep him in breeders’ headlights.

Their upward momentum is reminiscent of a similar hike for No Nay Never’s sire, Scat Daddy, another shrewd buy from Coolmore, running in Michael Tabor’s colours in the US towards the end of his career. He had just been promoted to a fee of $100,000 at their Ashford Stud, Kentucky, base after a brilliant start when he had an accident at the farm. His untimely death came with a stunning book of mares waiting in vain for his services.

There can be little doubt he would have been a realistic US-based counterpart to Galileo if the evidence alone of the unbeaten Triple Crown winner Justified is considered. Two other sons of Scat Daddy, plus two of No Nay Never, grace the present Coolmore Ireland roster. Caravaggio, by Scat Daddy, has made a great start with his first two-year-olds this year and Coolmore has taken the hint - he will be based at Ashford in 2022.

Also at Ashford is the other Triple Crown hero of the modern age, American Pharoah, while the horse that came nearest to a UK Triple Crown, which would have been the first since Nijinsky in 1970, Camelot stands at only €45k in Co Tipperary. He is the sire of Santa Barbara, who thus on Saturday belatedly joined the four other Group 1 winning three-year-old fillies at Ballydoyle. Needless to say Alan has pictures with both Triple Crown winners, but I didn’t make that trip.

Two of the five, Empress Josephine and Joan Of Arc, both Classic winners this year, are daughters of Galileo. As far as my haphazard researches allow, I believe seven sons of Galileo are standing at Coolmore and Churchill, the 2,000 Guineas winner of 2017, is already off to a flying start with eight individual winners in his first crop.

Apart from the Flat-race squad, Coolmore NH has a further 18 stallions between Castle Hyde, Grange Stud and The Beeches where six more sons of Galileo ply their trade, so to speak. Classic winners Capri, Soldier Of Fortune and Kew Gardens are among them along with Order of St George, a dual Gold Cup hero from Ascot.

Two non-Galileos working away there are his fellow Sadler’s Wells horse, Yeats, the four-time Gold Cup winner and the multiple Group 1 winner, Maxios (by Monsun), busiest of the lot last year with 298 mares successfully accommodated. At €7k a pop, his new increased price, that’s good business.

If there is to be a sire to step into those size 14 shoes – not really but you get the illusion! – it has to be St Mark’s Basilica (Siyouni-Cabaret/Galileo). Now I know why, straight after that epic Eclipse win at Sandown that brought a best in the world rating of 127 to eclipse (ha!) Palace Pier, one insider said, “They are hoping he might be the one to replace Galileo.” He better not lose from now on then, but I fail to see why he should.

Back in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s when Robert Sangster, Vincent O’Brien and his son-in-law John Magnier were going hard in the bloodstock business in the US having acquired Coolmore from Tim Vigors, the great Northern Dancer was commanding fees of $1 million.

Such was his allure that when Henryk De Kwiatkowski was looking for mares to send to his Horse Of The Year, Conquistador Cielo, he paid 3.8 million dollars for a mare in foal to Northern Dancer. She lost the foal – and he didn’t pay the extra for foal insurance. Conquistador Cielo, subject of a $36 million syndication proved to be pretty rubbishy as a stallion but Henryk had another horse, by Northern Dancer, who did turn out pretty good at the same time. That was Danzig and he at one stage was getting quite close to the magic million too. Pity I didn’t find a mare to send to him (for free!) when I was offered the chance.

As the Old Testament would say, Northern Dancer begat Sadler’s Wells; Sadler’s Wells begat Galileo; Galileo begat Frankel, Teofilo, Minding, Love and many more champions besides. There are legacies and legacies, but none like Galileo’s. Rest in peace, we’ll never forget you and I can’t wait to see you standing next to your dad in the Coolmore museum. I’m sure Alan will let me know when the star attraction is ready for viewing.

 

 

Monday Musings: St Mark My Words!

The sports pages yesterday were dominated by a certain football match in Rome and, much earlier on Saturday, the 18-year-old world number 338-rated female tennis player wowing the home crowd at Wimbledon, writes Tony Stafford. At least on a par, ten miles down the A3 in Esher, St Mark’s Basilica was deservedly making his own headlines.

There is winning a Group 1 race, indeed one completed in slower time for the Sandown Park ten furlongs than the two handicaps over that trip on the card, and then there’s winning it like a potential champion.

You can list a big winner’s credentials but when it gets into the top level it is rare to find a horse running past fully tested Group 1 performers in a few strides and drawing away. That is what St Mark’s Basilica did in swamping Mishriff and Addeybb for speed once Ryan Moore unleashed him.

Afterwards there was the inevitable qualifying of the performance, commentators suggesting Addeybb, who battled back to wrest second off Mishriff, and the third horse may have both come to the race a little under-cooked.

Well here’s the rub. Both horses had already won Group 1 races this year, Addeybb continuing his Australian odyssey with another defeat of the brilliant mare Verry Elleegant in the Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Randwick in April while Mishriff earned his owner Prince Abdulrahman Abdullah Faisal just about £10 million when annexing his own country’s Saudi Cup and the Dubai Sheema Classic on Dubai World Cup night.

Those wins illustrated his versatility, the former over nine furlongs on dirt and the latter a mile and a half on turf, so Sandown’s mile and a quarter will have fitted comfortably within his parameters.

When Mishriff drew alongside Addeybb in the straight on ground possibly a little less soft than ideal for the leader, he looked set to win, but St Mark’s Basilica was poised in behind in this four-horse field and, when given the signal by Ryan, he sailed serenely clear.

Sandown’s tough uphill conclusion often provides sudden changes in momentum. By the line St Mark’s Basilica was, either from loneliness or simply feeling the effects of the sudden change in velocity that took him clear, definitely if marginally coming back to the rallying Addeybb.

But William Haggas’ seven-year-old is a battle-hardened winner of 12 of 23 career starts. Mishriff, handled skilfully by the Gosdens, has won six of 11, but until Saturday his only defeat in the previous six had been in Addeybb’s Champion Stakes where he appeared not to appreciate the very testing ground.

Saturday’s success makes St Mark’s Basilica the winner of four Group 1 races in succession starting with the Dewhurst. That normally is the race that signals the champion juvenile of his year and then he went on to hoard both French Classics open to males, the Poulains and Jockey Club, where his electric burst heralded the type of performance we saw on Saturday.

In a year where four-fifths of the Aidan O’Brien Classic winners have been four different fillies and none of them Santa Barbara, the fifth has been going a long way to eradicate the overall disappointing showings – so far, and remember it is a long season – of the other colts.

A son of Siyouni – also the sire of Sottsass, the 2020 Arc winner, now standing his first-year stallion duties for €30k a pop at Coolmore Stud – his two French Classic wins made him an obvious object of admiration for French breeders as previously mentioned here.

Unfortunately, their pockets will need to have become much deeper than anticipated with each successive Group 1 victory and if the speed that has characterised all his wins remains or, as is more likely, intensifies with experience, he will easily outstrip his sire’s appeal – and stud fee.

Any thought that he will end up anywhere other than Co Tipperary is fanciful and with all those mares needing partners he will have an enviable stream of potential mates. One slight difficulty is that his dam, Cabaret, is by Galileo.

Cabaret was an unusual product of Galileo on the racetrack, atypically precocious enough to win twice including a Group 3 by mid-July of her two-year-old season but never nearer than seventh in four more races. Sold for £600k at the end of her four-year-old season – double the yearling price at which she joined Coolmore – she has been the dam not only of St Mark’s Basilica but also Aidan O’Brien’s 2,000 Guineas winner Magna Grecia, by Invincible Spirit.

Post-race quotes of 6-4 for the Juddmonte International look just about spot on in a year when you get the impression that Aidan is being more confident in narrowing down his candidates for the biggest races to the single most deserving.

Of course, there’s still Love as a possible for the Juddmonte as she won reverting to ten furlongs at Royal Ascot, but why wouldn’t O’Brien prefer to keep her in her comfort zone for a second Yorkshire Oaks at a mile and a half? Then it is the small matter in three weeks of the King George, for which in a vastly over-round market, Love and the Derby winner Adayar are vying for favouritism at around 2-1 or 9-4, with St Mark’s Basilica moving in close at 4-1 if Aidan wants to stretch him out to 12 furlongs as soon as that.

And what of Snowfall? A 16-length Classic winner is not one to ignore wherever she runs. It’s great having a lot of good horses: the trick is knowing where to run them.

One trainer who never seems to be at a loss in choosing the right target for his equine inmates is William Haggas. With 67 wins from 266 runs, but more pertinently having won with 49 of the 106 individual horses he has run this year, the Newmarket trainer operates at a better than 25% strike rate despite many of his horses having to run in high-class handicaps.

If they sometimes are not raised as rapidly as those of his fellow trainers who might have a much less healthy strike rate, the economy with which they often win is at least a contributary factor.

But they are invariably well bet, so for Haggas to be losing under a fiver to level stakes for those 266 runners is miraculous. I saw Bernard Kantor, a patron of Haggas, again last week and we were musing as to whether his Catterick winner Sans Pretension – remember she was DROPPED 2lb for that! – would ever be reappearing.

The next day, Bernard excitedly told me, “She is in at Yarmouth on Wednesday,” about his Galileo filly. I’m sure he will have seen a later and much more high-profile entry in a fillies’ race at Ascot on Friday. I could be tempted as there’s another horse on the same card I really ought to go to see. I had planned to wait until post July 19, so possibly the King George, but maybe I will try to go this week. I bet Sans Pretension will not be too far away in whichever race the shrewd Mr Haggas decides upon.

There are some jewels that one’s eye will often pass over when looking for something in the Racing Post records. While Haggas has had nine winners from 41 runs in the past fortnight there is another area where he has plenty to prove.

Like Ryan Moore, who won a hurdle race first time on the track for his dad before ever riding on the Flat and who has not revisited that discipline since, Haggas had a go at jumping. I know he had at least one winner over jumps, Fen Terrier on October 20, 1995, at Fakenham, but possibly only one.

The 6-4 second favourite, a daughter of Emerati owned by Jolly Farmer Racing, won narrowly with the 5-4 favourite Dominion’s Dream, trained by Martin Pipe, ten lengths behind in third.

William has had a further seven runners over jumps in the intervening 9,389 days without another win. I wonder if he considers he has something to prove. Probably not!

Another of my favourite meetings will come and go without my attendance this week. Whenever I think of Newmarket July I go back to the day when Hitman broke the track record in the competitive ten-furlong three-year-old handicap for owners the Paper Boys, and Brough Scott insisted I do an interview for the telly.

My then wife was blissfully unaware of my association with the Henry Cecil colt, that was until a colleague on a day off who was interested in racing congratulated her on the win in the office the next morning. Other similar offences were digested and clearly taken into account before the eventual inevitable domestic rupture!

- TS

Monday Musings: Classic Connections

The weekend in Ireland produced another extremely disappointing performance from an Aiden O’Brien Derby favourite, writes Tony Stafford. If anything, High Definition’s sluggish display in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby was in merit terms inferior even to Bolshoi Ballet’s comprehensive defeat at Epsom.

The discovery of a cut to a hind leg immediately after that race gave connections a straw to cling to with Bolshoi Ballet, while on Saturday a stumble through clipping heels after two furlongs apparently unbalanced High Definition with jockey Ryan Moore apparently never able to get him back on an even keel thereafter.

The common denominator in a period when Irish horses have otherwise been wiping the floor with their English-trained counterparts over jumps and on the Flat has been the two Derby wins for Godolphin on horses trained by Charlie Appleby.  Adam Kirby was the unexpected hero in the Cazoo Derby at Epsom but William Buick, only third that day on first string Hurricane Lane, was again in the saddle as that horse put things right at The Curragh.

From the time when his father Walter used to bring him over from Norway, where he was born, while Scots-born Buick senior was the eight times champion jockey in Scandinavia, William always had the mark of a future top jockey.

He used to come along to Newbury racecourse, a tiny lad, and visit the press room where his proud dad brought him and, later on, his two younger brothers, Martin and Andrew. Even years later when he started riding aged 16 as a 7lb claiming apprentice from Andrew Balding’s stable he weighed just about 5st wet through.

Walter took on the job of trying to get him started and initially it proved difficult. Then one day he rode his first winner for Paul D’Arcy, a friend of Walter’s from their riding days before Walter moved to Scandinavia.

That made little difference to the flow of rides and one day Walter asked me whether I could talk to any trainers. William had been enrolled in the Newmarket Jockey School and apparently had made something of an enemy of one of the coaches who found him rather too ready to express his opinions, a tendency that years later cost him a doubling of a suspension when he accused French stewards of being corrupt, a comment he later wisely withdrew.

At the time I was very friendly with Vince Smith and we’d recently arranged for a couple of Raymond Tooth horses to go to him, with excellent results. Vince is no longer a trainer and after surgery for gender transformation, is now known as Victoria Smith.

Vince gave the boy his chance and in the last two months of 2006 he rode the three-year-old handicapper Vacation six times to two wins, two seconds and two thirds, the impetus of which helped get him going. By the end of the year he had clocked up ten wins. Vince continued training for only two more seasons and William rode seven winners from 40 mounts for him with another 13 finishing second or third.

But what I believe was a big step in the making of William was when, as a result of a recommendation by Michael Tabor, William spent the early part of 2007 in the US in the Florida winter base of top US trainer Todd Pletcher. That, rather than run through his claim in egg-and-spoon races on the all-weather, Buick senior agreed, was a better idea and more beneficial for his future.

On that trip, with his dad as chaperone, he was taken under his wing by the great Angel Cordero in his daily track work and returned to the UK a better rider and a much more rounded young man.

While voted the Apprentice of the Year in the Derby awards in both 2017 and 2018 by UK journalists, Buick was actually beaten as champion apprentice the first year by Greg Fairley who had been supported with all the ammunition available from the country’s now winning-most trainer Mark Johnston. Sadly within four years of having maintained a similar level, Fairley found the struggle to deal with maintaining an unnatural weight beyond him.

In 2008 Buick did gain his coveted Champion Apprentice title, although he had to share it with another Andrew Balding rider, geegeez-sponsored David Probert. Within a couple of years he was head-hunted by John Gosden and for four years, during which time he won a first Irish Derby on Jack Hobbs, the pair had spectacular success together.

But the final step on his graduation into the top sphere was being recruited in 2014 by Godolphin with all the winter benefit of winning such races as the Dubai World Cup and its extravagant rewards. That has projected Buick into the same elite jockey grouping as Frankie Dettori and Ryan Moore.

Moore has been the Coolmore number one throughout the same period, succeeding Joseph O’Brien, while Dettori, previously the long-term Godolphin number one, switched back to Gosden on Buick’s departure and duly extended his astonishing longevity with the UK’s top stable, most notably with his association with Enable.

William won the 2018 Derby for Godolphin on Masar and, while he could finish only third behind Adam Kirby, who rode lesser-fancied stablemate Adayar, on Hurricane Lane in the Blue Riband earlier this month, he remained loyal to his mount and was rewarded three weeks later with what was a second victory in the Irish Derby.

It required a top-class ride on Saturday as, going into the final furlong, Dettori, riding the Martin Meade-trained Lone Eagle, had poached a clear lead. With none of the home team looking up to making a challenge the two UK colts had the finish to themselves.

Between the Godolphin pair at Epsom was the Richard Hannon-trained and Amo Racing-owned Mojo Star, still a maiden but he was now strongly fancied to correct that status in this Classic. Unfortunately for connections, when Buick first launched his run down the outside of the field he instigated a touch of general bunching to his inside.

Mojo Star was the worst affected in the scrimmage so, while having no time to recover fully, he did well to finish fifth, just ahead of Irish 2,000 hero, Mac Swiney. Wordsworth, in third, was the best of the Ballydoyle runners but a full five lengths adrift of the first two.

So, with a Classic win, there was a little respite for the town of Newmarket, still shocked by the sudden resignation earlier that day of Matt Hancock from his post as Health Secretary and therefore the most constant face of the Government’s during the Covid-19 crisis of the past 15 months. Hancock is the Member of Parliament for the West Suffolk constituency which includes Newmarket.

The former minister was the subject of a leaked picture, probably taken from a phone camera, showing him snogging a woman that turned out to be his future live-in partner, an action contrary to Covid-19 regulations and a few other considerations too, I would imagine. The break-up of his marriage had been announced just before the departure.

I touch on this simply because he was, or rather is, a fan of horse racing and while the financial situation for owners remains as dire as it has been for many years because of the inadequate prize money levels, the sport certainly needs friends in high places. I don’t suppose he’ll be too much use from the back benches.

I digress. Whereas Adayar was a home-bred, Hurricane Lane, a son of Frankel, was bred by Philippa and Nicholas Cooper’s Normandie Stud in Sussex. I first met the Coopers in the spring of 1998 after Hitman, a decent horse I bought as a yearling and had in training with Henry Cecil along with Peter Mines and a few of his pals under the name of the Paper Boys, was beaten a neck by their horse I’m Proposin at Leicester.

We were all shocked, but Henry, despite Hitman’s having starting the 4-9 favourite after some exceptional homework, was not surprised. “A better horse still needs to be fit to win and Hitman needed the race. When it came to the crucial stage, I’m Proposin <an 8-1 shot that day and winner of his next two races for John Dunlop> was fit, so he won.” A lesson learned from the words of the master! Mainly jumping owners at the time, the Coopers graduated to the Flat before becoming highly-successful commercial breeders.

They reluctantly decided to sell their West Sussex farm in 2017 but continue breeding basing their mares at Coolmore and Newsells Park, the latter of which has changed hands in the past few weeks.  Gale Force, a daughter of Shirocco and, rarely for Philippa, not a home-bred, was sold in a partial dispersal of Normandie’s stock in December 2019 for 300,000gns. That was two months after her son, to be known as Hurricane Lane, went through the same Park Paddocks sale ring for 200,000gns.

Part of the reason for the Coopers’ sale was the tendency for all their retired racehorses to come back to the farm and then live to a great age. Now they are kept at Angmering Park, near Arundel, the home of the late Lady Anne Herries and former training base of William Knight, who moved to Newmarket early last year.

The Classic Year 2021 has thrown a few unexpected barbs at Coolmore with Santa Barbara’s defeats in the 1,000 Guineas and Oaks even though they still won both races. Mother Earth’s victory in the Newmarket race and more emphatically Snowfall’s record-breaking romp at Epsom obviously lessened the blow each time.

Yesterday Santa Barbara, with Aidan O’Brien splitting the difference in the ten-furlong Group 1 Pretty Polly Stakes, feature race on the final day of the Derby meeting, went a long way towards restoring her reputation. Initially looking at best booked for third or fourth, she produced a flying finish between horses in the last half furlong under a left-hand drive by Moore and only narrowly failed to catch the more experienced four-year-old, Thundering Nights.

That filly, sent to Belmont Park for her previous run and an excellent second there in a mares’ Grade 2 for Joseph O’Brien, looked likely to win comfortably but Santa Barbara reduced the margin to a neck.

With four three-year-old fillies at Ballydoyle already Classic winners this year, the in-fighting for a place in the Nassau Stakes line-up will be intense but at least Santa Barbara must now be a contender. As Peeping Fawn showed back in 2007, there’s plenty of time to rebuild a reputation. She won four Group 1 races only starting at Goodwood that year.

- TS

Monday Musings: Of Long Days and the Classic Generation

June 21st is upon us. The longest day was to be the freest day until the timid medical advisors to the UK government put the wind up them with fears that the D variant – the virus formerly known as Indian – would cause another surge in infections, writes Tony Stafford.

Well it has, averaging around 10,000 a day for the last week or so, but they are testing many, many more nowadays. Anyone prepared to go anywhere near a racecourse will have enjoyed the experience of things up their nose or aimed at their tonsils.

Since mine were removed in 1952, the year of the Queen’s ascent to the throne – rewarded with a nice ice cream <me, not the Queen> as I recall – I would only be eligible for the nose job, but apparently it’s very much an officialdom-rich environment.

While the infections have risen, the numbers dying most emphatically have not, an average of ten a day for the last week when the “roadmap” was hastily and negatively redrawn. With massive numbers of older people fully vaccinated you wouldn’t expect many deaths, but the silly old advisors want it both ways.

As I’ve said numerous times, I won’t go until everyone is free to go everywhere. I contented myself with a Saturday night day-early Father’s Day celebration with my three 40-plus children and a selection of their issue. Lovely it was too.

So on to the summer and of course from tonight the days will shorten inexorably by three minutes for each of the next 182 and then the semi-cycle will start again the other way round. We’ve already had Royal Ascot and ten of the 12 spring/summer European Classic races – only Ireland’s Derby and Oaks remain in that part of the calendar, and then the St Legers in their various forms and degrees of credibility.

The Irish have won eight of the ten, Jim Bolger picking up the 2,000 Guineas with Poetic Flare and his domestic version with Mac Swiney. Poetic Flare’s demolition job in the St James’s Palace Stakes certainly puts him well ahead among the mile colts this year.

The two Classics decided so far and not to have been won by the Irish have been the Poule D’Essai des Pouliches (French 1,000) won by Coeursamba, trained by Jean-Claude Rouget, and  the Derby (Adayar, Charlie Appleby).

The remaining six have all been hoovered up by Aidan O’Brien and the Ballydoyle team and each of them boasts combinations of the increasingly complex Coolmore pedigrees.

Five individual horses have been involved in those all-important Classic victories, and four of them are fillies. I contend that St Mark’s Basilica, despite his workmanlike victory in the French 2,000 (Poulains) and a more comfortable Prix Du Jockey Club success, both under Ioritz Mendizabal, is vastly under-valued in official terms. He beat a big field in Chantilly and his female stable-companion Joan Of Arc (by Galileo, <really?!, Ed?>) was similarly too good for another large field of home fillies in yesterday’s French Oaks, the Prix de Diane. This time Coeursamba finished only 11th.

On Sunday Aidan relied on a single runner in a field of 17 and the 16 home defenders were no match for another Mendizabal mount who won by just over a length from the fast-finishing Fabre-trained and Godolphin-owned Philomene, a daughter of Dubawi.

That made it single-runner O’Brien challenges in three of the four French Classic races to be run so far – unplaced Van Gogh joined St Mark’s Basilica in the Jockey Club.  Therefore three wins and a close second (Mother Earth, ridden by Christophe Soumillon) in the French 1,000. That new-found minimalist approach also extended to Epsom and the Derby where Bolshoi Ballet, the favourite, was left as their only runner having been initially one of six expected to turn out.

Three of the four fillies in question improved markedly on juvenile form, the exception being 1,000 Guineas winner and then Pouliches runner-up Mother Earth, who had already earned her 111 rating for her second place in the Juvenile Fillies’ Turf race at Keeneland last November and remains on that figure despite her Classic exploits. She ran another game race in third in much the most testing ground she has faced in Friday’s Coronation Stakes at Ascot behind Andrew Balding’s Alcohol Free.

Joan Of Arc took a rating of 105 into the Irish 1,000 and was Ryan Moore’s choice for the race but Seamie Heffernan got up on the line that day aboard Empress Josephine (101) in a private duel between two Galileo fillies. She clearly improved on that yesterday while Emperor Josephine was assessed at 109 after her win.

But the biggest eye-opener was Snowfall, the 16-length Oaks winner at Epsom who went into her prep in the Musidora at York on an official mark of 90. That was upped to 108 after her Knavesmire romp but even so she was still believed by insiders to be second-best among a more normal Oaks quintet behind lightly-raced Santa Barbara, now beaten favourite in both this year’s fillies’ classics in the UK.

It seems to me a master-stroke of fudging by the BHA to restrict Snowfall’s latest mark to 120, not merely because that is 2lb lower than Enable after her Oaks defeat of Rhododendron – what that champion did after Epsom has nothing to do with the assessment - and also 1lb less than Adayar.

The give-away for me is to suggest that Mystery Angel, rated 100 after her fourth (four lengths back) in the Musidora had only equalled her York mark. That ignored she made the running at Epsom in a much bigger field and still had the resources left to stay on and retain second 16 lengths behind the Frankie Dettori-ridden winner, finishing well ahead of a trio of considerably more highly-rated fillies.

If the medical advisors who keep us wearing masks and touching fists rather than shaking hands are timid, they have nothing on the BHA men who fear giving too high a rating to a Classic winner, even one who has set a record winning distance for any UK Classic in living memory and beyond.

Snowfall has made the first big statement that she might be a challenger to Love, her predecessor as an outstanding Oaks winner and star of the stable’s slightly disappointing Royal Ascot, as the season progresses. Love, dropping back two furlongs after a ten-month absence since the 2020 Yorkshire Oaks, made all to win the Group 1 Prince Of Wales’s Stakes.

A third female deserving of mention in that elite grouping must be the David Menuisier-trained four-year-old filly, Wonderful Tonight. She got first run on Broome to win Saturday’s Hardwicke Stakes in style despite its being her first appearance of the year. Her French-born Sussex-based trainer has the Arc, where she has a good chance of getting the soft ground she favours, as her main target.

Broome may not have won but earlier that afternoon his close relative by Australia, the two-year-old Point Lonsdale, won the Chesham Stakes, a race often reserved for the best of the earlier O’Brien juveniles. Ryan had a battle keeping him straight, first going right and as they got close home, more markedly left, but they had enough in hand to beat the Queen’s promising colt Reach For The Moon – Sea The Stars/ Gosdens / Dettori – by half a length.

We had wondered why she chose Saturday to make an appearance. That highly-encouraging performance and the good run later of her King’s Lynn in the Wokingham made it a bit more like Royal Ascot, even when viewed from Hackney Wick. Hopefully, Your Majesty, you and me (and many others besides) can be there for the whole five days in 2022.

The astonishing thing about all four female Coolmore Classic winners is that at no time did anyone at Ballydoyle, and certainly not the trainer nor the owners, believe any of them was within hailing distance of Santa Barbara. My guess from Epsom was that the favourite probably did not stay the mile and a half under the conditions and in the quirky way the race was run, up the stands side with all the direction changing that inevitably happens.

I’m looking forward to seeing her, in what still will be only her fourth race and with a highly-creditable close fourth to Mother Earth at Newmarket on her record, in a suitable race over ten furlongs. The Nassau would be nice, but maybe she won’t be the only one from her stable appearing in that Goodwood Group 1.

 

Monday Musings: New Blood

If there is one thing horse racing in the UK needs above all else it is owners: men or women with resources, a love for the sport and the willingness to put up with the absurd economics of excessive and ever-rising costs against persistently modest returns via prizemoney, writes Tony Stafford.

The new player would need to be committed to the game. Like the brothers Maktoum, now down to two from four after first Maktoum Al Maktoum, Ruler of the Emirate, died in 2006 and, only this year, second in terms of age, Sheikh Hamdan also left the stage.

Nominally third in seniority but the long-term number two auditioning for the top job was Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, now in his 70’s after more than four decades’ involvement in our sport.

We had met in Kentucky and one day I sat with him and Michael (not yet Sir) Stoute as we waited near the famed King’s Head pub and eating house in Dullingham to see the young home-bred stock that the late Richard Casey, subsequently trainer of top handicap chaser Hogmanay, had in his charge. The Sheikh opined, “it doesn’t take ten years to build a breeding operation, more like thirty”. After last weekend, probably 38 years after our chat, with home-bred winners of the 2021 Derby and Kentucky Derby on the Roll of Honour, he has just about made it!

Hogmanay had been one of a package of ten horses I bought without the luxury of having the £100k to pay for them from Malcolm Parrish, owner of a massive stable of his own horses, a sort of precursor to Jim Bolger, but an Englishman based in France with carpet-making mills in Belgium.

Malcolm supervised the training but a M. De Tarragon, his head lad, held the licence and was officially responsible for the 100-head or so horses. I met him in July 1984 in the long-gone Cashel Palace Hotel near Ballydoyle but it was a total fluke as I was really over to meet David O’Brien who at 27 had become the youngest trainer to win the Derby with Secreto.

While the later O’Brien’s seem to have perfected the art of enjoying each other’s major successes, the 1984 Derby brought major tensions as the favourite and previously 2,000 Guineas winner El Gran Senor was lined up for a massive stud deal subject to his winning the Derby. In the race, Pat Eddery on the favourite appeared to be going far better than Christy Roche on the eventual winner but in a desperate finish was beaten a short-head.

The verdict had to delayed while Eddery objected but the result was upheld. Fortunately for the initial Coolmore team, El Gran Senor won the Irish Derby – his task eased by Secreto’s absence – and the Epsom hero also missed both the King George and Eclipse Stakes, retiring without racing again.

I had previously met David O’Brien on my trip that July to Keeneland, invited for my first look at the great Calumet Farm, owned by several generations of the influential Wright family. Then an outsider, J T Lundy married into the family and by this time controlled the place. His stewardship was to become a matter for serious concern in the city, but he had arranged a deal to buy 50 per cent of the would-be stallion for $20 million. The strain of training told on young O’Brien whose sister Sue Magnier says he is much happier tending his grape vines in France where he has been based for many years.

I was to see Calumet later when a previous contact, Henryk De Kwiatkowski, bought it and started the revival of the farm’s fortunes. Upon his death, his own family never having been interested in racing and breeding, new owners came in and it is again at the forefront in Lexington.

Incidentally, my wife recommended I watch the Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit and I was amazed when this epic tale about a female chess genius was entirely centred on Lexington. Right at the start her mother’s car is on New Circle Road, a mini-M25 I cruised every inch both ways during my many visits there. The scene again early in the seven-part series where the heroine plays a tournament at the Henry Clay school also invoked memories of a good friend of Brian Meehan, Henry’s grandson, who had several horses with him at Manton. Great series, you will love it, I promise!

Secreto was owned by a Venezuelan, Senor Miglietti, who also owned the main bus company in Caracas and had, it seems, connections with some less-than-reputable individuals in his country.

Down the decades, other major Arab owners have stayed the course, none more valiantly than Prince Khalid Abdullah, breeder and owner of dozens of the world’s great horses but two will do – Frankel and Enable. His passing, also this year, will no doubt lead to a diminution of seeing his pink, green and white on the racecourses of the UK and beyond and for the blue and white of Hamdan a reduction of 100 is immediately to be enacted.

Two Princes to suffer uncannily similar early deaths at the first years of the Millennium were Abdullah’s countrymen brothers Fahd and Ahmed Salman, both dead in their early 40’s. Their father has since become King Salman in Saudi Arabia.

I brought in Malcolm Parrish and Hogmanay because he was one of the ten horses. We got onto that tack as earlier he had sold two good horses to Michael Dickinson and I had a small part in that. “Want any more?”, he asked then elaborated. “Yeah okay, you can have ten for 100 grand, I won’t put you wrong,” he added.

Hogmanay was one of them but Rod Simpson, who had the job of sorting them out (and on balance did pretty well) said Hogmanay will never stand training, so the £5k he represented in the deal was deducted. For each of his eight wins (seven over fences) and £60k prizemoney a dagger went to the heart. In the end, I did manage to pay for them and there were some very decent animals among them. Later Malcolm bought both Lordship and Egerton studs in Newmarket before passing them on.

With deference to the Dixon brothers who head up the Horse Watchers, and who combine television expertise with phenomenally successful ownership, journalists are hardly likely to make that jump. But one man who has shown signs of joining racing’s big time is the football agent Kia Joorabchian, who has been one of the more visible personalities in the first months of the season.

His horses – 37 have run – have collected 22 wins and more than £400,000 in prizes. That compares with £240,000 in the whole of last season with 18 wins. But what gives the game away is that his horse Mayo Star, a maiden who finished runner-up to Adayar in the Derby nine days ago, earned £241,000 for that one run, so a touch more than for all last season’s exploits.

There is no doubt Kia has gone about it whole-heartedly. Using trainers like Roger Varian, Richard Hannon and Ralph Beckett he has not been shy to spend, paying for instance 460,000gns for a Shamardal colt he sent to Varian. Great King has won one of five starts and is rated 88. Of the horses he has run this year alone – he also has several similarly-expensive acquisitions from the recent breeze-ups in the pipeline - he has spent almost £6milion in acquiring them.

As the man behind the controversial Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano deals a decade or so ago, Kia has become a leader in his business and at 49 he is still a relative young man in racing ownership terms. This year his colours could be represented at Royal Ascot by up to 16 horses. Pivotal to his early success this year have been his two-year-olds with Beckett being joined by George Boughey and Michael Bell as having feasible chances in the juvenile events.

The best candidates in the purple silks must be in the Albany Stakes where once-raced 350,000gns Wolverhampton winner Hello You (Beckett) and twice-successful and cheaply bought Beautiful Sunset (Boughey) are due to line up and are both prominent in the ante-post market. He also has realistic chances with the Varian-trained and seemingly well-handicapped Raadobarg, £200k, in the Britannia, with Hannon’s Sir Rumi (£160k) as a potential second string.

Kia will have a major interest of course in the Euro 2020 championship as will another of the big soccer (and many other sports) agencies, the ICM Stellar Group’s boss, Jonathan Barnett.

From an earlier generation than Joorabchian, Jonathan, along with partner David Manasseh, sold the agency last year to the American group, but they remain in day-to-day charge. Their major players at the competition include four of the England squad (Mason Mount and Jordan Pickford, who played yesterday, as well as Jack Grealish and Luke Shaw who watched the 1-0 win from the subs bench). Gareth Bale (Wales) and Kieren Tierney (Scotland) will also be well to the fore at the championships.

Less than an hour after full-time at Wembley, Jonathan was watching his lightly-raced four-year-old Fitzcarraldo winning with a fast finish at Longchamp for trainer Nicolas Clement. Fitzcarraldo was a €27k buy that took time to mature but now looks like a stayer with a future. Clement, who is head of France’s trainers’ association, has a record of bargain buys having paid £30k for Ray Tooth’s Group 1 winner and later 2,000 Guineas second French Fifteen, who has been sending out jumps winners as a stallion lately.

Given a £40k budget to buy a yearling last autumn, Clement came up with a €21,000 daughter of Derby winner Ruler of the World and he rates her very highly. That’s the way Barnett, also owner of the decent handicapper Year Of The Dragon with William Knight, prefers it, rather than the Joorabchian method.

I bet the people that have been recruited to buy the Amo racing horses would be horrified at M. Clement’s behaviour. Watch out for Fitzcarraldo. I would not be at all surprised if later in the year the jumping boys come calling for this big strong gelded son of Makfi. Maybe then the Clement business acumen that turned a £30k colt into a £1.3 million Classic prospect and future stallion will be rather more in evidence.

Monday Musings: Epsom Wonders

Friday morning 6 a.m. and I was keeping one of an increasing number of early-morning assignments with my good friend Steve Gilbey, long-term right-hand man of Raymond Tooth, writes Tony Stafford. He habitually – for Steve is very much a man of routine – starts his morning at crack of dawn at the North Audley Street, Mayfair, Grosvenor’s Café just along the road from Selfridge’s.

His first unofficial action is to help the early-morning setting out on the generous pavement of nine round tables and 36 chairs, using his boxing and security-man strength to speed up the operation.

But as we approached on Friday, there was a difference. A nicely-tanned, fit-looking gentleman came towards us, beaming at Steve, interrupting his own initialising that first task of the day at the café.

“How are you, my friend?” he asked. Steve had often mentioned the owner over the years but only on our previous visit the week before to my enquiry, said: “No, it’s been ages since I’ve seen him; he’s been stuck in South Africa because of Covid”.

So here we were on the morning of the Oaks and I was being introduced to the café owner, Mr Bernard Kantor. It wasn’t exactly a year before, more like eleven months, that Mr Kantor was standing alongside The Queen on the presentation dais for the Investec Derby as she gave the trophy to the Coolmore partners of shock winner Serpentine.

Co-founder and long-term managing director of the bank which had for ten years sponsored the entire Derby meeting, he had since retired upon reaching the age of 70 – you would guess ten years less when you see him.

So here was a highly-successful man actually enjoying the physical release of helping his bijou business – “I love it, it is so old school”, he says – start its day.

We had a pleasant chat, as racing people usually do, with the news that he had already been speaking to his trainer William Haggas and expected a call from him before we left after our toast and in my case some very tasty bacon in between.

As we went out, he thrust a napkin with an email address and imparted the news that Sans Pretention was fancied for the 3.00 race at Catterick that afternoon. When I got a chance to look up the race I discovered not only was the Haggas-trained three-year-old a daughter of Galileo but that she was owned and bred by a certain Bernard Kantor.

Naturally she won and this went along as just another of the ridiculously-fortuitous encounters I have experienced in my long life – even longer than the man who sponsored the Derby and who in 2018 dreamt on the morning of the race he might be winning it himself.

Haggas-trained Young Rascal, a son of Intello, had just come out on top in the Chester Vase, beating Mark Johnston’s Dee Ex Bee, but at Epsom while Dee Ex Bee filled the same position behind Masar, Young Rascal was back in seventh.

He won two more Group 3 races, both at Newbury, and a Kempton Listed to make his career tally five wins from ten starts and then he was passed on to Australian interests to continue his career.  There is clearly a strong bond between owner and trainer and Kantor describes Lester Piggott’s son-in-law as “the perfect gentleman, someone who brings great credit to his profession and to racing”.

Obviously, there was little time to sample the benefit of the experiences of a man whose husbandry of his company even though he had basically lived in London for almost a quarter of a century, maintained its South African roots, always with the theme of inclusiveness of the entire population of his homeland.

But he did offer one nice moment. One year as they were erecting the presentation platform for the Derby, one of his staff showed him the three steps he had sourced up which the monarch would climb to reach the presentation area.

“I said, “can you get two taller steps?” and he asked me why. “Wait and see”, I told him. “So when the Queen came to the top step of two I had to bend down to reach her hand to help her up. As I did, right behind me a massive banner depicting “Investec” came into view. I thought he knew why then”, said Bernard.

By the way, I can’t wait to go back and try to get in between the two powerful senior citizens at least to take a couple of chairs out and next Tuesday is already in my diary.  As I said, the bacon is delicious and so too are the lunches according to Steve. Grosvenor’s is open until five p.m. so if you want to sit in the sunshine just up the road from Selfridge’s, and sample “the life” I can heartily recommend it.

**

Ten hours after we left the café, a filly won the Cazoo Oaks by six lengths more than Shergar had won the Derby; four more than St Jovite’s margin in his Irish Derby and only second in terms of a Classic-winning distance in an attributed leading racing nation to Secretariat’s 31-length romp in the Belmont Stakes.

Big Red, though, was unbackable and faced only four vastly-inferior non-staying opponents already worn out by taking him on in the Derby and Preakness. Snowfall wasn’t even her stable’s first choice, that distinction going to beaten 1,000 Guineas favourite, Santa Barbara.

Two starts before the Oaks, Snowfall had finished eighth at 50-1, beating only two home in the Fillies’ Mile at Newmarket although if you have another look at the race you will hear the commentator calling her a close third in her pink cap.

But that was the day the caps between her and better-fancied stable-companion Mother Earth were inadvertently switched, so the white cap, intended for Mother Earth ended on Snowfall who was just hunted up once victory was out of the question.

The Aidan O’Brien team were given a disciplinary sanction for the mix-up but events for the two fillies in 2021 have been ample compensation. Mother Earth, ridden by Frankie Dettori as Ryan Moore partnered the much-lauded favourite Santa Barbara, won the 1,000 Guineas and on Friday, Snowfall, also with Dettori as Moore was again more-or-less obliged to stay with the now Oaks favourite but Santa Barbara never held up much hope as Dettori landed on his feet on an O’Brien Group 1 winner.

There was a race in between the 50-1 no-show and the best Oaks winner of all the years I’ve been watching racing and probably any in the previous two centuries. That was the Musidora when Moore made all the running on the 14-1 shot and just when it looked as though the better-fancied challengers would be coming to get her at the end of the ten and a bit furlongs she opened out again. Most observers on the day thought she might struggle to repeat it at Epsom.

I mentioned last week that O’Brien horses could suddenly make massive strides from two to three. Already up from an official 90 after the Fillies’ Mile, she was raised to 108 after York and with the look from that race and in her pedigree that stamina would not be a problem, she had to come into the Oaks argument.

But this was not an argument. Projecting the late York surge away from the trio that were chasing her at York another almost two furlongs on a more testing track and on rain-drenched ground clearly produced extra dimensions of superiority.

In the last furlong and a half, perfectly in tune with his filly, once Dettori grabbed the stands rails with a little tickle to the long-term leader Mystery Angel, the margin stretched exponentially. As with Secretariat who, once his far-inferior rivals were stone cold, put in an exhibition for the Belmont Park crowd, so did Snowfall in leafy Surrey.

If the Epsom finish line had been another furlong on, 30 lengths would have been a realistic margin. How Snowfall can lose the Arc off bottom weight with all the allowances against her elders and male opponents is hard to imagine. I wonder how daring Dominic Gardner-Hill will be in rating her after this?

We all expected, especially once Aidan removed his other five acceptors from the path of favourite Bolshoi Ballet, his own ninth Derby to go with the same record number of Oaks (Oakses? Ed.) looked almost a case of going down and coming back.

But while that can happen occasionally in a Derby, there are always potential pitfalls. Afterwards everyone was musing on why the favourite had so clearly under-performed. It was only as the generous praise for hard-working Adam Kirby, winner on Charlie Appleby’s well-deserved second score in the race with strong staying Adayar, that Aidan O’Brien was tweeting a ghastly-looking wound on the favourite’s off-hind leg where he had been struck into in the early scrimmaging.

Hopefully he can be brought back to full health to challenge Adayar later in the season, though maybe their future diverging distance requirements might make that unlikely.

Not 24 hours later, with last year’s Dewhurst winner St Mark’s Basilica annexing the Prix Du Jockey Club yesterday in such emphatic fashion to add to his earlier French 2000 Guineas success, Coolmore and O’Brien instantly re-established themselves at the top of the three-year-old colts’ division, too. It all makes for an exciting year.

Adam Kirby is such a nice bloke. One day coming back from a race meeting up north, one of my tyres blew but luckily it was close to the services on the A14. I limped into the garage and luckily noticed Big Paulie, formerly Adam’s driver, who had just stopped to re-fuel.

Paulie looked into the car, spoke to a bare-chested and clearly sleepy passenger who hastily pulled on some clothes and came out to look with Paulie at the damage. Within minutes they had changed the tyre with minimal help from the driver and we were all on our way. As I reiterate, very nice bloke is Mr Kirby!

Godolphin’s second win in four years started an astonishing day, rounded off by Essential Quality, who made the Belmont Stakes – the third leg of the US Triple Crown – his sixth win in seven career starts.

Before yesterday, Essential Quality, a son of Tapit and, like Adayar a home-bred Godolphin colt, suffered that sole defeat when fourth to the controversial Medina Spirit, absent from the field last night and with his trainer Bob Baffert now under a two-year ban from having runners at Churchill Downs.

Even if Medina Spirit is disqualified, as seems inevitable after two positive drug tests, the latter in a laboratory Baffert chose to carry out the test, there is no prospect of Essential Quality being the beneficiary beyond being promoted to third. Had he won the Derby, I’m sure trainer Brad Cox would have run him back in the Preakness.

In any case it was a memorable weekend for Godolphin, but even if they win ten more Derbys and three US Triple Crowns, it will never wash away for me the memory of a horse and jockey in perfect synchronicity slicing up the last furlong in the biggest show of superiority I have ever witnessed in a championship Flat race.

Monday Musings: New names in Epsom frame

There are Classic trials and Classic trials, but never before, I suggest, has there been a situation like that which leads into Friday’s Oaks, writes Tony Stafford.

I was about to trot out “Investec” as usual but checked and it’s now the Cazoo Oaks– yes, I wondered who they were too! There are 15 acceptors and it is possible to line up all bar one of them running in one of four races and all within a ten-day time-frame.

So there should be no excuse on whether the filly in question has trained on or indeed whether she will be fit. Only one of the 15 finished out of the first four – Martin Meade’s Technique, fancied for the Lingfield Oaks Trial but only seventh of eight behind the Archie Watson-trained 28-1 shot Sherbet Lemon.

Five of the eight that ran there, including runner-up Save A Forest, Ocean Road and Divinely reunite: the 1-2-3-4 that day are in the line-up.

There seemed only minimal evidence why the Aidan O’Brien filly Divinely should have attracted a gamble from an early last week’s 50-1 to one-fifth those odds, so a fraction of the 33-1 available about the first two home at Lingfield. But then she is a full-sister to Found, winner of a mere £5 million in prizemoney and a consistent improver throughout her three seasons’ racing.

Then again maybe a leaked whisper of a sensational Ballydoyle gallop might have had something to do with it. Anyway, the races in question in time order and in number of days before Friday start with the one-mile 1,000 Guineas (33) from which runner-up Saffron Beach and fourth home, the beaten Newmarket favourite Santa Barbara, come.

Three days later, the Cheshire Oaks at Chester, the race which first indicated Enable’s outstanding potential, revealed three more Oaks possibles and a more predictable outcome. The Mark Johnston filly Dubai Fountain, a daughter of Teofilo, beat Zeyaadah by a length with O’Brien’s La Joconde fourth in what was clearly a scouting mission for the girls back home.

Lingfield, which we dealt with above, was three days after Chester and the final link in the Classic chain came another four days on, so just over three weeks before the big race. The Musidora Stakes at York, run over slightly more than ten furlongs provided a surprise O’Brien winner in Snowfall, living up to the tradition of abrupt form progression from two to three for horses from that stable. The daughter of Deep Impact – do not worry, the dam is by Galileo – swamped the principals in that market leaving Noon Star, Teona and Mystery Angel to fill the places at a respectful distance.

The only outcast from those four tightly arranged and informative indeed series of races is Willow, the fifth and possibly on form the least feasible of the Coolmore contingent. She was third in a Naas Group 3 on Lingfield Oaks day and is, so far, winner of one race in five (a maiden), so normally just an also-ran.
But then you notice that the daughter of American Pharoah is out of Peeping Fawn who, at the time she ran in the 2007 Oaks, also just had one maiden victory from five career starts. She did not run at two but packed in five runs before the end of May, finishing a more than creditable third in the Irish 1,000 Guineas.

Despite that she was a 20-1 shot for Epsom, hardly surprising as she was stretching out from a mile to a mile and a half and only five days after her third behind the brilliant Finsceal Beo. In the event she easily outperformed the trio of other O’Brien candidates when a half-length second to Sir Henry Cecil’s Light Shift with the stable number one All My Loving four lengths back in third.

For the rest of the summer Peeping Fawn was supreme in winning four Group 1 races in succession, the Pretty Polly, readily from the previous year’s 1,000 Guineas heroine Speciosa; the Irish Oaks, emphatically turning around Epsom form with Light Shift; the Nassau at Goodwood and then the Yorkshire Oaks, wrapping up her 10-race, five-win career in 144 days.

So if Willow does turn up on Friday I wouldn’t put you off having as my friend Prince Pippy always says – and I’m sure he’s missing going racing as much as me – a chip each-way on her.

It’s a very different Oaks this year with no Gosden, Charlie Appleby or Wiliam Haggas runner, but Roger Varian is upholding the Newmarket challenge with three contenders along with Sir Michael Stoute, veteran of many Classic triumphs over the past 50 years and Hugo Palmer, a 2,000 Guineas winner with Galileo Gold (ironically not by Galileo, but with him as the broodmare sire) and now proud progenitor of two winners from his first crop including Listed winner Ebro River, hero of the National Stakes at Sandown for Palmer last week.

The Oaks would already have fallen to a Hugo Palmer filly had his Architecture not had the misfortune to be in the same age group as the amazing Minding, comfortable winner of the race five years ago. Architecture was an excellent second.

There are at least three names in addition to Martyn Meade that do not fall easily from the tongue in relation to Group 1 fillies’ races. The afore-mentioned Archie Watson’s filly Sherbet Lemon, despite her almost-unconsidered status as a 33-1 shot, did extremely well to hold off a quartet of challengers around Lingfield and that race has been a more promising indicator of events at Epsom than was the case in the early part of this Millennium. Still regarded as more of a two-year-old “get-‘em-out-and-run-‘em” trainer, there seems to be more of a measured approach these days. As Watson’s stable grows into its new coat, so Hollie Doyle keeps pace and more.

That prospect of a first Classic for her is almost too exciting to contemplate but virtually guaranteed to happen one day.
If Watson used to be that specialist trainer, George Boughey, with the help pf Amo Racing’s big-spending Kia Joorabchian, has smoothly stepped into his shoes. A former Hugo Palmer assistant, he has all the hallmarks of a future top five trainer.

The name Chapple-Hyam has been notable in Classic terms and Peter of that ilk trained two Derby winners, Dr Devious and Authorized. At the time of his training for Robert Sangster from his Manton stables, Chapple-Hyam was married to Jane, daughter of Sangster’s second wife, the former Susan Peacock.
In 1992 not only Dr Devious brought Derby success, but the outstanding miler Rodrigo De Triano won the 2,000 Guineas and Irish 2,000 Guineas.

Over the past decade while her former husband has been operating on a much smaller scale – though with little sign of diminished talent – Jane Chapple-Hyam has gradually shown her own skills as a handler. Starting in 2006 she had tremendous success with multiple stakes-winner Mull Of Killough, trained for some of the younger members of the Sangster family, headed up by Sam and his nephew Ned and now her step-brother Ben’s wife Lucy with James Wigan and Lucy’s son Olly own Saffron Beach.

Winner of her only two races at two, a maiden and then the Group 3 Oh So Sharp Stakes, both over seven furlongs at Newmarket, Jane has kept the daughter of New Bay to the same track this year.
She reappeared in the Nell Gwyn, finishing runner-up to Sacred and then comfortably left Sacred behind in sixth in the 1,000 Guineas, staying on strongly past Santa Barbara into second behind that filly’s stable-companion Mother Earth who did not let the Classic form down with her second to Coeursamba in the French 1,000.

There are plenty of potential stories, but save a Hollie win, Jane Chapple-Hyam winning a race for her step-nephew and step-sister-in-law would run it close. There are certainly worse 12-1 shots around to waste our money on.

It would be great if Love could turn out earlier in the afternoon in the Coronation Cup. We only saw her once after her two Classic wins, by almost five in the 1,000 and nine in the Oaks. That later five-length win in the Yorkshire Oaks seems so long ago. It would be nice to see her challenge the fast-improving Al Aasy for William Haggas and the French colt In Swoop who has carried on the good work this spring after that excellent second in the Arc last October.

As to the Derby, you tell me, although it is hard from here to look past the favourite Bolshoi Ballet who won the same two races that his sire Galileo did before his triumphant run in the Derby. In winning the Ballysax Stakes and then the Derrinstown Stud Stakes, Bolshoi Ballet has convinced Ryan Moore he is the most uncomplicated colt he has ever ridden. I believe him.

-TS

Monday Musings: The Genius of Jim

It’s Sunday morning in the breakfast room of Glebe House, Coolcullen, Co Carlow, writes Tony Stafford. Ranged around the kitchen table are trainer Jim Bolger, wife Jackie, daughter Una Manning, grand-daughter Clare Manning, who runs the family’s Boherguy stud, and two jockeys. Stable jockey and the Bolgers’ son-in-law Kevin Manning has been a fixture here for decades but a young interloper is an honoured guest.

It’s the morning after Jim Bolger’s historic first victory in the Irish 2,000 Guineas with Mac Swiney, but not just that, he also provided the short-head second, Poetic Flare, more than three lengths clear of the third, the Aidan O’Brien-trained Van Gogh.

The interloper is young winning rider Rory Cleary, who edged out the main man in a thrilling private duel between two colts whose breeding had all been an act of JSB.

The atmosphere around the table is rather tenser, though, than you might have imagined after a long-awaited Classic success. Then Jim began.

“Now do you remember when we talked about the race yesterday morning I told you what I wanted you to do?” said Jim.  “Rory, I told you to make the running as Mac Swiney is our Derby horse so the better stayer and Kevin, you were to join him on the line. Obviously Poetic Flare, as the Newmarket 2,000 Guineas winner is more the miler of them and after failing to follow up in France last Sunday, we needed you to make amends here!”, said Jim.

“How could you get it so wrong? Rory, either you were just a little too forceful on the run to the line – you hit him eight times rather than the permitted seven after all and got that ban - or Kevin, you couldn’t keep Poetic Flare straight in the finish. That result cost us a second Classic winner in one day!” added the trainer.

Then I woke up!

The alchemist of Irish racing had just pulled two rabbits out of the same hat. Has ever a Classic been decided by a dead-heat where every being, human or equine – save Rory Cleary, and even he’d been fashioned in the manner of Aidan O’Brien, Tony McCoy, Willie Mullins and so many more, in the Bolger hothouse – had been so minutely sculpted by one man?

The fact it was not a dead-heat, and make no mistake neither horse deserved to lose, was the only issue that stopped this result from transcending reality into fiction.

To describe Bolger’s unique status during a lifetime as trainer, owner and breeder as the supremo of an Academy doesn’t go anywhere near to covering it. It’s been more like a multi-generational pattern of life based on hard work, honesty and intuitive talent. Forty years ago he talked of an ambition to own all the horses in his stable. Even that apparently over-blown dream has proved to be much less than the surreal actuality.

He not only does – in the name of his wife Jackie - own almost all the horses in the yard, but breeds the majority too. He is the breeder of both the Guineas winners and, much more improbably, their respective sires, Derby winner New Approach (Mac Swiney) and that horse’s son Dawn Approach, sire of Poetic Flame, not to mention Teofilo, Mac Swiney’s broodmare sire.

To breed one unbeaten champion two-year-old in a lifetime would be beyond the dreams of most stud owners. To breed three, all of which won the Dewhurst Stakes to clinch their European juvenile championships and ensure their reputation, is something beyond comprehension.

Much was said of his genius in identifying Galileo as a sire to bank on when he first went to Coolmore following that horse’s epic career under Aidan O’Brien including his impressive Derby win. At the time Derby winners weren’t the most fashionable for stud careers – often being packed off to Japan or indeed ending up as jumps stallions, but Galileo was the exception.

Teofilo emerged from that first crop, running five times – all at seven furlongs – and only twice winning by more than a neck, and even then never by as much as two lengths. In two of the three narrow victories he rallied at the finish to regain the lead, a characteristic of both Saturday’s main protagonists.

He could not have proved more justified in his patronage of Galileo, but even for Jim Bolger, it is impossible to be right all the time.

I remember one day at Arqana’s Saint-Cloud sales seeking a stallion to cover one of Raymond Tooth’s mares asking David O’Loughlin which of Coolmore’s new sires might fit. He kindly pointed me in the direction of another of their Derby winners, the Andre Fabre-trained Pour Moi. He said: “Jim Bolger’s sending a load of mares to him.”

So we sent Laughing Water to Pour Moi and her son, Waterproof, did win a hurdle race on New Year’s Day last year but nothing else. Coolmore meanwhile did not waste much time diverting Pour Moi to their successful NH division despite his producing a Derby winner from his first crop in the shape of Wings Of Eagles.

From a €20k starting point, Pour Moi is now serving his mares having been banished for the last two covering seasons to the Haras de Cercy in France at €3,000 a pop. That’s less than 1% of what Galileo still commands as he approaches the twilight of the greatest stallion career of all time. From his starting point of €30k he will stand in historical terms at least on a par with his own sire Sadler’s Wells and that great horse’s father, the inimitable Northern Dancer.

Just as Bolger identified Galileo’s potential so did John Magnier all those years ago when with the assistance of Robert Sangster’s financial clout and Magnier’s father-in-law Vincent O’Brien’s training skills, they descended on Keeneland in Kentucky to cherry-pick the best of the Northern Dancers.

Again here was a champion and a Derby winner, despite in his case being very small. He missed out on the Triple Crown, finishing only third in the Belmont Stakes following victories in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, but once sent to stud, he produced the English Triple Crown winner Nijinsky, trained by Vincent O’Brien from only his second crop.

That event guaranteed the future success of Northern Dancer, standing at Windfields Farm in Maryland, near Washington DC, initially for $10,000. It also galvanised the O’Brien/Sangster/ Magnier certainty that Northern Dancer should be the sire to concentrate on.  As well as Sadler’s Wells, the Irish 2,000 Guineas winner who did not contest the Derby, but became such a prepotent stallion winning 14 Champion Sire titles, 13 in succession, their shopping trips also brought back The Minstrel, one of the bravest winners of the Epsom Classic in memory.

If Jim Bolger was the biggest star on Irish 2,000 Guineas Day 2021, David O’Loughlin, or rather his wife Treasa, and also the wives of fellow Coolmore senior executives Tom Gaffney and Clem Murphy, won the Group 3 Marble Hill Stakes for two-year-olds with Castle Star, trained by Fozzy Stack.

Magnier has always encouraged his most valued employees to own, breed and above all cash in on the potential of horses and no doubt the trio (and their wives of course) will be hearing plenty of offers for this very stylish winner by Starspangledbanner, who has returned from the ignominy of infertility to a full part in the Coolmore story.

Last week I mentioned Sam Sangster, son of Sadler’s Wells and The Minstrel’s owner among many other Vincent O’Brien stars, for his own exploits with a filly called Beauty Stone. The daughter of Australia, originally a 475,000gns Godolphin buy, but a Sangster acquisition for barely 1% of that when culled from the Charlie Appleby team, made it four wins in a row at Goodwood on Saturday.

Running off 77, 15lb higher than when she started her winning run as recently as February at Kempton, the Tom Ward-trained filly battled on well to defeat 0-90 opposition. Black type could be next for Beauty Stone and no doubt young Mr Sangster will know how to handle the experience and also her future marketing which will involve rather more figures than those he paid for her. It’s all a matter of breeding as Jim Bolger will tell you. Nice kitchen by the way!

Monday Musings: Boutique Classic

The Arqana Arc sale, staged every eve of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at the company’s Saint-Cloud base, used to be a major source of excitement with several candidates due to run the next day, sometimes even in the big race itself, going through in a real boutique auction, writes Tony Stafford.

It was the model for the much more recent pre-Royal Ascot auction where many of UK racing’s great and good, and many over here from overseas for the week, would be wined and if-not dined, certainly canape’d to their hearts’ content in Kensington Palace Gardens with nary a horse to be seen.

Friends of mine got a great result a few years ago selling a decent handicapper for an embarrassingly-large amount. I hope his new owners were as satisfied in the longer scheme of things as his original partners but I very much doubt they were.

Last October 3, with Covid in full force throughout Europe, a slimmed-down catalogue of 27 horses went virtually “sous le marteau” – I used the translation for hammer as the French for “gavel” is, boringly, gavel, what a let-down!

With absentees, reserves not attained and simply horses unsold or bought back, only 11 changed hands.

Most of those were three-year-olds and in the 43-49 kg mark, translating to 86-108 in UK ratings. The highest price was the €975,000 for Virginia Joy, a German-trained filly that has been exported from France to the USA, and won an optional allowance claiming race last month at Belmont Park for her new owner, Peter Brant.

One oddity and the only obvious jumps prospect was the once-raced (placed third) AQPS gelding Hercule Point, bought for €270,000 by Dan Skelton. I think we should look out for this son of the top French jumps sire, Network.

Two of those sold had in fact performed at ParisLongchamp that afternoon on the first stage of the Arc meeting. Step By Step, a colt, was third in the Qatar Prix Chaudenay. He went for €320,000 and has not been sighted since being bought by Narvick International.

Until yesterday the only other subsequent winner from the batch was King Pacha, €100k worth of three-year-old colt that has been strutting his stuff in Qatar. First time there in January he was second in the Qatar Derby and after a lesser runner-up spot, won a 100 grand race before two later fifth places.

But then there was yesterday, and what was expected to be the second leg of an Aidan O’Brien/Coolmore double 35 minutes after St Mark’s Basilica won the French 2,000 Guineas – forget all that Poule D’Essai stuff!

St Mark’s Basilica was allowed to start at 4-1 in his first run since claiming top 2020 European colt honours having won last year’s Dewhurst. That choice of Classic for his comeback run shows that a fair bit of planning goes into those Ballydoyle Spring pack-shufflings  as St Mark’s Basilica is a son of the top French sire, Siyouni.

After this victory, leading French breeders will be unable to resist him when he goes to stud. A quick look through the list of Aidan’s 192 inmates in Horses In Training shows he is the only Siyouni in the yard. Of course he does have a family connection a few miles down the road at Coolmore stud, the home of Siyouni’s 2020 Arc winner, Sottsass.

It’s been rather long-winded but at last I’m there. Sottsass was trained by Jean-Claude Rouget and that most prolific of French trainers from his base in the west of France is always dangerous in the Classic races on home soil.

Yesterday he had a single runner pitted against Mother Earth and, while the O’Brien filly was anything but disgraced in finishing runner-up in another Classic so soon after Newmarket, she could not match Rouget’s outsider.

Coeursamba is a daughter of The Wow Signal, who raced only at two and won his first three races, including at Royal Ascot, for John Quinn but lost his unbeaten record in the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere. He was the 7-4 favourite, but finished last of seven behind Gleneagles, the future 2,000 Guineas winner, and promptly retired to stud in France.

Coeursamba won only one of her six races at two, but did enough to earn a rating dead on 100. She dutifully took her place the next day in the Prix Marcel Boussac, and finished fifth to Tiger Tanaka, who was unplaced yesterday.  Then last autumn she had one more run, third behind Lullaby Moon, the Redcar Gold Trophy winner, another also-ran. Lullaby Moon now runs in the ever-more-recognisable Amo Racing colours.

That was one of many private and public deals that have bolstered the strength of Amo’s celebrity football agent, Kia Joorabchian.  A stream of juvenile first-time winners in his purple and white silks have been inevitably attracting attention and quickly propelling trainer George Boughey into the big time.

No doubt they will be going on a shopping spree this week when Arqana stage their breeze-up sale in Doncaster rather than Paris with the Covid recovery trailing behind the UK’s – touch wood and whistle, as Len Baily, brother of Spurs and England footballer Eddie used not only to say but perform with a modest trill.

I worked in Len and middle brother Charlie’s betting shop in Clarence Road, Lower Clapton, before leaving school and passed up an offer to take their partner Sid’s share when he retired – for free.  I’m clinging on to that sort of memory – Len’s whistle – for dear life, still wondering whether I should have been on the other side of the argument for the past 58 years!

Coeursamba, at €400,000 the second most expensive of those Arqana Arc sale graduates, might have started 66-1 but could have been mistaken for the favourite as she quickly asserted over Mother Earth.

Mr Joorabchian doesn’t show many signs that he is finished with his acquisitions. Rossa Ryan, a young jockey who is showing that the best way to go from mid-range to top-level rider is to get on good horses, revealed in a recent interview that his boss has a team of 85, more than 50 of them two-year-olds.

As I said, we’ve seen a few of them and good luck to Kia, a welcome incoming force just as two of the biggest players ever in the UK, Prince Khalid Abdullah and Hamdan Al-Maktoum, have left the scene. As the O’Learys are finding with the Gigginstown House hordes, it’s not easy to rationalise overnight, so I’m sure we’ll be seeing the Frankel and Nashwan colours for years to come until the two bosses’ successors decide on which way they will go with their massive operations.

One disappointment in the “1,000” was the running of King’s Harlequin in the Sam Sangster colours; but that Camelot filly has already far-outweighed her original purchase price of €30k, by Tina Rau and Nicolas Clement as a yearling.

It might not have been what connections had been hoping for yesterday as King’s Harlequin raced too freely and gradually dropped away. Sam, though, is continuing to show signs that he is a chip off the old block and in time could be winning big races in the manner of his father, the late Robert Sangster.

At Windsor on Monday Sam watched on from home as the four-year-old filly Beauty Stone came from last to first off her mark of 69 to win a fillies’ handicap over an extended 11 furlongs by just over six lengths.

A daughter of Australia she had three runs for Charlie Appleby in the Godolphin blue without making any impact. She was a 475,000gns yearling buy but cost only 5,500gns when Sam picked her up when culled at the February horses-in-training sale at Newmarket last year.

She had a busy 2020 when racing resumed winning a small race at the fifth attempt for trainer Tom Ward, chosen as he had been a school-friend of Sam’s brother Max, the youngest of the Sangster siblings.

To show just how good a choice that was, Beauty Stone was completing a hat-trick and winning for the fourth time in all at Windsor. Fancied in the morning, trainer and owner were constantly on the phone with Sam quizzing Tom as to why a filly which had won its last two races could still be available at 20-1 even though she’d been backed.

Making a final contact as the filly was being saddled, Sam asked the trainer: “Does she look big?” to which Tom replied: “Looking at her now, maybe?”  I wish I’d heard the story before rather than half an hour after the race, but with her nice pedigree, there’s no doubt that’s another Sangster steal. Sangster the Gangster is back! In a manner of speaking, of course .

 

Monday Musings: Chester Chat and the HIT Book

Joy O Joy! Tuesday morning, almost two months later than usual when the social-distancing postman left my little package on the doorstep having already scooted ten yards away before I answered the doorbell, it was here, writes Tony Stafford.

A helpful bookseller used his influence to get a pal to send me my copy of Horses In Training, guaranteed reading matter for the next two months and reference until the next one arrives hopefully off the bookstall at Cheltenham racecourse next March.

I swiftly turned to the William Haggas page and saw with some surprise that he had the same number of horses listed – 199 – as last year. On further scrutiny they WERE the same horses. Not surprisingly, as I’d been sent last year’s book.

When a friend does you a favour you need to let him down lightly, and he took no umbrage, instead putting in motion the right volume, which duly arrived speedily enough on Friday morning. I note that Mr Haggas is doing rather badly in stock market company annual results terms with just 197 horses under his care this time round. Still he’ll have one per cent more free time this year for which I’m sure he and Maureen will be grateful.

They’ll have to get son and ace agent Sam to get a few new owners through the door. Maybe he already has at the breeze-ups this spring?

Chester has come and gone – without me, of course, but Harry Taylor dutifully went driving up on his own on Tuesday evening. For anyone who has never been there in May, Chester town centre is the busiest and most vibrant place with bars, restaurants and hotels brim-full with people for the whole week.

After checking in to his up-the-hill-from-the-track hotel at what appeared a more-than-bargain rate, he thought he ought to stretch his legs – and found a ghost town: nothing open and freezing cold to boot!

Never mind, he thought, tomorrow we’ve got the owners’ restaurant at the track – the best food anywhere in UK racing bar maybe the Royal Ascot Racing Club, but they don’t let the likes of us in there! Not this year: “It’s the worst food I’ve had anywhere. Newmarket and Sandown were great, in fact for the first time I found a racecourse chef that could cook roast potatoes properly, but this was dreadful.

“Because of Covid, the waitresses weren’t allowed to serve food so we had it cold in a cardboard box.” Harry was booked in for three nights so he was gritting his teeth, but after the lunch debacle and then being forced to stay outside, by the evening he decided he’d had enough.

“Thursday morning I set off for home. I’m sure if I’d stayed another day I’d have got pneumonia”, he said. Having denied myself the usual bonhomie with Harry and also Alan Newman (another absentee this time) that we’d enjoyed for the past few years, it was probably fortunate that I stayed home.

One delight we missed was a promised Thursday dinner with Ian Williams, on the eve of his nine-pronged challenge on the Chester Cup (three) and Chester Plate, the consolation race in which he had six runners.

Ian’s The Grand Visir was a brilliant second in the historic Cup to the Irish (yes, them again) Falcon Eight, trained by Dermot Weld and ridden by Frankie Dettori. That horse’s success owed as much to handicapping leniency as anything else and Dermot is a talented international trainer and one hardly needing any gratuitous assistance from officialdom.

The only Irish runner in the main race, the six-year-old’s most recent run was in a Group 3 at The Curragh last June when off level weights he was fourth, beaten just over five lengths by Twilight Payment.

While Falcon Eight was kicking his heels on The Curragh in the intervening ten and a half months, Twilight Payment added to that June win with another, by eight lengths, in a Group 2 over course and distance before a close third in the Irish St Leger.

Sent to Melbourne by Joseph O’Brien, Twilight Payment then won the 23-runner Melbourne Cup getting the better of an all-Irish, all O’Brien 1-2 just ahead of dad Aidan’s three-year-old Tiger Moth.

For those achievements, it might be thought that Twilight Payment may have earned more than the 5lb handicap rise the three wins and a Group 1 third have entailed. Even more mystifying, Falcon Eight, beaten five lengths by Twilight Payment on his last run at levels might expect to be no more than 5lb lower than Twilight Payment’s rating at the time, never mind the collateral form that handicappers are wont to invoke when it suits.

But no, this high-class stayer, who on Friday brought his career stats to four wins in ten runs, was DROPPED 4lb to 104. Just to get a flavour of the injustice, The Grand Visir, whose last win of five over his career came in the 2019 Ascot Stakes off 100, has been beaten nine times since then yet remains on 103!

Ian Williams’ six runners in the Plate did no better than the third achieved by versatile winning hurdler Hydroplane, but here another less expected owner of that surname which sprinkles nicely through the W’s in Horses In Training 2021 came to the fore.

This was heavy-ground steeplechase specialist Venetia Williams who since the mid-1990’s has sent out around 1500 winners over jumps in the UK.

It’s rather different on the Flat. In all, over 24 seasons she’s had a total of eight winners and by taking the Chester Plate with much-travelled Green Book she was equalling her best score for any season – namely one.

The eight wins have come in that time from 153 runners but this was the first from the five horses that have appeared from her stable over the last five seasons. Originally trained by Brian Ellison for his prominent owner Kristian Strangeway, Green Book was placed in four of five starts as a two-year-old.

Kristian moved the French-bred to France, presumably to take advantage of the higher prize money – especially for places – and owner premiums and was rewarded with five more runs in the money from eight starts for Patrick Monfort at Senonnes.

The decision was made to sell the gelding and he was picked up at Arqana’s Deauville sale in November for a partnership of owners of Venetia’s – 100% to go jumping.  He had one try, a promising second place over hurdles at Hereford in February and it seems the decision may well have been to keep him a novice for the embryo season which got going a couple of weeks back.

So instead of a second jumps run, Green Book turned up at Chester and the €30k buy made all under Franny Norton and was never troubled to take the £18k first prize. Venetia loves a French-bred and, of 80 horses in her stable according to HIT 2021, 40, including Green Book, started out from France.

There are other trainers with a higher proportion of horses emanating from that well-travelled source, even among trainers called Williams. Two, Mrs Jane and husband Nick are each listed as training at Culverhill Farm, George Nympton, South Molton, Devon and their strings are respectively numbers 583 and 584 of the 602 in the book – it also includes a few from outside the UK.

Mrs Jane has 24, all bar seven French-bred, while Nick has one more, so 25, and of these 20 are French-bred. It’s as close as you could get to an equal opportunities operation for their two teams.

The way they source raw material, often quite cheaply, from France and habitually turn it into competitive racehorses, is no mean feat given the West Country hothouse in which they choose to compete.

It’s a shame that Richard Fahey, for several years probably the trainer with the most horses but one who for years declined to reveal his hand where juveniles are concerned, now has pulled out completely. It’s a particular shame when you’re as nosey as me.

The new Gosden partnership still keeps the older horse contingent – 151 this year – available for snoopers, but for a couple of years now the juveniles have gone missing. I remember only a short time ago adding up the cost of all the auction-bought two-year-olds in dad John’s string and you were hard pushed to find many that cost much less than 100K with many three and four times that. It probably got uncomfortable just how advantaged they and others at the top end are in terms of numerical and quality of opportunity.

Three of the other of the big names – Johnston, Hannon, and Haggas – have their full strings available, but with sale prices expunged. How refreshing that Michael Easterby, who hit the age 90 mark on March 30, has no such sensitivities. Surely creating a UK training record for the number of horses in the care of a 90-year-old, he has 116 at Sheriff Hutton.

Twenty of the 41 juveniles have their sale price proudly displayed. The most expensive was a filly by Caravaggio, who is a likely champion first-crop sire, which cost £28,571. The cheapest purchase was a colt by Estidhkaar at £2,857. Go Mick! He, of course, has son David well to the fore as his assistant!

Nephew Tim  Easterby, son of Mick’s elder brother Miles Henry (Peter), who also happily is still very much around, has 173 and again, no coyness where prices for yearling buys is concerned. The Easterbys are so successful (and of course brilliant at their job) that soon they might be having as many horses as acres on which they train. <Don’t be silly, Ed!>.

Monday Musings: Irish Domination

Where once there was meaningful rivalry, now there is renewed omnipotence. A picture spread through social media early this year of a grinning trainer talking on a mobile phone atop a dead horse has had even more effect than its horrified recipients throughout the horse world could have imagined, writes Tony Stafford.

Up until Cheltenham, the remnants of the Gordon Elliott stables, which had run 321 horses from the time jump racing resumed after the initial stopping through Covid19, was still punching most of its weight under the name if not the supreme control of Mrs Denise Foster.

Traditionally though, every late April/early May the Punchestown Festival has ended any wistful hope that the brash Elliott with his legion of major owners, most notably the O’Leary family’s Gigginstown House Stud, might finally gain a first Irish NH trainers’ championship.

Last week, respectable second place seemed a long way off, that eminence supplanted by the exploits of Henry De Bromhead, he of the surreal Champion Hurdle, Gold Cup and Grand National hat-trick over the previous six weeks.

But now we were in Willie Mullins territory and the week was just perfectly situated to welcome back the trainer’s previously stricken stable jockey. Paul Townend had seen his advantage over the challenging and seemingly unstoppable Rachael Blackmore slip to less than a handful of winners with seven days to go.

Mullins doesn’t do Cross-Country races, of which there are four over the five days of Punchestown, but he does do everything else. And how!

Eight races are staged each day, leaving 36 to go for. Mullins, with five on the opening day and never fewer than three on the four succeeding instalments, put together the unbelievable tally of 19 wins from the available 36 – so more than 50%. He did have 87 runners, very often multiple chances, then, and another 21 of his horses made the first four, that’s 40 win or placed. Place money at the meeting goes down to sixth and he had another ten of those, so altogether 50 in the money.

In all, Mullins’ runners brought back a total haul over the week of €1,470,950. For the season his 182 winners brought almost €5.5 million.

Elliott’s monetary reward for his 155 wins was €2,863,875 at the time of his suspension. Add to that Mrs Foster’s 16 victories in 205 runs from 135 of the Elliott horses was another €412,860.

But the magic which initially lingered after the paper – if not actual – change of control all but died last week. Mrs Foster’s 36 runners at Punchestown brought no wins, three second places, two thirds and a single fourth and a mere total of €52k. Nineteen of her runners either finished outside the first ten or failed to finish.

You would think that everyone associated with the Closutton steamroller would have been delighted, but what was probably the most spectacular of his victories, in terms of style of performance and the circumstances behind it, was a cause of regret for that horse’s connections.

When Mark Smith first moved to his present house in Essex 40 years ago the one-time Foreign Exchange trader met a neighbour who was soon to become his best friend. Mark owned Balasani, a horse that won the Stayers’ Hurdle for Martin Pipe at the Cheltenham Festival, and soon he and his friend, John Coleman, regularly went racing together.

Then a few years back John became gravely ill with cancer by which time he had bought Klassical Dream. Sadly he was never able to see the horse on the track – it raced in the name of his widow Joanne but was a family horse with his two sons and a nephew taking shares. They insisted that Mark should also accept a share.

It was bitter-sweet for the team when Klassical Dream won his maiden hurdle first time up at Leopardstown’s St Stephen’s Day fixture in 2018 and he duly went on to take three Grade 1 prizes, at Leopardstown in February, Cheltenham’s Supreme Novice, and Punchestown’s Champion Novice Hurdle.

The 2019/20 season proved a massive anti-climax, the ante-post Champion Hurdle favourite racing only twice and beaten at odds-on behind less talented stable companions. Cheltenham 2021 was originally on the agenda but that came and went without him, after which the plan was laid for Thursday’s big stayers’ hurdle over three miles. Klassical Dream had never raced over much further than two miles and would have a 487-day absence to overcome.

Mark spoke to Willie a few days before the race and on Thursday morning before leaving home for a funeral of another good friend he tried unsuccessfully to reach the trainer. Mullins left a recorded message when he could and Mark says it was very similar to the previous one.

I’ve heard it and in it Willie says he would be happy if the horse finished in the first six but above all the priority is that he comes home sound. Mark interpreted this to mean the trainer wasn’t sure he would make the first six.

Mark relayed the news to the other owners, and before leaving had what he calls a “suicide throwaway 50 quid” at around 17-1 when he first noticed the price was dropping. He had expected to be home in time to watch the race, but was still at the reception at the off, so watched it on his phone.

In what was described as the biggest gamble of the week, 20-1 down to 5-1, Klassical Dream under Patrick Mullins, and one of four stable-mates in the race, cantered into the lead going to the last hurdle and drew easily clear of Mullins’ James Du Berlais for a nine-length victory.

There was more than a degree of consolation that the horse had come back with such a bang, and not least for winning the €147,500 winner’s prize, but also some irritation that the message might have been a little more accurate.

These words will be written before Mark and the trainer have their next conversation. “I knew I shouldn’t talk to Willie, who has always been so helpful in all our dealings, as I would probably have lost my temper. None of the other owners are racing people in the way John was and of course I am, and their delight at their horse coming back in such a dramatic manner easily outweighs for them any irritation that they might have had a bigger bet if they knew a bit more beforehand”.

The Irish dominated Cheltenham and Aintree and it was the Flat trainers from that side of the wet divide who collected the first two Classics of the season at Newmarket.

First Jim Bolger, 79, and jockey and son-in-law Kevin Manning, 54, took the 2,000 Guineas with brave home-bred Poetic Flare, 16-1 and a son of Dawn Approach, also a Bolger home-bred and winner of the same Classic.

Then yesterday, Aidan O’Brien, a pupil and amateur rider for Bolger before embarking on his own stellar training career, made it seven wins in the 1,000 Guineas. His second string 10-1 shot Mother Earth, ridden by 50-year-old Frankie Dettori, made use of her greater experience to run past long-time race favourite and stable-companion Santa Barbara.

Like Love last year, who came to the “1,000” with three wins from seven juvenile appearances, Mother Earth put in plenty of creditable runs at two but in her case for just one win, although second at the Breeders’ Cup was hardly a negligible effort.

Unlike Love, though, who went on to Epsom and then York for two more emphatic wide-margin Group 1 victories, Mother Earth is being pencilled in for the Irish 1,000. Santa Barbara, who understandably showed signs of greenness - she raced only in one maiden as a two-year-old – goes straight to Epsom.

It was quite a weekend for big numbers and veterans. Bob Baffert, now 68 years old, made it a seventh Kentucky Derby when Medina Spirit, at just over 12-1, made all under John Velazquez, who is in his 50th year. The colt had won only once previously too, so it was stretching credibility after three defeats that he could win the most important three-year-old race of the year in the USA.

But it was even more amazing given that two runs back, in the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita, Medina Spirit had been crushed by eight lengths by another Baffert colt, Life Is Good, who was unable through injury to get to Churchill Downs.

The old prototype for winning the “Run For The Roses” was plenty of race-conditioning as a two-year-old, but Medina Spirit didn’t appear until January this year. That was also the starting-point for Life Is Good. That day, Medina Spirit came up short by only three-quarters of a length and he must have been energised when he noticed that his nemesis was not in the field.

Still pictures of the race finish show the Churchill Downs grandstands were packed. I just can’t wait for that to happen here - sooner rather than later I trust!

Monday Musings: A Controversial End

The jumps season 2020/21 ended with controversy when the heavily-backed favourite Enrilo finished first past the post in the Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown Park, but was disqualified and placed third after hanging left and hampering the challenging Kitty’s Light up the run-in, writes Tony Stafford.

Meanwhile, as newly-crowned champion Harry Skelton struggled to keep his mount straight, up the inside steamed the Alan King-trained Potterman. His spurt under Tom Cannon got him into a narrow second place just before the line and, following a lengthy stewards’ inquiry, Paul Nicholls and owners Martin Broughton and friends were left with a £52k shortfall as Enrilo was put back to third.

Nobody, least of all Alan King, believes Potterman deserved to pick up the money and it was almost in the Nureyev mould of verdict. Back in 1980 that French-trained son of Northern Dancer interfered with Posse some way from home when a hot favourite for the 2,000 Guineas, beat Known Fact by a neck, but afterwards he was disqualified and placed last by the stewards.

Posse had recovered well enough to finish third and while I’m sure owner Stavros Niarchos would not have been any less unhappy had a similar outcome to Saturday’s left Nureyev in the minor position, it had real reverberations at the time. Nureyev was due to return for the Derby but missed the race, never appeared again and was retired to stud, where he was a great success.

In those far off days I loved an ante-post punt – any punt really! – and had quite a chunk at 20/1 about Nureyev after his six-length debut victory in Paris the previous autumn. My memory in the interim had played its usual tricks, the recollection being that he’d won by far more than the actual margin. For the outrage to last well into this century as it did, he needed to have done so!

If the stewards of the BHA do not overturn the verdict at the appeal Paul Nicholls plans to lodge, it will not take too much gloss off the stellar seasons of either trainer or rider. Nicholls for now ends with 176 wins, five more than his previous best achieved in 2016/7. Skelton finished with 152, ten ahead of last year’s champion, Brian Hughes. A late flurry of winners, 17 in the final fortnight compared to five by his rival, clinched the deal with much more comfort than could ever have been predicted.

What did alter the dynamic was the readiness for Harry to accept more rides for outside stables. Of the 152 wins – not his best, he got to 178 when Richard Johnson had 201, his second double-century, but this was a delayed start due to Covid last summer – 136 were for Dan. Of the 558 mounts during the season, only 68 were for other trainers, yet in that last fortnight, six wins were hewn from 16 outside rides.

When Nick Skelton sent his two sons to learn their trade with Nicholls 15 or so years ago, he will have had lofty ambitions for them. One day, walking past Raymond Tooth’s Mayfair office, Nick bumped into the lawyer who at the time had a powerful team and indeed had already won his Champion Hurdle with Punjabi. “When are you going to send a horse for Dan to train?” asked Nick.

It was probably a couple of years on that Notnowsam, whose trainer Noel Quinlan was about to hand in his notice, arrived in the Skelton yard. A few days later, on May Bank Holiday Monday six years ago, he duly trotted up first time in a novice handicap chase, not a bad effort for a four-year-old.

Sadly Notnowsam proved much better at finishing second than winning after that bright start and when eventually he was sent to the sales, he was bought by Micky Hammond, for whom he was little short of a disaster.

At the time I hadn’t been aware of it, but later I learned that before Dan had arranged to collect Notnowsam he called Noel Quinlan to check that he was happy for the horse to leave and join him. “That’s a gentleman!” said a delighted former trainer, after the Warwick win.

This time of year always coincides with Punchestown and the conclusion of Ireland’s jump season. For four consecutive years I made the journey to Ireland and in 2009 drove via the ferry as Punjabi attempted a third successive win at the fixture.

As a juvenile in 2007 he was third in the Triumph Hurdle behind Katchit but won the Grade 1 juvenile race at Punchestown. The next year, he was again third to Katchit, this time in the Champion Hurdle before winning the Irish Champion at Punchestown.

After his win at Cheltenham in 2009 hopes obviously were high for the three-timer, but he missed the last hurdle when narrowly ahead and, in the testing ground, just failed to hold off the stayer Solwhit who got up on the line.

As I said, I’d driven over this time, and where I had to park the car, the ground was absolutely sodden. A few days later my ankle became very swollen and I ended up spending almost a week in hospital – my first since having my tonsils removed 56 years previously.

The diagnosis was that I’d probably been bitten by insects and the poison had got into my bloodstream so badly that I needed to be on a drip for the first few days of my stay. It was so frustrating because I’d wanted Nicky Henderson to try to win the Chester Cup. Punjabi had won the only two Flat races he ever contested since joining from previous trainer, Geraldine Rees. I’ve no idea if he’d have been good enough to win it but at the time my reasoning had been, we’ve already won twice over there, whereas winning the Chester Cup would always be special for an English owner.

Nicholls and the Skeltons will both be in action at Punchestown this week, but UK-trained raiders will hardly make a ripple, certainly nothing to compare with the steamrollering domination of the Irish at Cheltenham and Aintree.

Kim Bailey runs First Flow and Skelton Nube Negra in the William Hill Champion Chase tomorrow where the Queen Mother Champion Chase winner Put The Kettle On will be missing as she tried unsuccessfully to win at Sandown on Saturday. For once the raider was blown away as Nicholls’ new star, Greaneteen, a valiant Altior, and Sceau Royal all finished ahead of the mare.

In a seven-horse race, this still means the Queen Mother Chase’s beaten favourite, Chacun Pour Soi, will be out to repair his slightly-tarnished reputation on a day that Paul Townend’s title challenge enters a crucial stage.

Passed fit to ride after his recent injury, his absence has allowed Rachael Blackmore to get to within four as she seeks the first championship. Her list of achievements is already overwhelming, but a jockeys’ title would in terms of merit be the pinnacle.  Willie Mullins isn’t making it that easy for Townend as his mount is only one of three in the race for the trainer in a field of seven and Blackmore retains the ride on her easy Ryanair Chase winner, Allaho. I reckon that horse’s stamina will have the Cheveley Park colours to the fore at the line.

The first handicap of the day, a 0-145 hurdle is a typical full field of 25 with reserves. Mullins has seven in that, including three that came over for the Festival, running respectively in the 0-155 County Hurdle, the Coral Cup and Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ race. What chance Gentleman De Mee, the beaten favourite who set up the Martin Pipe for stablemate Galopin Des Champs when making the running, will have his day in the sun tomorrow dropping back to two miles?

With 19 runners on the opening day then 42, 23, 22 and 40 entered for the rest of the week it might look a foregone conclusion that Townend will hold on. The snag with Mullins though is that there’s multiple entries in so many of these races and they are all “off for their lives” – “up to a point” as William Boot, the hero of Evelyn Waugh’s hilarious novel “Scoop” might say. And that is as it should be.

Not everyone thought that a certain race at Lingfield the other day was totally kosher. Last Wednesday, seven horses lined up for a mile and a half novice race and Polling Day, trained by John and Thady Gosden and ridden by Frankie Dettori, was the 2-9 favourite following a smooth debut win over the course a month earlier.

Also in the line-up for the Gosdens was 16-1 shot Stowell, a Nat Rothschild-owned son of Zoffany making his debut under Rab Havlin. In an almost comic-cuts exhibition, Havlin managed to get his mount to finish a close second when it looked from the sidelines that he should have won comfortably.

The post-race interview by the local stewards provided lengthy ammunition for the Racing Post comments writer who reported Havlin’s saying that Stowell is a fragile colt with a high knee action. He said John Gosden had instructed him not to use his whip but that he should be ridden to get the best possible position.

I’ve spoken to plenty of trainers and they are all adamant. One said: “If those two horses had been trained by me, I’d have been looking at a lengthy ban!” Have a look yourselves. Seriously, it can seem in racing there’s often one rule for the chosen few and another for everyone else.

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