Monday Musings: Teddie and the Fez Jocks

Did you enjoy Cheltenham? Even assuming you did, writes Tony Stafford, you would be hard pushed to have had as wonderful a time over the four days as four-year-old Teddie Charlesworth. An ever-present in the fourth-floor box of his grandfather Danny Charlesworth, boss of distribution company Citipost, Teddie was thrilled to watch his hero Davy Russell ride his way to the Leading Jockey title at the Festival.

That award looked highly unlikely on Wednesday when Russell returned to the weighing room, visibly limping and with face screwed up in pain after a fall in the Glenfarclas Cross-Country race from Bless the Wings.

Before racing on the third day, I was sceptical whether Russell would be fit to ride. He’d won the RSA Chase two hours before his fall on Presenting Percy in the race that ended Ruby Walsh’s competitive involvement in the meeting after his fall from Al Boum Photo. In a Sunday TV interview, Walsh seemed surprised that there was anything odd in his attending the last two days despite aggravating the leg fracture from which he’d only recently returned to action.

They make them tough these jumping boys. But even in the Citipost box there was uncertainty around Davy’s participation, so much so that young Teddie, clearly tired after the first two days’ excitements, slept blissfully through the opener in his younger sister’s pram as his idol played a minor role on an unplaced 66-1 stable outsider behind Samcro.

He was barely coming round even by the second race, but could hardly fail to notice the tumult around the lunch table among Charlesworth family and friends at the exciting conclusion. Russell dug deep to drive home Delta Work in an all-Gordon Elliott finish to the three-mile Pertemps Hurdle Final, having the strength and determination to hold off Barry Geraghty on the J P McManus-owned favourite Glenloe.

Russell, along with Noel Fehilly, winner on the opening day on Summerville Boy, is sponsored by Citipost. Each time he returned in triumph after the four winners – three on Thursday – he paused, looked up to the box and raised his arm in triumph as Teddie, held standing on the balcony rail by his father Greg, roared “Davy!”

Before every race, if you asked him what he fancied, it would either be the name of Russell’s or Fehily’s mount, and you would not have gone far wrong following his advice blind. At one point I asked his mum if Teddie wanted to be a jockey or even a racing writer when he grew up, and she replied: “No, a golfer. A professional coach is coming along to see him soon.” Fair enough: Tiger started at that sort of age.

That Thursday was an epic afternoon for Ireland with the first six of the seven winners, the flood only halted by Warren Greatrex’s Missed Approach in the concluding Kim Muir. Russell’s hat-trick on the day was completed by Balko des Flos and The Storyteller, the latter after another full-on battle to the line with a revived Splash of Ginge.

Danny Charlesworth was quietly satisfied with the commercial success of it all. After every Russell (four) and Fehily (one) win, as they came back along the front of the grandstand, the camera lingered on horse and jockey, and the sponsor’s name emblazoned along the left leg. I reckon after Friday Teddie would have had a long sleep before getting back to the more serious business of golf practice. And school, of course, he’s a bright lad.

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The only slight regret for Charlesworth and good friend Eamon Evans was that Gordon Elliott had assumed some way before Cheltenham, that the ground was unlikely to be heavy enough for their horse Diamond Cauchois. He’d won two of his four races in the mud in Ireland since being snapped up out of Sue Bramall’s stable, and in between was third to Presenting Percy at Gowran Park in a three-mile hurdle. As the mudlarks continued to thrive, Evans said: “Gordon thinks he missed a trick and that Diamond would have run well if he’d come for the Albert Bartlett.”

Many great performances, in some cases with horses making light of unfavourable conditions, sprinkled the four days. At the top end Altior, Buveur D’Air and Native River – oddly all British-trained amid the Irish landslide (bit like the rugby) – were deserved winners of the week’s three most highly-prized championship affairs. The first two confirmed (as if it were necessary) Nicky Henderson’s role as almost sole defender of British training pride in the face of Elliott’s, Gigginstown House Stud’s and Willie Mullins’ domination.

Before racing on Tuesday, Colin Tizzard stood on one winner from 67 runs at the last five Festivals, but struck a last-day double, Native River’s fans being encouraged by Kilbricken Storm’s 33-1 success in the Albert Bartlett. Now Native River has a Hennessy – the last – a Welsh National and a Gold Cup among eight wins, a second and four third places in 13 chases, and at the tender age of eight years old. The first winner of the re-styled Ladbroke Chase (late Hennessy) was Mullins’ Total Recall. He had moved into a closing sixth place by four out and may have been just as dangerous a foe as gallant runner-up Might Bite had he not fallen at the next fence. I expect we’ll see him at Aintree on April 14 in which case he’ll carry my cash, what’s left of it, having refrained from staying with Native River on the day.

Richard Johnson was thus adding a belated second Gold Cup to that of Looks Like Trouble for future father-in-law Noel Chance back in 2000. He is sponsored (as Siobhan Doolan, who works for them, reminded me) by M S Amlin, but another Johnson ride that I did want to win, had no luck at all.

In the first part of the Fred Winter, to be known next year as the full-on Boodles (no Fred), great idea as long as they keep sponsoring it – probably three years – I don’t think, Oxford Blu was going along happily on the rail about halfway back. Then Knight Destroyer fell right in his path, causing him to swerve violently to avoid being brought down and drop to the rear, a setback from which he could never recover. There will be other days.

With close on 150 wins for the season it was appropriate that Dan Skelton was able to pick up a second career Festival win with stable-neglected Mohaayed, ridden by future sister-in-law Bridget Andrews in the County Hurdle with brother Harry only sixth on first string Spiritofthegames, but close enough for a pulling-up snog.

Cheltenham is always ready – as Ruby Walsh and many others know only too well – to take immediate retribution, and just as it looked that the well-fancied North Hill Harvey would give the Skelton team a double in the finale, he fell three out and was fatally injured. Harry Skelton was briefly (only seconds) knocked out, but after a hospital visit was declared “fine” by the trainer. He is unlikely to ride much before the weekend.

That means he will be unavailable for Starcrossed’s run should Ray Tooth’s unexpected Huntingdon winner turn out at Ludlow on Thursday – the trainer thinks Haydock the day before looks tough. Bridget looks the obvious replacement. Even Starcrossed’s owner noticed the style of her success in one of the hottest handicaps of the week!

Monday Musings: Chunky, Kalashnikov and the Snail

I enjoyed Sandown on Saturday, not least because with my pal Peter Ashmore I had a nice chat in the new and much-improved owners’ room with Mrs Heather Silk, friend of the famed former British Airways Cabin Services Director, Mike “Chunky” Allen, writes Tony Stafford.

Chunky was the man to know in the years between the 1980’s and his retirement coming up to a decade ago, as he would habitually “magic” a trainer’s Economy ticket into First Class. It was a poor show when his chum had to slum it in Club. Unfortunately, by the time we were bumping into each other fairly regularly at the races, his trips to the US seemed never to coincide with my assignments.

Before one visit, when I was to be travelling with the then Mrs Stafford, he said: “Don’t worry, when you’re going onto the plane, just ask for the Cabin Services Director and say: “Chunky Allen says would you look after us?” After a long, sceptical look, that gentleman replied: “Never heard of him, turn right sir.”

Chunky still retains his links – and often access to all racecourse areas – and above all enthusiasm, a trait he shares with Heather. It is purely a coincidence that on Saturday she wa s ruing some of the changes in present-day racing, complaining that owners nowadays have a totally different view of the sport than in her day.

It was in my research leading up to a couple of pre-Cheltenham articles – one on this site – that I made an in-depth look at Kalashnikov’s chance in the Supreme Novices Hurdle, the opening race tomorrow. Before even looking back into the history, it seemed obviously a rarity that a horse having only his fourth hurdle race, and that after a single bumper, could win the race that started as the Schweppes and morphed into the Tote Gold Trophy, before taking on its present identity.

The fact he is trained for her father by Amy Murphy, generally accepted at 25 as the youngest trainer in the UK, is distinction enough.  That only four horses in the history of the race, run 46 times with ten abandonments since its inception in 1963, carried more weight than the 11st 5lb he humped to that easy victory at Newbury, adds to the merit.

It’s when you look at the identity of that quartet that the quality of performance really strikes home. The first two were Persian War in 1968 and Make a Stand in 1997. Both went on to win the Champion Hurdle that same year. Persian War was running for the 14th time over hurdles when he won the Schweppes from 31 opponents, as far as I can tell from my incomplete records. He managed to gain that level of experience at age five having run a few times, with a couple of wins, on the Flat for trainer Tom Masson before that. With three Champion Hurdles, he was truly one of the greats.

Make a Stand won as a juvenile on the level for Henry Candy and again at three before the switch to Martin Pipe. By the time he pitched up to make all in the Tote Gold Trophy he was making his 12th jumps start and collecting an eighth win. His rating, including a 4lb penalty for victory at Kempton the previous month, was still only 140. Next time he again made all, winning the Champion Hurdle unchallenged by five lengths from Theatreworld.

Pipe again was the trainer when Copeland won in 2002 under 11st 7lb. He was already a seasoned performer on the Flat, running at least 18 times – incomplete records – for Henry-Alex Pantall and Sheikh Mohammed, often at Group level against the likes of Kayf Tara.

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He made an immediate impact as a novice, indeed matching Kalashnikov’s record of two wins in three before tackling the Gold Trophy for the first time, again as a five-year-old.  He was a highly-creditable second from a rating of 133 when a ten-length runner up to Geos. It was two years later as a seven-year-old that he won under 11st 7lb, giving 11lb and a four-length beating to subsequent Champion Hurdle winner, Rooster Booster. And his owners: none other than Professor DB and Mrs Heather Silk. Wish I’d remembered that on Saturday.

The last of the quartet came three years later when Essex, trained by Michael O’Brien, carrying 11st 6lb, gave 17lb and a comfortable beating to Bongo Fury off his mark of 144. The 4-1 favourite, he was also a former Flat racer – originally owned by Messrs Magnier and Tabor and trained by Michael Stoute – but one who subsequently spent several seasons in top jumps company.

I’ve looked back at last month’s race many times, marvelling at the fact that only two other horses finished within 20 lengths of Kalashnikov in that 24-runner affair. The rapidity with which he stretched away from them suggests that maybe he should be running in the Champion Hurdle rather than the novice. He has to be my bet of the week. Heather Silk says she’ll be there and I hope to bump into her to remind her of her brilliant jumper.

It’s a long couple of days for me, starting this morning as I always do at 4.30 a.m. so I can write this as late as possible and also in the quiet. Tonight it’s the Bedfordshire Racing Club preview night. I bet we’re the only one left after everyone else has had their say.

Thanks in part to the efforts of the Horseracing Bettors Forum – I know the Chairman! – we will have 48-hour declarations for Wednesday’s cards, and the said Chairman will be hoping that Oxford Blu, which carries his syndicate’s colours, will get up the hill at the head of his field in the Boodles Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.

By 10.30 today I’ll know whether he’ll have to worry about the Noel Meade-trained Vision D’Ete, five-length winner of his third hurdles start by five lengths from 19 opponents at Cork in December. In the interim three months, Meade has sold his former charge to Modebest Equine Ltd, a move that suggests he’ll take his place, and further that he’s carefully protected his very reasonable mark of 122.

Memories of Persian War’s 1968 Champion Hurdle remind me that it was that day 50 years ago when I made my first Cheltenham Festival visit in my father’s Morris Marina – I didn’t drive until almost a decade later. The last race that day was the Gloucestershire Hurdle (Div 2) won by my all-time favourite jumper L’Escargot, then a five-year-old.

By the time he won the Grand National – at the fourth attempt, easily reversing earlier form with Red Rum in 1975 - he also was the proud winner of two Gold Cups. I think it is fair to say that even if the rains come down as expected, his record slow time for the second of them in 1971 of just a shade over eight minutes is safe. His first win, when I backed him at all odds out from 14-1 to the on-the-day 33-1, was achieved in 73 seconds faster time!

Monday Musings: Onset of the Big Thaw

Who’d have believed it? In times of extreme weather, with snow blanketing much of the country, it seems the best chance of jump racing to resume after a blank week is Lingfield Park (along with Southwell), writes Tony Stafford. Before the drainage was (sort of) sorted out a few decades back, the joke among press regulars was that Major Peter Beckwick-Smith, then clerk of the course, would go out in a rowing boat and declare: “It’s flooded, but ‘good to firm’ underneath”.

The ground for the meeting later today will be the routine ‘heavy’ we customarily get when the elements actually allow proceedings to proceed. That part of Surrey/Kent/North-East Sussex got its share of the white stuff, but travelling down on Saturday for the decent Flat card, the instant thaw had transformed the picture, as it had magically in East London overnight on Friday.

Not so in many training centres, even in the southern half of the country. Olly Murphy, for instance, had to take his horse out to the road in Warwickshire to load him for the journey to Lingfield. For once the now expected market move for a first-time runner from the supremely-confident and successful young handler finished only third!

I hesitate to call my friend Mr Storey in frost/snow/wind/rain-ravaged Co Durham. Muggleswick sounds remote at the best of times, but with horses all-but-stranded in the fields and 14 inches of snow to contend with, there’s not too much activity with staff finding it impossible to get in.

Wilf’s grandson is making the best of it, offering his four-wheel drive tractor all around the local area, digging out driveways and school and supermarket car parks. The thaw will come up there, sooner or later. The one incontrovertible fact is that once the horses get going, they soon catch up, but you have to stay sane while you wait.

The thing for Wilf and family is that bad weather has been a constant accompaniment over the years and for a long time mid-December to mid-February was pretty much written off. The advent of Newcastle’s all-weather, half an hour down the road, changed the blueprint last year, but over the past week they couldn’t get out of the farm, never mind down to Gosforth Park.

With winter coming later than ever in recent memory and Cheltenham as well as Easter starting pretty much as early as it can, punters’ expectations for the Festival have to be problematic at best.

Every year I expect soft going to be maintained until those four days in March, but magically the over-efficient drains work their oracle and the Henderson team gets the decent surface his horses appear to require. At least when I roll up at the Bedfordshire Racing Club preview night, “the last but the best” as Chairman and long-time ally Howard Wright always declares it, at Langford FC next Monday night, we’ll have a better idea, but this time the soft probably has it.

BHA Hurdles handicapper David Dickinson, on the panel with Ian Wassell of Corals as usual, last year declared Fayonagh “a certainty” in the bumper. So she proved, even after getting left and it’s a major shame she died in a stable accident before realising her full potential for Gordon Elliott. I’m afraid I won’t be able to pass on this year’s Dickinson wisdom, as my final offering will already be on the site before we convene.

Long- or even mid-range weather forecasts are rightly greeted with suspicion, but I couldn’t help having a squint this early morning at one or two locations where I’d like to see some settling down. With flood warnings accompanying the accelerating thaw, it was with some trepidation I noticed that the BBC weather forecast for the rest of this week and all of next promised rain pretty much on every day in various parts of the country.

It is certainly true for North Shropshire, where the boss had two foal arrivals over the past few days (a colt and a filly both by Garswood), but one of the mares suffered a colic and Kinsale farm is on high alert. It emphasises just how delicate is the balance when bringing equine life into the world. Our thoughts (Ray, me and Steve) are with Rachael and Richard Kempster and the vets as they wrestle with nature against the backdrop of snow and deluges of rain to come.

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With Ireland seemingly brought to a standstill – Irish Thoroughbred Marketing went to the unheard-of lengths of closing their offices for at least two days – and no sign of any racing for a week, it is intriguing how much interference the weather may have had on the major stables. I expect not much. The 200-plus strong teams that will be sending legions of horses over next week will have it all under control.

Mullins’ and Elliott’s two biggest English-based rivals, Messrs Henderson and Nicholls, have taken advantage of the jumpers’ bumpers meeting today at Kempton, as did Brian Ellison and Donald McCain at Southwell and Newcastle at the end of last week. The anomaly there was that although a few from the south were left in, transport around the country proved next to impossible.

I thought jumpers’ bumpers were a thing of the past, but one of the beneficiaries of the previous set, Cousin Khee, no longer in the Tooth colours, but still highly active, was at it again yesterday. His trainer and the owner’s husband, Hughie Morrison, made a rare error when entering him for one of the JB’s, finding him to be ineligible. He did run in one chase at Kempton, but outside the three-year limit prescribed in the hastily-drawn conditions.

Instead, Hughie redirected him to Sunday’s two and a quarter-mile handicap, which amazingly carried an £8,000-plus winner’s prize despite a 76-rating ceiling, and the old boy (CK, not the trainer!) supplemented his recent course and distance win by six lengths, untroubled under stable apprentice Theodore Ladd. Who but Hughie could have an apprentice called Theodore?

He has another one, with a more prosaic moniker, the highly-intelligent and very talented Charlie Bennett, who won for the fifth time at the weekend on veteran sprinter Roy’s Legacy since first teaming up with him 14 months ago.

Afterwards, trainer Shaun Harris, who started out as a horse transporter, reported that the nine-year-old, who was winning for the 21st time, is targeting the record of 28 all-weather victories held by the retired Stand Guard. Such was the enthusiasm shown by Roy’s Legacy in holding on once guided into the lead turning into the finishing straight, Harris’s prediction that he can get the record looks realistic.

It was good to see pictures of Michael Bell and his grey hack leading the string, including a back-again Big Orange in the once traditional and now revived start-of-season walk through Newmarket High Street. Bell, with an enlarged 95-horse string and with his 21-year-old son Nick Bell – “He’s never been Nick, always Nick Bell” says the trainer – now the assistant, will be one trainer to watch out for in the early part of the Flat.

One Bell inmate attracting plenty of attention around the place has been Fire Brigade, a possible for the Betway Lincoln. Talking of early, that Flat curtain-raiser comes only eight days after the Cheltenham Gold Cup, on March 24 at Doncaster.

The snag for Ding-Dong is that, although rated 98, Fire Brigade needs 13 to come out from the 34 horses placed above him in the weights. Apparently, if he gets it, it could be between Messrs Moore and Spencer as to who gets the gig. Fire Brigade might even need to get a penalty somewhere to seal the deal, but then that’s always a gamble, especially with so little time to spare.

Monday Musings: Tony a Starcrossed Lover

What do you do to pass the time, if you’ve a good hour and a half to wait for your horse to go through the sales ring? When Dutch Law was offered at the Tattersalls October Horses in Training sale on October 26 2016, Steve Gilbey, fully restored with a handsome breakfast from the buffet, filled his by starting to turn the pages of his catalogue, writes Tony Stafford.

Dutch Law, winner of four races and a Raymond Tooth homebred, came hotfoot from one of his least impressive performances, last of eight four days earlier at Doncaster. But his victory the previous month in the 50k to the winner Albert Bartlett Handicap at Ascot, promised a good result.

As the boss and I continued to speculate about the possible outcome, Steve suddenly stood up and went to look at the horses parading around the ring. Soon after, he returned like a man on a mission. “I like 945” he said, “It’s big and I think it’ll make a jumper, but he’s going into the ring right now!”

Indeed it was and there was only just time for me to ask trainer Eve Johnson Houghton, “is he all right?” She answered in the affirmative, and two minutes later he (a son of Cape Cross called Starcrossed) was knocked down to “Raymond Tooth – 10,000gns”.

Despatched to Dan Skelton, his new trainer confirmed Steve’s original assessment: “Lovely big horse – he’ll jump a fence one day”, but added: “We’ve scanned all the other horses from the sale, and I think we should check him”. Wise words, as the scan discovered one small spot on a tendon – “you couldn’t see it with the naked eye” - and Dan suggested sending him back to Kinsale farm in Shropshire to have him fired.

Firing is not always regarded favourably nowadays, but many old-timers maintain it is still the best treatment for tendon problems, along with a good period of r & r. Rachael and Richard Kempster at the stud have a high regard for their vet Alasdair Topp of Nantwich Equine Vets and he duly performed what Rachael later described as “a perfect job”.

A year later he went back to Skelton, refreshed from good Shropshire grass, having previously run a dozen times from his belated debut in mid-July of his three-year-old year, 11 of them in a calendar year. He won one of them and showed stamina in excess of speed in earning a rating of 65. He’d obviously looked modest as a young horse, his yearling price of 6,000gns making him the cheapest of 39 Cape Cross yearlings, including Golden Horn, sold in 2013.

The need for and potential cost of surgery was slightly salved as Dutch Law realised 150,000gns and was set for a career in the Middle East. Strangely, and unfortunately for his new owners, there is no evidence that he has ever raced since.

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Fast forward to February 2018 and Dan had Starcrossed ready for a run and Doncaster was the chosen starting point. In finishing seventh some way back he showed promise and most importantly, an aptitude for jumping, albeit a little higher than ideal for a hurdler. Last Thursday, 13 days after Doncaster and starting 16-1, he came through a 15-runner field at Huntingdon and won going away by a length, surprising the trainer and delighting the owner.
For the man who owned a Champion Hurdler, Punjabi, who nowadays is a regular with Rachael in the parade of champions on the opening day at the Festival, that made it two wins from only three runs and two jumping horses this season.

Hopes are now much higher than previously for Starcrossed, while Ray’s other “jumper”, once-raced home-bred bumper winner Apres Le Deluge, is earmarked by Hughie Morrison for Aintree. As we hear tales of sums of Euro or £200,000 to £400,000 plus being paid for bumper and pointing winners, we’ve been surprised at the lack of interest in our big boy.
It can only be that nobody saw or has since bothered to look at his race at Hereford on December 16, when the gelded son of Stormy River careered away with the junior bumper. If you don’t believe me, look on the At the Races site – I promise it will be an eye-opener.

So if you have £200k or thereabouts to spare, let me know!

The last pre-Cheltenham evidence was offered to punters and Cheltenham preview panellists at Kempton on Saturday. I’ve only the one engagement this year, as is usual nowadays, a fortnight today at the Bedfordshire Racing Club. The 7 p.m. start, so home at midnight, is therefore ideal for getting my usual three hours’ sleep before setting off westwards the following morning.

The best weekend clue came from the Alan King-trained Redicean, who maintained his 100% record and took his third win in a row, by sprinting clear of his field in the Adonis Hurdle. This Anthony Bromley purchase on behalf of Apple Tree Stud was bought for 85,000gns out of the David O’Meara stable, and as a mile and three-quarters Flat winner, might have been imagined unlikely to have such acceleration.
His win came 11 years to the day that I first met Raymond Tooth, after Punjabi, another Bromley spot, won the same race by 19 lengths. He was only fourth in the Triumph, but then second at Aintree, each time behind Katchit, trained expertly by King, and the horse that preceded Punjabi as the Champion Hurdle winner in 2008.

O’Meara also had a good weekend, sending his tough performer Intisaab to Doha where he collected a six-figure sum by winning the sprint race. Happiest result for me though, was the easy win of Roger Teal-trained Tip Two Win, the Dark Angel colt, owned and bred by Anne Cowley, in the similarly-endowed Mile event.

Tip Two Win and David Probert had to overcome interference at the two-furlong pole but recovered with a finishing burst that augurs well for his 2,000 Guineas chance. I’m sure that Mrs Cowley will have plenty more seven-figure temptations before allowing the Great Shefford trainer his shot at Classic glory. I’d love him to win it. In fact at this stage he’s my Tip Two Win the race.

Monday Musings: Festival Clues and Hat-Trick Heroes

As we get to within three weeks of Cheltenham, all the evidence gleaned from the past weekend is being filtered into the Festival mincer, even though the likelihood is that the terrain in the Cotswolds will not equate anywhere near to what we’ve been witnessing, writes Tony Stafford.

What can trainers do, though? We had a Grand National favourite in Blaklion taken back to Haydock for the Betfred Trial under 11st 12lb in proper gluey Haydock heavy ground, a race in which he was placed last year. Last week his trainer, Nigel Twiston-Davies, declared him in the Red Rum bracket as an Aintree horse. Why then, after a valiant if slightly lack-lustre second place, 54 lengths adrift of Yala Enki, is he allowed out as far as 16-1 for the big race?

Trainers either give their horses the run, or keep them ticking over with the risk of being under-prepared for their big day. Blaklion will be happier on the almost guaranteed better ground around the Grand National course and I’m sure his breeder Mary Morrison will be hoping that her pride and joy will bring home the rather handsome joint of bacon this time.

Another horse actually is held even dearer to Mary’s heart – and is stabled within yards of her back door in East Ilsley. That’s Cousin Khee, now 11, and winner of nine races in Raymond Tooth’s colours before switching full allegiance back to the Morrisons, having originally been owned by family members, for whom they won a junior bumper.

Last week at Southwell, given an extreme trip on the Fibresand which clearly suits the Hughie Morrison team, he strode home well clear maintaining a tradition of longevity in the stable inmates over many years. Flat, jumps, turf and all weather come alike to both trainer and veteran racehorse.

With so many talented handlers about, it’s harder than ever to win races. Two of the best of the younger brigade, Gordon Elliott and Dan Skelton, were at it again yesterday, each clocking hat-tricks in consecutive races at Navan and Market Rasen respectively, with Elliott also weighing in with an earlier impressive winner to make it four on the day.

Time may show that Diamond Cauchois, the wide-margin victor of the four-runner Boyne Hurdle over two miles, five furlongs, is more a mudlark than authentic all-round top performer, but something lurks in the back of my mind telling me that he could prove considerably more than that.

The time of yesterday’s race was alarmingly slow, even by the consistently above-standard recordings of all the races. But the way in which Diamond Cauchois and Davy Russell stretched away from Bapaume after the Ricci hope looked to be going the better was compelling.

Bapaume was rated 153 going into the race and, based on his third over three miles behind Apple’s Jade before being understandably outclassed despite being backed from 20-1 to 9’s behind Supersundae and Faugheen back over the minimum, his chance looked decent enough. Conversely, strong money for the winner, evens to 4-6, suggested that Elliott believed they could beat the Mullins horse, who was conceding 5lb after his Grade 1 win in the big four-year-old hurdle at Punchestown last April.

I didn’t see the race live yesterday, but looking at the closing stages this morning, it seemed momentarily that Bapaume was coming to win when Russell’s mount stepped up a gear and shrugged off his rival in a few strides. It was left to the Elliott second string, Lieutenant Colonel, to run on late for second as Bapaume cracked, leaving Diamond Cauchois to draw nine lengths clear.

This seven-year-old, by Buveur d’Air’s French-based and –raced sire, Crillon, has a colourful past. He won one of four races in his home country – at Dax in May 2015 – before being bought for €12,000 by Sue Bramall. Am I alone in thinking the practice for British and Irish handicappers to allot handicap figures on French provincial form is risky? It was in this case, the 108 from which he made his Irish debut at Thurles proving the recipe for a 16-1 touch.

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Bramall gave him three subsequent unsuccessful runs in Ireland, before sending him for a summer’s jumping in France where his best effort was a fourth place from three more appearances. After this, a second place was the peak performance from his next six runs returning to Ireland before the run that attracted the attention of Elliott and the Danny & Eamon partnership in whose colours he now competes.

That came almost a year ago – March 9th 2017 – when he ran home the six-length winner of a two miles, seven furlongs handicap hurdle at Naas from a mark of 119. The most notable aspect was the identity of the runner-up, Raz De Maree, unseated when I backed him next time out in the Grand National, but the emphatic winner of the Coral Welsh Grand National in a stirring finish of teenagers at Chepstow last month.

Within a couple of months, Diamond Cauchois was in the ring at Goffs UK’s Doncaster May sales and changed hands for £68,000, decent business indeed for Mrs Bramall. Overall, though, on the evidence of yesterday and three previous runs – one easy win and two good thirds – for Elliott, he could prove a bargain. I hope he turns out at Cheltenham, as I’ll be bumping into his owners that week. The “something that lurks” could easily be for him to win one of the major staying chases one day. He’s still only seven after all.

Dan Skelton does not have quite the Gigginstown-backed quality that Elliott can call upon, but he has the numbers; and two Saturday wins, one each at Wincanton and Haydock as well as that Market Rasen hat-trick brought him onto a scarcely-believable 138 for the season.

The one I was most interested in was Solomon Grey, still lightly-raced but improving fast and a hard-fought winner of the day’s featured handicap hurdle. Again on my early-morning viewing, when he went past the four-year-old Oxford Blu coming to the last, it looked a formality with the rest well beaten. Then, having gone almost three lengths to the good, he had to hang on grimly as Oxford Blu and Richard Johnson battled back to within a neck.

I’ve been aware of the Cheltenham intentions of this red, blue and white liveried gelding, bought privately (and shrewdly) from Sir Mark Prescott’s noted jumping nursery, for some time. He’s with Olly Murphy, still less than a year into his training career after several years fruitfully spent as Gordon Elliott’s assistant.

Mr Geegeez himself warned me to watch out for when Oxford Blu went handicapping after his runs in juvenile hurdles and he could hardly have been more prophetic. I didn’t discern too much confidence before yesterday though – possibly after Swaffham Bulbeck’s disappointing showing at Haydock in the Victor Ludorum the previous day.

The striking thing about this run was the polished economy of his jumping, and the way he was able to run past almost the entire field from the start of the back straight to the home turn without any obvious energy from the rider. From that point he and the winner stretched easily away from some decent handicappers.

In his Sir Mark days, Oxford Blu clearly appreciated a trip, winning over two and a quarter miles, adding to an earlier 10-furlong Tapeta success at Newcastle (and a close second at Chelmsford to a horse which has recording the first of subsequent unbeaten run of five). He showed off that stamina yesterday in his finishing effort, and it is not difficult to imagine that when confronted by better ground and the Cheltenham hill in the Fred Winter he will prove equal to the examination. We’ll all be cheering him home either way.

Monday Musings: Jack’s win more than ‘fair

One win can do that. Overnight on Saturday, Jack Quinlan stopped being the most underrated jump jockey in the country, writes Tony Stafford. On Sunday, John Berry, speaking with his usual erudition on At The Races’ Forum, said Jack was “as good as anyone”, coming to school your horse and then riding him in the race.

Amy Murphy, who with Robin Dickin and James Eustace are Quinlan’s biggest supporters, took time to compliment her fellow 25-year-old after his emphatic victory on Kalashnikov in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury. The “underrated” factor was then again at the forefront of her thinking, hardly surprising as the media still didn’t really “get” how Mr Unfashionable had been able to keep the ride from voracious fellow professionals.

Like many an aspiring rider, that situation had already occurred. Six years ago, Jack was riding for John Ferguson, in his first full season as a jumping trainer with some of the Sheikh Mohammed ex- and in some cases future high-class Flat stayers. He rode 27 winners that winter and looked set for a blossoming career when Cotton Mill won the Grade 2 Leamington Novice Hurdle at Warwick.

Quinlan had been on him for his two previous starts, but when the unbeaten jumper turned out for the Neptune Investments Novice Hurdle at the Festival a month later Denis O’Regan had the mount. Coming to two out, Cotton Mill was still a length up on Simonsig, the favourite and eventual winner, but he veered left and deposited O’Regan on the turf, leaving Simonsig to win easily.

I’ve never forgotten John Francome’s reaction when he was asked in his then Channel Four role what he would do to correct Cotton Mill’s errant ways: “Put Jack Quinlan back on”. He was, belatedly, in the saddle for the following year’s Betfair Hurdle as a 3lb claimer when only well-handicapped My Tent or Yours could better him in that 21-runner affair. Saturday must have been full and final retribution for the rider in the corresponding race.

As a friend of his father Noel, I’ve known Jack for quite a while and remember it was a surprise for me that he could fine down his body sufficiently to ride at the 9st7lb he needed to get the full 7lb claim in handicaps. He’d looked at least an eleven stone lad, fine when riding mum Jo’s point-to-pointers, but no use when it’s your job.

Between the initial Ferguson days, when he rode all the horses, to the humiliation of rejection in favour of ever more high-profile riders than O’Regan, with even McCoy, Geraghty and Aidan Coleman getting the gig, Jack had to retrench.

It was his good fortune that when Noel Quinlan’s own training career came to a halt a few years ago, Noel took a part of Michael Wigham’s sprawling yard in the Hamilton Road to pre-train his existing clients’ horses. Later, Amy, previously an assistant with Luca Cumani, but set on pursuing a training career in her own right, moved into Hamilton Stables.

Amy Murphy’s father Paul was steeped in racing; had a stud (which he has now sold) and had long been a highly successful jumps owner. When I saw him at Kempton after Mercian Prince won last month, I reminded him that Carole’s Crusader, a high-class mare he owned and from whom he bred a number of top-class jumpers, was a half-sister to Hitman, who I bought as a yearling.

Inevitably Amy met Jack Quinlan and was immediately struck by the same qualities that John Berry espoused yesterday morning. He’s modest, polite and a true horseman. If you have a dozen or so jumpers like Amy and you train in Newmarket, there simply isn’t another proper jockey based there.

So they teamed up with immediate success last winter, when Kalashnikov made a winning debut in a Wetherby bumper. I was at the track – on my way to Newcastle – for the then four-year-old’s jumping debut at Wetherby in November when he strode ten lengths clear of his field.

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A month later at Doncaster, under a penalty, a similar result ensued and it was something of a shock when he could finish only a five-length second to Summerville Boy in the five-runner Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown.

Amy Murphy’s decision to pitch Kalashnikov into the 24-runner Betfair Hurdle was either brave or logical depending on your view. Ms Murphy thought “we have to run, he’ll never have that weight again”, but others might say she would only be proven right if he actually won under that rating of 141.

That he did, after looking to be anything but a winner three out, when contrary to what an understandably-ebullient rider said afterwards, he definitely did not gain “lengths over his rivals”. Yet from that point to halfway between the last two flights, he galloped past half a dozen smart and more experienced opponents, and had only to avoid a loose horse at the last to win virtually unchallenged.

Much of the post-race debate has centred on whether Kalashnikov would have the speed for a Supreme Novice Hurdle’s two miles, pointing out that Quinlan had to be riding him a long way out both at Sandown – where he did lose a shoe in the bottomless going – and again on Saturday.

I think that when any novice, particularly a five-year-old, comes to the end of a 24-runner Betfair Hurdle with just three runs behind him and does what Kalashnikov did, anything’s possible – even taking on Samcro in the two and a half miler if necessary.

But for Jack Quinlan, whose 18 wins this season have brought easily his best financial return thanks to Saturday’s 88k first prize, all the work with his local trainers is finally paying off. His 166 rides have been shared among 21 trainers, 12 with Newmarket post codes and another five pretty much in the region. After Amy, James Eustace, who has provided 21 rides from nine horses, has been a stalwart supporter over the past three basically struggling seasons.

As mentioned above, Robin Dickin, provider of four wins from 29 rides on 13 horses, has been another major factor. Jack shares the Dickin rides with long-term stable jockey Charlie Poste, who runs a livery yard with his wife. Midlands-based Flat trainers Mick Appleby and Shaun Harris also use Jack on their few jumping horses.

It’s never easy to benefit greatly from a single, out-of-the-blue big winner: ask Laura Mongan, who won the 2016 St Leger, but has found it no easier to attract clients. Happily for Jack Quinlan, the upwardly mobile Amy Murphy is on his side. He deserves it and Kalashnikov can take the pair of them a long way.  As he says, there are a lot of talented riders out there who never get the chance of riding a good horse in a major race. He won’t be passing up his chance, now it’s arrived.

- Tony Stafford

Monday Musings: A Dublin Flyer!

There was only one place to begin this week’s offering, writes Tony Stafford. Leopardstown provided two days of intoxicating, top-class sport, making a brilliant success of the much-heralded Dublin Racing Festival. Excellent performances were interspersed with some of the most head-scratching results ever in my experience, although in fairness Messrs Mullins (W), Elliott (G) and O’Brien (JP) are well accustomed to such equine alchemy.

At The Races, under the threat of imminent loss of the Irish racing portfolio to Racing UK, packaged its heavy hitters Matt Chapman and Mick Fitzgerald to join home team performers Gary O’Brien and Kevin Blake, bolstered by Ted Walsh yesterday when both UK fixtures were on the other channel.

With Samcro showing almost Golden Cygnet-like potential in the two-mile novice hurdle; Mr Adjudicator running a decent Triumph Hurdle trial in the juvenile race; Footpad looking Arkle material and Total Recall switching back to hurdles off a toadying 125 after his Ladbrokes Gold Cup (ex-Hennessy) victory at Newbury off 147, punters had a chance of some pretty easy profits.

Any two-day fixture which offers seven Mullins winners against only one for Elliott - that one was  Samcro - will have gone a long way to altering the perception that there has been a definitive change in the Irish jumps power-base.

But two results will have had both Goliaths looking over their shoulders in understandable anxiety as the boy Joseph was at it again. I was at Lingfield on Saturday, reasonably enough expecting victory for Joe’s Adam Kirby-ridden Paparazzi in the opener. In my opinion, he got a shocking ride, never in contention and only third under sufferance in a weak affair.

Minutes later, there was Tower Bridge in the McManus colours coming from last to first to win the stayers’ novice hurdle in the Festival weekend’s opening race at 25-1 with a storming late run. Tower Bridge won the last two of three bumpers last summer; ran a stinker first time over jumps at Down Royal before putting up an improved display with a fourth over Saturday’s track over Christmas. You could suggest maybe a two stone improvement this time.

Yesterday’s offering by O’Brien junior was even more extraordinary. Watching the preliminaries, my eye kept getting attracted to the name of Edwulf in the Unibet Irish Gold Cup Chase in which Our Duke, Djakadam and Outlander made up the most likely group. He was as large as 66-1 at one stage, hardly surprising after having run only once this term, when pulling up also as a 66-1 shot in the three-mile Grade 1 Leopardstown Christmas Chase.

Edwulf has a more than interesting history. After a couple of Irish points – he fell in the first of them - he turned up in the Ben Pauling stable and was despatched to the 2015 Punchestown Festival where he was a 39-length seventh, ridden by Derek O’Connor.

Switched the following season to Aidan O’Brien, he was in the process of running away with a novice chase first time out when as a 33-1 shot he fell with the race at his mercy. The McManus talent scouts were soon on the case, and it was in the green and gold that he made a winning hurdling start soon after, comfortably beating 24 maidens at Naas. A fall late on in a Grade 2 novice ended that campaign.

It also curtailed his time at Ballydoyle, as Edwulf was among the initial Joseph intake in the summer of 2016. He began with a third to Min, a convincing Saturday winner, before unseating in a race won by Our Duke. It was pretty much feast or famine after that with a second, a win, another fall and a second chasing victory before, reunited with Mr O’Connor, he came to the closing stages of the four-mile National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham looking the probable winner.

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Sadly, he went wrong after a terrible mistake two out, and O’Connor was forced to pull him up just onto the run-in. The top amateur kept the ride at Christmas and again yesterday, when after shortening to 33-1, he happily cantered round at the back and on the wide outside of his field while the majority of Ireland’s best staying chasers dropped away one by one.

Turning for home he was still apparently going easily, and once Our Duke and Djakadam dropped away and, notably, Killultagh Vic toppled at the last when looking the winner, there was only Elliott’s Outlander to account for, a task he and O’Connor managed with authority. This was yet another six figure prize for the modern-day miracle man.

A generation and a bit earlier Joseph’s dad was sharing Jim Bolger’s unique knowledge with, among others, Willie Mullins and A P McCoy. Willie achieved a couple of bits of sleight of hand of his own - with Total Recall, of course, unbeaten after three runs since leaving Sandra Hughes when she retired - but even more astonishingly with Patricks Park in Saturday’s 40-grand to the winner two-mile handicap chase.

As recently as last October, Patricks Park had the first of only two runs for Matt Sheppard, having been trained previously in Ireland by David Harry Kelly for whom he won a maiden hurdle. Readers of this column and more particularly adherents to the web site which hosts it will be aware of The Geegeez Geegee. It was that estimable horse – sadly now in other ownership - that gave Patricks Park a 33-length hammering at level weights on that Sheppard debut in a handicap chase.  Less than three weeks later, backed from 50’s to 33-1 Patricks Park romped home by 12 lengths over two miles, five furlongs on the soft at Ffos Las, off his mark of 113.

Between late October and New year’s Day he was repatriated to Ireland and, now with Mullins, started 11-8 favourite for an 80-109 handicap hurdle over two miles seven furlongs at Tramore off what appeared a gift mark of 104, but finished unplaced, 33 lengths behind the winner.

On Saturday, in a 20-runner 0-150 handicap chase over two miles and a furlong, he readily came home in front under Rachael Blackmore! How does he do that?

True, there was the disappointment of Faugheen’s inability to stave off the sustained challenge of Supasundae, and Yorkhill ran lamentably behind stablemate Min, but otherwise it was very much Mullins’ and Joseph’s meeting.

As to the imminent switch of allegiance of Irish racing from At The Races to Racing UK, I’m with such as Eddie O’Leary of Gigginstown and JP McManus in wondering what could possibly be the benefit to viewers. Surely, when the major UK Flat racing gets going, some Irish coverage must at best be truncated, and smaller summer fixtures could be lost in the way that even At The Races sometimes has to drop Down Royal. In its present location, everyone can see the good stuff without interruption. It’s decision day tomorrow. Let’s hope common sense prevails and they restore the status quo.

Monday Musings: Two Champions Crowned

The weekend’s two big races, the Pegasus, with its million-dollar entry fee, at Gulfstream Park, Florida, and the Prix d’Amerique, the prime trotting race in the world, at Vincennes in Paris, provided equally captivating contests, and two outstanding winners.

When the Pegasus was first mooted, the initial thought for many was that it would be tough to find enough ownership groupings to stump up the massive stake. This second renewal, won with such determination by Gun Runner from the equally tough West Coast, managed to attract not just a full field of 12 (plus two non-competing reserves), but one with serious strength in depth. Connections of the also-rans, including Toast of New York, whose comeback ended disappointingly in last place under Frankie Dettori, had the consolation of getting a decent chunk of their cash back.

By delaying his stallion career arrival at Three Chimneys Farm, in Midway, Kentucky, Gun Runner was on hand to notch up his 11th victory in 18 starts, the last five (all at Grade 1 level) coming since his final defeat behind Arrogate in the 2017 Dubai World Cup 10 months ago.

While that race proved to be Arrogate’s last victory in a short but stellar career, Gun Runner has utilised his assets of speed, stamina and determination to win these major races. Many believe that this final reckoning proves he should have been ranked top older horse in the Longines World Best Racehorse Rankings, rather than only third, 4lb behind Arrogate and 2lb inferior to Australia’s star older mare Winx. More predictably, he was recently voted Horse of the Year in the US.

Arrogate’s 134 figure belies the fact that he has looked sluggish and if anything less than genuine in his latest races, especially his toiling fifth, more than six lengths adrift of Gun Runner in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Del Mar last November.

Five of the first six in that race – the exception was Arrogate, already in situ at $75,000 a pop at Juddmonte Farm, Kentucky – renewed hostilities at Gulfstream. Collected, who was runner-up for Bob Baffert at Del Mar, was only seventh on Saturday with his (and Arrogate’s) stablemate West Coast stepping up from third to a highly-creditable second.

Gunnevera, sixth in the Breeders’ Cup, one place ahead of Churchill (fee €35,000 at Coolmore) progressed to third, but at a gaping ten and a bit lengths behind West Coast who was one length nearer to the winner compared with the three and a half lengths he trailed by in California. War Story, the other returnee from San Diego, dropped from fourth to tenth.

West Coast’s ranking of 122 looks especially miserly not just on these two latest performances but bearing in mind his previous five victories in a row following a narrow defeat on debut. With Arrogate and Gun Runner out of the way, West Coast looks a major player for all the big money pots, and I would not be surprised if he pitches up for Baffert in Dubai in two months’ time. He’s as big as 4/1 to win the Dubai World Cup.

Just as Gun Runner has had to defer to Arrogate in the official rankings, published only last week, he does also in terms of stud fee. He’s available at $70,000. Fleeting brilliance against long-standing dependability seems to be the choice for breeders.



I had one highly-enjoyable visit 20 years or so ago to Vincennes in South-East Paris to see the Prix d’Amerique and yesterday’s renewal attracted the usual massive crowd. In the late 1980’s the great French trotter Ourasi dominated the sport, winning the Prix d’Amerique three times in a row from 1986-8, and after a year’s break, he came back for a fourth in 1990.

Yesterday’s race featured Bold Eagle, who was out to match Ourasi’s hat-trick as the impressive winner for the past two years. His claims were less compelling than previously as he had been runner-up four times in succession before yesterday, although with a career tally of 37 wins from 47 appearances his card was far from shabby.

The main opposition was provided by another multiple winner, Readly Express, at six a year younger than his great rival. He had won 20 of 24, with three seconds and a third and was only narrowly preferred in the market by Bold Eagle. The pair, and also Bird Parker, who made the running, eventually, after nine false starts, are all sons of Ready Cash, himself twice winner of the race.

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Unlike thoroughbreds, trotting stallions are allowed to impregnate their mares via artificial insemination using frozen sperm. I cannot say (I doubt) whether this has been the case with Ready Cash, but while this classy trio was growing up, their sire was still active on the track and by 2013 had won 40 times in 63 starts. As one report I saw said: …“Interrupting his career each spring for his stud work”.

Throughout the 3100 metre contest, the principals were in the leading group of the 18-runner affair, with Bold Eagle apparently perfectly placed in Readly Express’s slipstream.

Readly Express went to the front midway through the home stretch, and the Parisians grew excited as Bold Eagle pulled out to challenge. Their optimism proved unfounded as the new king found more in the closing stages for a narrow win. I loved the race but like Racing UK presenter Mark Johnson, won’t be thinking at all about trotting for another year. As for Readly Express and Bold Eagle, both have already emulated their sire by starting to cover mares.



We will all be thinking very seriously, though, for the next few weeks almost exclusively about Cheltenham, and Harry Taylor and I have our reservations for the Festival nicely settled. One trainer who will be going there with a degree of optimism is the hard-working and highly-versatile Brian Ellison whose Definitly Red put up a fine display in Saturday’s Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham. He has a real each-way chance in the Gold Cup.

Ever since Tangognat won the juvenile hurdle on trials day back in 1986 (following victory on the track on New Year’s Day) I’ve always looked closely at the race. His win in the then Tote-sponsored race – I’m looking at the picture of him jumping the last under Peter Scudamore on my office wall as I write this – was nothing like as comfortable as Apple’s Shakira’s on Saturday and she has already bettered him with three easy wins on the course. She’ll be hard to beat when Nicky Henderson sends her to the Triumph.

Much has been written, here and elsewhere, about James Bowen’s undoubted talent, but two female jump jockeys on a similar upward spiral are Briony Frost and Lizzie Kelly, both impressive when winning at Cheltenham on Saturday.

Further afield, I think I saw a potential Cheltenham winner up at Doncaster in the Dan Skelton-trained Long House Hall. Running for the first time for more than 18 months since collecting the Betfair Summer Plate by eight lengths at Market Rasen for owner Carl Hinchey, he looked all over the winner of the Sky Bet Chase until tiring close home.

His backers at a remarkable 18-1, considering the trainer’s skill in bringing back horses after a break to win important handicaps, were aghast that he dropped from being the probable winner going easily at the last, to fourth, losing two places in the last 20 yards, yet still only one length behind the winner Wakanda, trained by in-form Sue Smith.

The meritorious aspect of the run is that it was Long House Hall’s first ever attempt at anything like the official soft at Doncaster. Drier ground at the Festival would make him my banker of the week in whatever race he appears in. After Saturday, even soft would not put me off.

- Tony Stafford

Monday Musings: Criquette Declares at Seventy

Usually, when news comes through of a retirement or more distressingly and increasingly at this stage of my life, a death of someone you’ve known for a long time, one always takes stock, writes Tony Stafford.

When the retiree, as in last weekend’s case, is Christiane Head-Maarek, or Criquette Head as she has been universally known, the information is greeted almost with disbelief.

After all, her father Alec Head, is alive and still occasionally interviewed at race meetings in France, at the age of 94. Criquette, like Prince Charles, was born in 1948, so has arrived at the age of 70 after 41 years as a trainer.

Just as Margaret Thatcher’s time as Prime Minister (1979-90) almost exactly mirrored my own spell as Racing Editor at the Daily Telegraph – the remaining 20 years there were less worthily spent! – so Criquette’s honourable span as only the second female trainer in France after Miriam Bollack has been an ever-constant for me.

When you travel to some of Europe’s best races it is inevitable that the top people cross your horizon and Criquette was always happy to pass a word or two. I remember especially one day at Maisons-Laffitte when I was over to see a Raymond Tooth runner in a minor race. I bumped into her as she was having a quiet coffee in the owners’ room and we talked for at least ten minutes before the race.

Whether at the track or the major sales, there would always be a smile and a few words from this unique woman. Treve was still to come at that stage but almost two generations earlier, Three Troikas had already been bought by her at Tattersalls sales in 1977 in her bloodstock agent period which immediately preceded her taking out a licence. During her first full season as a trainer, Three Troikas was to give Criquette her first Arc success.

Ma Biche and Ravinella were two of the many other brilliant fillies that distinguished her career and I can never forget the amazing speed Ravinella showed both when winning the Cheveley Park as a juvenile and then the 1,000 Guineas the following year.

The Heads were one of the English-born training families that made such a major impression in French racing in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Alec Head’s father William returned to France after serving in the British Army during the Second World War, winning the first of his two Arcs with Le Paillon in 1947. Alec had partnered the horse earlier in the year into second place in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Younger brother Freddy was in the saddle in 1966 when William’s second Arc came along with Bon Mot and now, 20 years into his own training career – distinguished with three consecutive Breeders’ Cup Mile wins with Goldikova (2008-10) - he is being assisted by the fourth generation, son Christopher in his stables in Chantilly.

Criquette’s only daughter, Patricia, also has her own Arc link, as she is married to trainer Carlos Laffon-Parias, who won the 2012 Arc with Solemia. Now Criquette, who will have her final runner on February 1, will concentrate on helping to run the family’s famed Haras de Quesnay, taken over by Alec from William more than 60 years ago, and still a flourishing nursery of top thoroughbreds.

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Another trainer who has held a licence for almost 40 years and like Criquette Head has tasted the highs both on the Flat and more spectacularly in National Hunt, is approaching his 65th birthday this year on an upward curve.

If I were to set a question as to which trainer (using my admittedly incomplete records) had 55 jump wins in 1992-3, then successively 86, 72, 66, 77, 48, 40, 32, then only 9 in 2000-0, would you get it? After three campaigns with 36, 22 and 24, he then had only 6, 6, 9 and a lowest-ever 3 in 2007-8.

Happily the last decade has seen a steady revival with 19, 19, 38, 32, 27, 35, 61, 43, 43, and after two excellent wins on Saturday, 34 and counting this term. That trainer is Kim Bailey, who sat at the table behind my Ascot lunch group on Saturday and I was delighted to congratulate him on First Flow’s impressive 10-length win in the Rossington Main Hurdle at Haydock, his third victory in four starts this term.

First Flow had all the hallmarks of a Bailey win, bold jumping and stamina, accompanied by the compulsory sheepskin noseband. I wondered why he was at Ascot rather than Haydock, but that answer came quickly enough when Vinndication vindicated the locational decision by maintaining a 100% record with a dour display in Ascot’s finale.

It is easy to forget merit in trainers amidst the hunger for new talent. It’s more about fashion these days, but when you think back to Mr Frisk, winning the Grand National and then making all in the Whitbread under Marcus Armytage; and Alderbrook and Master Oats in Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup winning mode, you have to wonder how those single-figure seasons ever happened.

I loved Alderbrook, but probably not as much as Paul Eddery, who had the luck to partner him in his first five Flat starts when he was moved from Sally Hall’s stable to Bailey. There he won twice in seven Flat races, but ended with a modest run in a novice hurdle.  Starting off on 69 for Kim, he won nine more of 17 Flat races, but two of his defeats, both Group-race second places came when he was moved for a brief spell with Julie Cecil.

Either side of that he had five runs over hurdles for Bailey, winning the Kingwell first time out and then the Champion by five lengths from the high-class Large Action. After that spring campaign on the Flat,  he returned to Bailey for the following season, winning at Kempton and finishing second to Collier Bay in the Champion before routing his Scottish Champion Hurdle field, giving lumps of weight all round.

Alderbrook retired to stud, and among many decent staying jumpers, bred the high-class and tough Olly Magern before dying in 2007. His passing coincided with his trainer’s lowest ebb, but with such as First Flow and Vinndication to represent him now, the future looks bright indeed for this talented man.

First Flow runs in the colours of Nearly Caught’s owner, Tony Solomons, former boss of Singer & Friedlander, while other major owners in the Bailey yard include the Rooneys, Paul and Clare. If you approach Cheltenham on the A40 from Oxford, you will see Kim’s sprucely-manicured fences off to the left around six miles from the track. Given the upward mobility and the 70-odd horses he has to represent him nowadays, the optimistic sign which points to them is highly appropriate.

Monday Musings: RIP Bryn Crossley

Bryn Crossley, who sadly passed away this week

Bryn Crossley, who sadly passed away last week

Somebody died a week ago, writes Tony Stafford. It is not often one can say this, but the accident of our meeting made a bigger impact on the second part of my life than anything else. That person was Bryn Crossley, who was only 59 when he passed away in Spain following two seizures, the second of which proved fatal.

The news was relayed to the media by another important person in my life (and for considerably longer than Bryn), former jockey and trainer Vince Smith, who trained Richie Boy, the last horse to win in what were then mine but are now David Armstrong’s red and white colours.

Back in 1981, Geoff Huffer invited me to look after the rides for Bryn, who had joined his stable at what are now the Cheveley Park Stud premises in Newmarket. Crossley had joined the previous year after a spell with Robert Armstrong and was a 5lb claimer who could do light weights.

Very few jockeys at the time had agents but one notable exception was John Reid who had been managed by Steve Taylor of the Sporting Life for some time and with considerable success. Steve and me had two similarities, age (I believe he’s a little younger) and a North London-ish accent, as well as the newspaper connection.

One advantage for both of us was early access to information as the Press Association, my previous employer, sent out racecards for four days hence at teatime every day. We needed to prepare them by marking them up at that stage for when the overnights came through three days later, merely “knocking-out” the overnight absentees before sending them down to be “hot-metal” printed.

Having offered to find rides for the young Mr Crossley, I was dead keen to look through the Racing Calendar, which in those days came through every Thursday from Weatherbys, as it does now, but with a number of differences. Firstly, they covered races three weeks ahead and all the entries were made at that stage.

All the horses were listed and you could see from a long way off where certain trainers might well want to run. For my first look for Bryn, I targeted a race at Doncaster on the opening Saturday of the season – no all-weather in those days – and it was a three-year-old handicap. I settled on a horse trained by Ben Hanbury, called Marking Time, and had the effrontery to ring Ben that night asking if Bryn, who could do 7st3lb, could ride it if it ran. Amazingly he said it would and he could, and three weeks later it did and Bryn gave it a highly-competent winning ride.

That was the first of 45 wins in a season that would provide the cheerful young man from Prestatyn in North Wales the apprentice championship. The world should have been his oyster and after his wedding in November in Tunbridge Wells to Jaci, Monty Court wrote in the Sporting Life that he was a potential champion jockey. Sadly, that was not to be.

But merely the act of looking through that Racing Calendar and at that particular race was to have a much more telling effect on my life for the next decade at any rate.

The previous year I had got to know Sean Graham, the leading Irish bookmaker and, during a wonderful Sunday lunch at the Inn on the Park hotel at the bottom end of Park Lane and Piccadilly, he told me that he had entered an ownership venture with an up-and-coming Dublin-based trainer. Jim Bolger was the trainer and they had gone in 50-50 with ten horses. “He’s a very clever man and a brilliant trainer,” said Graham. “If you meet him, be sure to mention my name.”

Well at the foot of the handicap in which Marking Time was so well placed, there was another name, Lynconwise, trained J S Bolger, Ireland. I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw it had more than a stone less than the Hanbury horse.

Rapid investigation showed he had done very little for David Morley, but at the end of the 1980 season, transferred to Bolger, he appeared in two Irish maidens – we had the Irish form book at the Daily Telegraph, I doubt the English handicapper did – and was placed behind decent animals.

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I took my life in my hands and called Jim Bolger. “Mr Bolger,” I started tentatively, “I was talking to Sean Graham and he said to mention his name if I talked to you. Well, I’ve been looking in the Racing Calendar and I think that if you were to bring your horse…” at which point I was interrupted.

“Before we go on, no names.” So obviously the old manual exchanges in Southern Ireland must have had a fair degree of leakage, enough to keep Bolger cautious. In the end we missed what was planned as a triple assault over Easter – Lynconwise had a setback, but he came for three runs over the Whitsun.

In the meanwhile I’d started speaking to Jim on a regular basis, and after his filly Condessa had run a highly-creditable race in the Lingfield Oaks Trial on Friday, I noticed later that evening that she was declared for York’s Musidora Stakes the following Tuesday. I called and asked where she was: “On the way to the ferry in Doug Francis’ wagon!” said Jim. I suggested she might be re-routed to York – “She can’t be out of the frame.” She went to York and beat the 1,000 Guineas winner Fairy Footsteps and Paul Kelleway’s good mare Madam Gay! We were pals for a while after that.

Lynconwise duly came over and went to Doncaster for a mile handicap on Whit Saturday. The weather was dreadful as I drove Bryn north from Newmarket, but as it often does, cleared ten miles from Sunny Donny. We were fourth and when Bolger called on our way back asking: “Should we bring him home?” I said “It’s pouring near Leicester, so it should be soft enough on Monday.”

Bryn was in the saddle and got down to 7st2lb – for the first of only two occasions, the other when runner-up on Harry Wragg’s three-year-old filly, Popaway, behind Lester and Popsi’s Joy in the Cesarewitch – and they careered home ten lengths clear in the bottomless ground, at 9-1!. The following day Mark Rimmer deputised as Bryn was ineligible to ride, and he won the apprentice handicap at the same track with almost equal ease under his penalty.

For the next decade, we had a great relationship with owners like Virginia Kraft Payson (St Jovite), Henryk de Kwiatkowski (owner of Danzig) and Paul Green coming Jim’s way. No doubt we would have stayed in close touch bar my capacity never to keep hold of any of the money that came into my possession, and the subsequent inability to clear a bank overdraft he had helped arrange for me.

The Bryn Crossley connection led to my contacting Huffer’s former secretary, Julia (“Tick”) Vergette, a couple of years later to enquire whether Fiefdom, which her father George trained, could be bought. He had lost his form and was miles behind in a selling hurdle over Easter immediately after my enquiry. After some negotiation with Tick, who was back home by then, I secured him for a song, sent him to Rod Simpson and he won twice after finishing fourth under Celia Radband in the Ladies race – then a non-handicap – at Ascot on King George Day.

Celia, a long-standing extra on Eastenders, recommended Fiefdom to her friends and fellow lady amateurs, Fiona and Stella Storey, as a potential jumper. This led to Wilf’s calling me one day asking if he could still be bought – another trainer had the chance but did not show with the money at the Telegraph office as arranged on the morning of his first win at Folkestone. Later, that trainer told all and sundry I’d reneged on the deal!

I told Wilf I’d be keeping him for now – he actually ran in the Ayr Gold Cup later that year, nice preparation for a jumper! – but that I would come back to him when ready. In the meantime, liking Wilf’s style and politeness, I sent him Santopadre after he was mucking about one morning on the Lambourn gallops. “Shoot him,” said Rod. He had won three times, all with plenty of office support, by the time I was ready to sell Fiefdom.

The price was reduced and later Wilf told me he had expected to receive a wreck as he’d been busy. In the end he was surprised to receive a fine, big horse, which could run off a lower jumps mark than his Flat rating rather than the more normal 40lb higher. First time he won by ten lengths from 10lb out of the handicap at Sedgefield under Kieren Teelan, well backed -  even by me - at 9-2! Afterwards the shrewd and sadly late Alan Amies said in Chaseform Note-Book – “a certainty on his recent Flat form”. Fiefdom went on to win three Ekbalco Hurdles and a host of other races for Wilf. We’ve been friends for more than 30 years since then.

As for Bryn, the catalyst for those two life-changing relationships, he and his new wife decided he didn’t need an agent – “waste of money” was the official reason – and he soon slipped into the mid-range of jockeys, despite winning the following year’s Lincoln on King’s Glory for Philip Mitchell. In all he rode 220 winners by the time he retired in 1993 to join the Godolphin work-riding team. His marriage didn’t last very long either, the first Mrs Crossley sadly soon transferring her allegiance elsewhere.

Monday Musings: Of Youths, Veterans and Eternal Optimism

Chepstow Racecourse. 06.01.2018 The Coral Welsh Grand National Handicap Steeple Chase. James Bowen in the winners enclosure with the Welsh Grand National Trophy after riding Raz de Maree to victory. Photo Andy Watts /

Chepstow Racecourse. 06.01.2018
The Coral Welsh Grand National Handicap Steeple Chase.
James Bowen in the winners enclosure with the Welsh Grand National Trophy after riding Raz de Maree to victory.
Photo Andy Watts /

After two weeks’ adjustment to Sundays in deference to the holidays, we’re back in the Monday swing, writes Tony Stafford. The past few days have been dominated by heavy ground, veteran horses and one extremely talented and youthful jockey. It seems James Bowen is as rapidly-maturing as was a certain Mr O’Brien, who at age 24 has long gone past winning Classic races in the UK and Ireland and setting record riding championship tallies in his home country in favour of training at a high level.

James Bowen is eight years younger and for the foreseeable future will have none of the weight constraints that curtailed Joseph’s riding career at 22. He’s done as little as 9st6lb when allowed to and since his 16th birthday in April has ridden 214 times, three times without reward during the last days of the previous season. All 35 of Bowen’s winners, culminating in the record-breaking ride on the veteran Raz De Maree in the Coral Welsh Grand National at Chepstow on Saturday, are therefore included in the present season’s stats.

As Joseph will testify, it helps when the old man has a few around the place on which to get you some initial practice. Peter Bowen, even though having his middle (of three) son Sean to consider – Mickey, the eldest, is a point-to-point trainer - has utilised James 71 times for 13 wins.

That was the starting point but, including Gavin Cromwell, the Irish farrier who attends to Gordon Elliott’s horses and doubles as a rapidly-emerging trainer in his own right, Bowen has been employed by 64 outside trainers. His connection with Nicky Henderson’s stable has been a bit of a slow-burner, if anything about this child prodigy can be so described, but you can imagine some big-race handicap opportunities at the Festivals coming his way from Seven Barrows.

Talk of the Festival – that’s all there ever is once the turn of the year arrives – reminds me that the opening day is only nine weeks tomorrow. Just 64 days of hopes being lit and then extinguished almost before the thought has appeared on web sites and social media. Newspapers were always prone to “chip-paper syndrome”; now their print versions, sad to relate, are in danger of imminent oblivion.

We have the odd anomaly of reluctant early-morning daylight – it’s still as dark today as on the shortest day, December 21 – thanks to the non-uniformity of the earth’s curvature, or something like that, but it’s getting lighter at night. A ballpark figure is ten minutes extra daylight both morning and night every week. Cheltenham arrives a week and a half before the clocks go forward just in time for proper Flat racing.

I like the new programme book, which now actually is a book and not a bunch of loose leaves you have to slot into some reluctant metallic clips. All trainers and other interested parties apparently find the programme irritating in the extreme in that there never seems to be enough races of a certain category to suit their horses.

Since my boss Raymond Tooth’s now four-year-old Apres Le Deluge made a winning debut at Hereford just before Christmas, barely in daylight, my thoughts have turned to seeking out a potential follow up race once Hughie Morrison signifies an imminent resumption in hostilities.

I love the At The Races feature on my phone that allows me to have endless repeat showings of the race, and every time I watch it, I marvel at the acceleration the son of Stormy River shows. I badgered my mate Noel Quinlan to have a look to see if he agreed with me about the merit of the performance and when he eventually watched it he said: “……g …l, haven’t you had anyone asking about it? If it had been a four-horse slow-motion Irish point-to-point or some nothing race at Nowhere-sur-seine in France, the agents will have been driving you mad!”

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Having won a race, Apres’ next appearance needs to be carefully selected. In the time up to Christmas there were 14 junior bumpers, the Hereford one being the only full-length affair, with the remainder beginning at a mile and a half. The one Acey Milan won at Wincanton was the next longest at a mile and seven furlongs.

Acey Milan came out again to win the Cheltenham 4yo bumper (1m6f) on New Year’s Day impressively for Anthony Honeyball’s stable and he stands top of the four-year-old group. His obvious possibilities as a dual winner are the Listed race on Betfair Hurdle day at Newbury (February 10), when he’ll carry a Class 1 4lb penalty before the Weatherbys Champion Bumper at Cheltenham on day two of the Festival where he would receive 8lb from the older horses.

While Acey Milan has that option, of the 90-odd remaining bumper races available before the end of March, none is restricted to four-year-olds, save one for fillies at Wetherby this Saturday, entries for which close at noon today. Two other races are designed for four- and five-year-olds, but one is a maiden and the other at Newbury is confined to graduates of Goff’s sales and run the week after Cheltenham.

So for Apres Le Deluge, the choice is stark. Either take on older horses while carrying a 7lb penalty in one of the standard-issue £2,274 to the winner products that so many of the six-figure buys are forced to contest, or go for broke and run next month at Newbury and/or in the race at the Festival.

Cousin Khee went that way as a four-year-old, finishing eighth in the hot race won by Cheltenian before joining the Tooth team. A nine-time winner for the boss, he’s now back owned by Mary Morrison and ran a good race in second at Southwell the other day. Hughie’s touch with older horses should ensure further gainful employment for this admirable veteran.

Four-year-olds won two of the Champion Bumper’s first four runnings after its inception in 1992 but since the top-class Dato Star won in 1995 for Malcolm Jefferson and Mark Dwyer only Cue Card in 2010 has been successful for the age group. When he won, striding well clear of 23 opponents, there was only one other juvenile in the line-up.

Returning, though, to the earlier theme, it is odd that nobody in race planning has seemingly ever thought about having at least a few races confined to four-year-old bumper horses. True, like Apres Le Deluge they are often Flat-race bred, but in his case his mother, Ms Cordelia, ran twice over jumps, finishing second on debut at Catterick for the David Pipe stable. Apres Le Deluge was too big and backward to do anything much before now.

With so little going on apart from those long-distance mud-fests – Sandown Saturday and Plumpton yesterday also featured lung-bursting marathons – I also seize the opportunity to offer some self-centred optimism about Ray’s other recent runner Sod’s Law. Just foiled at 50-1 in the last stride of his Kempton debut a month ago by Jamie Osborne’s Rusper, Sod’s Law got a boost at the first time of asking when Rusper won a 0-85 handicap at Lingfield off 84 on Saturday.

Rusper had already won around Lingfield before following up at Kempton where Sod’s Law must have given jockey Dougie Costello the fright of his life. The Osborne gelding will go up to close to 90 after this and four of those that finished behind us at Kempton are entered for a sure-to-be-divided similar affair back at Kempton on Wednesday. There might be even more encouragement to come?

New Year Musings: Little to cheer for Mullins’ Major Owners

I wonder how many media interviews or television guest appearances Rich Ricci will be making this New Year, writes Tony Stafford. The snappy suits and engaging banter have been a constant accompaniment to his period as husband of jump racing’s most prominent owner – his wife Susannah – but the tide (as it usually does in racing) has turned against the pair in recent weeks.

The Riccis will have been full of optimism, along with all the owners in Willie Mullins’ super-powerful Closutton stable, before the four days of Leopardstown’s and Limerick’s Christmas fixtures, but the frequent setbacks will have tested Rich’s famed equanimity.

To have 15 runners for only two wins – apart from Min’s disqualification for muscling out Simply Ned in the Grade 1 Paddy’s Rewards Club Chase – was bad enough. But when the losers included Faugheen, for only the second time; Djakadam and odds-on novice Epicuris, a former Group 1 Flat winner in France, it must have been literally too bad to believe.

Faugheen’s so-far unexplained dismal performance in the Ryanair Hurdle at odds of 1-6 topped the lot. Off in front under Paul Townend, Faugheen could never dominate and even before stablemate Cilaos Emery had moved inside him at the third and headed him before the fourth, the usual sparkle was missing.

The fact that he pulled up before two out was an irrelevance, his jockey obviously unable to comprehend such a total capitulation – his chance had gone long before that. After a fine comeback run a month earlier in the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown, 22 months after his previous dominant victory at Leopardstown in January 2016, the rising 10-year-old Faugheen was possibly more at risk of a disappointing effort second time back, but like this? Hardly!

Until Friday, the only blemish on Faugheen’s card had been his defeat in the 2015 Morgiana Hurdle, on his return the season after his Champion Hurdle triumph when he beat stablemate Arctic Fire. His unlikely conqueror that day was another Mullins top-notcher, Nicholls Canyon, and there was an eerie portent of things to come when that gallant stayer fell and was killed in Thursday’s three-miler won by former Mullins inmate Apple’s Jade.

Like the Riccis, Nicholls Canyon’s owners Andrea and Graham Wylie have been at the top of the jumps-owning tree ever since their brilliant stayer Inglis Drever won three World Hurdles at Cheltenham. Successful in the initial running of the race in 2005, he missed the following year through injury, but returned to collect twice more in 2007 and 2008.

At that time Wylie, who made his fortune with his Sage computing business in the North-East, often had around 100 horses in training in Co Durham with Howard Johnson, but the trainer’s four-year ban in August 2011 for illegally running a horse after de-nerving it led to Johnson’s announcing his retirement.

Graham Wylie had already altered his approach from having a host of unproven stores and some expensive sales acquisitions joining Johnson’s yard to a more selective policy based on trainers Paul Nicholls and Mullins.

The Wylie fortunes this season have been even bleaker than the Riccis’. Eight of their horses have run a combined 20 times for just a single win for Invitation Only at Navan on December 9. Apart from the numbing loss of Nicholls Canyon, four other Wylie horses appeared over Christmas and the biggest disappointment from the rest was Yorkhill’s fading into a 59-length defeat behind Road to Respect in the Leopardstown Christmas Chase. Such is the Mullins mystique that observers were suggesting Yorkhill could step up to challenge Buveur d’Air as Faugheen’s Champion Hurdle replacement. It seems unlikely in the extreme to me that he could match the brilliant Christmas Hurdle winner.

Wylie’s only connection to Nicholls this winter has been as share-holder with three other prominent stable owners in the useful chaser Copain De Classe, third on his only run this autumn behind the smart Benatar at Ascot.

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Over the four days of Christmas Mullins sent out ten winners from 49 Leopardstown and Limerick contestants. Almost half (24) started favourite and eight of them won. Eight of his odd-on shots were beaten, and as Nicky Henderson found in the years when his best horses were not good enough to win the championship races, from now until Cheltenham will be especially testing.

While even Mullins must be questioning elements of his operation, it gets better and better for Joseph O’Brien. Not content with sending out two 16-1 winners, Hardback and Alighted, for Gigginstown House Stud in consecutive Leopardstown races on Thursday, he won Limerick’s bumper the same afternoon with 11-8 shot High Sparrow  and even contrived a winning Lingfield raid with Art Nouvelle (9-2), guided to a length victory in the 6f handicap by Adam Kirby. That’s a 3,774-1 four-timer, and all within a couple of hours!

If anything, O’Brien junior is even more adventurous than his father and the rapidity with which he is progressing (Melbourne Cup and all) will be worrying for many. It should be no surprise that he is equally good with the jumpers. Both mum and dad were champion Irish jumps trainers before their mid-20’s.

The prize for the most opportunistic win of the Christmas period, though, goes to the underrated Roger Teal, who sent the juvenile Tip Two Win to collect a £46k prize in Doha, Qatar, on Friday.  There had already been plenty of interest in the Dark Angel colt after his Listed win at Doncaster in September and there was no disgrace in his Newmarket second behind the highly-impressive Mark Johnston-trained Frankel colt Elarqam who beat him a couple of lengths at Group 3 level later that month.

Despite those good runs, Tip Two Win did not make the cut for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile race in California, so Teal shrewdly picked out Doha as an end-of-year benefit for owner-breeder Ann Cowley. She bought Tip Two Win’s dam, Freddie’s Girl, for £9,000 at Goff’s Kempton sale and won three races with her when trained by Stef Higgins.

Tip Two Win is her first foal and he has now won three and been placed in the other three of his six races. Roger Teal was quick to report that he’s not for sale. All they have to do now is win a Group 1 and they’ll be home free.

Another set of well-known colours, those now billed as Ann and Alan Potts Limited after the deaths of both Gold Cup-winning owners, have been subject to a number of reverses, not least Gold Cup hero Sizing John’s capitulation in the same Grade 1 that featured the Djakadam and Yorkhill disappointments.

But for me, the run which most clearly summed up racing’s cock-eyed valuation especially of jumps horses came in the two and a half mile bumper at Leopardstown on Thursday. Here the Potts team sent out well-fancied Madison To Monroe but after making the running for the first mile and a half under trainer Jessica Harrington’s daughter, Kate, he soon dropped to the rear and came home 100 lengths behind the winner.

Said victor was Carefully Selected, powerfully ridden by Patrick Mullins in the portion of the Mullins operation, unexposed bumper horses, still bucking the trend. Madison To Monroe had won his only point-to-point back in February. Five got round in that eight-runner affair, after which the Potts team forked out €300,000. It would seem on this evidence that there’s little chance of recouping much of that.

Christmas Eve Musings: Two Tearing to the Top

The suggestion from above, for the first of two out-of-kilter holiday offerings, was to offer a retrospective this morning and then a New Year’s Eve forward projection, writes Tony Stafford. Watching the televised racing yesterday from four UK venues on the sofa rather than at the track, two major results crystallised my opinion about two fast-emerging trainers who have confounded the assumption that it is harder now than ever to break into the big league.

I’ve picked these two young men, both still in their twenties, as standard bearers, one each over jumps and on the Flat. In jumping, Olly Murphy was always the one most likely, with well-established parents – leading bloodstock agent father and trainer mother – and a solid history as assistant to Ireland’s fastest upwardly-mobile handler Gordon Elliott.

I’m less confident that I knew much about Archie Watson, my Flat-racing selection, before the cursory look at a few odd articles, one especially that appeared on the day before his triple assault on his new career with three runners all at Ripon on August 29, 2016. That revealed he’d already been with British-born trainer Graham Motion in the US; run a 30-horse satellite yard for leading South African trainer Alec Laird and then spent four character-building years assisting William Haggas in Newmarket.

Both won an important race yesterday, Murphy’s the more immediately eye-catching seeing as it came in Ascot’s £85,000-to-the-winner nightcap, the Racing Welfare Handicap Hurdle, a race which Dan Skelton took two years earlier on his fast-track way up the jumps ladder. Hunters Call, formerly with a small stable in Ireland, made a characteristic winning start for Murphy more than four months after his previous outing.

Olly has not been slow to utilise contacts from his Elliott days since starting out in Warwickshire and, with no racing scheduled for Ireland yesterday, booked teenager Jack Kennedy who has become Elliott’s most trusted rider over the past year or so. Hunters Call needed to improve on some rather spotty Irish form – one win in nine, and runs up to three miles – to win this hotly-contested two-miler, which he did with authority.

The 9-1 starting price showed that more than merely a few insiders anticipated the victory and Hunters Call got a few favourable mentions in the media beforehand. Murphy has arrived at the mid-point of his first season with 27 wins from 130 jumps runners and a handsome £217,624 in prizemoney, achieved from 43 horses of which 17 have won races.

Impressive as Murphy’s start has been, I believe Watson’s first 15 months’ activity has been even more meritorious, not least because once racing observers notice somebody doing well, the astonishing quickly becomes commonplace.

Based in Lambourn rather than Newmarket – a choice made on practical financial grounds – in the Saxon Gate stables most recently occupied by Paul Fitzsimons, Watson had four wins in his truncated first campaign.

The 2017 issue of Horses in Training listed him as having 24 inmates, but constant steady accumulation through the year has resulted in his running 48 individual horses. One of the best is Petite Jack who recorded a sixth course success at Lingfield yesterday when coming home strongly to win the Betway Quebec Stakes, a Listed race over 10 furlongs.

That was the trainer’s 56th win of an almost surreal season, achieved from 271 runners. His strike rate is 21%, coincidentally the same as Murphy’s. His horses have UK prizemoney of £458, 000 to which he can add more than £60,000 for five second-half of the year overseas runs alone by his older mare Absolute Blast, acquired from the Iain Jardine stable early in the year.

She appeared initially here in four stakes races, three at Lingfield, winning once at Listed level there before travelling on to Germany, Turkey, Ireland and Italy to augment the Watson coffers. The fast Corinthia Knight was another notable traveller, collecting fourth behind an Aidan O’Brien juvenile in one of the undercard races at the Breeders’ Cup meeting in Del Mar.

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Watson’s stats for the year are impressive, but his instinctive understanding of where and when it is easiest to win races and therefore money reveals a maturity beyond his years. More than half his runners and 62.5% of the winners have come on the all-weather tracks. Eight of his 15 juvenile victories have been on artificial surfaces; 15 of 21 three-year-old and 12 of 20 older wins have been on all-weather.

Watson has won with all types, perhaps the most unlikely being the rapidity with which front-running stayer Brandon Castle progressed through the handicap ratings from 62 to 99 via five wins after joining from Simon West’s team in mid-season. When he identifies a horse with a particular preference, he stays with it, hence Mach One, arrived from Clive Cox, has won twice from seven starts since mid-August and has latterly and correctly been earmarked as a Southwell specialist.

He doesn’t mind running them either. Attain, one of Watson’s earlier inmates has a couple of wins on his 2017 card, and has gone to the track 20 more times, not that owners Boadicea Racing will mind. Since the start of the year, they have added five extra horses to their yard portfolio, and two of them, Snowy Winter and General Hazard have provided five and four wins respectively.

These path-finding handlers have confirmed the truism that horses do not win money for their owners by standing in their boxes. Each has set himself a high standard by which he will be judged and the envious, of which there are many around this business, will be waiting for one or both of them to fall.

The perennial problem is that unless the raw material (therefore owners and new horses) continues to arrive, the momentum will be difficult to maintain, but for the present there will be a queue to join both of them and deservedly so. There will be many hoping that Murphy’s Oxford Blu, carrying the dark blue, red and white livery of this illustrious website, will add to the promise of his Fakenham debut win by following up at Fontwell on Boxing Day.


Like anyone in any way connected with the Hughie Morrison stable, I was relieved when the disciplinary hearing into the Our Little Sister steroids case imposed a £1,000 fine and no ban on the trainer. It seemed on listening to the reporting on the case that the BHA would not have minded if the committee had imposed a ban, with the horrific prospect of even ten years at the upper level mentioned as a possibility.

After the verdict, Jamie Stier, soon-to-be outgoing Head of Regulation at the BHA seemed frustrated at the outcome, citing the BHA’s zero-tolerance stance on anabolic steroid abuse. When Mahmood Al Zarooni admitted administering steroids to 15 individual Godolphin horses in 2013, he was given an eight-year ban.

Therefore, strict zero tolerance could have resulted in Morrison’s getting an even longer ban in this case than Al Zarooni’s. Where the disgraced Mahmood was concerned, who’s to say that the 15 he owned up to in the hundred or more horse stable at Moulton Paddocks was the full extent of his transgressions? Theoretically, he can reapply for a licence in 2021!

Monday Musings: Battling Sod’s Law

Just when we thought 2017 was going to go down in Raymond Tooth racing history as a total disaster, four days in mid-December illustrated just how quickly fortunes and therefore spirits can change, writes Tony Stafford. Two first-time starters from the Hughie Morrison stable saw to that.

Highlights had been few and far between with only the recently-sold Stanhope’s win on the July Course at Newmarket brightening a season when a handful of late-developing home-bred two-year-olds never offered much encouragement for early success.

Sod’s Law, you might suggest? Well last Wednesday at Kempton Park, the gelded two-year-old of that name carried so little stable confidence that the trainer’s considered advice was: “Tell Raymond not to watch!” The market offered similar pessimism, Sod’s Law going off at 50-1.

After breaking adequately from his unfavourably-wide 12 of 14 draw, Sod’s Law moved up well in the first couple of furlongs of the mile test – “He’s never shown speed like that!”, said Hughie at that stage - and turned for home in seventh. P J McDonald switched him from the outside to nearer the far rail and in the last furlong, Dutch Law’s half-brother showed more than a hint of his sibling’s acceleration, getting within a short head of previous winner Rusper and Dougie Costello.

Three years and three months earlier, Dutch Law had been a promising eighth over seven furlongs of the same track but Sod’s Law was relatively less forward because Morrison had prescribed gelding him in the summer to ease the potential pressure on the limbs of a big colt.

Hence he’d been back to Kinsale stud for the operation and recuperation and even a few weeks ago it appeared that he would struggle to get on the track in 2017. Expectations were, as indicated above, modest in the extreme, but his performance was full of promise, and further indication of the merit of his dam, Lawyer’s Choice, whose 2017 colt foal by Garswood sold for 42,000gns at Tattersalls only a fortnight earlier.

If we thought Sod’s Law was a decent size, the next instalment at Hereford on Saturday involved another gelding, the year-older Apres Le Deluge, a neatly-named French-bred son of Stormy River which had the hallmark of Raymond’s former French trainer Nicolas Clement all over him.

Stormy River has become a capable dual-purpose stallion in France where he won the Group 1 Prix Jean Prat, one of Clement’s favourite targets. Apres Le Deluge’s dam was Ms Cordelia, acquired on Ray’s behalf after I asked Nicolas whether he had “anything that might make a jumper?” He suggested this US-bred dual winner from five starts including on debut at Chantilly in early May of her three-year-old season six years ago.

Transferred to David Pipe, she looked likely to prove that opinion right when even money for her jumps debut at Catterick the following March, but finished runner-up. Then, after a serious blunder two from home at Fontwell on her only subsequent start, she faded into fifth and was sent back to France to be mated.

The acquisition of the daughter of Anabaa came at the end of the 2011 season in which Clement had guided Ray’s colt French Fifteen to five wins, culminating in last-to-first victory in the one-mile Group 1 Criterium International at Saint-Cloud. French Fifteen was sold soon after and the following spring finished a neck second to Camelot in the 2,000 Guineas. A couple of injuries later in his career preceded his entering stud in 2013.

After foaling Apres Le Deluge in France, Ms Cordelia was mated with French Fifteen in his first season before coming across to Shropshire. Her third and what was to prove final foal was a daughter by Pour Moi, the Derby-winning stallion chosen because as a son of Montjeu he would provide a similar cross to that which produced Treve, who is by fellow Montjeu son and Derby winner Motivator and also out of an Anabaa mare.

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Struggles with her feet always plagued Ms Cordelia at stud, and only strenuous efforts by Rachael Kempster and her staff enabled her to survive long enough to produce her daughter, who had a tiny, but milk-rich Welsh cob foster mare to thank for staying alive. She is now a yearling and will shortly go into training with Mick Channon.

When Hughie first took charge of Apres Le Deluge he described him as “a gentle giant” but reckoned it would still be worthwhile to introduce him to stable routine as a juvenile. There was never any chance of running him, and it took another stint back in Shropshire before the plan was cooked to aim at the same Exeter October bumper in which the trainer had successfully launched the careers of Cousin Khee, who won so many races for Raymond, and before that Royal Ascot winner, Cill Rialaig.

Concerns about his size meant that even that target proved out of reach, so much so that when Hereford last Saturday was tentatively-mooted as his launch-pad, it was something of a surprise. Then, a few days before, came news of a hold-up causing him to miss a fair amount of work and prompted Hughie to say on Saturday morning: “I’ll be delighted if he finishes fourth, he’ll definitely need it”.

Andrew Tinkler was selected as a suitable partner and so it proved as he took the strapping three-year-old around the inside all the way round, saying afterwards how athletic he was for such a big horse. Allowing the market principals to lead him until the short straight, Tinkler moved him up to challenge on the bend, and even though the run-in at Hereford is barely a furlong and a half, drove him clear. Despite Apres’ showing obvious signs of greenness, Andrew already had him back on the bridle before the line where he was almost four lengths ahead of the Twiston-Davies-owned and -trained favourite, Topofthecotswolds.

Considering this was the only junior bumper of the year to be run over a full two miles, he got the trip without any fuss and despite the soft ground and eleven stone impost, his obvious superiority suggested Apres Le Deluge could have gone round again. It certainly took the jockey a while to stop him on reaching the far side. Such events proved a very happy return to the recently-reopened track for me. I calculated it was at least 35 years since I’d been there and it is nowadays a very well presented small country course.

So Ray has two excellent prospects from his home-breeding operation, and has four, we think, nice yearlings to go into training in the coming days. We’ve had a pretty drastic re-structuring over the past months, but the slimmed-down team looks to be in better shape than for some time.

Among the departures has been the French Fifteen gelding, named French Kiss, who ran three times in hot maiden company for Morrison in the autumn and starts 2018 with a tempting handicap mark of 60. He was recently gelded and is one of six horses earmarked for the forthcoming Wilf Storey Racing Club, which will aim to have 30 shareholders after its launch in the New Year. Wilf’s grand-daughter Siobhan Doolan, an experienced winning amateur rider on the Flat and over jumps, and now working in the horseracing insurance branch of MS Amlin, has agreed to be syndicate manager.

All six horses started out with Ray either as home-breds or sales purchases and will be trained in Co. Durham, where Wilf has completed his best-ever Flat season with 11 wins.

As to Apres Le Deluge, his trainer will be scouring the new 2018 Programme Book, out last week, for possible targets. One I’d like him to look at is the Listed bumper at Newbury on Feb 10, Betfair (formerly Schweppes) Hurdle day. The four-year-olds get 11lb from their elders and penalties only apply for Class 1 wins. I can just picture that dark grey beast with his enormous stride coming up the long Newbury straight. That’s a bit of a pipe-dream, I know, but at least, Raymond does now have something to dream about. And maybe 2017 was not quite a case of Sod’s Law after all!

Monday Musings: The Final Highland Fling

The new jackets and caps were on show at the Tattersalls December Sales in Newmarket over the past two weeks, Coolmore insiders and nearly-so’s proudly sporting the liveries of new-for-2018 stallions Caravaggio, Churchill and Highland Reel, writes Tony Stafford.

The first two, winners respectively of two and four Group 1 races, were recently announced as standing for €35,000. Their five-year-old compatriot commands only half their fee, but there will be plenty willing to stump up the requisite €17,500 if that will guarantee the sort of tenacity and consistency Highland Reel showed throughout a 27-race, 10-win career over four seasons’ action.

Seven of the Galileo horse’s victories were at the highest level, the latest as recently as 6 a.m. London and Ballydoyle time yesterday. In the Hong Kong Vase at Sha Tin, in typical fashion he resisted the apparently decisive challenge of Talismanic, the Andre Fabre horse that beat him into third in the Breeders’ Cup Turf race at Del Mar.

A winner at two in the second of two maidens and then Goodwood’s Veuve Clicquot Vintage Stakes, in a truncated three-race juvenile campaign, he came up short in the French Guineas, Prix du Jockey Club and Irish Derby at the top level before opening his 2015 winning streak back at Goodwood in the Gordon Stakes.

Then Aidan O’Brien looked overseas for his initial Group 1 successes, at Arlington and at the end of that year in the first of three tries at the Hong Kong Vase. In between he was a good third behind the unstoppable Australian mare Winx at Moonee Valley.

At four, Highland Reel made a satisfactory start when fourth in the Sheema Classic behind Postponed and between that and a good second place on his next December try in Hong Kong, he won the King George at Ascot and the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Santa Anita.

This year, after a pipe-opener at Meydan, he won the Coronation Cup, overcoming travel problems which left his participation in doubt until an hour before the race, and the Prince of Wales; ran honourably in the money in the King George and Champion Stakes despite unsuitably soft ground, before his last two tilts with Talismanic.

Of his ten wins, the last seven were all at Group or Grade 1 and since his Gordon Stakes win, only once did he race outside the top level in 20 consecutive races. Those exertions brought career earnings of a shade more than £7.5 million for the Coolmore partners and renewed lustre to the training excellence of Aidan O’Brien, yesterday’s being his 28th Group/Grade 1 win of a record year.

Already O’Brien’s highest money-earner before yesterday, he has comfortably eclipsed the achievements of his nearest equivalent, St Nicholas Abbey, another Galileo globe-trotter who won nine of 21 races and a shade under £5 million.

There were four one-million pound-plus races at Sha Tin yesterday, Highland Reel’s Vase actually being marginally the least valuable. The biggest prize went to Time Warp, one of three wins for local trainers, in the Hong Kong Cup over ten furlongs.

If Highland Reel’s tale has been one of almost unbroken big-race triumph, Time Warp’s has been a slow-burner. Originally in training with Sir Mark Prescott, the son of Archipenko, bred by the sire’s owner Kirsten Rausing, won four times as a juvenile, in a maiden and a couple of nurseries, before travelling across to France for his four-in-a-row.

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This came at Craon, in Western France, in the Criterium de l’Ouest, a Listed race where you always have to beat a Jean-Claude Rouget favourite, as did French Fifteen for my boss Ray Tooth four years earlier on his way to Group 1 success in the Criterium International at Saint-Cloud.

Time Warp, now gelded, returned to France for his three-year-old reappearance, again at Listed level, when successful at Saint-Cloud. He presumably had a problem, as a planned offering at the London sale the day before Royal Ascot was aborted.

The next sighting of Time Warp was under new local ownership and in the care of former top jockey Tony Cruz in Hong Kong. Starting this January he ran seven times without reward before opening his account on June 14 winning off a mark of 81. Despite handicapper Nigel Gray’s upward adjustment to 89 and then 97, his progress continued in two more handicaps, before a creditable third place in a Group 3 handicap under 106. That was a hot heat as the winner, Beauty Generation, an Australian import, won the Mile race yesterday.

Next came two more near misses, the second by only a neck to the 2016 Vase winner, Werther, in a Group 2 over 10 furlongs three weeks ago. Yesterday, he gained emphatic revenge over Werther with an all-the-way victory and an almost £1.5 million pay-out. Upwardly-mobile or what?

With the snow descending earlier than usual, and the first time with any density for years in London, Huntingdon’s Peterborough Chase meeting was a notable casualty. The previous two days offered excellent sport on either side of the Irish Sea, while Punchestown’s avoidance of the worst of the weather enabled Sizing John to make a breath-taking return yesterday. He will still be only eight when he tries to add to this year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup honours, and the way he dashed away from Djakadam suggests the title will not be easily taken from him.

The same goes for Buveur d’Air’s prospects of a repeat in the Champion Hurdle. He was smoothness personified when landing short odds in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle just over a week ago and the Christmas Hurdle should be another formality. A fit Faugheen might offer serious opposition, but even he would probably find Buveur d’Air’s speed too much for him on that track.

Apart from the wind issue that has interfered, temporarily it is hoped, with Altior’s progress, Nicky Henderson is enjoying a great run, and the ease with which On the Blind Side dismissed his Sandown opponents on Friday suggests that even at £205,000 he was a bargain buy for Alan Spence, who had 24 lunch guests in his box – “all old mates” - to help force his gelding’s price down to 11-10.

Colin Tizzard, widely expected to challenge Henderson and Paul Nicholls for the trainers’ title with his powerful team sprinkled liberally with horses owned by Ann and Alan Potts Ltd, has been going through a less than perfect time with the big guns.

After inexplicably poor shows the previous week or so for Cue Card and Thistlecrack, the Potts pair of Fox Norton and Finian’s Oscar failed to justify favouritism at Sandown. The long odds-on Fox Norton narrowly failed to peg back the fast-improving Politologue, Paul Nicholls’ tenth winner of the Tingle Creek Chase, but Finian’s Oscar ran a shocker in the novice chase. It is one thing getting up to the top, but as Henderson and Nicholls have shown over many years, even harder to stay there.

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