Monday Musings: International Flights of Fancy

The anticipated appeal of watching Big Brother, either in the alleged Celebrity version, or the original warts and all with its calculatedly-outrageous young contestants, ended the minute John McCririck hove into view all those years ago, writes Tony Stafford.

Around the owners’ room bar at Yarmouth races today, though, talk will inevitably turn to the prospects in the latest episode of the Channel Four show – who needs racing when you have that? – of a native of those parts.

For most of her young adult life, Isabella Farnese has been working with horses, for several years in Newmarket stables. Unsurprisingly she has known a number of jockeys. Imagine you were a former boyfriend and after the break-up you discovered her walking onto the Big Brother set some way into the series: how would you react?

I think you might well wish you were somewhere else. Andrea Atzeni, Ms Farnese’s longest-serving partner, found a rewarding way to avoid the temptation of tuning in over the weekend. Atzeni travelled over to Toronto and on Saturday night collected two of the available Group 1 prizes, the Canadian International with Desert Encounter (David Simcock) and the E P Taylor for fillies with the Roger Varian-trained Sheikha Reika.

Back home in Yarmouth, Isabella’s dad Richie, proprietor of the spacious La Continental Café close to the sea front, and a sponsor of the eponymous race at the track every September (18th this year) will have been rueing the ending of the Atzeni alliance. He’ll be telling Roger Hales, a friend ever since the latter’s arrival from Nuneaton a decade and more ago, how he should have backed the 62-1 double on the respective 8-1 and 6-1 shots.

Roger says, and on limited exposure admittedly, I can confirm: “It’s the best breakfast in town”, and as for Issy: “She’s brilliant, a natural, 14-1’s a joke!” So after Enable in the Arc, and Sod’s Law (sort of) last week, you can fill your boots again. Richie’s crowd in the bar will be (or already have been) backing her to a man. It seems almost rude not to join in.

This rather odd lead in does have an equine point. Tattersalls took great delight in announcing that the two Canadian winners, both October Yearling Sales Book 1 graduates, had picked up Grade 1 prizes. With 3.5 and 3.4million guineas individuals last week being acquired by Qatar Racing and Coolmore respectively, the auction house welcomed the quick boost before this week’s four days of Book 2 action for prospective investors on a more prosaic scale.

Nearer home, Qatar Racing will have been instantly gratified when Too Darn Hot, the full-brother to their acquisition, duly strolled away from his Dewhurst Stakes opposition to add another golden chapter to the season of John Gosden and Frankie Dettori. The Lord and Lady Lloyd Webber-owned and -bred colt is an obvious favourite and probable winner of next year’s 2,000 Guineas and possibly the Derby. He certainly finished his race very strongly.

“Finished very strongly” could also be a fair assessment of English stables generally around the world. Since the Saturday of Arc weekend, winners have been flowing in with regularity and at the highest level. On the day before the Arc Charlie Appleby sent Brundtland for his third 2018 sortie to France and the colt annexed his third winner’s prize, the Qatar Prix Chaudenay over a mile and seven furlongs, going for an easy win rather than tackle the Arc, next year’s mission.

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On Arc day, Wild Illusion was the Appleby winner in the Prix de l’Opera and merely one of five English-trained winners at that level, headed gloriously by Enable (Gosden) in the Arc and supplemented by Royal Marine (Saeed bin Suroor, Lagardere), Mabs Cross (Michael Dods, Abbaye) and One Master (William Haggas) in the Prix de la Foret.

Appleby’s stats in the UK this year have been momentous. His 80 domestic wins have come at a strike rate of 28%, even outstripping Gosden (25%) and Haggas (22%) in that regard. They have brought £3.67million and a creditable fifth place behind only Gosden, Aidan O’Brien, Sir Michael Stoute and Mark Johnston, the last-named already on 207 wins. Appleby’s haul of 12 Group-race wins and 13 places from just 48 runners at that level is also exceptional.

But it is in France where the figures make even more impressive reading. A total of 24 individual horses have run a cumulative 40 times for 15 wins (37.5%) and 18 places. Just two of the 24 has failed to pick up a cheque. Amazingly only one of the Gallic two dozen, Expressiy, has qualified for an owner’s premium. A Breeze-up buy from Arqana last year, she went over to Bordeaux and won a £24k Listed prize last month, with an additional £12k or so for the French-bred premium.

That haul of €1,255,600 is enough to place Appleby 12th in France this year. Gosden is second with €3,337,730 behind Andre Fabre who, with almost €6 million to his credit, has easily dislodged Jean-Claude Rouget (third), while Haggas is one place ahead of the Godolphin man with €1,582,540 from three wins and 11 places in 18 runs. Karl Burke (27th) and Michael Bell (58th) also feature.

Saeed bin Suroor’s revival, signalled by Royal Marine’s triumph in France, extended to Australia over the weekend. I made a 4.30 a.m. start on Saturday – no problem in these parts, even earlier today! – aiming to watch the first of the big Australian races from Caulfield. Attheraces didn’t have that coverage! Does Sod’s Law apply here too?

So while I could watch all the action from Randwick in Sydney, where the rain and heavy ground made a farce of US Navy Flag’s meticulously-planned challenge for the £3.7m to the winner Everest, I should have been looking on the Internet where the Ballydoyle team’s eyes were fixed on the Melbourne coverage.

For once Appleby had to give best in the very valuable Ladbroke, a Group 1 trial for next month’s Melbourne Cup. Saeed had the call with Benbatl, an 8-1 shot ridden by Pat Cosgrave who had a short-head to spare over Appleby’s Blair House (11-1). That works out at a very nice 100-1 or thereabouts exacta for Godolphin adherents.

Maybe more significantly with the Cup in mind, Thecliffsofmoher, formerly Cliffs Of Moher, now with the definite article preceding his name for some technical reason, stayed on after a quiet early part of the race, into a close fourth. The 2017 Derby runner-up will be one of four for Ballydoyle, if not all for Coolmore in the field, the trainer aiming to catch up with his precocious elder son who beat him to winning “the race that stops a nation” last year.

Easiest winner on the Caulfeld card evidently was Yucatan, now wholly-owned by Lloyd Williams, the Cup kingpin these days, and family. Yucatan cantered away with a Group 2 on the undercard and should have comfortably done enough to get into the big race field along with Idaho and Rostropovich.

It will be more than interesting to discover which of the four attracts the attention of Ryan Moore, possibly a little narked at his bad luck in Sydney when winners were to be had in Newmarket. Yucatan was 9-1 favourite early this morning in Betfair’s Sportsbook, but I prefer the look of 16-1 Thecliffsofmoher.

And for another hopefully happy footnote, watch out for Sod’s Law in his hat-trick attempt at Haydock on Friday. As Kieran O’Neill related after his Pontefract win last Monday, “He hated the track and was never comfortable on it”. Indeed, he raced past almost the whole of a decent field once they straightened up in the last 150 yards. It’s been a long wait for Ray Tooth, but late is better than never and Haydock looks eminently possible.

- Tony Stafford

Monday Musings: A Bold Bid

For many years, the counter-argument to attending the big events has always been that you can see much more on the television screen, writes Tony Stafford. Yesterday’s Arc action, exclusive to At the Races, soon to be Sky Racing, had to be spliced between Uttoxeter jumping and a mixed Irish card from Tipperary. Oh for the days when BBC was able to do the thing properly.

That’s probably unfair, especially as ITV, the current terrestrial home of racing, did a solid job. One advantage of for once not being in Paris – or Chantilly as it was the last two years – was that the undercard and its largely British-trained domination, offered many stories. Thus I can largely leave Enable’s second win to her own devices and other commentators.

Events started off with a notably successful gamble. The Arqana Arc sale, in Saint Cloud on big-race eve, seemed rather insipid beforehand, but lot 4, Lily’s Candle, a dual-winning daughter of French-based stallion Style Vendome, realised €390,000 to the bid of US owner, Martin S Schwartz. Eighteen hours later, still in the care of her previous trainer, she belied her status as second-biggest outsider at 27-1 by winning the opening Prix Marcel Boussac.

That recouped more than £200,000, less disbursements, fully deserved to trainer Fabrice Vermeulen, jockey Pierre Charles-Boudot, who is going to be champion this year, and the stable staff.

It was a fair day for Mr Schwartz as last night at Belmont Park, another of his French acquisitions, Onthemoonagain, a daughter of Cape Cross whose last run in France was when unplaced behind Rhododendron in last year’s Prix de l’Opera on the same card, finished runner-up in the Flower Bowl.

And it was more than a fair day too for Boudot who also teamed up for the Arc nearly man, William Haggas, to collect the seven-furlong Prix de la Foret on One Master. This was a fourth win in eight starts for the daughter of Fastnet Rock, who was allowed to start 47-1 despite winning a nice Group 3 prize in Tipperary last time out.

At Doncaster in August last year, One Master made a belated but highly-promising debut, staying on into third behind Equitation over six furlongs. I was there to see a filly called Betty Grable and went away happy with her keeping on sixth, two and a half lengths behind One Master and four adrift of the winner.

One Master duly picked up her maiden efficiently at Yarmouth under Ryan Moore and was carrying a never-used 75 opening handicap mark when winning an Ascot Listed race next time, bringing about a 30lb hike in one move. For handicap aficionados, Betty Grable is now on 47, has yet to win and last time finished eighth off that mark!

Haggas’s ability to develop talent has always been evident. Sea of Class’s rise through the ranks from her narrow debut defeat at Newmarket barely five months ago, through two Listed wins at Newbury and on to the Irish and Yorkshire Oaks, has been masterful. Yesterday’s all-but successful effort in the Arc where in another couple of strides she would have swept past Enable continued the progression.

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Haggas also is at least partly responsible for another of 2018’s success stories. When I wrote about Archie Watson’s unerring first year of his training career some months ago, he had been mopping up claimers and minor all-weather races. Yesterday he went within a few strides of collecting a rare Group 1, the Prix de l’Abbaye, with a two-year-old.

As the season has worn on, so his sure touch with first-season horses has become ever more obvious. Soldier’s Call’s near miss under Oisin Murphy after pegging back the flying, but fallible Battaash, as Mabs Cross in the old red colours and Gold Vibe went by late on, must have been heart-breaking for Archie.

My initial encounter with him was a brief one, but first impressions they say, are important. Archie, having left Haggas where he was assistant trainer, took over Saxon Gate Stables around two years ago. It had been developed and improved by the late Julia Tooth and continued by her partner Paul Fitzsimons. Watson’s good start had obviously been noticed by Julia’s father Raymond and in the Epsom parade ring last summer (2017) taking the chance I told Archie: “Raymond Tooth is very impressed by your start.” His answer: “Ok” had the benefit of brevity and also revealed this is someone not for diverting. Fair enough. That’s the impression he conveys to his fellow trainers in Lambourn, by all accounts.

That single-mindedness has brought 90 domestic and several overseas wins, but none that would have compared with a juvenile win in an all-aged Group 1. Domestically, Watson has 90 wins, 48 with two-year-olds. Overall he is going at a 22% strike rate and half of his 46 juveniles to have run are winners.

I had already congratulated David and Emma Armstrong in the York unsaddling enclosure back in August after the Coolmore Nunthorpe. Mabs Cross had flashed over the line with Bryan Smart-trained Alpha Delphini, but it would have been hard to find anybody that thought she had been beaten.

But beaten she was by the unconsidered fellow Yorkshire-trained sprinter. I’d had a small bet at York – got 20-1, she started 14’s – but I’m sure the owners will have been more than happy with yesterday’s consolation. Alpha Delphini was 11th yesterday – Sod’s Law.

Six years ago their first star sprinter, Mayson, was touched off in the Abbaye by Wizz Kid in his final race before entering stud. He’d won the July Cup on his previous start. To win the Abbaye with a filly was a triumph and completed a rewarding weekend for trainer Michael Dods, who the previous day won a Listed prize at Ascot with Intense Romance.

Ballydoyle’s weekend prospects looked less obvious than has often been the case and successive St Leger winners Capri and Kew Gardens were not discredited, close up in fifth and seventh, with the pacemaking Nelson (181-1!) in eighth barely four lengths behind Enable. There will be plenty more to come from them all.

More immediately, I’m looking forward to seeing whether Aidan O’Brien has entered Il Paradiso, a big bold staying type by Galileo, in next weekend’s 10-furlong Zetland Stakes. That was the race in which Kew Gardens rounded out his two-year-old campaign with a defeat of Dee Ex Bee; and Il Paradiso, though no match for Turgenev’s acceleration going into the dip in their mile maiden on Saturday, finished with a rare rattle up the hill.

Even closer to hand, I’m driving up to Pontefract to see Ray’s Sod’s Law – the real one! – tackle better opposition than he beat when opening his tally at Ffos Las last month. It would have helped if Mr Haggas had not found a 95-rated horse to run and cause us to be 3lb out of the weights, but the ground will be suitable and Hughie Morrison is in form.

Then on Tuesday at 11 a.m. it’s Book 1 of Tattersall’s October Yearling Sale. If you want to see all the big name owners and trainers close up and free of charge, go along to Park Paddocks. But beware doing a Kevin Howard. One year he arrived in mid-sale and ended up in the Bidders’ Only area opposite the rostrum. Spotting me across the way, he started gesticulating to attract my attention. “Is that a bid, sir?” he was asked with a six-figure sum on the board.  I made a suitable gesture in his direction and all was well. He hasn’t been since.

Monday Musings: Johnny vs Obie

Ever since Ascot’s Champions Day in late-October (20th this year) became an integral part of Britain’s autumn racing schedule, the Cambridgeshire and Cesarewitch meetings at Newmarket have had to be moved forward by a week from their traditional place in the calendar, writes Tony Stafford. Meanwhile, some of the major juvenile events have consequently been shuffled with particularly the Royal Lodge and Fillies’ Mile, moving from Ascot to HQ.

Early in its lifetime, the going for Champions Day was prone to be bottomless, leading to many professionals lobbying for its transfer to earlier in the year. Such voices have been less evident more recently with the apparent change in climate; and 2018, with its near- summer-long drought conditions, should provide at least acceptable going.

One fixture which remains firmly in its time-honoured place is France’s Arc de Triomphe weekend, with the big race resolutely fixed to the first Sunday in October. Enable remains the hot favourite to follow up after last year’s comfortable success at odds-on. Her comeback run in the September Stakes at Kempton last month when she made short work of Crystal Ocean makes her an obvious choice to complete the double.

Her trainer, John Gosden, has been having a stellar season and, with £5.875million in domestic prize money, he is almost £1million ahead of Aidan O’Brien, with Sir Michael Stoute third on a ‘mere’ £4.1million. O’Brien and Stoute will almost certainly provide opposition to Enable on Sunday when O’Brien has the last two St Leger winners, Capri and Kew Gardens, as well as this term’s Oaks winner Forever Together in his possible team.

Forever Together, whose last run was when caught close home by Sea Of Class in the Irish Oaks in late July, would need to be supplemented, as would her Curragh conqueror who went on to collect the Yorkshire Oaks for the William Haggas stable. Sea Of Class is a well-supported second favourite and will almost certainly take her chance. Crystal Ocean, who will meet Enable on 5lb better terms this time should he be supplemented, could wait for Ascot.

Andre Fabre has the solid Waldgeist, easy winner of his trial a fortnight ago, as his main contender. Waldgeist is owned by his breeders, Gestut Ammerland, in partnership with Newsells Park Stud. With the latter being the home base of Nathaniel, sire of Enable, Sunday’s race will carry the full attention of the Hertfordshire farm.

The previous afternoon, fillies take centre spot at Newmarket where the Sun Chariot Stakes will probably bring together Laurens and Clemmie. Laurens’ victory on Ireland’s Champions Weekend continued her excellent season, with only a non-staying sixth behind Sea Of Class in the Yorkshire Oaks and second spot in the 1,000 Guineas interrupting four Group 1 wins for the Karl Burke stable.

Laurens was possibly a little fortunate in the Matron Stakes at Leopardstown last time as when challenged by Alpha Centauri inside the last furlong, the hot favourite seemed to falter, post-race inspection revealing a career-ending injury.

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Chasing home the principals, Clemmie put up easily her best performance since the Cheveley Park Stakes a year ago, when staying on for a closing third, ahead of better-fancied stable-companions Magical and Happily, and she may well get nearer to Laurens on Saturday.

A couple of months ago, some were writing off the Ballydoyle stable, but numerically the winners have been flowing, particularly in Ireland. A quick-fire Newmarket hat-trick on Saturday in the three juvenile Group races that started Cambridgeshire day, following Just Wonderful’s electric victory in the previous day’s Rockfel Stakes, shows normal service to have been fully restored.

Ryan Moore, in the saddle for Just Wonderful, then set off for yet another US away day on Mendelssohn. He was no doubt a little frustrated to miss the Newmarket treble as Mendelssohn could finish only third to the 46-1 shot  Discreet Lover in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, his Breeders’ Cup Classic prep.

Donnacha O’Brien, already assured of his first Irish championship, stepped in for Mohawk (Royal Lodge), Fairyland (Cheveley Park) and odds-on Ten Sovereigns in the Middle Park. The last-named, by first-season sire No Nay Never, himself a son of ill-fated Scat Daddy, did well to hold off Jash, but it seems the Commonwealth Cup rather than the 2,000 Guineas may be his major initial target for next year.

When O’Brien is in full stride, usually sons and daughters of Galileo are heavily involved and Mohawk fulfils that requirement. Moore was back for yesterday’s Naas fixture, transferred from The Curragh which is in the final phase of its redevelopment in preparation for next season.

Just as Donnacha had collected a three-timer the previous afternoon, Ryan emulated him on the newcomer Magna Grecia in the opening maiden, followed by Group 3 winners Hermosa and Cypress Creek. The jockey looked sure to make it four, but his partner Mount Everest was caught close home by Japan in the Beresford Stakes.

Both principals are by Galileo as are Hermosa and Cypress Creek. Rarely can a race have been dominated to the extent that Aidan has farmed the Beresford. Since his initial victory in 1996 with Johan Cruyff, O’Brien has won the Group 2 race 18 times. Of five years when he failed to win, it took colts of the calibre of Azamour and Sea the Stars to interrupt the sequence.

With the future in mind, it could well be that another Galileo appearing for the first time over the weekend might be even more interesting. The stable had three runners in the opening seven furlong fillies’ maiden at Dundalk. Credenza, the 7-4 favourite finished third and Happen (8-1, unplaced), leaving newcomer Frosty, a 9-1 chance, to step up and win. She was always travelling well and won comfortably under Seamie Heffernan.

Frosty, a full-sister to the multiple Group 1 winner Winter, has the Fillies’ Mile entry at Newmarket on Friday week and it will be intriguing if she turns up against more experienced rivals.

John Gosden, who had an easy success in Saturday’s Cambridgeshire with Wissahickon, will probably reserve Cracksman for Ascot’s big day rather than send him to support Enable next Sunday. Even with his apparently secure big lead over O’Brien, he knows that with more than £4 million in prizes on offer on that day alone, the trainers’ title is one race that may be far from over.

Monday Musings: Making Hayes

Just one word from me and it’s off to the UK to ride their first winner there in 2018, writes Tony Stafford. In my delayed missive last week, penned (can you still say that?) in the early hours of Tuesday morning, I related brief conversations I had, first with Ronan Whelan and then Chris Hayes at The Curragh on Sunday.

Whelan was still euphoric minutes after winning the Group 1 Moyglare Stud Stakes on Skitter Scatter when we discussed his hopes for the Ray Tooth-bred Garswood colt that he, his father Tom and agent Larry Stratton will be bringing back to Tattersalls Book 2 yearling sale next month after jointly purchasing him as a foal last November.

The Moyglare was Whelan’s first Group 1 success in his tenth season as a jockey, begun as an apprentice with Jim Bolger and this year flourishing to the extent of 39 domestic wins.

Hayes, fresh from his victory on the Richard Fahey-trained Zab in The Curragh’s concluding handicap, recalled our previous association 13 years earlier for a runner (unsuccessful) at Hamilton Park. I neglected to mention that the booking came about as a result of a recommendation by former jockey and later trainer Declan Gillespie.

Coincidentally we were sitting in the buffet at Tattersalls sales with Charlie Swan and Declan’s son Thomas, who was about to embark on his training career in Singapore. Bobby O’Ryan, father of Hayes’ agent Kevin, told me that Gillespie senior, a long-term friend from the days when Declan was Bolger’s number one rider, no longer trains but still lives in the Far East.

That day, clearly much further in the past than memory would have estimated, the two top jockeys (one Flat, the other rider of Istabraq) said that in their opinion Ruby Walsh was the best jockey they’d ever seen in either code.  Declan, in reply to my question about up-and-coming Irish apprentices, was equally adamant that Hayes was an outstanding prospect.

During the past five British Flat seasons, Chris Hayes has ridden a total of only 40 horses and won on just two of them. In the past two seasons before Saturday he had made a total of three trips to the UK. Last year he had a ride for Fozzy Stack on the unplaced outsider Sirici in the Queen Mary at Royal Ascot, but teamed up with Owen Burrows on the Hamdan Al Maktoum colt Talaayeb to win the £93k City of York Stakes (Group 3) at the big August meeting on his only other mount in Britain.

His previous visit before the weekend was principally for Stack’s Alexios Komnenos in the Lockinge Stakes at Newbury in May when he finished ninth of 15 on that 25-1 shot behind Rhododendron. Denis Hogan also booked him that day for 100-1 outsider Arabic Channel who beat one home in the juvenile race won by The Irish Rover.

By comparison his home score of 54 wins from 520 rides makes much more revealing reading. Stack is a relative newcomer with a license but since his late teens has been the de facto trainer at Thomastown Castle Stud as his father Tommy, Red Rum’s last Grand National winning rider, has been afflicted by a long-standing illness.

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Now, though, Fozzy Stack has written his own history as on Saturday at Ayr, partnered by Hayes, his Son Of Rest, actually a son of Pivotal, claimed equal billing with Paul Cole’s sprinter, Baron Bolt, in what was both the first dead-heat in the Ayr Gold Cup’s 200-year history and also the only Irish-trained winner of the race.

Six days earlier at The Curragh, Hayes had ridden 20-1 shot Son Of Rest into second place in the Group 1 Flying Five. The other four principals, Karl Burke-trained Havana Grey, the half-length winner; Sioux Nation, Hit the Bid and Take Cover <an excellent career-closing second at Newbury on Saturday>, were rated respectively 111, 111, 110 and 109. Solid enough form, especially when Son of Rest could go into the Ayr race off his existing mark of 102. No wonder he was subject of a week-long gamble from 20-1 into 5-1 favouritism.

Looking through lists of horses’ names can be misleading – it’s easy for old eyes to gloss over and concentration to wane – but I believe that Zab was only the fourth English-based horse ridden by Hayes this year. Fellow British-based Irishmen Declan Carroll and David O’Meara have supplied a single unplaced mount, so the highlight was clearly the ride on the Sir Michael Stoute-trained Desert Diamond on whom he finished runner-up in a Group 3 early this month.

Whelan also collected his initial 2018 UK winner in Scotland this weekend, on the Richard Osborne-trained 11-1 shot What Wonders Weave in the Hamilton seller, run in bottomless gluepot ground yesterday. He had two other outsiders on the card for the same trainer, both unplaced.

That was his third foray here, after riding two outsiders without much impact on Lingfield’s All-Weather championships Day on Good Friday and a much more memorable weekend in late August.

Whelan travelled over for a Salisbury Friday ride for Ed Vaughan on the Phoenix Thoroughbreds colt Dubai Dominion, finishing a creditable third in Listed company. Then it was on to York the following day to continue his association with the Jarlath Fahey-trained Sea The Lion in the Sky Bet Ebor. They had together won all three of his races in Ireland this year.

Sea The Lion could not match the John Gosden pair Muntahaa and Weekender – the latter a fine third to Flag of Honour and Latrobe in the Irish St Leger a week ago – but stayed on for a highly-creditable and lucrative third.

Whelan had ridden winners here in each of the previous four years but, as with Hayes, it seems surprising that his recent level of activity has been so limited, especially on weekends when the domestic jockey talent is spread so thinly with multiple big meetings clashing around the country.

One rider who enjoyed Paul Cole’s part in the Ayr Gold Cup was Siobhan Doolan, featured here after winning on the David Pipe-trained chaser Dell’Arca in the amateurs’ race at Newbury, but not sighted on the track in the intervening month. Then a call last week to the Cole stable brought a positive response and the mount on top-weight Rotherwick in the Amateurs’ Cambridgeshire at Newmarket, run 40 minutes after Ayr’s feature.

I would normally have been there to cheer her on, but chose Newbury so watched from there. I thought Siobhan gave the horse a nice ride, conjuring a late rally which almost got her past Serena Brotherton for a close third place. Serena and Simon Walker get most of the good rides in such races and it was Walker on Bubble and Squeak who duly prevailed.

After Newbury, I did suggest here that James Willoughby’s remarks that Dell’Arca would have won by 20 lengths if his rider had a bit more experience were ill-judged. The following weekend, under a 4lb higher mark, Dell’Arca, far from winning by anywhere near 20 lengths, was beaten nine lengths at Goodwood under Luke Morris, who maybe needs more experience? He then ran a decent fourth back over jumps in the Kerry National at Listowel. Siobhan, cheekily, suggested he might have been even closer had the stable employed her 7lb claim.

Looking ahead, the rain in recent days has given us hope that conditions will be suitable when Hughie Morrison readies Sod’s Law for his follow up to his recent Ffos Las win at either Ascot or Pontefract next month. The trainer collected a nice Newbury double on Buzz (the no-longer-claiming Charlie Bennett) and Temple Church (Gerald Mosse), two riders at either end of the experience scale.

Tuesday Musings: Sorry I’m Late…

A week and a day ago I predicted an action-packed four days in Ireland for the three old boys, writes Tony Stafford. The actuality was far more than that, starting with a quirky night at Newbridge, one of the country’s truly authentic small greyhound tracks, through the delights of Leopardstown, Shelbourne Park (dogs again) and The Curragh, and ending with a photo-call with the peerless Galileo at Coolmore stud.

The easy way to cover it would have been to dwell on Champions Weekend on Ireland’s two principal racecourses – even if The Curragh is still in the to-be-built phase of its multi-million redevelopment – and then the concluding part yesterday at the world’s premier stud farm. In the event other individuals made just as much an impact on me as the established stars.

Women in the media and on television do have a far better chance of success now than even one generation ago, and I predict that someone I’d never met before 9.30 p.m. on Saturday is going to make a major impact on British, never mind Irish, racing television in the coming years.

Step forward Sarah Kinsella, a 29-year-old farmer’s daughter from near Swords in North Co Dublin. She’s single-minded, and from the little I’ve seen and the volumes I’ve heard for the most part as some serious players on the Irish horse scene passed by at The Curragh the following afternoon, she’ll be a player.

“Saw you on RTE 2 last night, you were great!” was an approximation of the general reaction to her first ever broadcast. She was the form expert on the hour and a half live show crafted around the two semi-finals of the Boylesports Irish Greyhound Derby at Shelbourne, just along the road from Lansdowne Road where a little earlier Leinster had completed a 52-14 win against the Dragons.

Sarah’s credentials it seems were manifold. For the past 15 years, as she related to us, after joining as a guest of the ebullient Leon Blanche, BoyleSports PR man and top representative at the track she has been a regular. She was in like-minded company. Harry Taylor and I both had thousands of days at the greyhounds in the era far off when there were more than 20 tracks in London alone.

Alan “Ginger” Newman will have clocked up a good many more as a track bookmaker for well over 50 years. “When Romford gets going properly again I’ll be adding to the numbers”, he says, dismayed but never crushed by the sport’s decline. “At least it seems Corals are finally putting some money into it.”

There was no sign of obvious decline, certainly on semi-finals night, at Shelbourne, where the main sponsors helped boost the overall prize pool to €300,000 and winner’s prize for next Saturday when Sarah will again be behind the mic, to €140,000 – figures that would not be out of place up the road with the horses. The restaurant was buzzing, the food excellent and the crowd reminiscent of those former glories at White City.

Ms Kinsella told us she writes a dog racing column in the Irish Star newspaper. In agreeing she could describe herself as a professional greyhound tipster, she evoked memories of my own role at the Greyhound Express around 1967-69, easily rekindled by the challenge of a page of a dog race line-up – not that I deciphered any on Saturday!

Sarah also works at the races for a bookmaker and on Sunday, though not on duty, she phoned through a €20 winning bet to her boss on Moyglare Stud Stakes winner Skitter Scatter at a best-priced 9-2. Next stage after Saturday night will be a move away from the 50 acres of beef cattle and greyhound rearing for a job with Ben Keith’s Star Sports team in London. In the meantime she’s looking forward to selling – at a thousand a pop she hopes – the ten pups (five boys, five girls) her own classy racing and coursing bitch <name lost in translation> has produced from US import and Cheshire-based stud dog, Pat C Sabbath.  She says her pride and joy followed a Friday night win in a €1500 final with victory two days later in an important coursing stake – one that her father (70 last Sunday) tried to win for 30 years without achieving it.

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Already the phones are buzzing on both scores and it is not difficult to imagine her bubbly personality enlivening the sometimes pedestrian RPGTV offerings over the coming winter. She assures me she finds the winners, too.

The night before at Newbridge, close to The Curragh, we joined Aidan Walsh as he completed a 43-year continuous sponsorship of the Texacloth Juvenile Derby Open. Walsh was there with wife Caren and it was good to renew acquaintance with them and another York August regular, Charlie McCreevy, former Irish Finance Minister and for more than eight years a director of Ryanair, with which firm, owners of Gigginstown House stud, we flew to our jaunt. I asked whether he thought €7 for a cup of tea and a cut-down bottle of Pepsi Max (presented in reply to a request for a diet coke) was reasonable. I expect him to bring it up at the next board meeting. Go to it Charlie!

Ballydoyle got both St Legers over the weekend, Kew Gardens with an emphatic brushing aside of the expected challenge from the favourite Lah Ti Da at Doncaster and then the equally-convincing success of Flag of Honour, much too good for Joseph’s Irish Derby winner Latrobe in a race where the three-year-olds took centre stage for once.

The home team came out second best in Saturday’s two biggest races but both Alpha Centauri, unable to peg back the tough Laurens in the Coolmore-sponsored Matron Stakes, and Saxon Warrior, denied by Roaring Lion in the Irish Champion Stakes, finished with career-ending injuries. Certainly when Saxon Warrior quickened so dramatically from an already-superior position so close to the finish, it seemed impossible he could have been caught.

The clue came on the head on after he had been caught in the last strides. All the way through the last furlong he was edging into the rail and there was nothing Ryan Moore could do to prevent it. His tendon injury will mean yet another brilliant colt will be going back to Coolmore.

On Sunday, there was no more popular winner than Skitter Scatter, a first Group 1 triumph for Patrick Prendergast, latest representative of the family that, through Paddy from the late 1940’s, provided most competition to Vincent O’Brien. Skitter Scatter was ridden by Ronan Whelan and I managed to get a word with him during his understandably-euphoric progress back to the weigh room.

Ronan, his father Tom, and agent Larry Stratton, clubbed together to pay 42,000gns for Ray Tooth’s foal homebred by Garswood – Lawyers Choice last November, and when I mentioned it to him – after appropriate congratulation – he was quick to say “Sod’s Law <his three-year-old half-brother retained for racing by Ray> won well at Ffos Las on Thursday.”

In reply to my enquiry about how well has he done in the interim, Ronan said “He’s twice the size of today’s winner, anyway” and he is looking forward with some anticipation to Tattersalls Book 2 where he is due to go through the Park Paddocks ring once more.

One further generation will also be there for the foal sale the following month. This year’s offering, a flashy chestnut full-brother to Sod’s Law consigned by Andrew Spalding’s Hedgeholm Stud, will not be harmed if one relative follows up at Ascot in two weeks and another takes the fancy of the bidders later in the month.

Going back to Ireland for the first time in a while, it was impossible not to notice the industry of the two principal television presenters there, Gary O’Brien and Kevin O’Ryan, the latter there on Sunday with agent father Bobby, a one-time Jim Bolger head lad.

Kevin is a major jockeys’ agent with ten Flat and a select couple (Davy Russell and Jack Kennedy) of jump jockeys on his list. He also happens to be a brother-in-law of Aidan O’Brien – both are married to daughters of Joe Crowley.

One of his jockeys is Chris Hayes, firmly in the top flight now and further boosted by the impressive win of Madhmoon in the Group 2 KPMG Champions Juvenile Stakes on Saturday. I’d not really spoken to Chris since the day – as he readily recalled as 2005 – when he came over to Hamilton as a 16-year-old to ride a very modest filly for me.

He came to Brian Ellison’s attention that day and Brian liked what he saw and wanted him for a couple the next week at Beverley. As Chris remembered: “He thought it would help if I rode an outsider of his in an earlier race to get to know the track. He won at 50-1 while the other two disappointed.” Chris, or Chesney as he’s universally known for his one-time ultra-youthful resemblance to one of Coronation Street’s child stars, still rides many of Ellison’s Irish raiders.

The meeting with Galileo in his paddock yesterday was so evocative for me. Neil Magee came out to show him to us and said how remarkable it is that he has matched his late sire Sadler’s Wells’ achievement of producing 73 Group or Grade 1 winners. “Nobody thought it could ever be equalled. Surely he’ll set a properly unbeatable number before he finishes.”

Monday Musings: Missing The Leger

Unlike my near contemporaries Howard Wright and Tony Morris, I have a far from complete attendance record at the St Leger, although for the past 20-odd years the absences have been rare enough, writes Tony Stafford. I will miss the 2018 vintage though as with Harry Taylor and Alan Newman, the latter author of “It’s not what you know”, the affectionate anecdotal record of his 50-plus years as a greyhound bookmaker, I’ll be in Ireland.

And what a trip! We fly on Friday from Stansted to Dublin, stopping off to park our belongings at our digs before an evening at Newbridge dogs for a big final close to The Curragh. On Saturday it’s Leopardstown for the first stage of Ireland’s Champions Weekend before another doggy night at Shelbourne Park’s Irish Greyhound Derby semi-finals.

On Sunday we will be at The Curragh for day two of the ICW spectacular and after a third night’s stay, will move on for the Monday double header of Ballydoyle, where I’ve been twice before, and Coolmore, which will be a long-overdue first. At last I will be able to match the boasts of Steve and Kevin Howard and my old school pal Tony Peters, who all got the tour a few years ago by posing as potential customers at the stud. In the way that fiction can end as fact, their filly Megan’s Magic did eventually prove a successful broodmare, but only after she was sold when she became intractable on the racecourse.

The first of my Ballydoyle visits was as a guest of David O’Brien, the year he won the Derby with Secreto (1984), when my abiding memory is talking enjoyably in a large room when left alone with his mother Jacqueline while she was working on some delicate needlework.

That day I’d flown in to Shannon and hired a car from the airport. David, whom I’d got to know at the Keeneland July Sales in the month after his, in many ways, traumatic win against father Vincent’s Storm Bird – the Epsom beaten favourite needed the subsequent Irish Derby victory to secure his once-jeopardised reputed $30 million stallion deal  - asked me to divert to the now-defunct Cashel Palace Hotel, where he was in a lunch meeting with Malcolm Parrish.

I’m sure I’ve told elements of this tale before, but Malcolm had been the vendor when Michael Dickinson and father Tony bought two nice horses, French Hollow and Flying Hugue, from his 100-horse Chantilly stable. The contact came through the recommendation of Prince Rajsinh of Rajpipla (Pippy to you) who at the time was the Paris correspondent of the Racehorse weekly paper, which I edited alongside my Daily Telegraph work.

I told Malcolm, who was a most agreeable chap, of my minor part in that deal and he said: “Do you want any more?” Probably the best of the nine horses that eventually made their way (obviously pay as you go) to Rod Simpson was Brunico, runner-up in the Triumph Hurdle before winning the Ormonde Stakes for Terry Ramsden and 20-odd points for Peter Bowen. The one that got away was Hogmanay, condemned as untrainable by Rod, but winner of a host of good chases for Terry Casey. Cheers Rod.

Years later, just over a decade ago probably, I stopped off with my Collins Willow book editor on a trip which encompassed one of the short-lived big-money two-year-old races at The Curragh. We went on to Listowel for their Festival where my main recollection is of our enjoying a drink with Kieren Fallon after racing in the town’s main hotel.

That was a perfunctory trip to Ballydoyle but we got a nice look at the gallops and the isolation yard. I cannot remember much else apart from the gates which welcome or discourage would-be visitors. Then it’s on to Coolmore, where I trust we won’t need, unlike the Billericay boys, to pretend we’re planning to send a mare before taking an evening flight back from Cork to Stansted.

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The previous time I was at the Irish Champion Stakes was 19 years ago. After the Thoroughbred Corporation’s Royal Anthem won the 1999 Juddmonte International at York by eight lengths from fellow 3-1 joint favourite Greek Dance, I was alone in the peripheral team to express caution about whether the four-year-old should take his chance there.

Trainer Henry Cecil, racing manager Dick Mulhall, based in California, Willie Carson, the domestic racing manager and jockey Gary Stevens all wanted to run, as did HRH Prince Ahmed bin Salman, the owner. In the irony of such moments, none of them ended up at Leopardstown, leaving it all to me. Henry was at Doncaster for the very good reason that Ramruma, his Oaks winner from that year and also Irish and Yorkshire Oaks heroine in a hitherto unblemished five-win three-year-old campaign, was odds-on favourite for the St Leger.

For Ramruma Doncaster proved a step too far. She finished runner-up to Mutafaweq and never won again, her following season being a major anti-climax. She was owned by Prince Ahmed’s elder brother Prince Fahd, who had won the 1991 Derby with Generous. Prince Ahmed emulated his brother winning at Epsom in 2000 with Oath, but by 2002, both brothers had died suddenly and their large empires were quickly dispersed.

At The Curragh, Royal Anthem showed that sometimes an unchallenged on the bridle win in a Group 1 can take more out a horse than is obvious at the time. If he hadn’t run, he was guaranteed to be Horse of the Year. Daylami won even more easily in Ireland than Royal Anthem (who was a remote fifth) had at York, and rightly took the award. Two months later at Gulfstream Park, Daylami emphasised his superiority with a two and a quarter lengths win over Royal Anthem in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.

Talk about being in the middle of a storm. I’d already got to the airport and was preparing to go through security when Mulhall called. “Get on to the racecourse vet. That can’t be right. He must have been got at!” Sorry Dick, it can be right and after talking to the vet, I was reassured it was even if nobody else was convinced. The fact that he ran so well, albeit without quite winning in the US so soon after, to my mind proved that.

Two years later, I missed another St Leger, again because of my Thoroughbred Corporation responsibilities. We were all at the Keeneland September sales in Kentucky and were preparing to go down to the arena when the 9-11 attack happened in New York.

My informal deal with the Telegraph was that I could travel with the boys as long as there was no cost to the paper and I still did my normal Telegraph tipping and writing as well as reporting on the sales. That morning we had the St Leger acceptors so I did the preview piece on the race before calling my daughter whose birthday it was and is (must remember her card tomorrow!).

When I finally got to Keeneland, everyone had gone and the event was delayed by a day, so I returned to the Marriott and watched proceedings from New York for a couple of hours with Michael Tabor and Jeremy Noseda while we had lunch.

Everyone’s flight plans home later that week were in disarray, not least the Saudis and especially the large Sheikh Mohammed party, which was stuck in Lexington into the following week. On the Thursday I learned that Tabor had managed to secure a plane to fly out the next day, but by the time I got round to trying to fix a spot, it was already full with trainers hoping to get back in time for Doncaster. Michael was rewarded with a St Leger win courtesy of Milan, while I stopped off at the Ladbrokes betting parlour in Pittsburgh where I’d broken my journey. Did I make it pay? What do you think?

I am very confident that Kew Gardens will win the St Leger in our absence. He stayed on well from miles behind in the Great Voltigeur and had gone into that race with remarkably little expectation considering he carried a penalty. After a spell when Ballydoyle had been in the doldrums with a now well-reported “bug”, I noticed in one recent two-week spell, Aidan O’Brien had 18 wins. The 11 in the same period by Joseph have helped propel younger brother Donnacha to a 20-winner margin in the jockeys’ title race.

I remember at the Eclipse meeting at Sandown just before he took out a licence, therefore when he was yet to reach 16, I asked Ballydoyle’s main vet John Halley, when he would start. “Very soon - and he’ll be better than Joseph!” was the reply. Looks like that lofty prophecy was not far wrong.

On domestic issues, it was wonderful to see the way Enable came back into action after 11 months off with such a clinical defeat of the high-class Crystal Ocean in the September Stakes at Kempton. John Gosden’s handling of her and many other recent stars has been outstanding and I fully expect her to give trainer, owner Prince Khalid Abdullah and the irrepressible Frankie Dettori another win in the Arc. In time she might be regarded as even better than Treve.

Monday Musings: Great Nights under the Chelmsford City Lights

I suffered from the rigours of the homeward M25 twice last week, especially when narrowly avoiding a several-hour hiatus after Epsom on Tuesday thanks to a last-second and probably illegal switch across the shaded portion of the carriageway at the Orpington exit, writes Tony Stafford. Then there was the always-fraught Friday following Sandown, so I forwent the splendours of Esher on Saturday in favour of an afternoon’s telly watching.

That allowed a good segment of the Test match, some football and plenty of racing before embarking on the often troublesome but nominally 45-minute north-easterly venture to what Derek Thompson kept referring to later in the evening as “Essex’s Premier Racecourse”.

Yes, Derek, the one-time Essex Showground – as the signs from the A120 still refer to it more than ten years after its initial identity as Great Leighs, but now firmly established as Chelmsford City, is indeed the premier track in the county. It’s also the only one!

Though more akin to a County show venue than to a traditional racecourse, Chelmsford does have one lovable characteristic. Ask the jockeys that did perform the M25/M11/A120 commute after Sandown’s Solario and Atalanta Stakes meeting on Saturday.

Messrs Moore, Buick, Doyle, Crowley, Murphy, Havlin and Bishop, the seven riders that made up the field for the second race, all found the double shift worth the trouble. On a day of multiple Flat-race meetings, Chelmsford’s prizemoney comfortably eclipsed the rest. Sandown’s two Group 3’s – the Atalanta Stakes for three-year-old fillies carried a £39,000 winner’s prize, and was won by the Sir Michael Stoute-trained Veracious (Ryan Moore); while the Solario Stakes, which highlighted the obvious Classic potential of Too Darn Hot (John Gosden/Frankie Dettori) was worth £28k to the winning owner-breeders, the Lloyd Webber family.

Over at Beverley, the Bullet, won for the second successive year by soon-to-be-retired 11-year-old Take Cover (David Griffiths/David Allan), although only a Listed was well up to the Sandown class, carrying a £34k winner’s prize. Meanwhile, Chester offered £20,000 to the odds-on Duretto (Andrew Balding/David Probert) for its Listed Chester Stakes.

But Chelmsford, under its present management and (Bet)Fred Done’s ownership – having supplanted the financially-challenged original grouping which was forced to close down after a brief initial burst – have long been known for relatively lavish prizemoney.

As I said earlier, ask the jockeys. The major handicap on Saturday, the Betfred Chelmsford City Cup, advertised in the Racing Calendar of August 2nd as being worth a guaranteed £80,000, was actually boosted almost up to the £100k mark, meaning the Jeremy Noseda-trained / Doreen Tabor-owned winner Cenotaph, ridden by Moore, earned more than £64,000.

Two juvenile races, a novice and a nursery, each offered 22k to the winner. With the promise of entertainment afterwards and a brilliant cloud-free day, the crowds rolled in from quite early on. I arrived with plenty of time to spare, and made a beeline to the owners’ room, which has a great view of the paddock but absolutely no sight of the track. Space was at a premium there, even so early in the proceedings, but I saw two free seats and proceeded towards them, mug of coffee in hand, when I saw a woman having the same idea.

You meet very nice people at the races, and that was the case with Katie Fuller, who said: “There’s room for both of us” as I made signs of looking elsewhere. She said: “I’m here to watch my son, Ollie Stammers, who has two rides, including one in the first.”

The first time I heard that name was when, watching from the top of the Mark Johnston gallops viewing tower with the trainer and his son Charlie last year, as Ray Tooth’s Tarnhelm made her comeback after the first of two injuries, Ollie was involved in the gallop, I’m pretty sure riding her.

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Mark and Charlie spoke very warmly of the then 16-year-old who had only just arrived after leaving school in Essex, where the family lived, near Coggeshall, and quite close to Saturday’s venue. Since then he has ridden six winners from 56 rides, all this year, five of the wins and 38 of the rides for the Middleham stable.

Katie told me he’d always ridden and never wanted to do anything else, starting racing in pony events with his own pony. Now he’s outgrown that sport, so has the pony, which at 15 hands high is no longer eligible, and has devolved to mum’s responsibility while Ollie works away 200 miles to the north.

Charlie Johnston showed up in time for Ollie’s second ride, on last year’s winner of the big race Masham Star, one of the three Johnston horses on which he has won races. Poet’s Society, the horse with which Frankie Dettori gave Johnston the winner that beat Richard Hannon senior’s all-time record a couple of weeks back has also provided two and Ravenhoe another pair.

Charlie said: “We bought back Ravenhoe <for £5,000> late last year specifically for Ollie to ride. He’s an admirable young man and after riding four lots every morning, he’ll voluntarily come back in the afternoon for an hour on the Equicizer!” They were true to their word, Ravenhoe having provided the promising young jockey with 16 rides already on his own.

Katie Fuller could not speak more highly of her son’s employers, at the same time saying many people had told her he would be better off elsewhere. Just to put that jaundiced view into perspective, Ollie has had 38 rides for his boss:  Jeremy Noseda has had just 63 runners all year.

Six-year-old Cenotaph’s hat-trick, all at Chelmsford and worth a cumulative £97,000 for Doreen Tabor’s coffers, might well lead to renewed Coolmore patronage to the trainer after his period in the relative doldrums. One thing never in doubt has been his brilliance in training and placing his inmates.

I bumped into plenty of interesting people on Saturday, quite a few of them in the company of fashion shop and racehorse owner Michelle Fernandes, as much a regular at Chelmsford as at her local track Yarmouth,  where I first met her some years ago with my pal, Roger Hales.

In the burgeoning Fernandes party, which very sensibly took up a prime position in the comfy armchairs on the owners’ room balcony well before racing, was another nice lady who set the tone for Chelmsford’s claim as the fashion alternative to Royal Ascot.

Mandy Freke, an Essex local, was there with her husband and her 24-year-old son, and was decoratively attired in strident colours, adorned by what she unashamedly admitted to being “£275 shoes”, which caught the admiration of the remainder of their group.

Coming up to the 8.15 race, Mandy wanted to buy another bottle of Prosecco, but said hubby was too mean to do so – “although he did buy me the shoes and a new Mercedes the other day!” Brought into the conversation, I was asked if I knew what would win the next race.

Earlier I’d mentioned Nayslayer, part-owned by Mrs Paul Shanahan and trained by Sylvester Kirk to one of her friends, suggesting that its chance was obviously improved as a bottom weight by Silvestre de Sousa’s coming on from Sandown to ride him.

He was well treated with triple course winner Buckingham on earlier course form, yet was 10-1 in a field of five. Mandy searched in her designer handbag and retrieved an envelope with some coins in it. “Have £2 each way,” I suggested but then discovered the champion jockey had not made the trip.

It was only after Nayslayer had won, in a battle with the Gosden-trained/Havlin-ridden and previously-unbeaten Marhaba Milliar, I discovered he’d been ridden by the Japanese jockey Yuga Kawada, here with the Roger Varian stable for a working holiday.

After the race, Harry Taylor, arriving late after a nearby family party but in time to back Cenotaph, said he’d been on Nayslayer twice previously but didn’t play here. Happily, he did press his luck on the last-race winner Crystal Moonlight, which looked improbable until Ryan Moore plucked the prize from the blue with a powerful finish.

By that time, Mandy’s £28 had morphed into the much-desired bottle of fizz. I left her and her friends to enjoy it and the rest of the entertainment. It was a great night out at Chelmsford. Ask the jockeys!

Monday Musings: Catholic Boys and Sales Season

So York is over for another year, and judged by the recent heavy rain all over the country, so is summer, writes Tony Stafford. For those owners and trainers whose campaigns have yet to ignite, the coming days will be filled with trepidation as the yearling sale season is upon us and decisions on which horses to retain and which to move on from the present inventory have urgently to be made.

Last week it was Arqana’s August Deauville Sale. Tomorrow signifies the start of three days of Goffs Ireland at Doncaster, the first two Premier, with the Silver sale on Thursday. One agent who should be approaching the coming days with optimism is Sam Sangster, especially where the 2018 season’s results with his new principal client Araam are concerned.

So far, four of six juveniles carrying the blue and purple livery have won, all from the Brian Meehan stable. Three of those won first time out, and Newbury scorer Athmad and last week’s Ffos Las successful debutant Palavecino have already performed at an above-average level in their sole starts to date.

In the old days, much of some bloodstock agents’ and indeed racehorse trainers’ work was carried out in the rarefied atmosphere of London’s West End, and I am sure that Sam’s revered late father Robert Sangster knew his way around the most salubrious establishments in that area.

I’ve often thought Sam was shaping up as the nearest approximation, personality-wise, to his father of the five Sangster boys, even more than the elder trio of Ben, Guy and Adam, the last-named who runs Swettenham stud in Australia, and indeed younger brother Max.

It seems that on one of his trips up west a year or so ago, Sam bumped into a chap who was connected to a Dubai businessman, Saeed Alghaith. It further seemed Mr Alghaith liked horses but was not interested in racehorses. Project forward to now and say hello to Araam.

Two of the six to run have shown special promise. Two weekends ago Athmad, a 92,000gns son of Olympic Glory, was sent to Newbury for a seven-furlong maiden race. Such events there in midsummer are never easily picked up, but Athmad gave a fair impression of doing so, making all and then going further away when gently encouraged by James Doyle. A little greenness causing him to veer right towards the stands rail did not disguise his raw promise and Meehan’s assistant, James Ferguson, confirmed the visual impression that he might well be a stakes horse.

When the Roger Charlton-trained Momkin won a similar event on the same track from a big field the previous month, he was given similarly lofty reports. Thus when he moved on to Ffos Las last week, ridden by Silvestre de Sousa, for a novice event, unsurprisingly he started at 7-1 on.

Thus, as Momkin came through in the last furlong to challenge the Araam newcomer Palavecino, who had set a decent pace from the start, the outcome seemed inevitable, but while Momkin probably got a whisker ahead at one stage, Palavecino rallied under Nicky Mackay for a decisive if narrow win. They had pulled six lengths clear of the rest.

To have two such promising colts from a smallish sample reflects very well on the buyer and also the trainer, who consults Sam on the purchases and who, it should be remembered, is generally regarded as somebody whose young horses are usually better for the run. Since Sangster and Meehan have pooled their brains at the yearling sales, the results have been impressive. I’m pretty sure that in Athmad and Palavecino, Saeed Alghaith could have two horses capable of challenging for some major prizes.

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Also, having won first time out with both horses at such a strategically-staged moment in the season, it could be that Sam’s shopping trolley might have even more capacity this time around. He certainly deserves it.


Ballydoyle had a quiet York, but six winners at The Curragh’s two-day meeting and a much-improved performance back in the US by Mendelssohn in second behind Catholic Boy in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga, known colloquially as the Midsummer Derby, will have cheered up the troops with the autumn campaigns around the globe in mind.

While Catholic Boy was showing himself to be a potential future champion in a messy old year in North American racing, with Justify, the probable winner of that accolade after his Triple Crown exploits, now retired, momentous events were occurring in Ireland.

The most important Catholic boy of them all, Pope Francis, was visiting the country. The day before at York, Bjorn Neilsen’s home-bred four-year-old Stradivarius brought a £1 million bonus to his owner when winning the Weatherbys Hamilton Lonsdale Cup to complete a four-timer in the long-distance series.

Just by one day then, a double-double of Neilsen-Pope connections for me was foiled. Back in the 1990’s I used to speak quite often with Bjorn, having met the US-based financier on his visits to the UK. In 1992 his Assessor won the Lingfield Derby Trial and an Italian owner tried to tempt him with a £1 million bid. On reflection, he decided to keep the colt as he’d grown up in Epsom and wanted to try to win the Derby himself.

In the event Assessor was unable to go with Dr Devious and St Jovite, finishing 13th, but the decision to keep the son of Niniski proved correct as in a long career in the Cup races he won the Prix Royal Oak, the Yorkshire Cup, Doncaster Cup, Prix du Cadran and Italian St Leger. That success almost certainly fired Neilsen’s enthusiasm for staying races, so spectacularly sated by Stradivarius.

Whenever I called his office, as I’m sure I’ve said here before, his secretary called me “Robin Leach” after the “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” narrator on television – obviously he had a tone-less voice. After my sole visit to Neilsen’s Wall Street offices and a six-inch thick deli sandwich down the road, I set off for the excursion train from Grand Central Station to Belmont Park.

I had been staying for that October 1995 trip with Virginia Kraft Payson – St Jovite’s owner – at her house on Sand’s Point, Long Island, but had no idea of the potential travel pitfalls that awaited me that day. On arrival at the station, I discovered the trains for the track had already finished and had to stop halfway at Jamaica station.

Outside I got a taxi, driven by a man with almost no English, and when I said “Belmont Park” he glazed over but let me into the back of the rickety yellow vehicle. After about a mile he pointed to a green expanse to the left side of the road, saying: “park”. Totally disillusioned, I persuaded him to carry on until I saw a line of people waiting at a bus stop.

We stopped and I asked if anyone knew the way to Belmont Park. One lady said she did and she got into the cab explaining that she knew the way as her son was involved in the sport. She said she’d just left Aqueduct racecourse where she had seen Pope John Paul II give a blessing to a large crowd of New Yorkers, one of a number of Papal stopping points around the city that day.

On further acquaintance, the lady said her son Joe Lee worked in Dubai as an assistant trainer with Godolphin. It turned out that my own son, who had spent a six-month spell working with Sheikh Mohammed’s sons in his private sports club, knew Joe, who was a particular friend of Jeremy Noseda’s, as they had lived in the same apartment complex.

We got safely to Belmont, despite the driver but thanks to Joe Lee’s mum and the Pope! After Stradivarius on Friday I had a quick chat with Bjorn Neilsen and told him for the first time of that blessed encounter. It’s been a funny old life.

Monday Musings: Doolan Seizes Her Opportunity

When you watch racing on television, it is not unusual to disagree with the comments of some presenters, writes Tony Stafford. On Saturday afternoon, a few minutes after 5.15 p.m., the always contentious James Willoughby came out with to my mind the most preposterous statement of his televisual career in company with Nick Luck on Racing UK.

Leading up to the lady riders’ Flat handicap which concluded matters at the end of Newbury’s Hungerford Stakes and Ladies Day card, he extolled the claims of the David Pipe-trained Dell’Arca, at the same time disbelieving that he started at 7-1, having drifted alarmingly in the betting from an opening 4-1.

The nine-year-old, successful in his previous hurdle race by half a dozen lengths off 142 at Uttoxeter and now rated 149, lined up in the mile and a half contest off 76, 73lb less than the hurdles figure when the normally-accepted difference is between 40lb and 50lb.

Like me, Willoughby believed that to be a winning mark and so it proved. The difference between us, though, was that while I judged that rider Siobhan Doolan had done well to bring the gelding through in the closing stages for a length and a bit win, Willoughby thought otherwise.

His judgment was that had Ms Doolan been a “little more experienced”, Dell’Arca “would have won by 20 lengths”. Certainly if she had been a little better-known, the market might have been less pessimistic. In between the acknowledged Willoughby analytical expertise of many racing matters over the years, there’s also been an occasional hint of controversy in his utterings, but this was one of the more ridiculous statements I’ve heard.

The ten-strong field had gone off at a fast pace, with half the line-up pushing towards the front and Siobhan taking her time two from the back. The field tightened up around the three furlong pole, and as the back pair moved up towards his outside, Dell’Arca could easily have found it difficult to get a clear run.

First his rider made a quick, diagonal move through an initial space to tag onto the front half of the field, and then, coming to the last furlong, switched him through another narrow gap in between the three leaders before clinching victory under a strong ride.

Willoughby’s assertion that Ms Doolan is inexperienced implies her to be incompetent, but this obscures the fact that she has been around and ridden racehorses all her life. Admittedly, in terms of race riding on the flat and over jumps she has found it difficult to get mounts and indeed was surprised when her call to David Pipe last week resulted in this fortuitous engagement. Over the years she has ridden out for many trainers but does not have the luxury of full-time stable work and available race-action unlike some of Saturday’s opponents.

Apparently on her enquiry, the trainer called the Mick Channon stable, where she has been a frequent work rider over the past couple of years since completing her degree course at Oxford Brooks University, and they were happy to recommend her.

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Now she works in the bloodstock insurance business, but in her late teens Siobhan was the leading novice female point-to-point rider in the north. In the interim, rides under both codes and also in points have been elusive, but Saturday’s success in the race was not her first. She won the corresponding race on the Sheena West-trained Hi Note with an all-the-way success five years ago. As she told me with a hint of embarrassment yesterday: “That was my last winner!”

Dell’Arca certainly has been a talented performer over the years and some of his best runs have been at Newbury. Following a three-race Flat career in France, and three more outings over hurdles there as a young horse, he joined the Pipe stable for the small matter of €280,000. Dell’Arca was successful in his first British run, winning the valuable Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham before finishing runner-up to Splash of Ginge in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury. Later in his career, he was a creditable runner-up to subsequent Gold Cup hero Coneygree in a novice chase there and last winter ran home a six-length hurdle winner over Newbury’s three miles.

The snag with the Willoughby (and indeed my) expectation of victory was that on his only previous Flat-race run in the UK, assessed on those embryonic French runs three years earlier, Dell’Arca ran in a 14-furlong Salisbury handicap off 78 under Ryan Moore. He started 6-4 favourite and finished a 15-length sixth of seven, so 76 might not in retrospect have been such an obvious bargain.

Three years earlier, Ray Tooth’s Fair Trade, formerly tenth in the 2,000 Guineas behind Makfi  (just behind St Nicholas Abbey!) and then winner of a jumpers’ bumper for Alan King and two novice hurdle races, also ran off 78 in the same Salisbury race and finished miles behind.

The coincidence is that Fair Trade ended up in the ownership of Ms Doolan when trained by her grandfather Wilf Storey. Her father, Kevin Doolan, was based with Storey for much of the 1990’s. She rode Fair Trade on the Flat and over jumps as well as in point-to-points, but with no success. Since 2013 when Hi Note won, Siobhan had only seven Flat rides before Saturday, none in either 2014/15 and 15/16 and five the following season, including two on Fair Trade. Last year, the gelding found a new life as a riding horse in the Midlands.

Whatever Willoughby’s opinion, I reckon Ms Doolan should be proud of her efforts on Saturday. It took opportunism both to secure the mount and then to squeeze through two gaps without inconveniencing any of her rivals. It will be interesting to see what happens when Dell’Arca turns out again on the Flat because there is no doubt that a mile and a half should be nowhere near the limit of his stamina.


After a year of utter frustration for the Ray Tooth team, long-overdue rain at Newmarket enabled the Hughie Morison-trained Sod’s Law to make only his second run on turf on Friday night. He competed in a 0-75 all-aged handicap off the top figure, so conceded 11lb (less weight for age) to the twice previously winning favourite Little Jo and 19lb (again less wfa) to runner-up Gala Celebration.

He ran a good third, tiring late on after looking a possible winner at the furlong pole, with the rest of the 15-strong line-up strung out behind him. Before Friday, three of his four runs – one as a juvenile – had been at Kempton and the other at Windsor, where the track and fast ground were unsuitable. Fran Berry reported him as “not the finished article”.

His older half-brother Dutch Law secured his first career win as a three-year-old on the July Course and followed up with two more and some other good runs there the following summer. He also won a £50k handicap over Ascot’s straight mile. Sod’s Law has been entered for this Friday in a three-year-old race over course and distance, but it will probably be a case of his name having the last say as the ground may well dry out again. That said, he’ll probably be better next year anyway if his brother’s example means anything

At Newbury, I bumped into Best Mate’s trainer Henrietta Knight and asked her for the first time about Ray’s home-bred Apres Le Deluge, an easy bumper winner last December at Hereford for Morrison. Henrietta had him for his initial schooling over jumps before the gelding went off for his summer break, and hopes to welcome him back before Hughie launches him on a jumping career in the autumn.

“I absolutely loved him. He was such a natural and we called him Apple!” she said. What with him and Telltale, switched to Dan Skelton from Channon where Siobhan Doolan rode him quite often in the mornings, we’ll be hoping for some winter success. That’s not to suggest there’s another Punjabi waiting to appear, but you never know! Watch out Dan, Siobhan might be on the phone offering her services!

- Tony Stafford

Monday Musings: All About the A’s

This weekend for me was all about the A’s, writes Tony Stafford. Starting with Ascot and the Shergar Cup which - along with 31,000 other attendees - I thoroughly enjoyed, it progressed yesterday with Alpha Centauri and Advertise collecting the two Group 1 races in France and Ireland respectively.

In between, young Andrew Breslin was the focal point in a four-day Gordon Elliott plot for a Scottish Flat-race hat-trick with recent Perth hurdle winner, Kuiper Belt. Most enjoyably for me, though, Aegean Mist ended a long barren spell for her owner-breeder, Jack Panos, at Lingfield on Saturday night.

Five-year ownership records for Jack’s Theobalds Stud until Saturday morning showed only one place and no wins from 22 runners. That came just over a year ago at Lingfield when Aegean Legend, trained by John Bridger, finished third in a modest five-furlong juvenile affair. Her only subsequent start was a highly-creditable fifth in a much better contest at Ascot in the autumn, but she has yet to reappear.

Bridger was also the trainer when Panos’ home-bred full-sisters, the two-year-old Aegean Mist, in her first handicap after three runs from the Richard Hannon stable, and previously-unraced three-year-old Aegean Beauty, ran in two of the later races on Lingfield’s Saturday night card.

can declare a slight interest as when Aegean Mist previously appeared in the last of those Hannon-managed races at Chelmsford on June 21, I took the liberty of asking Jack whether he had any spare badges as a good friend was going there. He kindly said he did, also suggesting a small each-way bet might be a good idea.

I’d looked back at both her previous runs, having seen both of them live, promising enough on debut in a big field at Leicester and then, possibly unsuited by the track when a well-backed but never dangerous third at Brighton. We both came to the conclusion after Chelmsford when, quite well supported at 11-1, that she didn’t enjoy the kickback.

That still didn’t fully explain her last of ten finishing position all of 20 lengths behind the winner. For much of Saturday’s race, a similar eventuality looked likely for the 20-1 shot, but in the last 100 yards she passed at least half a dozen opponents, finishing strongly under Kieran O’Neill to win with a little in hand.

An hour later her inexperienced elder sister overcame a slow start initially to cut through her six rivals, strung out the width of the track, to lead inside the two furlong pole. Here she immediately darted left to the far rail, enabling the odds-on Invincible Spirit filly, Aaliya, to tackle and pass her. The favourite also showed slightly erratic tendencies, almost pinning her on the rail before O’Neill extricated his mount.

She still looked a certainty for another Theobalds Stud place until Petite Fleur, out of sight on the opposite side of the course, caught her on the line. I’ve no idea, as daylight was ending in deepest Surrey, whether the stewards took much of a look at the finish, but Kieran might have been lucky not to be made aware that he appeared to take things a little too easily late on.

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Aegean Mist’s win on turf should not have been too much of a shock. Nine years earlier, her dam Aegean Shadow won first time out, also on Lingfield’s turf at 33-1 from the Michael Wigham stable, before being beaten on Kempton’s all-weather. Panos moved her to Henry Cecil the following season, and she maintained her turf unbeaten record with wins at Lingfield again on May 22 and Brighton two weeks later, both under Tom Queally. She raced just twice more in a concerted seven-week campaign, again failing to fire on all-weather switched to that surface for her final Lingfield sortie, before finishing with a Doncaster fifth for her only turf defeat.


Ever since back in the early 1980’s when I suggested a quick-fire Saturday, Monday, Tuesday raid on English tracks for Jim Bolger for his three-year-old Lynconwise – he flopped at Doncaster before winning twice at Leicester in the mud over Whitsun - I’ve loved the concept.

I was made aware of a similar challenge late last week when Wilf Storey told me he’d been unable to get Andrew Breslin, a  young rider from the Mark Johnston stable we both admire, for Jan Smuts at Musselburgh on Friday. He was riding elsewhere, but that he’d also not be available should Wilf choose to run anything on Saturday or Monday as he’d be required for the Gordon Elliott-trained Kuiper Belt, as there was a family ownership connection.

Kuiper Belt was another of those questionable handicap beneficiaries that have been exercising, nay irritating, my equilibrium recently, Jan Smuts’ own rating of 56 a case in point. Kuiper Belt started out as a Niarchos family homebred with David Lanigan, running five times unplaced until his sale for 17,000gns five days after the fifth run, at Newmarket’s July sale just over a year ago.

Sent to Ireland, he raced four times over jumps for C P Donoghue, beaten in turn 47 lengths at 66-1; 42 at 50’s; 34 at 100-1 and 58 lengths at 100-1. It would appear that at this point the Mysterious Men Syndicate had enough, and the next stop was with trainer William (hope that’s right) Ross, when after pulling up at 50-1 and then finishing eighth of ten at 33-1 beaten 44 lengths, the penny seems to have dropped.

Running off 92, Kuiper Belt, now in the trainer’s ownership having previously been running under the executors of Cecil Ross, was a well-backed 100-30 favourite and finished a half-length second of 12 to Politeness in a competitive handicap hurdle.

Raised 5lb for that, he reappeared on the same track, but this time under the Elliott colours, in a novice hurdle on August 1 winning by 15 lengths in a canter under James Bowen. The latest official rating has gone up by what seems a lenient 6lb to 103. Wonder what will happen when he next comes to Perth?

When he signed off for David Lanigan, his 57 Flat rating had already been readjusted downwards to 53, and it was off this mark and under Jamie Spencer, who was hardly traipsing up to Musselburgh for his health, that he had the task of beating the ten-year-old Jan Smuts receiving 3lb to boot. The result was highly-predictable, Kuiper Belt winning with Jamie doing his statue impression, by a neck from another Elliott raider, Hurricane Volta, while Jan Smuts trailed home last.

Young master Breslin came in for Saturday night, when a 12-strong field melted away into a four-horse affair with excuses by the dozen, and another painless exercise, aided by the claim offsetting the laughable penalty, ensued.

Today at Ayr, with 12lb extra for the two wins, less Andrew’s 7lb, Kuiper Belt will be tested by dropping down in trip to a mile and a quarter. That said, 65 probably still underrates him markedly, and his pedigree is not that of a slogging stayer as he’s by Elusive Quality out of a Storm Cat mare – ideal for the distance.

Tomorrow at Chelmsford, another “A”, Alexanderthegreat, runs off 68 in a 0-60, showing that William Haggas learned plenty in his time with Sir Mark Prescott. Raised to 62 from 53 after his Eureka win over a Prescott hotpot at Lingfield after three long-priced coconuts to get the initial mark of 55 and a modest Chepstow fourth to reduce it by 2lb, he sluiced past Twister after turning for home miles behind.

He followed up by six lengths in better company at Newbury and gets in here because of the newish rule which enables 61- and 62-rated horses to contest 0-60’s. In tomorrow night’s 14-furlong finale, the three-year-old, rated 68, still carries the same weight of 9st 11lb as the year-older Ginger Lady, thanks to the 11lb weight for age advantage at the distance. His new rating will hit the BHA web site at 7 a.m. tomorrow. How high will they dare to go, and also for Haggas’ Saturday Chelmsford winner Croque Monsieur, an easy well-backed first-time gelded scorer after previous form figures of 777?

Monday Musings: A Lull in the Programme

Knowing that this coming Saturday is something of a non-event racing-wise – unless you enjoy the concept of the Shergar Cup and the delights of Ascot in midsummer – I’ve tried to make some sense of the seven Flat-race meetings on offer around the country, writes Tony Stafford.

Trainers and owners have become frustrated by the continuing hot weather, many being unwilling to risk their valuable assets on unsuitably fast ground. Inevitably, though, the wait for appreciable rain to alter underfoot conditions will lead to massive entries for all categories of races when it finally arrives.

From north to south, handicaps are the staple offering. There’s nothing new in that, but of the 48 races scheduled this weekend, 37 are handicaps. Ascot’s six races with ten runners in each and two reserves are contested by 12 jockeys, three each representing teams of Ladies, Great Britain/ Ireland, Europe and the Rest of the World.

In general terms, its success depends on whether Frankie Dettori can be steered away from more meaningful mounts elsewhere. With only the Rose of Lancaster (Group 3) and a two-year-old Group 3 race at Newmarket domestically as competition, the now veteran’s love of the Royal racecourse will only be challenged realistically by Arlington Park, Chicago, where the Arlington Million is just one of four valuable races regularly targeted by European stables.

If you are thinking surely the jockeys booked for Ascot will have been revealed some time ago, you are probably right, and I’m sure the Editor – him of unbounded knowledge – knows the dozen names. But at 5 a.m. it’s not possible to quiz him.

But along with many other matters which previously would have been at one’s fingertips in an Internet search, Ascot racecourse, BBC weather and airline arrival times all seem to have disappeared under a cloak of commercial interest.

So sorry Ascot if you have had an expensive press conference to reveal the names which will no doubt include the happily back-in-action Hayley Turner, the other perennial crowd pleaser of Shergar Cup day, but I simply could not find any mention anywhere. [They’re here – Ed.]

I do know that Rita Ora will be one of the post-racing attractions and the very much family-oriented crowd which as ever will pack the racecourse will have plenty to enjoy, especially as Ascot keeps its prices within reason. Plenty of owners would like to have a runner but the structure  - all six within the 0-95, 0-100 or 0-105 bands – will mean it will be hard to break past the Mark Johnston, Richard Fahey type of stables to be involved.

A few weeks back I was moved to write about the paucity of maiden as against novice races for two and three-year-olds. Of the 11 non-handicaps on Saturday, there are 2yo novice races at Ayr and Lingfield;  2yo maiden fillies’ races at Chelmsford and Newmarket, which also stages the Group 3 Sweet Solera, sponsored by the German breeding industry, and is for juvenile fillies.

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The only other non-handicaps on offer are Haydock’s Rose of Lancaster, supported by the Listed Dick Hern Stakes, both for three-plus fillies and mares.  Lingfield offers in addition to its two-year-old race, two novice events, one a median auction for three-, four- and five-year-olds and the other for three and up. Then there is Redcar, where there is a median auction maiden for three and four year olds only, and, praise the lord, a juvenile seller, the sole race of that category on the entire day.

The fall from grace of selling and claiming races has been marked, given that traditionally that type of race proved a potential outlet for owners and trainers to move out horses that had lost their form or whose handicap ratings made it impossible for them to remain competitive.

Last Thursday, Stratford had a selling hurdle race and the Olly Murphy-trained Royal Plaza, rated 125, started 1-2 and won in a canter. At the subsequent auction, conducted by my old friend Capt Nick Lees, famous as the founder of Newmarket Nights, he went for £11,500, producing an £8,500 surplus to the advertised selling price of £3,000.

That was a benefit both to the course and the owner, although in the weighing-up nature of such events, the trainer was wondering whether he had done the right thing, suggesting there was probably some potential for Royal Plaza as a chaser.

The BHA has managed to list only eight selling races and no claimers – with one intriguing exception – among the 222 Flat races scheduled to be contested in the week starting today. Three, including Redcar, were for juveniles, and four of the other five are low-level handicaps with a ceiling of 0-60. One conditions seller is staged at Leicester where Capt Lees is a key member of the course board.

I did read a couple of weeks back that Jamie Osborne was very much in favour of a ground-breaking innovation on Chelmsford’s as ever well-endowed weekend fixture. The race, run over six furlongs is snappily called The Bet totequadpot at Optional Claiming Handicap, a Class 2 affair with £40,000 guaranteed and a winner’s prize of £25,876.

For a £200 entry, owners and trainers have the option of making their horse available for claiming, a practise in the United States, where top-class animals can be entered for an optional claimer, but usually as NOT made available for a claim where lesser animals are in for a claim.

The race is designed to attract decent animals, as the generous prize would suggest, but search as I have, I’ve been unable to find either in the relevant (July 12) issue of the Racing Calendar, or on the BHA’s Racing Administration site, what the advertised claiming prices should be if connections wish  to avail themselves of that option.

There is a note which states: “An allowance of weight may be claimed up to a maximum of 7lb, provided that the horse is claimable at the advertised claiming price. Any horse competing off a rating higher than 105 <see what I mean about the possible level of the race?> i.e. the horse’s official handicap rating minus the allowance of weight to be claimed, shall initially be treated as having that rating and the highest weight shall be 10st. Subsequently the excess over 105 in any rating shall be added to the weight allotted without limitation to the highest weight to be carried (Only one allowance may be claimed).” Are we still paying attention?

It probably would be easy enough if the buggers would tell us somewhere what the claimable prices are and indeed, why when mentioning the possible weight allowance, it states a maximum of 7lb rather than simply 7lb. Presumably it means the less money you put your horse in to be claimed for, the greater the allowance, So your 105 rated horse will get the maximum if you put him in to be claimed for 10k? BHA please clear it up for we dunderheads. [Details are here – Ed.]

One thing is certain, US racing revolves around and flourishes under claiming, rather than selling races, and the claims have to be made before the race. French racing also has a healthy number of claiming races and without them the highly-successful Stan Moore’s business model would be a lot less commercially viable.

Who doesn’t enjoy the post-race action of an auction, especially when somebody has had a bit of a touch and then has to try to keep the winner, having calculated how far he needs to go so as not to absorb the excess over the nominated sale price? The preponderance of handicaps and the sheer necessity of trainers’ having to conceal horses’ true ability in their early races, makes for an unsatisfactory structure.

More claimers and extra winners-of-one, two, three and even four races would lessen the need for the “three runs at the wrong trip” game played with such aplomb by a number of major trainers. Smaller stables simply do not have the resources to play that game, though they may try, but then it’s by no means a level playing field. Never was: never will be.

Monday Musings: Stoute and Fleet wins the King George

It rained on Friday, but not enough for Cracksman to run in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes at Ascot the following afternoon, writes Tony Stafford. John Gosden’s colt’s absence, together with the late defection of Ballydoyle’s principal hope Kew Gardens, seemed to leave the midsummer feature at the mercy of Sir Michael Stoute and so it proved.

Many of the King George’s since Stoute’s first victory with the ill-fated Shergar in 1981 have featured fancied runners from the Freemason Lodge stable. Poet’s Word, in beating stable-companion Crystal Ocean in a memorable tussle nine lengths clear of the rest, was Stoute’s sixth in the race, which started life in 1951.

Poet’s Word recorded the second-best time ever in the race, bettered only by the German colt Novellist in 2013. Track records at Ascot are generally considered only valid since 2006 when the home straight was remodeled with the construction of the present grandstand, but there has been little apparent difference in overall race times compared with pre-2006.

The fastest times for Ascot’s mile and a half have generally come in fast-run King George’s and for a while the record was held by the Race of the Century in 1975 when Derby winner, Grundy, overcame Bustino after Dick Hern’s use of two pacemakers almost defeated Grundy with the previous year’s St Leger hero.

That time stood for a relatively short period and unusually it was broken in the Hardwicke Stakes of 1983 when the Irish mare Stanerra, trained by the part-time handler and Dunnes Stores family member Frank Dunne, more usually an owner with Jim Bolger, won two races within three days at Royal Ascot.

Relishing the lightning-fast ground at the meeting, the five-year-old won the Prince of Wales by four lengths as a 7-1 shot and then rolled over Electric by a length and a half in the Hardwicke with Be My Native, the Coronation Cup winner from the previous month, 12 lengths back in third in a time 0.03sec faster than Grundy’s 2min26.98sec.

More recently, another Stoute winner, Harbinger in 2010, recorded 2min 26.78sec. The fastest-ever King George time was set three years later by the German colt Novellist, whose talent has never been fully recognized over here. In an 11-race career, Novellist suffered the first of only two defeats after four wins, when runner-up to Pastorius in the German Derby. That was followed by a fourth behind the 2012 King George heroine and fellow German, Danedream, in the Grosser Preis von Baden five weeks after that filly’s Ascot triumph.

From then it was wins all the way for Novellist, who went through 2013 with victories at Baden-Baden (Group 2), in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud and then Ascot before putting right the Grosser Preis von Baden defeat of the previous September with a workmanlike win at odds of 1-6, after which he went off to stud in Japan, with so far unspectacular results.

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What was spectacular, though, was the five-length romp away from Trading Leather, Stoute’s Hillstar and favourite Cirrus des Aigles at Ascot in 2min24.60sec. Poet’s Word’s time of 2min 25.84sec (2.66sec fast) stands up well after Friday’s rain on a day when no other race was run in anywhere near standard time.

Although on the day, the O’Brien team made only a minor impact on the eventual result, the fact that second string Rostropovich – number one Hydrangea found the ground much too fast – set a strong gallop and sustained it until well into the straight, played to the Stoute pair’s strengths. Fifth behind Coronet and Salouen hardly flattered him.

When William Buick on Crystal Ocean, the St Leger runner-up to Capri last year, went into a two-length lead on Saturday, few in the stands expected him to be reeled in, but as in the Irish Oaks James Doyle again came fast and late to gain a memorable win on his first ride in the race.

Doyle’s rise to prominence will have pleased one television pundit. In his early days, Doyle was often championed by James Willoughby as a jockey out-performing his opportunities, and that remains very much the case, although the opportunities are now much more numerous.

The days when the King George was the unchallenged midsummer target for Europe’s best horses are long gone, although the fact that two high-class and still-improving stayers such as Poet’s Word and Crystal Ocean were on show, adds some much-needed gloss. The fact remains, though, that prizemoney here has been fairly static in face of dramatic rises elsewhere.

The King George winner earned considerably more on his first race of the year when runner-up to Hawkbill in the Dubai World Cup. His career, typically with Stoute, has been a case of gradual improvement and after Saturday, more credence will have been afforded Poet’s Word’s defeat of Cracksman and the aforementioned Hawkbill in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes last month.

While it is hard to imagine Goodwood 2018 being in any way comparable to last year when incessant rain so disrupted the going, the sight of a leaden sky for the first time for a couple of months as I looked out from my office towards the Olympic Stadium just after dawn today, suggests caution.

If the heatwave returns leaving the ground to stay on the fast side, I’ll be going with the Brian Meehan-trained Bacchus in the Stewards’ Cup on Saturday. The Wokingham winner got what looked a less-than-inspired ride (unusually) from Frankie Dettori at Newbury just over a week ago, but is reportedly in fine fettle. There is a slight chance that he might go instead for the Maurice de Gheest over an extra half-furlong, so it might be wise to wait until final declarations on Thursday morning before committing.

I’ll be at Goodwood for the first four days of the meeting, but will switch to Newmarket on Saturday where Laxmi will tackle the valuable fillies’ nursery for Tooth, Siddiqui, and Sharma from what we hope is a fair mark. Ray’s colours will also be on show half an hour later with My Law, who deserves a break after her Newbury stumble out of the gate which deposited Fran Berry on the ground.

As Steve Gilbey said after that latest kick in the teeth (or Tooth):  If we didn’t have bad luck, we’d have no luck at all.

Monday Musings: Born on the 22nd July

While doing my best under a straw hat – wasn’t it etiquette in the old days never to wear one before Goodwood? – to avoid the unrelenting sun at Newbury on Saturday, I caught a glimpse of a jockey of former days, writes Tony Stafford. It was Bob Curant, someone I knew on little more than nodding acquaintance, but his brother John much more so. Bob, never in the top flight, was always a dependable jockey mostly for Lambourn trainers.

I’ve trotted out the tale of when Johnny, then a 5lb claimer, and Lester Piggott, multiple champion, were the pair in a small selling-plate field riding for Curant’s boss, Ken Payne. John of course was on the winner. I trust the irascible “window” Payne rewarded Lester suitably for the indignity.

John was a friend of Rod Simpson’s early on in their racing careers and as a result we got to know each other quite well. I called out to Bob, “How’s Johnny?” from my pitch outside the new, lavish owners’ facility at Newbury – where the long drawn-out building transformation is going on apace. The reply shocked me: “He’s not too bad now”, revealing unexpectedly a four-year period of illness that his brother has been going through.

The Curant boys originally came from Putney and after John retired, for a number of years his then girlfriend Sue ran quite a smart fashionable stall at Cheltenham racecourse. He was unfailingly friendly and cheerful, attributes which I hope are helping him through his adversity.

I would never have started off this always random affair but for the fact that, blow me down, in yesterday’s list of Racing Post birthdays, there was Bob Curant, aged 69, listed as the rider of decent sprinters, Frimley Park and Gabitat.

Slightly older at 73 on yesterday’s list was Howard Wright, significantly so as it’s him one has to notify to get included on said roster. When Sam Sangster bumped into me, also at Newbury earlier in the spring, asking how to join racing’s who’s who, we had to contact Howard, via wife Ann (sorry Howard I can never remember, should it be Anne?) for onward communication to supreme arbiter John Randall. Howard, as usual, was working away on a job - in Korea if you please – he’s retired, you see.

Howard, of course, best known as former Deputy Editor and lndustry Editor at the Post as well as a Director of the Northern Racing College, initially came down to London from South Yorkshire to work with me when I first took over as Racing Editor at the Daily Telegraph.  However hard I try, I can never quite catch him up for age – and many other things besides.

Bob Curant shares an exact birth date with Seth Hancock, whom I never really got to know back in the distant past when I first went out to Kentucky in November 1982 on the recommendation of the late David Hedges – why me, David? – founder of the still-flourishing International Racing Bureau. Seth took over the legendary Kentucky nursery on the death of his father Arthur B (Bull) Hancock when aged only 23 back in 1972.

That first US trip brought me into contact with Henryk de Kwiatkowski, owner of Danzig, who was already standing at Clairborne where Seth had syndicated him for $2.8 million after going unbeaten in three minor races for Henryk. The following year, the son of Northern Dancer’s first crop showed exceptional talent right off the bat and continued to do so for the next two decades as it was in 2002 that War Front was born. Although only winning one (a Grade 2 handicap) of his seven starts for Joseph Allen, former husband of the late Henryk’s wife Barbara, he has since attracted Coolmore’s attention and for them has produced many top horses, most topically US Navy Flag, winner of last weekend’s July Cup.

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The Hancock family were involved in the process whereby a toss of a coin led to Secretariat’s ending in the ownership of Penny Chenery rather than the Phipps family, New York nobility where racing and finance are concerned. Secretariat’s rider, unlike his owner, is still with us. Ron Turcotte was 77 yesterday.

Two more jockeys with a July 22 birthday, who’ve ridden eiher for me or for Ray Tooth are Iona Wands, unbelievably 43, and Adam Beschizza, 26, still the source of mirth when an appearance in front of the stewards is recalled. “Could you give us your name?” “Biscuit,sir <Beschizza>”. “Well, Mr Biscuit”.

Adam, who rode a pretty dire horse trained by Chris Wall for my boss last year, has since departed for the US. He, like Sophie Doyle, is making a much bigger impact over there than would have been the case in the UK.

Sophie’s brother James, after a tricky period when Godolphin’s internal politics meant he needed to replace temporarily the banned (for betting offences) James McDonald in Australia over the winter, is now in full swing and not just for his principal employers.

On Saturday, Doyle dominated a day that beforehand looked Ballydoyle’s personal property with a hat-trick in the Group races on the Curragh, culminating in a thrilling last-stride win on the William Haggas-trained Sea of Class, carrying the Tsui family colours adorned with such distinction by the filly’s sire, Sea the Stars.

Doyle’s classy ride denied a fourth 2018 Classic win to Donnacha O’Brien, riding Forever Together, on whom he’d won the Oaks when Ryan Moore partnered Magic Wand. Moore stayed loyal to the latter filly, but after her lack-lustre effort in fifth, Aidan O’Brien suggested she might be ailing.

Donnacha, winner of two of his 28 rides in the UK this year, clearly has few problems with his temperament, as those two were Saxon Warrior in the 2,000 Guineas and Forever Together in the Oaks. His places include Forever Together at Chester behind Magic Wand, Saxon Warrior in the Coral-Eclipse and seconds on Gustav Klimt (St James’s Palace Stakes) and Rostropovich, behind William Buick on Old Persian in the King Edward VII Stakes, both at Royal Ascot.

Buick, like Donnacha, has made a big impact in the top races this year, with Masar’s Derby for Charlie Appleby and Godolphin taking pride of place, along with the pair’s Dubai World Cup with Hawkbill back in March.

Coincidentally, both Buick, 30, and Donnacha, ten years his junior, also celebrated birthdays on July 22. William took time on Friday night in the Newmarket paddock to come over and partake in selfies with a friend of a friend, still the same helpful person he’d been 14 years earlier when he first took out his licence.

Donnacha, at 20, seemingly has his potential weight difficulties under control and the racing world at his feet. He leads the Irish jockeys list and with the power of his father’s and brother Joseph’s stables to call on, will be hard for Colin Keane to catch. Amazingly none of his 212 domestic rides, which have brought 56 wins this year, has been for a stable outside the family circle: shades of Dan and Harry Skelton.

One last footnote: I was able to enjoy the splendours of the Newbury owners’ room thanks to the absent Lew Day, owner of Spark Plug, who unfortunately did not fire in Saturday’s opener. With the Ashmore family I shared a table with Chris and Jenny Powell who said that although they had more horses in training than previously, they hadn’t been having much luck, suggesting that Jenny’s filly Ginger Nut had it all to do in a highly-competitive Weatherbys Super Sprint.

An hour later, the pair were in the winner’s enclosure after the filly’s thrilling £122,000 win – I thought my fancy Kinks was a little unlucky in third – celebrating with Richard Hannon junior, but regretting that Hannon senior, who’d been the inspiration with Lord Carnarvon for setting up the race, rarely goes racing nowadays and was an absentee.

Peter’s mum Elizabeth is a once-a-meeting £2 punter, often on short-priced favourites. On Saturday, considering the company at lunch and the fact that ginger nuts are her favourite biscuit, she collected a gargantuan £28.40 from her minimum stake. Biscuit, sir? Naturally!

Monday Musings: A Pot Pourri

No wonder they stayed in town. After the disappointment of Masar’s missing the previous weekend’s Coral-Eclipse Stakes – parlayed into a season-long absence late last week – the full Sheikh Mohammed entourage was on view for the whole of the Newmarket July meeting’s three days, writes Tony Stafford.

The boys in blue were rewarded with seven victories, commencing with long-term standby Saeed bin Suroor’s annexing of the Princess of Wales’s Stakes on the opening day with Best Solution. After a halting and highly frustrating start to the season, bin Suroor has reached an acceptable 33 from 155 for the year, with nine from only 27 coming in the past fortnight, admittedly most of these at minor levels.

Not so with Charlie Appleby whose eight wins (from 24) in the same period included six during the July Meeting. Quorto, in the Superlative Stakes, set 2019 Classic ambitions into overdrive while the only other disappointment apart from the Masar news was Blue Point’s July Cup seventh place behind US Navy Flag.

Blue Point, so impressive in the King’s Stand Stakes at the Royal meeting, ran too freely on Saturday but should be back in his element in the Nunthorpe at York next month, especially as his Newmarket conqueror will be missing. Unlike Mozart, the previous Aidan O’Brien three-year-old July Cup winner to come back from mile racing – he was runner-up in the 2001 Irish 2,000 Guineas – US Navy Flag is unlikely to go on to York, as he is to be prepared for the Everest, Australia’s vastly-valuable sprint in the autumn.

Rather like Scat Daddy, who died prematurely after having his stud fee raised to $100,000 before the 2016 breeding season, Mozart’s stallion career was very much one of what might have been. Having won the Jersey, July Cup and Nunthorpe, the son of Danehill ended his racing days with an unplaced effort at the Breeders’ Cup. He sired plenty of winners including the high-class Amadeus Wolf, and top sprinter and now promising sire, Dandy Man, from his only crop but died as a four-year-old.

Godolphin’s livery featured in an astonishing 28 winners worldwide from 123 runners over the past fortnight, Australia and Japan joining the party, while the French-style Godolphin SNC added four more from 22.

Appleby’s 2018 is rapidly becoming a stellar campaign. So far from only 200 runners he has 60 wins to his credit at the sort of strike-rate (30%) that Sir Mark Prescott, William Haggas and the rest of the top trainers with a mind to such statistics would die for. William Buick and James Doyle, who get to ride most of them, are fully justifying the decision to rely on their burgeoning talents from an early stage in their development.

Until the weekend, the Coolmore fortunes had been frankly in and out, but the victories of US Navy Flag and later in the evening, Kew Gardens (Galileo) in the Grand Prix de Paris on Longchamp’s Bastille Day card, put Aidan O’Brien on six Group 1 wins for 2018.

Kew Gardens will now aim to follow up in the Qipco-sponsored King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes on Saturday week, when Ascot will have the usual fight for horses and jockeys against the same triumvirate of competing fixtures in York, Newmarket and Chester, with Salisbury once more operating in the evening.

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The crowds invariably roll up for York and Chester, as they did again on Saturday, but finding suitable jockeys is a perennial problem for trainers. The Tooth, Siddiqui, Sharma partnership was happy that Brian Meehan could secure Martin Harley for their promising filly Laxmi and Dilip Sharma was equally pleased to meet his racing hero Aidan O’Brien in the paddock before the July Cup.

Laxmi, as I’ve mentioned before, has US Navy Flag in her dam’s pedigree, and Aidan told Dilip that with the first-season sire War Command, like US Navy Flag a son of War Front and a Dewhurst winner, his filly has a terrific page.

For much of Saturday’s seven furlongs she looked a possible winner, but she weakened up the hill and finished seventh to strong-running Antonia De Vega. Harley reported her as “still weak” but a “lovely filly” and that when he asked her he really thought she would win.

Meehan will give her a little time to strengthen, but that could still give her time to contest the £300,000 guaranteed Goffs UK Premier Sales race for graduates of last year’s Doncaster auction where she was acquired for £42,000 by the shrewd Sam Sangster. Harley reckoned a drop back to that race’s distance of six furlongs and a flat track would be very much to her liking.

That race concluded a busy few days for the Tooth colours. On Wednesday at Lingfield, Telltale was a one-paced fourth of five, but showed enough to suggest that a combination of distance, better ground and time to develop could still make this gentle giant into a winner, probably over jumps.

My Law, like Laxmi, in the Meehan team, travelled up to Carlisle for a 10 plus fillies’ race that looked pretty good and didn’t really get going until the last furlong when Paul Mulrennan took her wide and she stayed on into a closing fifth. Maybe a mile is what this good-looking home-bred needs.

Then on Friday night it was Ffos Las and Starcrossed and it was no help to this accurate jumper when just as they arrived at the start, the two hurdles in the straight for the £21,000-added prize were dolled off due to the low sun. The race was over two and a half miles, so after jumping the first they had at least a seven-furlong run past the stands to the second flight at the start of the back straight.

Three more hurdles followed on that far side before another long Flat-race section to the winning post. Starcrossed, always in the leading group under Harry Skelton, and the least experienced in the field, stayed competitive all the way home, eventually finishing fourth. Dan reckoned he needs the hurdles to keep him interested, but to his credit, he was the only one of the leading group in a hot contest for the grade, to stay competitive, the others filling the last three places at the finish.

I had cause to complain to the official handicappers on behalf of my friend, Wilf Storey, when his 10-year-old Jan Smuts, was raised 8lb after winning what had proved an uncompetitive two-mile race at Musselburgh recently. Matthew Tester, freed a couple of years back from his concentration on the two-year-old division, took responsibility for his actions against the veteran of 106 Flat races, arguing Jan Smuts could well have suddenly rediscovered earlier abilities – his last win had been 25 races earlier. Wilf’s parting shot of “It’s a waste of time talking to them” is what many trainers believe.

There were handicapping elements to the hurdles race, too. Starcrossed had been raised 3lb for finishing second to well-treated (and 10lb claimer-ridden) Rebel Yates at Fontwell, which looked tough enough. Meanwhile the eventual winner of Friday’s near £13k first prize was Voodoo Doll, who was completing a hat-trick for Evan Williams.

Voodoo Doll, a five-year-old son of Getaway, had opened his account at the seventh time of asking with an easy success in a £4k handicap at Bangor in June, for which he was raised 7lb. He followed up three weeks ago narrowly in a Worcester race which carried a similar prize to Friday’s – more than £12,000 to the winner. For that he went up another 2lb. Williams will probably expect him to be dropped a few pounds after this!

Monday Musings: Blame it on the novichok…

You can blame it all on novichok and Brexit, writes Tony Stafford. But for the political reaction to the first Salisbury poisonings back in the spring of a former Russian spy who years ago sold secrets to the British, and his daughter, many more England supporters would have dared to travel to Russia for the World Cup.

It was suggested around 3,000 England fans were in the stadium in Samara on Saturday as they beat Sweden 2-0. By my reckoning, not far short of 3,000 more blocked the traffic going down from Regents Park towards Camden Town at around 5.30 on Saturday afternoon. Luckily I was able to take a right turn and escape with a clean car unlike the Emergency Ambulance, jumped upon and as good as wrecked in Borough High Street, Central London, that evening.

As England’s path to a second World Cup win moves ever closer, confusion over Brexit and indeed novichok, following another dual exposure in the Salisbury area late last week, deepens.

David Davis, the Brexit Secretary, resigned over the weekend. Governments like to issue bad news when there are other distractions, so Mrs May might well be grateful of the progress in the World Cup by the home country’s footballers.

She will probably also be relieved that it was Croatia rather than the hosts that won Saturday’s other quarter-final after a penalty shoot-out in Sochi. Croatia’s female president showed her dancing skills when her team opened the scoring, while Russia’s PM Medvedev looked away. Considering the extreme cool in the Putin – May relations since Salisbury, it might be worth Betfair’s opening a market on whether Theresa will find time to travel to the Final next Saturday should we be there, with so much turmoil around Westminster.

My Internet-minded wife did show me one video image late yesterday, on the reaction of the Russian police when one misguided England fan, mirroring the ambulance abuse back home, jumped on a vehicle over there. Within seconds he was hauled off and got an instant “correction” from a policeman’s baton.

I played cricket the only time we won the World Cup when probably a good few of Eton Manor’s team preferred to watch the football. On Saturday I was at Sandown for the Coral-Eclipse Stakes which suffered a last-minute absentee when Masar, the Investec Derby winner had to miss the race through a minor setback.

Many thought Sheikh Mohammed and his Godolphin entourage might also avoid the engagement, but such is the renewed confidence especially with the Charlie Appleby end of the team, that there was a full contingent to see Hawkbill finish fourth. While not collecting the major prize, Sheikh Mo will have been gratified to see the Derby form upheld, with Roaring Lion, third at Epsom, maintaining his superiority over Saxon Warrior, fourth in the big one, in a tight finish.

Had the pair been competing in France or the US then the slightly errant late course of Roaring Lion, which caused Saxon Warrior to be tightened up might well have been reversed. But with the Sandown crowd building up the excitement with those other Lions about to take to the pitch in Samara, the result, a popular one with the favourite winning, was allowed to stand. The four-day ban that Oisin Murphy, 22, received for the move on Donnacha O’Brien, 19, was enough to salve any protests.

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It has been widely assumed that Donnacha , already the possessor of three Classic wins this year to Ryan Moore’s zero, will not wish or be able to continue riding for much longer. Elder brother Joseph at 25 is already an established top-level trainer a couple of years in after his precipitous retirement, but the incentive for the younger O’Brien to remain in the jockey arena could hardly be more attractive.

Well used to reading in the footnotes to ordinary races in Ireland that his mounts would be liable to carrying overweight – 9st was supposed to be his absolute limit – it certainly surprised me that he was allowed to resume his 2,000 Guineas winning partnership with Saxon Warrior. Moore, absent on Kentucky Derby duties with Mendelssohn on that first Saturday in May, was back on the favourite both at Epsom and The Curragh, but again in the US for the very disappointing Mendelssohn at Belmont Park on Saturday night. Luckily Athena – my late mum’s name – picked up just short of 400k when winning the Belmont Oaks, so the trip did have some minor financial recompense for his troubles.

Saxon Warrior, along with the other three-year-olds in the Group 1 Coral-Eclipse, had 8st11lb, but when I asked Aidan O’Brien after the race whether Donnacha had “done” the weight, there was a hint of surprise that I’d even asked. He did. As with Lester Piggott in an earlier age, and until recently George Baker, the lofty Donnacha is showing the amazing will-power that jockeys can employ to manage their weight and of course their appetite.

My appetite was given a bit of a test in the Coral tent – no doubt the early start, England’s match and above all a blockade on the M25 contributed to a host of non-runners among the guest list– after I got a late call from Matt Yates, to partake of some excellent victuals.

Matt was an Olympian 1500-metre runner and if you could believe it actually beat Messrs Coe and Ovett back in the day. He walks pretty quickly too, and his athletic prowess didn’t hurt as he shepherded Coral and Ladbrokes customers from table to bar, and of course to the betting point while Colin Brown (without Desert Orchid) mastered the ceremonies in his usual effortless style.

The food was good, the company even better and until attention switched from horse racing to England on the big screen it was all serene. The initial stages of the match were fairly sterile, and the decision was made to drive back with Peter Ashmore and family to St John’s Wood and watch the second half and the inevitable shoot-out after the probable 0-0 draw in comfort and quiet.

Harry Maguire’s missile-guided head had already altered calculations by the time we got there and the second goal by Dele Alli offered security. It was left to some excellent saves by Jordan Pickford – “that’s what he’s there for” – to retain the victory margin and disguise the actual superiority. With two games to go, it’s hard to imagine anything other than a win. Champions of the World!

Will Mrs May dare to go, though, and sit alongside President Putin at the Final in Moscow? Or even more intriguingly will it be Boris, as Foreign Secretary, or will he have resigned by then, too, in an attempt to unseat the PM and nick the top job for himself amid the inevitable fall-out? When I used occasionally to be in close proximity to Boris (and others of course) going up in the the lift at the old Daily Telegraph building in Fleet Street all those years ago, I’d never have believed where he and all of us would be now.

While there may be distractions, the top trainers do not allow themselves to be diverted. On Saturday there were notable multiple wins, not the least impressive being Ian Williams’ four-timer – one at Haydock and three-out-of-three for a 143-1 treble from his only runners at Nottingham.

The horseboxes rolled out early from Kingsley House on Saturday morning, no doubt waking the owners in the guest apartments, aiming for six of the seven Flat meetings on the day- avoiding perhaps fortuitously Sandown and those motorway frustrations.

Mark Johnston’s sole Nottingham runner finished only fourth, but his other 23 contenders fared far more impressively. I wonder whether expectations were particularly high, as of the 24, only two started favourite and neither Austrian School, runner-up as 4-1 market leader at Haydock or the odds-on Winger Spur also second at Beverley, could quite justify the position.

Otherwise it was success everywhere else, with wins at Chelmsford (two), Carlisle, Leicester, Beverley and another double at Haydock. In price order, the winners started at 20-1, 12-1, 8-1, 6-1, 9-2, and 5-2 twice. Johnston had sent out 28 winners in the previous 14 days, so with another at Ayr yesterday, that makes it 36 wins in 16 days. Man in form? He’s almost in the Gareth Southgate class.

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