Monday Musings: The Final Highland Fling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday Musings: Sales Season (almost) Endeth

We’re finally on the last leg of the sales season, Tattersall’s four-day auction of mares, as their December marathon at Newmarket eventually makes it to its eponymous month, writes Tony Stafford. My friend Peter will be happy as it means not only will he and Lorraine get onto the minibus to see Frankel again, but he’ll also make an early start today for some of Juddmonte’s goodies.

He especially anticipates, as do I, the mini pots of fish and chips, and as he likes to tell Teddy Grimthorpe, it makes a change from Greggs.

Peter and family came to the last Ascot Saturday with me and as we wandered around – as ever marvelling at the Royal racecourse’s ability to attract the crowds to any fixture – I suggested that a Greggs would enjoy phenomenal trade at the end of the main enclosure. Peter agreed but when I suggested he should be the one to put it to Johnny Weatherby, the Queen’s Representative, that idea was shelved for another year.

Last week Raymond Tooth had his first go at selling foals from Kinsale stud, prepped via David and Trish Brown’s Furnace Mill and on balance the experience was positive. The filly by Nathaniel struggled, like many by the sire, contrary to expectations after the stellar year of Enable, but was nevertheless reasonably-satisfactorily traded in a private sale on day two.

Contrastingly, despite a nominally less attractive position on the opening afternoon, the Garswood colt out of Lawyers Choice, so half-brother to Dutch Law, made 42,000gns, more than ten times the 2016 nomination fee for the Cheveley Park stud stallion, set to have his first runners next year.

Such was his presence, he was in the top ten of the near 300 catalogued on the opening day, and realised more than all but 17 fetched on the final day, which generally is the second-weakest. When two foals on day three made 600,000gns each we were interested. They were respectively a colt by Dark Angel and a filly by Invincible Spirit. Among Ray’s mares is Ailsa On My Mind, a daughter of Dark Angel out of an Invincible Spirit mare. Once-raced when placed third for Hugo Palmer as a juvenile, she is due to have her first foal by Garswood early next year.

It’s not often you meet your heroes, but having enjoyed a chat with Michael Holding at Chelmsford City a while ago when he travelled there with Ryan Moore and his driver Mickey Guest, I was having a drink with David Brown and Richard and Rachael Kempster of Kinsale, when two venerable (older than me) gentlemen and cricketing pals of Brownie’s sidled alongside.

To meet one England cricket captain would be exciting: to get two in one was astonishing. But here were Keith Fletcher (now 73) and 84-year-old M J K (Mike) Smith still bright eyed, bushy-tailed and unlike their admirer, sporting plenty of hair. I hope my fawning attention for the next half hour wasn’t too embarrassing!

After a campaign when late-developing juveniles and thin-on-the-ground older horses meant under-achievement by previous standards, those sales and the 50,000gns realised by another home-bred, the three-year-old Stanhope, meant the balance was somewhat restored, but it will be a slimmed-down breeding operation that confronts 2018.

One I am looking forward to is Ray’s sole yearling purchase, the War Command filly sourced at Brian Meehan’s open day back in the autumn. She’s from the same maternal family as Roly Poly and US Navy Flag and looks a two-year-old type. Last week in the back restaurant at Tatts, I bumped into Kevin McAuliffe, who sat next to me at Brian’s post parade lunch at Rick Stein’s in Marlborough High Street.

When I told Kevin that Raymond had bought the War Command filly, he said: “She’s a smasher. I had somebody for her, but she was already gone”. You have to get up early in the morning, Kevin, to beat the Tooth!

Yesterday morning, having expected to be making a long trip north on matters away from racing, I got a reprieve from Mrs Stafford, for whom I was scheduled to chauffeur, so went instead to Cottenham’s Cambridge University Hunts meeting, close to the roadworks part of the A14.

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This was only my second ever point-to-point and the first was at the same venue and at the behest of the Quinlan family after Noel had taken ownership of Park Lane from Raymond and daughter Jessica was due to ride. Yesterday another lady amateur rider, Siobhan Doolan – Wilf Storey’s grand-daughter – gave me the invitation, and she was riding for Heidi Brookshaw, daughter of Grand National-winning trainer Tim.

Her Ladies’ Open mount, Sam Cavallero, made a bad mistake down the back straight second time round and Siobhan, now working for Amlin’s horse insurance team, made a recovery that prompted commentator Steve Payne to note her proficiency.

Like Park Lane those years ago, Sam finished unplaced, but Siobhan, daughter of Irish-born former jump jockey Kevin Doolan is a young lady on the move in her chosen field.

There were former commentators aplenty at Cottenham, not least David Minton, who held the position for years when he lived in the region. Now based in Shropshire, Minty took a day off from sales duties on a day when numerous racing “faces” were on show.

Sir Mark Prescott acts as starter, while another rider was Tim (son of Bill) Gredley, whose Newmarket Town Plate-winning partner, Bivouac, made a promising pointing start in third in a hot Men’s Open. Tim’s newish brother-in-law George Scott was there with Charlie Appleby, while Michael Hills was also in attendance with wife Chrissie and dog, along with brother George, another in the insurance game from what I remember, to support a family competitor.

Back with the horses, I felt for Nicky Henderson and owner Dai Walters after the second-season novice Whisper was caught in the last 20 yards of the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury on Saturday. As Hendo rightly said after taking in the implications of the 4lb penalty generated by his horse’s win in a two-horse graduation chase at Kempton, this was indeed a case of “trainer error”, but such a penalty for a race of the Ladbrokes’ status is ridiculous.

In the event Whisper was unable to manage a 14lb concession to the year-younger Total Recall, whose training was taken over by Willie Mullins after Sandra Hughes’ retirement last year. Mullins guided Total Recall to an easy success in the Munster National recently, and in the absence of Ruby Walsh through his latest fracture, Paul Townend did the steering to earn the £142,000 first prize.

So what was formerly the Hennessy –and one of the Racing UK commentators, possibly Jonathan Neesom unguardedly still called it that in the preamble – evaded Henderson as did the preceding Ladbrokes international Hurdle (formerly the Gerry Feilden).

This was a case of the former pupil beating the master, with the Ben Pauling-trained High Bridge coming away from Seven Barrows’ Charli Parcs, under a competent ride by young Alex Ferguson, in the colours of his mother. Fergie junior (Mark 2) has certainly tightened up as a rider since joining Pauling, and with elder brother James now assistant to Meehan at Manton, the family is extending rather than losing its influence in the business. The old man looked quite happy when I saw him at the foal sales, and he’ll no doubt be another grateful recipient of Juddmonte’s largesse this week.

 

Monday Musings: David Cassidy and the Sundance Years

Why do so many things happen on a Tuesday?, writes Tony Stafford. It’s obvious, because I write this stuff on a Monday and quite often forget that it’s what I intended writing about and end up doing something else.

Late last night, I’d still forgotten and then something Mrs Stafford threw out in a conversation about nothing – she mentioned “time” – reminded me.

David Cassidy, the singer and actor in the Partridge Family series in the early 1970’s, died on Tuesday aged 67. He’d already retired from the show after which he became the subject of the sort of fan mania that followed the Beatles around in the 1960’s.

His teen heart-throb good looks were still in place when he replaced Cliff Richard in the musical “Time” co-written by Dave Clark, founder of the Dave Clark Five, an early rival band to the Beatles during the show’s two-year run at the Dominion Theatre in London’s West End.

By this period, I’d already been going to Kentucky for a while to the yearling and breeding stock sales and had seen Cassidy a few times at Lexington restaurants. He was a great friend of Barry Weisbord, publisher of the racing industry “bible”, Thoroughbred Daily News (TDN), which still appears in its European version every day at Tattersalls auctions.

On Derby Day 1987 I was surprised when I bumped into Cassidy a few minutes before the race behind the main stand. He asked where would be a good place to watch the race, and I took him up to the press box at the top of the old stand. He was delighted to get a great view of his friend Steve Cauthen winning easily on the Henry Cecil-trained and Louis Freedman-owned Reference Point.

Many people have said in the days following news of his death at 67, suffering from dementia, that he was a generous person. From minimal experience I can fully relate to that. After going off looking for Cauthen he organised tickets for the entire Stafford family – first wife and three kids – to the show and a visit to his dressing room afterwards.

Weisbord related in his TDN tribute to his friend that Cassidy, like him, loved horses and betting, breeding and owning possibly contributing to the fact that he did not end up with a shed-load of cash. I can relate to that too, although where there’s life there’s still hope.

I still bump into Weisbord from time to time and always remember that it was at one of his Matchmaker events in 1984 that I showed just what a useless punter I am. Sat next to Patrick Biancone at Keeneland on the Calumet Farm table, I couldn’t resist betting with Patrick on what the various lots at the auction would make.

The lots, or “hips” as they are known at American horse auctions because the number is put on the horses’ hip, were nominations for coverings by the various stallions. The idea and also commercial viability of the sale coincided with the height of the Robert Sangster – Sheikh Mohammed bidding frenzy when prices for yearlings rose to an unbelievable and never <never say never, Ed> to be repeated $13.1million.

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I think we had around 15 bets on what each lot would fetch and I won once; and, as we were going at around 20 bucks a go, it was a very expensive “free” dinner. Calumet was going to stand Derby winner Secreto, owned by the Venezuelan businessman Luigi Miglietti. Secreto, trained by David O’Brien, Vincent’s son, beat his father’s El Gran Senor in a pulsating finish at Epsom which did not result in much similarity to the bonhomie when another O’Brien son beat his father in the Melbourne Cup – though these O’Briens are not genetically related to their predecessors except by geography and of course extreme talent.

Happily for all concerned, Secreto missed the Irish Derby allowing El Gran Senor to win and for Messrs O’Brien, Sangster and John Magnier, O’Brien’s son-in-law, to collect the multi-million stud fee that seemed to have gone by the board after Epsom.

The bloodstock world of 2017 continues to have echoes of its make-up of 30 years ago, and one of the biggest players these days is Peter Brant, owner of White Birch Farm and a New Yorker, like Weisbord and Joe Allen, owner of the last top-class Danzig colt, War Front, and Brant’s brother-in-law.

My first trip to Kentucky in November 1982 was arranged by David Hedges, founder of the International Racing Bureau, who organised my stay at Robin Scully’s Clovelly Farm in Lexington. On the Sunday before the sale we went to the Hyatt hotel for alcohol-free – Kentucky was “dry” on a Sunday in those days – drinks with Henryk de Kwiatkowski, Danzig’s owner, and Brant.

On hearing that I worked for the Daily Telegraph, Brant said: “If you could sort out the unions, British newspapers would make anyone a fortune”. I told him the Telegraph was for sale and he should make a bid. He didn’t and years later spent some time in jail.

During the sale, when I spent much of the time with de Kwiatkowski, we were in one of the bars, when the American owner Danny Schwartz called over. “Rick, we’ve bought a lovely colt”. When I looked at the sales returns I saw the horse had been knocked down to Sir Philip Payne-Gallway, agent to Stavros Niarchos, so in my article I speculated that Niarchos and Sangster had gone into partnership.

Imagine my frustration when I learned that a minor dispute with the print unions had prevented any of my offerings that week making the street. A year later, Niarchos, Magnier, Vincent O’Brien, Sangster and Schwartz were all listed as partners in Seattle Dancer, the $13.1 million colt who never lived up to his pedigree as half-brother by Northern Dancer to Triple Crown hero Seattle Slew.

I expect Barry Weisbord will be at the foal and mare sale this week and next which will conclude proceedings for the bloodstock year. The decent yearlings on sale today will be an aperitif to what is sure to be extravagant business at the later stages of the foals on Friday and Saturday and the early part of the broodmares next week when some choice lots will be eagerly-sought.

David Cassidy made a massive impact, especially on pre-pubescent girls in his heyday, as at least one article in the Daily Mail chronicled. A Grade 2 win for his filly Sweet Vendetta was probably enough to satisfy his yearning for racing success and there will always be others to follow in his footsteps. What could be better than owning a good horse, or even a not-so-good one that gets you into the winner’s enclosure? Not much, from where I stand.

Monday Musings: On Trainers…

How much bad luck can a man have? In the case of Ruby Walsh, at 38, surely at a stage when yet another serious injury, this time a broken leg, might potentially be career threatening, apparently any amount, writes Tony Stafford. Reassuringly, his surgeon seems to think that Ruby will be fit in time for the Cheltenham Festival.

Having waited almost two years for the return from injury of the 2015 Champion Hurdle winner, Faugheen, Walsh suffered his broken leg the day before that one’s planned reappearance at Punchestown. Faugheen had been absent since his 15-length January 2016 romp over Willie Mullins stablemates Arctic Fire and Nicholls Canyon in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown.

Faugheen returned in the Morgiana Hurdle, the same race in which he suffered his sole defeat, narrowly, by Nicholls Canyon. It might only have been a four-runner affair yesterday, but Paul Townend on his first ride on the brilliant jumper, set him off in front and he beat Jezki, his 2014 predecessor as Champion Hurdle victor, by 16 lengths. Swamp Fox, assuredly a handicapper, but one good enough to win the Naas November handicap on the Flat this month, was 37 lengths back in third.

Walsh has had more than his share both of injuries and spills. His injury at Leopardstown came on the last of four rides after an 11-day absence due to a hand injury. He rode one short-priced winner for his boss, but had three falls, the last and most costly on Let’s Dance in a Listed mares’ hurdle for which she started odds-on.

Now, as in all good long-range dilemmas, the attention will switch to another Champion Hurdler, the reigning champ Buveur d’Air, who, like Faugheen, has a single jumping defeat on his curriculum vitae. He is set to return in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle on Saturday week.

The Nicky Henderson-trained six-year-old also suffered his only loss to a stable-mate and in a championship race, the 2016 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham when only third to Altior. After two novice chase wins, Henderson, with one of the intuitive decisions that mark him out as an outstanding handler, decided to send him back to hurdling.

That decision was presumably prompted by the fact that he had already moved Altior to chasing when, for many, he had been the more obvious Champion Hurdle contender for the stable. Then again, Altior would not have to worry about the likes of Faugheen – at the time still on target to regain his crown – if he went over fences.

Both decisions proved far-sighted and until Arkle winner Altior recently suffered one of the all-too-frequent wind problems that seem to assail top jumpers, few would have looked past him for the Queen Mother Champion Chase next March.

I can understand the trainer’s irritation that when he finally released the news last week, having taken a couple of veterinary opinions and consulted owner Patricia Pugh, unnamed (but only just, according to the trainer) members of the media criticised what they saw as his handling of the issue.

Nicky Henderson grew up and learned his trade under Fred Winter in the age of the great stables where journalists cowered and gratefully sought out trifles while lauding their achievements.

Social media has ended that climate, not just in racing, but in all walks of life and where once there was deference from the media, now there’s intrusion, with the general belief it is justified. The BHA and its attitude to trainers and what is perceived as their duty to keep the betting public informed has played its part in that process.

One BHA decision that has caused general derision was when Raul da Silva was given a ban for throwing a handful of Chelmsford’s Polytrack surface sand onto the hind quarters of his mount, Sandkissed, to encourage her into the stalls before a race last week.

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Considering all the horses running round each of the all-weather surfaces are expected to cope with copious amounts of said surfaces being thrown up into their eyes every time they run, such pernickety officialdom seems out of proportion. For me, it is merely another instance of present-day political correctness.

Anyone who has seen horses going to a sale showing their displeasure at coming off a lorry down a ramp will realise stable staff can have an unenviably dangerous job. The same goes for stalls handlers and when a jockey shows a little invention to ease what could become a bigger problem on the day, such an extreme reaction is embarrassing.

The sad death last week of Alan Potts, the surviving half of the Ann and Alan Potts ownership team who battled with the big battalions with such success over the past few seasons, will not apparently stop the success of the green, yellow and red colours.

There were two wins at Cheltenham over the weekend, via the impressive pair Finian’s Oscar and Fox Norton and I hope the story I heard about Alan Potts is true. It seems shortly before he died, so the story goes, he made provision for all the training fees in the future careers of his family’s horses to be secured. No doubt Colin Tizzard, who trains both winners and, among others, Jessica Harrington, trainer of Gold Cup hero Sizing John, will know whether that is true or just a racing urban myth.

I’m not sure if the Potts’s had any horses with Dan Skelton, but Mrs Richard Kelvin Hughes certainly does and her North Hill Harvey, owned in partnership with Mrs Widdowson, impressively won the Arkle Trial at Cheltenham yesterday, to put the trainer onto 99 for the season.

Skelton may still be trailing the likes of Henderson, Mullins and Gordon Elliott with potential big-race contenders, but the efficiency with which he churns out the winners is a reminder of the halcyon days of Martin Pipe. Only Joseph O’Brien, Melbourne Cup and umpteen victories over jumps just in the past month, among youthful trainers, is keeping pace with Skelton’s rapid rate of progress.

I managed to sneak into the owners’ room at Cheltenham on Friday courtesy of Alan Spence whose On the Blind Side was an impressive winner of his second hurdle race when stepping into Grade 2 novice class. I had a brief chat there with Anthony Honeyball, his wife Rachael and their 18-month-old son who I can report enjoys eating cream, some of it not going onto his face.

Two days later the trainer had a treble at Fontwell in which the most significant for the future was the victory of Jukebox Jive, a 97-rated Flat-racer, in the juvenile hurdle, beating the Kelvin-Hughes home-bred Lisp. Success was hardly a surprise first-time-out for Ron Huggins’ also home-bred son of Jukebox Jury, whose former owner Alan Spence will tell you is a much-underrated stallion – evidence his Dominating, winner of six races for Mark Johnston this year.

It was also Johnston who handled Huggins’ best-known and much-loved stayer Double Trigger and it would hardly be a shock were Jukebox Jive to take high rank as a staying hurdler who could double as a potential Cesarewitch winner next year. I’d love him to do that.

- Tony Stafford

Monday Musings: Under The Radar

Nine years ago, while writing a similar column to this in a since defunct organ, I remember eulogising about a horse that must lay claim not just to having gone under the radar, but simply evading all attention, writes Tony Stafford.

By the time of his sixth successive victory, having won twice as a late-season juvenile, and at three, adding a Conditions race and a Listed event before collecting the 20-runner Prix du Jockey Club and the Prix Niel (Group 2), he went to the Arc unbeaten despite never having started favourite.

That’s right, even after gallantly holding Famous Name (eventual winner of 21 of 38 starts, all bar one at Group 2, 3 or Listed level) at Chantilly, he did not even head the market for his Arc trial. He won it only narrowly – his sole win at a mile and a half - so maybe fifth around three lengths behind Zarkava and one adrift of Youmzain and Soldier of Fortune was decent enough in a first defeat.

In four seasons’ racing he won ten of his 17 starts, collecting £2.5 million, bolstered by further Group 1’s, the Prix Ganay, a Prince of Wales and a Hong Kong Cup at Sha Tin. A son of dual Group 1 winner but equally unheralded Chichicastenango – what a great name – he would have been even more formidable had he truly stayed the Classic distance.

Vision d’Etat always showed a turn of foot, so when he retired to the Haras de Grandcamp at a fee of €6,000, there were plenty of takers. Among a numerous second crop, divided between Pur Sang (fully thoroughbred) and AQPS (effectively non-thoroughbred) mares was a filly out of the Saint des Saints mare Santa Bamba called De Bon Coeur.

Yesterday at Auteuil on the traditional closing day of their Autumn season and ridden by James Reveley, she made it eight wins in nine starts over hurdles (she fell when cantering clear in the other) in the Prix Renaud du Vivier, the 4yo Champion Hurdle.

Her maternal grand sire, the aforementioned Saint des Saints, never raced on the Flat and in a 14-race career competed exclusively at Auteuil. He won six of 12 hurdles and the first of two chases, being switched back to the smaller obstacles after falling in his next race over fences.

As a sire he has excelled, notably with Willie Mullins’ top-class chaser Djakadam, but it is arguable whether he has produced anything with more potential than De Bon Coeur. In his racing days he three times had to give best to the great Marly River, including in this same 4yo championship race.

As in all her runs where I have found race comments, she has been allowed to sit in behind the leaders until mid-race when, as was the case yesterday, Reveley has taken her to the front. It took some believing to witness the way she carried herself clear of her field before the home turn without any obvious encouragement from the jockey and drew away to win untroubled by ten lengths from the best of her generation. Seven of her eight wins have been achieved by between seven and 12 lengths.

Two years ago Blue Dragon won the same race with equal authority and he remains at the top of France’s hurdling tree, even allowing for the fact that he has had some alarming late capitulations on occasion.

So far there is no sign that De Bon Coeur has similar frailties and yesterday’s times take as much believing as the raw visual impression of the race. There were two other races run over the same 3900 metres (just short of two and a half miles) trip.  She was nine seconds (maybe 150 yards) faster than the earlier Listed handicap won by a smart gelding and more than 13 seconds faster than a classy Martalane filly in another, worth 22K to the winner.

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Vision d’Etat switched studs for this season to Haras du Treban where he stood at €2,800. I expect they will be busy next year and beyond!

There were a couple of striking performances at Navan yesterday, the Mullins five-year-old Footpad making a spectacular debut over fences suggesting he will be hard to leave out of Arkle Chase consideration next spring. Footpad, a French-bred, actually returned to his homeland for last year’s Prix Renaud du Vivier and was only narrowly beaten into second by the outsider Capivari. That race was run only four seconds faster than one of the handicaps.

The second smart performance came from another French import, Apple’s Jade, in the Lismullen Hurdle. Once with Mullins, she was moved, along with many of the Gigginstown House horses, to Gordon Elliott and the daughter of Saddler Maker will be competitive in all the big hurdles this winter.

If connections of Pallasator had expected (as I confess I did!) him to follow his charity race romp with a debut win over hurdles at Naas on Saturday, they were to be disappointed. The winner here was Next Destination, by an emphatic 13 lengths, in the happily once more visible Malcolm Denmark silks. He has run a few horses recently, still concentrating on long-term protege Mark Pitman, but this one is with Willie Mullins and was not far behind ill-fated Fayonagh in last season’s Cheltenham bumper.

That was the race where Denmark and Pitman enjoyed a 50-1 triumph together, one of eight wins from only ten starts by the brilliant Monsignor. That was his second win from four bumper runs when oddly three of his four riders - Brendan Powell senior, Timmy Murphy and Graham Lee - all won the Grand National, although the latter pair now ride only on the Flat.

Monsignor won all six races over hurdles the following winter beating triple Gold Cup hero Best Mate at Sandown and National winner Bindaree a couple of times including in the Royal and Sun Alliance hurdle at the Festival.

Norman Williamson rode the gelding in all six and will have been as frustrated as everyone in racing in the spring of 2000 when injury prevented his running ever again. Just how far he might have changed racing history must often exercise the minds of Messrs Denmark, Pitman and Williamson. It was nice to see him on show at Newbury races one day a couple of years back as an equine participant in the Retraining of Racehorses scheme and it would be appropriate if Next Destination reaches anywhere near his level.

Saturday in the UK belonged to that highly-efficient dual-purpose trainer Ian Williams. Having won the big handicap hurdle at Wincanton with his Cesarewitch runner-up London Prize, he was on hand at Doncaster to send out Saunter, a recent addition to the stable, to stroll home in the November Handicap.

In the way of such coincidences, Williams has another young horse, good enough to run second behind sadly-deceased Permian in the Listed Newmarket Stakes back in May and to canter away from his field in a Huntingdon juvenile hurdle just over a week ago. His name? Speedo Boy. His sire? Vision d’Etat. Do you feel a Triumph or more likely a Fred Winter coming on? I do.

Monday Musings: Travel Headaches

What’s an acceptable time for an aircraft delay, asks Tony Stafford. Mrs S is returning tonight from an unexpected but necessary trip to Moscow and her ETA at Heathrow Terminal 5 is approximately identical to the anticipated arrival through Tattersalls Park Paddocks sales ring of the boss’s Stanhope.

So is it better to wish for baggage handlers or flight controllers to contrive an hour’s go-slow or hope that the 114 horses already scheduled to miss their date with destiny at Newmarket before lot 410 struts his stuff are supplemented still further?

Transport problems have been a feature of the past 24 hours and the small plane taking a number of jockeys and other interested parties to Paris for the two Criterium Group 1 races at Saint-Cloud had a quicker turn-around than was initially feared when the meeting was delayed and then abandoned with just a single claiming race concluded.

Cambridge Airport does not permit landings after dark, so on this first day of GMT after the clocks went back, there were some anxious moments as jockeys anticipated landing at Stansted with their cars languishing in the Cambridge car park. Depending on your point of view, all was well in the end, apart from the French owners’ and trainers’ protest which halted the action.

In the Doncaster press room on Saturday, I had a chat with Marcus Townend of the Daily Mail and the Mirror’s Dave Yates, who both had as much intention of going to France as going to the Moon. “It has to be today”, said Yates, talking of the Bobby Frankel Group 1 record that Aidan O’Brien was to break later in the day. “Then it’ll be a great story. If it goes on until tomorrow, it’s just a footnote”. Wise words, Dave.

Of course, the two journalists will have been busy yesterday packing for that highly desirable journalistic “tick” in San Diego for next weekend’s Breeders’ Cup. Wish I could be there, lads. One friend, Andrew Pasfield, would have shared in the general irritation at the abandonment of the mile and a quarter Criterium de Saint-Cloud race. Luminate, the unbeaten Highclere-owned filly in which he has a share, was thought to be the one feasible impediment to another O’Brien win.

Andrew, who was also in the Melody syndicate years back, had asked in the days leading up to the race whether I knew what Aidan’s team was likely to be. When it became a strong-looking quartet including Nelson, Delano Roosevelt and Newmarket ten furlong winner Kew Gardens, he feared the worst, but the actual outcome was even more devastating.

Andrew was unable to be in Paris as his flight to San Diego was timed – in the manner of Mrs S’s inconvenient scheduling – to leave London as the horses were due to arrive at the start at Saint-Cloud.

The other Criterium, the International, has been cut to seven furlongs from the one mile trip over which the boss’s French Fifteen won six years ago. Highclere were out in force that day, too, cheering on Bonfire, who got going late and finished third. They and many observers thought themselves unlucky, but it was hard to deny the winner, who’d come from even further back under Thierry Thulliez.

There was an airport story involved there also as French Fifteen’s trainer Nicolas Clement had not expected to run the colt in the race when he arranged a promotional trip to China. So he was still in the departure lounge at the airport – not sure which city – prior to his return home when FF was galloping to victory.

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My own travel plans that day were more than fraught. I’d arranged with my pal Roger Hales, Mr Reliable to you, to drive me and he was to meet me in the car park outside the house. At 5 a.m. I called to check he’d got there and received the rather unexpected news that he was 40 miles away on the side of the M11, broken down and with no credit on his phone – he was getting that corrected the following day!

So instead of having a bit of a snooze on the way over I had to drive and when we won, needed to enlist the help of a most obliging young lady from the Saint-Cloud office to lug the massive and very handsome trophy back to the car. Several hours and strictly no celebratory drinks later, said trophy was delivered to the boss’s house where it remains on proud display to this day.

French Fifteen, very sensibly, was sold a few days later and went on to finish inches behind Camelot in the following year’s 2,000 Guineas. He had his first crop runners this year and has had only a handful of winners, including one at the provincial track of Agen yesterday, over an extended nine furlongs.

It appears they share the characteristics of French Kiss, Ray’s home-bred colt and the only representative of his sire to have run in the UK – three runs unplaced with the maybe optimistic view that he might win next year, but clearly over a trip.

Camelot looked to have made a slow enough start to his stud career, but there’s been a flurry of talented winners lately. While the son of Montjeu might never be a Galileo, he’s certainly looking a more than decent prospect. How it must have irritated the Coolmore team when he came up just short in the St Leger- especially after the involvement of the winner Encke in the Godolphin “steroids” Al Zarooni scandal the following year. Otherwise he would have matched his illustrious Ballydoyle predecessor Nijinsky with a Triple Crown.

Maybe Saxon Warrior has the tools for such an achievement. He certainly showed all of speed, stamina and determination – the minimum triple requirement for mile, 12 and 14.6 furlong superiority – in winning the Racing Post Trophy on Saturday.

The timing of the turning back of the clocks gave Alan Spence the opportunity to win the first race of winter at Aintree with his £205k purchase On The Blind Side, who outbattled an 80-1 shot in a debut victory the owner described as “perfect”. The 2-1 about what the stable believed to be a certainty apparently was acceptable, too.

One of Alan’s more pressing decisions, following the multi-million sale of Profitable to Godolphin last year, was which of the many offers on the table to accept for Priceless, his other top Clive Cox-trained sprinter. The last I heard, he was favouring a possible foal-share deal involving Dubawi. With John Ferguson out of the picture, Darley better get a decent negotiator involved. Once Alan concludes that deal, he’ll be offering his services to Mrs May and David Davis to sort Brexit. They could do worse than take him up on it.

- TS

Monday Musings: The Road From East Ilsley to Melbourne

At a time when Hughie Morrison has been left with a career-threatening alleged offence hanging over him, and one which nobody I’ve spoken to believes he had anything to do with, it was easy to understand his reaction to Marmelo’s run in Australia over the weekend, writes Tony Stafford.

Competing over a markedly inadequate mile and a half in the Caulfield Cup, Marmelo ran around much of the 17-strong field to finish only two and three-quarter lengths behind surprise winner Boom Time in a share of sixth place.

The trainer, viewing the race 10,500 miles away from Melbourne, across which city at the Flemington racecourse on November 7th the Melbourne Cup will be run over two miles, expressed concerned that his constantly-improving four-year-old had been faced with firm ground. The local bookmakers were less fazed, promoting the proven stayer to 5-1 favouritism in general betting.

Marmelo is a typical Morrison project. A son of the high-class Duke of Marmalade, he was unraced at two and made his debut in the Newbury maiden won by Ulysses in May of last year. A second at Kempton followed in June, then a ten-length romp in the soft at Doncaster over a mile and a  half when a couple of John Gosden inmates followed him home.

Since then, Morrison’s caution concerning the ground for his big, imposing colt has meant that only one of his subsequent eight races has been in England – he was a creditable close fifth to Dartmouth in the Yorkshire Cup in May.

Otherwise it’s been a season ticket to France, starting at Deauville, then Chantilly and Deauville again last year, first winning a Listed contest over 15 furlongs, before running third in a Group 2 and second in another Listed race at the back end.

The tempo increased this time around with a Chantilly second preceding York, before another excellent runner-up spot, this time at Saint-Cloud in July, and a Group 2 victory over subsequent Doncaster Cup winner Desert Skyline back at Deauville in August.

The three-year-old Desert Skyline provides a form link from Doncaster with another feasible European contender. Thomas Hobson, once trained by Gosden, but latterly a multiple jumps winner for Willie Mullins, was second to the David Elsworth stayer at Doncaster.

Another Mullins Melbourne Cup hopeful is the well-travelled and equally versatile Wicklow Brave who was among the back division in the Caulfield Cup. Although officially run on good ground, the fast time (2min 27 and change) adds credence to Morrison’s horrified “it was firm” reaction and makes understandable, in view of the horse’s avoidance of such surfaces to date, his worries as to whether Marmelo will have come through the race in one piece.

One interesting side-line is that Hugh Bowman, who has been on the super-mare Winx in each of the last 19 winning races in her 25-win and a few losses career, rode Marmelo. It would be salutary to learn his opinion and whether he will remain in the saddle on the big day. Winx of course has another Cox Plate – she’s won the last two - on her immediate agenda. Australia’s premier level-weights all-aged race is scheduled for Moonee Valley, yet another Melbourne track, on Saturday.

Hopefully Marmelo will emerge through his Caulfield exertions in top shape and the trainer will be travelling over to oversee the final preparations. With, apparently, a fair way to go before the disciplinary hearing into one of his horses’ “positive” post-race test at Wolverhampton takes place, he could still be celebrating the first British-trained winner of Australia’s greatest race by the time it comes around.

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Aidan O’Brien had the beaten favourite in the Caulfield Cup, Johannes Vermeer, who also came late to finish third, a length or so ahead of Marmelo. I would be surprised if he were to maintain his advantage a fortnight tomorrow over what is a much more suitable trip for the East Ilsley stayer.

Had Johannes Vermeer won, O’Brien would by now already have exceeded Bobby Frankel’s world record of 25 Group (or Grade) 1 wins in a calendar year, but he merely matched it when Hydrangea, to many people’s surprise, outstayed the French-trained favourite Bateel in the Qipco British Champions Fillies and Mares race on Ascot’s Champions Day card.

This was Hydrangea’s first run at a mile and a half – she was runner-up to stable-companion Rhododendron in the Prix de l’Opera over 10 furlongs on Arc Day – and got the trip extremely well.

For much of 2017 she has been – like the other leading O’Brien three-year-old fillies – generally shadowing Winter, but she did get two head verdicts over the dual Guineas heroine at either ends of the season at Leopardstown, more significantly in the Matron Stakes early last month.

Roly Poly, winner of three Group 1 races in the latter half of the season, was sixth that day with Rhododendron, coming back after an injury suffered during the French Oaks, just behind. Alarmingly, for everyone other than John Gosden, Roly Poly on the balance of form, probably rates fourth, narrowly behind Winter, Rhododendron and Hydrangea in the stable pecking order.

That said, Roly Poly’s form got a serious boost when Persuasive, only second to her in the Sun Chariot Stakes at Newmarket, emphasised her liking for soft ground with an emphatic triumph in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot, beating Ribchester and Churchill. In last year’s Matron, Persuasive had been a well-beaten runner-up behind Coolmore’s Alice Springs. That filly has only a single appearance, back in early April on her 2017 card, but it could be interesting if she turns up at the Breeders’ Cup, in which she gets a quote in bookmakers’ lists.

Persuasive’s success was the first part of a brilliant John Gosden double, completed with a seven-length romp by Cracksman in the Champion Stakes. He trounced runner-up Poet’s Word with the gallant Highand Reel running a fine trial for Del Mar next month in third on ground which does not suit him. The likely firm turf and sharp turns of the “Turf by the Surf” will be much more to his liking and he could be Ballydoyle’s banker of the meeting.

I will be surprised if O’Brien is still one short of bettering Bobby Frankel, whose equine namesake got his first British Group 1 success with Cracksman, by the time the Breeders’ Cup comes around. He expects to have “maybe four or five” to represent him in the Racing Post Trophy on Saturday, and most Ballydoyle insiders seem to think it will be the unbeaten Deep Impact colt Saxon Warrior that will provide the spearhead.

Then there are the two French juvenile Group 1 races over a mile and ten furlongs respectively, at Saint-Cloud, in which to achieve his target.

I doubt he’ll worry unduly, but Hydrangea and Order of St George – winner of the Long Distance Cup (why isn’t that a Group 1?) – and three tasty third places brought him to £8,189,630 of British prize money, almost £60,000 more than his own record set last year. John Gosden, with Enable and Cracksman to boost his tally, was an honourable second with his best seasonal haul of a few quid short of £6million. Roll on next year!

Monday Musings: News of old friends

Until yesterday I hadn’t been to Manton for four years, writes Tony Stafford, but a kind invitation from Brian Meehan to see a parade of yearlings for sale and then lunch at Rick Stein’s in Marlborough High Street, ended that largely self-imposed absence.

Inevitably there was a strange sensation as I negotiated the two-mile-long drive up to the Racing Office. There I was confronted by some new faces, notably James Ferguson, who takes over as assistant trainer this morning, along with some more expected ones.

Previously in a similar role with Charlie Appleby, Ferguson, through no fault of his own, was part of the collateral damage when his father John’s long tenure at the head of Godolphin ended this summer.

Meehan, soon to re-marry, looks fully revived, back to the big-race winning confidence of the first decade of the millennium – hardly surprising after £30,000 Sam Sangster purchase, Barraquero, won the Richmond Stakes at Goodwood in the summer.

Sam, now fully entrenched as the co-talent spotter with the trainer at the sales, was on hand with fleeting visits from elder brothers Guy and Ben, although the latter pair missed out on lunch, which I can reveal was highly palatable.

Guy was immaculate as usual. Ben, contrastingly, was a little hot and bothered, still showing the effects of a demanding run a little earlier. It was good to hear that he remains resident in Manton House despite the overall sale of the Estate by the family a few years back, and has a good proportion of his Swettenham Stud mares and young stock in the paddocks and in the old yard next to the house.

Brian, meanwhile, is close to buying the legendary Manton gallops, developed in the 1970’s by Michael Dickinson for the brothers’ late father Robert, along with Manton Lodge, in a further sign of confidence.

We talked about the previous day’s amazing Aidan O’Brien 1-2-3-4 in the Dewhurst headed by US Navy Flag, and Ben noted that the winner was the first juvenile since Diesis in 1982 to complete the Middle Park – Dewhurst double.

It was when I related the tale of myself and George Hill’s visiting Mill Ridge Farm in Lexington during one of the old Keeneland July sales to see newly-ensconced stallion Diesis and the ensuing train of events – one of more than several unlikely turns in my life – that I learned about the death of a good friend more than a year ago that had somehow escaped my notice.

When we went to Mill Ridge, Alice Chandler, from the famed Headley family, showed us the stallions and then invited us to a party she was holding at the farm that evening. There she introduced me to Virginia Kraft Payson: “You’ll get on, you are both writers,” she said. That chance meeting led to Virginia’s sending future Irish Derby and King George winner, St Jovite, to Ireland to be trained by Jim Bolger.

Ben said: “Wasn’t it terrible what happened to Virginia’s son Dean”. I’d seen a lot of Robert Dean Grimm, Jr., over the years, and he was always accompanied by imaginative original schemes which often ended being taken up and profited from by others.

Some people are lucky enough to be handsome. Dean was beyond that, and wonderful company and highly intelligent to boot. He attended the 1992 Derby – St Jovite was runner-up to Dr Devious - escorting the British Dynasty actress, Stephanie Beacham, and then relished the night of the King George win at San Lorenzo in Knightsbridge, only allowed the last-minute reservation: “As long as the trophy comes with you!”.

Anyway, in February of last year, as Ben told me, Dean had the misfortune to hear of the death of his only son Payson in a car accident on Lexington’s Paris Pike, the road where the family’s Payson Stud is located.  A few days later, an inconsolable Dean Grimm, 54, was found dead.

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I’ve found it hard to concentrate since hearing the belated news. I asked Harry Taylor if he’d met Dean and he said that I introduced them at the Breeders’ Cup one year. “Didn’t he have a project that he was telling us about?” I’m sure he did.

Dean shared a birthday in January with trainer David Loder and they got to know each other when St Jovite’s first-crop son, Indiscreet, was sent to Newmarket for David to train. He won the Convivial Maiden at York in great style, offering hopes for Classic success the following year, but sadly that was to be the high point of his career.

In the uncanny way of coincidence, I was looking at the pedigrees of the horses about to be paraded, and the first on the list was a filly by first-crop stallion, War Command. She is the first foal of Princess Patsky, a daughter of the smart US stallion, Mr Greeley.

War Command, like Diesis and US Navy Flag, won the Dewhurst, the last of four juvenile wins in five starts. Also like Diesis he failed to win at three, but Diesis was to go on to breed three outstanding Oaks winners – Diminuendo, Love Divine and Ramruma – and multiple Group 1 winner and successful stallion, Halling.

So there must be a fair chance that at £42,000 this filly, consigned by Bumble Mitchell, was cheaply bought – she certainly looks the part. Looking down the pedigree, the third dam was Mrs P’s Princess, an unraced daughter of the great Mr Prospector, bred from another unraced mare in Butterfly Cove.

She in turn is responsible for two champions on the track, multiple Group 1 heroine Misty For Me and Marcel Boussac winner, Ballydoyle. In the sales page, Misty For Me is credited as dam of Roly Poly and as it relates “four times placed US Navy Flag”. To show just how quickly the amazing Aidan can upgrade his horses, US Navy Flag has added four wins since publication, with the Middle Park and Dewhurst providing a two-week Newmarket Group 1 treble for the dam along with Roly Poly’s Sun Chariot triumph in between. Both of course are by War Command’s sire, War Front.

Ryan Moore likened the now 10-times-raced US Navy Flag to his full-sister, remarking that they seem to get better with each additional furlong they are asked to travel. US Navy Flag won emphatically, and his trainer is within one of the Bobby Frankel 25 Group 1 wins target.

But for a luckless run, September would have brought him level rather than go down by a nose to Karl Burke’s Laurens in the Fillies’ Mile and a similar near miss by Johannes Vermeer in the Ladbrokes at Caulfield in Australia early on Saturday helps keep him tantalisingly one behind.

Two disappointing runs, including a fourth for Idaho, at Woodbine over the weekend, made it a fruitless trip to Canada for Moore, but the big-race rides will keep on coming. As to Aidan, he’s well past the £7million mark here this year after that unique Dewhurst monopoly, and success in one of the two big ones on Saturday at Ascot will enable him to set an improved record, in the year of Enable, too!

A scheduling clash means that the Sangsters will miss Ascot in favour of the Ibiza wedding of their youngest brother Max, which brothers MV and JP Magnier will also attend. In the 1970’s and 1980’s it was the alliance of Vincent O’Brien, John Magnier and Robert Sangster that created Coolmore. The links (with the younger, non-related O’Brien) and the next generation of Magniers and Sangsters, remains just as solid. Best wishes to the newly-weds.

- TS

Monday Musings: The Record is On!

So the record is on, so much so that Paddy Power has paid out already, writes Tony Stafford. I’m not sure how many people got involved in betting that Aidan O’Brien would exceed the 25 Group or Grade 1 wins in a calendar year set by the late Bobby Frankel in 2003, but we’re all mighty interested, now it looks like happening.

In 2008 Aidan got to 23 and despite a large contingent (eight) at that Breeders’ Cup and a trio in the Melbourne Cup, he could not quite make the mark. The Ballydoyle stable will be aiming to complete the task in Europe, never mind what could be achieved at Del Mar next month.

The remarkable Roly Poly overcame (with help from a gently-rebuked, two day-banned, Ryan Moore) a difficult draw to make most and collect her third Group 1 with a battling performance in Saturday’s Sun Chariot Stakes. The same doggedness which enabled her to follow Winter home in the Coronation Stakes after seeing off the French 1,000 Guineas winner halfway round at Royal Ascot was fully employed once more.

It is that innate toughness and propensity to improve that characterises the O’Brien team. There are four Group 1 winning three-year-old mile fillies, with Winter supreme having won both English and Irish 1,000 Guineas along with the Coronation. Rhododendron and Hydrangea also collected at that level in the autumn and it is possible to rank all three superior to Saturday’s winner on some performances.

There is a similar story among the two-year-old fillies. Clemmie (Cheveley Park), Happily (Grand Criterium Jean Luc Lagardere, against the colts), Magical (Moyglare) and September are all highly-ranked and deservedly so.

On a lower level – but given time, who knows? Like Winter, Rhododendron and Hydrangea, Bye Bye Baby is a daughter of Galileo. Her dam, Remember When, by Danehill Dancer, was second in the Oaks but never won. She is, though, closely related to Group winners Wedding Vow and Beacon Rock.

Bye Bye Baby did not make the track until August 16 when she finished a modest sixth of ten in a fillies’ race on The Curragh. She returned there ten days later for a Group 3 and finished fourth. Two weeks on, she was caught late after making most in an 18-runner maiden at Leopardstown. Ryan Moore, who rode her there, had the mount again when she made her fourth appearance within six weeks in a maiden on the Cheveley Park/Middle Park/Cambridgeshire undercard and made all.

After that race, Moore was suggesting she could easily cope with a raise in class and yesterday at Navan, she was one of a trio of Aidan O’Brien fillies in a Listed race, and made all to win comfortably. At the present rate of progress she could be in the top division in her stable next year when the Classics come round.

The advantage Bobby Frankel and anyone in the US had and has over anyone in Europe is that the big stables can have different divisions permanently based on either side of the country. So while nominally in California, a trainer could and often does have an assistant located in New York, Florida or the Mid-West, with a large team of horses to cover the race programmes and the multiple Grade 1 races on offer in the various regions.

For a stable based in Ireland, there are only 12 domestic Group 1 races, compared with 36 in Great Britain and 27 in France, so he has to travel. Germany with seven and Italy with one make up the grand total of 83 across Europe. At this point there are 11 more Group 1 races still to be run in Europe, seven in the UK, three in France and one in Germany. Ireland’s stock has been used up.

O’Brien has his eyes on the first of them, Friday’s Fillies’ Mile at Newmarket, where his quintet includes the top trio Happily, Magical and September, the last of whom it would seem may have freshness on her side. The potential squad also includes lesser winners Ballet Shoes and Sizzling, respectively third and fourth behind Bye Bye Baby yesterday.

Then comes Saturday’s Dewhurst, also at Newmarket. While such as Middle Park winner and second US Navy Flag and Fleet Review, sons of War Front, and Champagne winner Seahenge (Scat Daddy) could be contenders, Moore fears that a fit-again Expert Eye might give the edge to Sir Michael Stoute’s stable. Then again, maybe the top Coolmore fillies, among them Clemmie, could be waiting in the wings.

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Most of the remaining opportunities come on the following Saturday on Champions Day at Ascot. In value order the Champion Stakes (£737,000 to the winner), QE II (£623,000), Champion Sprint and Champion Filly and Mare (both £340,000) are the Group 1 races, although O’Brien will be happy enough to collect the Group 2 Long Distance Cup and its £255,000 first prize with Order of St George after his excellent Arc fourth.

The money will also be on O’Brien’s mind. Last year he set astonishingly high marks when more than doubling his previous best earnings figures. From £3.56million from 16 wins in 79 races in 2015, he advanced to £8.13 million from 28 wins in 133 runs in Britain last year.

This time he stands only one winner shy (27) from three more runners, but can be perceived to be “lagging” a little on £6,586,278. The percentages are remarkably consistent, 20 in 2015, 21 last year and 20 again now. His best ever percentage-wise was way back in 1999 when his 11 winners came from 44 runs and realised £713,000!

What is equally surprising is that in each of the last three seasons, O’Brien runners have returned significant level-stakes profits, possibly reflecting that when he sends out multiple runners, almost all are there with a chance of victory. His profit this year is 18 points from 136 runs; last year it was 22 from 133 and in 2015, a massive 47 points profit from only 79 runs. That makes a combined 88 points from 348 runners, a yield of more than 25% on level stakes.

With John Gosden way back on £4.28 million (although Enable earned the team £2.44 million when winning the Arc) O’Brien would only need a couple of the major prizes and a sprinkling of the generous places available to meet last year’s demanding standards. Expect a mass attack on the Champion Stakes, QE II and the Fillies and Mares, although there will need to be an element of Breeders’ Cup consideration.

The last UK Group 1 is the Racing Post Trophy and there is usually a strong Ballydoyle representation in that. One disappointment about the Racing Post Trophy is that the minimum standard prizemoney for a European Group 1 race is a total of £200,000 and the race is worth precisely that with £113,400 going to the winner.

This might seem slightly embarrassing given that at Velifiendi racecourse in Istanbul, Turkey, last month five international races were staged over the two-day weekend and three of them, all designated local Group races were worth £98,000 to the winner and £170,000 in all, while the top two races on the Sunday carried total prizes of £385,000 and £260,000.

Either side of the Racing Post, France’s last three Group 1 races, all at Saint-Cloud, are the Royal-Oak on Oct 22, and the two Criteriums, the one-mile Criterium International and Criterium de Saint-Cloud (10 furlongs), both on the following Sunday. Germany ends Europe’s Group 1 calendar on November 1st with the Grosser Preis von Bayern in Munich.

On a different note, there was little slowing down in prices for bloodstock as evidenced by last week’s Tattersalls Book 1 at Newmarket, where a top price of four million guineas (£4.2 million) was paid by John Gosden on behalf of Sheikh Mohammed and Godolphin for a superb Galileo filly. As one member of Coolmore’s for-once foiled team remarked, “We’ve still got a few of them at home”. This week, starting today, Book 2 will let some of the merely seriously rich owners join in.

- Tony Stafford

Monday Musings: On An Ascendant Arc

Well, in the end I got there after all, and very Happily I must say, writes Tony Stafford. A friend came up with a very cheap – on a par with that bargain basement price for a 3 a.m. Eurotunnel set-off time – flight so, while 6.55 a.m. from Luton was still early enough, there was a compensatory upscale journey home.

So I got to see Enable in her finest hour and at the same time could marvel at the continuing excellence of the Ballydoyle team. Michael Tabor never tires of saying: “You can’t beat pedigree”. It certainly helps, as with the Coolmore team, if you control most of the good broodmares.

Before the Arc but after the Grand Criterium Jean-Luc Lagardere, won by the filly Happily with a rare show of stamina to outbattle the boys, Aidan O’Brien explained the astonishing dominance of the 2014 and 2015 crop of females he has the privilege of training, saying: “Most of our best mares have been getting fillies. Once they start producing more colts, it will change again”.

Certainly Happily qualifies as coming from one of the “blue hen” mares. You’resothrilling won the Cherry Hinton Stakes at Newmarket’s July meeting, and as a daughter of Storm Cat provided a perfect accompaniment to the qualities of Galileo. Admittedly in horse breeding, such an outcome cannot be accurately predicted – at least until it happens. The “lads” have now brought five examples of the mating to the racetrack and Happily, the first filly to win the Grand Criterium for 30 years (unless my quick scan of the names since 1987 failed to unearth another), shares those genes with Classic winners Gleneagles and Marvellous. It cannot be long odds that Happily joins them in the Classic club.

There’s no question that 2017 will go down in racing history as the year of the female. Not only has Enable, in the manner of such developing greats as Sea the Stars and Golden Horn, continued to progress through the year, she reached her peak on the most important day in her career.

Yesterday at Chantilly also provided a reminder that in the early part of the season – the Epsom Classics come within seven weeks of the spiritual start of the Flat season at the Craven meeting – Enable was not a stand-out contender, outside of the Gosden stable at any rate, for Oaks success.

There, just as in the 1,000 Guineas, it was Rhododendron that carried most racegoers’ sentiment – and cash – and for the second time she failed, as behind Winter in the Newmarket race.

A mental replay of the Investec Oaks offers an image of Rhododendron and Enable coming clear but, at the ten furlong point, few observers would have been favouring the Gosden filly. Then the daughter of Nathaniel (son of Galileo, of course) kicked in with her stamina and within a few strides the balance was tilted.

That Oaks image might have served us well when, dropped to those same ten furlongs for the Prix de l’Opera, Rhododendron reasserted her juvenile superiority over stablemate Hydrangea at the Pari-Mutuel odds of 9.2-1. Odds on against Enable, yet she was allowed to go off at a massive price here. She’s come back from injury sustained in the French Oaks; coaxed to race fitness in the Matron under Beggy behind Hydrangea and now rehabilitated at the top of the “without Enable” hierarchy.

Watching her closely as she walked serenely in seemingly never-ending circles around the over-populated winner’s circle, it was impossible not to be struck by her beauty. But the Galileo’s also have that will to win, exemplified by both her and Hydrangea, and earlier by Happily, who looked only the third-most likely as she entered the final furlong yesterday.

The victories of Happily and Rhododendron added to the two Newmarket Group 1 victories the previous day of Clemmie (Cheveley Park) and US Navy Flag (Middle Park), bringing O’Brien to 22 Group 1 wins for the season, within an approachable three of the late Bobby Frankel’s record haul in a calendar year at the top level.

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Clemmie, Churchill’s full-sister, is also from a Storm Cat mare, while US Navy Flag is a son of War Front out of one of the host of Galileo mares around the place.

War Front was intended to share that function with Scat Daddy, but the latter’s untimely death in the winter of 2015 balked that plan.

I believe Aidan regards Clemmie, going away at the end of the Cheveley Park, as the main 1,000 Guineas contender – until, like London buses another half dozen come along! – with Happily as the principal Oaks contender at this far-off stage.

One of the less-frequently mentioned, but a dual Group 1 heroine herself, is Roly Poly, and it seems as though she will be deputed to add to the tally in Saturday’s Sun Chariot Stakes at Newmarket. She was just ahead of Rhododendron, behind Hydrangea, in the Matron Stakes and that will have served to sharpen her after a short break following her midsummer exertions.

Arc Day reaffirmed that when his temperament, as at York, can be controlled then Battaash is a superlative sprinter as he showed with a dominant display in the Prix de l’Abbaye over the quirky Chantilly 1,000 meters which starts not far from the stands and concludes somewhere in the forest.

With Group 1 winners Marsha, the 2016 Abbaye champion, and Profitable leading home the rest, but miles behind, this was a run of the highest quality and, as a gelding, there’s no doubt he’ll be back for more next year, granted fitness and temperament holding up. We need a sprinter to rate as highly as the best of the milers and middle-distance horses.

It was an amazing day, when the French, with no winners, were completely obliterated by the British and Irish, and it ended with a memorable Foret triumph for Martin Meade and Aclaim.

The veteran Newmarket trainer, stallion and stud owner had provided the 50-1 winner Dolphin Vista and fourth home Chelsea Lad in a Betfred Cambridgeshire which showed why major bookmakers like putting their name to 35-runner handicaps.

The first three home on Saturday were allowed to start at 50-1, 100-1 and 50-1, combining for a 90,000-1 Trifecta. Just my luck, I had them the wrong way round… in my dreams!

Monday Musings: Trainers Old, Trainers New

The snag with writing anything with the following weekend in mind is that entries for most races are not revealed until after midday on Monday, writes Tony Stafford. This particular week, with Newmarket and Chantilly on Saturday and Arc Day in France on Sunday, the problem is particularly acute.

The decision whether or not to travel over to Chantilly on Sunday, with no obvious chance of scrounging a ride on a plane, was made for me when two potential colleagues on the early train from the Folkestone Eurotunnel terminal balked at the ungodly hour. I’m used to it, indeed I’m writing this at just such an hour.

Instead I’ll make do with ITV on Sunday for as long as it lasts, with the knowledge that it will be the first time I’ve watched the show since its arrival on the scene earlier this year. Until now I’ve been content with Racing UK and now I’ve got it on my phone – “Stafford lurches into 21st Century, exclusive”, Ed – it’s even more my Channel of Choice.

In a way it’s a relief, as I’ll be travelling to Beverley tomorrow, dropping down to Goodwood on Wednesday, thence to Newmarket Thursday, and depending on how the energy levels are being maintained, off up to Newcastle on Friday, all on Raymond Tooth business. Tarnhelm tomorrow is our best chance.

I’ve never bothered with the Saturday of Arc weekend and now Cambridgeshire Day is bolstered with three big two-year-old races, the Cheveley Park and Juddmonte Middle Park, both Group 1 over six furlongs, and the Juddmonte Royal Lodge over a mile, I wouldn’t dream of passing it by for the single Group 1 (Cadran, 20f) and quartet of Group 2 races that Chantilly for the second year is minding while Longchamp smartens itself up.

Sunday is different though, and I’d detected a train (with availability) that would have got us to Calais at 7.55 a.m. French time, so comfortably on schedule for an 11 a.m. arrival at the track, situated conveniently for road users 20 or so miles to the north of Paris. Return crossings were fully booked on Sunday night, but the one I did find (1.18 a.m. next Monday) would have allowed a few hours’ luxurious dining in Paris and a leisurely drive back north. The return fare for that package on Eurotunnel would have been £53 for the three of us. Wonder how they were going to get there, but I’m sure it will have cost them many times that.

Sunday’s card has six Group One races but all eyes with be on the Arc and Enable’s attempt to finish her stellar season with another procession. For a while earlier last week, Winter was being suggested as a possible late entry into the argument, but I hope Aidan O’Brien and the boys will be content with tackling the fillies and mares in the Prix de l’Opera. The temptation to find a filly to challenge Enable for one last time must be almost overwhelming, but there’s nothing wrong with adding the Opera to an escutcheon that already boasts the English and Irish 1,000 Guineas, Coronation Stakes and the Nassau.

I would have liked to advance possible winners of the many other Group races that will decorate our TV screens (and my phone!) this weekend and beyond, but instead I’m going to put forward two young trainers who could have a big say in the destination of the Betfred Cambridgeshire. As Fred Done might well be saying: “Enjoy us - and it - while you can”.

With the backdrop of Betfred’s imminent withdrawal from pretty much all its sponsorship commitments (Ascot and his own track Chelmsford City apart) loads of race names are about to change. Luckily the Cambridgeshire part of this great handicap’s title has never succumbed to the wishes of many sponsors over the years to “absorb” heritage titles within the commercial name.

This year David Menuisier and Henry Spiller are two emerging handlers with decent chances of winning the race. Menuisier, a Frenchman whose accent is not too far removed from the Rene of ‘Allo ‘Allo vintage, overcame a debilitating viral problem in his stable – he is housed at the Harwoods’ Pulborough estate in Sussex – to make a decent show from mid- to late-summer on.

His Thundering Blue romped to a three-timer at Epsom (off 76), Newmarket’s July Course (83) and Sandown (87) with such good effect that it enticed Tony Hind to engage Ryan Moore for the mount. This much-improved son of Exchange Rate will need quite a few to come out to get a run, and Menuisier was adamant when I spoke to him in the paddock as the St Leger runners were pre-parading, that he would not be running in the Silver Cambridgeshire on Friday if he gets the Saturday guillotine.

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Spiller and his five-year-old entire Leader Writer need only one horse to defect to make the cut, and Hind has again been on the ball, with Fran Berry lined up to continue the winning association going on from Ascot a couple of weeks back when Leader Writer won for the first time in the UK.

Decent in France where he honourably contested any number of Group 3 and Listed races, Leader Writer followed an excellent third in a Shergar Cup race, second time out for Spiller with a fluent success back at Ascot. The 4lb extra he earned not only should not equate to the measure of his win (the handicapper has upped him 6lb) but virtually ensures his place in the line-up.

Spiller is the son of Charlie, a long-term Maktoum employee who specialises in pedigree analysis and matings planning, and Henry got the benefit of that connection by learning his trade all around the world with some of the top trainers. Some might say that ending up in the stables occupied for many years by the utterly-shrewd Willie Musson might seem an odd choice, but there he is (with Willie watching on)  and a Cambridgeshire win would be a great boost. Leader Writer is my pick from Thundering Blue.

Last year, Spiller’s team was housed in one of the twin barns at Saffron House stables on the Hamilton Road in Newmarket. Alongside was another young man in a hurry. George Scott started and remains there for now, but on Saturday at Newbury he enjoyed his first Group race success with James Garfield, owned by new father-in-law, Bill Gredley.

With a move to a Gredley-owned renovated yard in the offing, this was a timely nudge to the new old man and there can be little doubt that young George is destined for great things, not least with James Garfield, a son of Exceed and Excel who always looked the winner of the Mill Reef Stakes.

The same afternoon, hot but sadly deceased stallion Scat Daddy recorded his 13th winner of 2017 in the UK. The sire of four Royal Ascot winners - Lady Aurelia, Caravaggio, Con Te Partiro and Sioux Nation - Scat Daddy has won races with ten different horses in this country this year, but only one has recorded more than a single victory.

Step forward Mr Sundowner, the Pride of Muggleswick. Shrewdly entered in a recent qualifying handicap at the track for Saturday’s Catterick 12 Furlong Series Final, thanks to the urgent ministrations of Stella Storey, assistant to trainer Wilf, Mr Sundowner overcame being 9lb wrong in the weights and carrying 1lb overweight to win at 16-1 under Sammy Jo Bell.

Travelling like a dream throughout, Sammy calmly brought him alongside hot favourite Je Suis Charlie and popped him in front close home. Regular readers will know Wilf has been inching towards his best Flat prizemoney tally in a four-decade career. The 12k winner’s prize put him a couple of grand past the four £50,000 plus yields in the years before the Millennium and his winner score of 11 easily eclipses his previous best of eight and with far fewer horses. What a year and what an operation!

 

 

Monday Musings: The Legends Behind The Leger

The biggest gripe about modern-day breeders is that they are so obsessed with speed that potential middle-distance sires are badly neglected in favour of young sprinting stallions, writes Tony Stafford. The perceived decline of many top staying races, including the St Leger, has long been cited as proving that point.

For many years Ladbrokes’ sponsorship bolstered the St Leger, steadfastly at the same time staving off calls for the race to be opened, like its Irish counterpart, to horses older than the Classic age of three. William Hill, now supporting the event after the Levy impasse between bookmakers and the BHA , find the race in its rudest health for many years.

Saturday’s Classic will go down in history as having been won by Capri, one of four Aiden O’Brien-trained colts, all sons of Galileo and also winner of the Irish Derby back in July. He will earn the win on his career resume while the other ten clock up defeats.

Remarkably ten is also the total number of career defeats accumulated by the six stallions with runners in the 2017 St Leger. The others were Sea The Stars, with three runners, and Dalakhani, Frankel, Dubawi and High Chaparral, with one runner each.

It doesn’t take much for memories of even the best racehorses to fade, but listing the field and its various sires, suggests that as only the truly great were represented, something out of the ordinary is indeed needed to challenge at this exalted level.

So just to remind ourselves – I needed that refresher as much as the next man – here goes. Frankel, obviously, was the greatest. By Galileo, he won all 14 career starts, including the 2,000 Guineas and the only ‘blemish’ if you dare call it that was his non-appearance in the Derby or any other mile and a half race. Any doubt he would have stayed that (or a longer) trip must have been dispersed by his seven-length romp in the 10.5 furlong Juddmonte International at York.

Frankel raced throughout his career for his breeder, Khalid Abdullah, and with only two crops on the track, is making a strong case of becoming the chief challenger to Galileo and Dubawi going forward.

Galileo, of course by Sadler’s Wells, won his first six starts, encompassing the Derby, Irish Derby and King George before succumbing to the highly-talented Fantastic Light in the Irish Champion Stakes. His only other defeat was when proving unsuited by US racing in the Breeders’ Cup on his final start.

Dubawi, the joint least-raced with Galileo among our sample, also had eight races. He lost three times when fifth in the 2,000 Guineas, third in the Derby and runner-up in the QEII. Basically a miler, he was an unbeaten Group 1 winning juvenile and collected the Jacques Le Marois as a three-year-old.

High Chaparral raced 13 times, one fewer than Frankel, and lost three times, as many as Dubawi. The defeats came, typically for a Ballydoyle inmate, first-time out at two, and then, less so, in successive Arcs de Triomphe, in the second as a four-year-old he was third behind Dalakhani. On the plus side were impressive victories in the Derby (from stablemate Hawk Wing), Irish Derby and two Breeders’ Cup Turf races.

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Dalakhani, principally regarded as a sire of stayers, won eight of his nine races for the Aga Khan, his owner-breeder. Dalakhani’s only failure came when as an odds-on chance for the Irish Derby (having won the French) he finished half a length behind the John Oxx-trained Alamshar, also an Aga Khan home-bred. His son Defoe, with four successive wins before Doncaster, was one of the few major disappointments in the race.

That leaves Sea The Stars, a son of Cape Cross, bred and raced by Christopher Tsui and still owned by that family. He is a half-brother to Galileo and was trained by John Oxx throughout a career that began with a narrow defeat as a juvenile, but soon cranked up with wins in the 2,000 Guineas, Derby, Irish Derby, Coral-Eclipse, Juddmonte International, Irish Champion and the Arc, for eight out of nine in all.

Two of three representatives, Crystal Ocean and Stradivarius fought out the minor placings half a length behind the determined Capri, and were separated by a short head. They will take divergent paths, Crystal Ocean going the mile and a half route for Sir Michael Stoute and owner-breeder Sir Evelyn Rothschild. Meanwhile, Stradivarius, home-bred by Bjorn Nielsen, looks the obvious major home challenger to Order of St George for Cup honours, starting with the Qipco British Champions Long Distance Cup at Ascot on October 21. The third Sea The Stars, Raheen House, seemed not to get home after looking dangerous two furlongs out.

So here were the sons of six stallions, all winners at two mostly at Group level, although Galileo’s sole run as a juvenile, in a late October maiden, produced a 14-length victory romp. The result was an enthralling race, with the “team tactics” element there for all to see. The Anvil’s fast pace, probably in itself insignificant in that the others largely ignored him, was still effective in that the other Aidan O’Brien trio were the nearest to him until he capitulated. The race was run in a fast overall time, suggesting good ground at worst.

It still took a supreme effort by the winner and an inspired Ryan Moore, who had confided in close friends that he feared Crystal Ocean might beat his mount. These were three high-class animals which should go on to win many more races. In passing it is worth mentioning the fine effort in fourth of Rekindling, trained and ridden by Aiden’s two sons Joseph and Donnacha. Expect this colt, markedly smaller than most of Saturday’s opponents to make hay when he goes to Australia for owner Lloyd Williams. Maybe the 2018 Melbourne Cup will be on his radar?

There were winners on Saturday’s card for both Dubawi and Frankel, but the speed sires did get a look in with Zebedee and Acclamation collecting the William Hill Portland (Spring Loaded) and Park Stakes (Aclaim, does his spelling irritate you, too?). The one name which will provide a “what-might-have-been” moment for the Coolmore partners is Scat Daddy, who died late in 2015 just after his stud fee at Ashford, Kentucky, had been raised for the following season to $100,000.

Scat Daddy’s son Seahenge was the apparently lesser-fancied of two O’Brien runners behind Ryan’s mount Mendelssohn, but came through under Donnacha to win the Champagne Stakes. Seahenge had been well beaten behind the smart Expert Eye at Goodwood, but as a first-time winner was something of a rarity among O’Brien youngsters and showed it here.

Scat Daddy, a son of Johannesburg, was originally owned by Joe Scatuorchio, but Michael Tabor acquired a half-share and the colt won a number of races for them including the Grade 1 Florida Derby before a troubled, disappointing 18th of 20 on his last start in the Kentucky Derby led to his retirement.

Sire principally of Caravaggio and the smart No Nay Never, already turning heads at the yearling sales, Scat Daddy was the hottest ticket at Keeneland September when Coolmore’s J P Magnier and agent Kerri Ratcliffe were clearly intent on snapping up the best of his final crop of yearlings, several for seven figures. If the great Mr Sundowner (a good second at Catterick last week over a mile and a half) is anything to go by, Scat Daddy could even produce a Derby or indeed a St Leger winner from his final two crops.

Monday Musings: Better to have loved and lost?

I often wonder what the seller of a good horse feels when that animal goes on to do ever better than expected, writes Tony Stafford. What for instance were Peter Ridgers’ emotions as his one-time pride-and-joy Harry Angel stormed away with Saturday’s 32red Sprint Cup through the Haydock Park mud on Saturday?

Equally, how do David and Emma Armstrong react every time Ribchester, twice beaten in their colours after a 105k Euro purchase from the Irish National Stud, wins yet another major race, as he did in the Group 1 Prix du Moulin de Longchamp (and £220,000) in the same Godolphin colours now sported by Harry Angel.

And on a similar theme, imagine the inner turmoil every time either horse turns out with their normally spectacular results in championship races, experienced by John Ferguson, the man who sourced both top-class animals for his former employers.

Ribchester was a notable coup, after those two initial second places, but as the latter had been as a 25-1 shot in the Gimcrack Stakes, the risk was probably at worst only a sporting one. Big Dave got the cash, and Godolphin the future winner of the Jersey, Jacques le Marois, Lockinge and Queen Anne before yesterday’s prize.

Harry Angel’s sourcing came in the spring after he broke Haydock’s track record with a scintillating display over the same six furlongs he graced in such devastating fashion over the weekend. He was beaten by Blue Point at Ascot before that, but gained revenge over his new ownership-mate when runner-up to Caravaggio in the Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot and had him well behind on Saturday.

In between, Harry Angel also avenged his Ascot reverse with Caravaggio in the July Cup at Newmarket. Cox will have been an interested observer at The Curragh yesterday when the Aidan O’Brien colt resumed winning ways (he is now seven for nine) in the Group 2 Flying Five following a messy run in Deauville’s Prix Maurice de Gheest. A summit-meeting rematch between the pair beckons with most of the momentum behind Harry Angel.

Trainers who buy at the sales – Cox acquired Harry Angel for £44,000 at Doncaster’s Premier Yearling sale – need to follow a system with so many youngsters to assess and as the trainer stated in an interview, “it helps when you know the families”.

Clive certainly knew Harry Angel’s family as he had bought the colt’s older brother Golden Journey, who also ran for Mr Ridgers, for 70,000 Euro as a yearling in Ireland. One win (at 10 furlongs) from nine runs might have been sufficient encouragement to buy him, but the eternal conundrum of race breeding is how far up the ability scale different members of a family might go. The pair may have expected more speed from a Dark Angel rather than a Nayef, but a champion sprinter, and potentially an outstanding one – probably not!

On a stellar weekend for the handler, Lady Macapa, who joined the Lambourn stable after being sold from William Knight’s team for 88,000 guineas at the end of her three-year-old season, gained her first victory for Cox in the Group 3 Prix du Petit Couvert at Chantilly, stepping up on all previous form.

Then another Cox discovery, the juvenile Snazzy Jazzy, retained his unblemished record, adding to Goodwood and Windsor victories by collecting 147,500 Euro for his defeat of 28 other juveniles in the big Tattersalls sales race at The Curragh. He cost 65,000 Euros at the qualifying auction and no doubt the trainer will have that venue high on his shopping agenda again this autumn.

Ascot holds its first full-blown yearling sale tomorrow and one colt I’ll have a metaphorical eye on is the Sepoy youngster, owner by Jack Panos, out of Anosti. Sadly, Raymond Tooth’s Tarnhelm, that colt’s half-sister has yet to win, but connections, as the saying goes, remain optimistic. Her trainer, Mark Johnston, will not be in attendance, as he has joined the annual migration to the Keeneland September sale – wish I was still able to get there – but he promised Jack when they met at Ascot on Saturday, that he’ll have him looked at.

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Not everything that Clive Cox gets his hands on automatically goes over the line in front, and Raymond’s first meeting with him the previous day, also at Ascot, preceded a last of ten finish for his giant home-bred colt, Nelson River. Predictably green, he finished a satisfactory 10 lengths or so behind the winner, Herculean, one of three sons of Frankel that offered great optimism for the future over the long weekend.

Herculean, a big, flashy chestnut home-bred of Khalid Abdullah’s, trained by Roger Charlton, carried plenty of cash and strong recommendations before the race. He came home comfortably ahead of another Frankel product, Wadilsafa, trained by Owen Burrows. Ryan Moore, at the start of what might have been, for others less sanguine, a traumatic weekend, reported him a fine prospect, and it didn’t take long for talk of the Classics to emanate from the bookmakers and media. Then yesterday Elarqam justified Johnston stable confidence with a fluent debut victory at York.

No doubt that elusive Group 1 will soon be forthcoming for the stallion and quite possibly from Cracksman, who did his Arc de Triomphe prospects no harm with an albeit routine (and slow) win in yesterday’s Prix Niel at Chantilly.

There was more substance to the Prix Vermeille success of French-trained Bateel and she could emerge as a longish-price each-way shot on October 1. It seems the Arc is on the agenda again for Order of St George, third last year, and now a dual Irish St Leger winner having possibly been the recipient of Ryan’s general ire when driven well clear to win unchallenged.

Having been mugged late on in the Matron on Winter by 20-1 stablemate Hydrangea, and similarly foiled close home by another former mount, Happily, on Magical in the Moyglare yesterday, he seemed not in the mood for similar frustration on the champion stayer. It probably would not have mattered if Big Orange had stood his ground, and those of us who could not believe “George” had not picked up Michael Bell’s favourite at Royal Ascot, felt reassured here.

Another of Ryan’s weekend reverses came behind a Frankel, namely Nelson, trained by Aidan for ‘the lads’. Ryan was on the favourite, Delano Roosevelt, but was never going well enough as the winner set a strong pace. No doubt he’ll be on this nice colt next time.

Going back to Ascot Friday, we got plenty of encouragement going forward to longer trips for Nelson River. When Alan Spence saw him at the stable Open Day in the spring, he suggested we’d have to wait at least until the autumn. Isn’t it annoying when someone tells you something unsolicited and is proved right?

Of course, Mr Spence was another beneficiary of John Ferguson’s talent spotting for his old boss, Sheikh Mohammed and apparently is still counting the notes from the sale of Profitable last year. He smiled when Priceless, still in his colours, finished ahead of the older horse when they were fifth and sixth in the Nunthorpe. Has he booked that cover to Galileo yet, or will it be Frankel?

On a slightly lower level, Ray’s lightly-raced filly Betty Grable runs off bottom weight at Catterick (0-80) tomorrow and do not be surprised if she proves competitive. I’ll be there rather than Ascot or Keeneland and Wilf has done well to get Sammy Jo Bell to ride at 7st13lb. The old boy’s playing a big part in her rehabilitation after that bad injury.

- Tony Stafford

Monday Musings: Expectation vs Reality

I fully expected to be writing here about a nice win for Tarnhelm at Chelmsford City on Saturday evening, but a bad bump from the opponent drawn immediately to her right in the stalls for the five-furlong four-runner contest, put her on the back foot from the outset and there she stayed, writes Tony Stafford.

Trainer Mark Johnston had flown himself back from the sales at Baden-Baden, taking two hours, forty minutes and said: “It’ll be another hour and a quarter to fly home”. He apparently agreed with most people’s expectation that she should win, conveying that opinion to Derek Thompson in a televised interview before the race.

On a night when Boyzone were responsible for a large influx from the environs of mid-Essex, Johnston still had a couple of winners, including a 1-2 in the most valuable handicap, the Betfred Chelmsford Cup to bring him to 174 for the season. Would have been nice if it were 175!

The good thing about racing, though, is that there’s usually another day. Take for example the American four-year-old Gun Runner, third behind at-the-time unbeaten Nyquist and the tough Exaggerator in the 20-runner Kentucky Derby in May of last year. Almost 11 months later he beat all bar Arrogate, the 2016 Travers and Breeders’ Cup Classic hero, in the Dubai World Cup.

It is extraordinary how few horses campaigned at the top level on dirt in the United States, stand the clichéd test of time. Nyquist turned up at the Preakness last year defending an eight-race sequence, but lost his Triple Crown chance when Exaggerator took his revenge at Pimlico. Neither horse ran in the Belmont, but they met again in late July in the Haskell when Exaggerator won again with Nyquist dropping back.

The defining day for the pair came next time out in the Pennsylvania Derby at Parx (Philadelphia Park) when they ran a tag team sixth and seventh back in Churchill Downs order behind Connect while Gun Runner was a battling second, half a length adrift of the winner. Both Classic heroes ended their track careers that day while the smart Bob Baffert-trained Cupid, a disappointing eighth there, has managed only a single run since for his Coolmore owners, admittedly a win in a Santa Anita Grade 1, on May 28. Connect has competed only twice since, again winning both times, in an Aqueduct Grade 1 in November last year, and in May this year in a Belmont Grade 3. Such inactivity suggests training issues for both colts.

The erosional aspect of dirt competition at the top level seems to have at least temporarily debilitated even Arrogate, beaten on both runs since Dubai, first embarrassingly tailed off, and the last time showing a lack of concentration before belatedly staying on for second to stablemate Collected in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar.

Maybe the effects of that spectacular triumph at Meydan have stayed with him. It took a special performance to shrug off the very tardy start he made that day, and perhaps even more significantly, the effort of beating the battle-hardened California Chrome in the Breeders’ Cup Classic which possibly left a bigger mark than was expected at the time.

Meanwhile Gun Runner has put together a set of six excellent displays, with only Dubai on the negative side of the ledger, if it is possible to describe a second prize of £1.6 million a “negative”. Since Dubai, Gun Runner, a Steve Asmussen-trained son of Candy Ride, has secured three of North America’s most-prized  Grade 1 races: the Stephen Foster, at Churchill Downs by seven lengths; and two Saratoga highlights, the Whitney, and Saturday’s Woodford in progressively authoritative fashion.

The double-digits Woodward margin makes him my overwhelming pick for the Classic at Del Mar this autumn, whether Arrogate turns up or not. As they used to say about boxers: “They never come back” and I reckon it will take a character-transplant for Baffert to get Arrogate competitive enough to dent Gun Runner this time.

It is difficult to imagine much of a threat coming from this side of the Atlantic, such are the differing demands of dirt and turf. No doubt, though, the European challenge in the Breeders’ Cup turf races will be as strong as ever and the imminent Irish Champions weekend at Leopardstown and The Curragh will provide plenty of clues.

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Before that there’s an interesting race at Ascot on Friday, for Team Tooth anyway, as the card features a sire-restricted event. The seven furlong two-year-old race is limited to horses sired by stallions that won over 10 furlongs or more and only 19 – compared with 50 in a race worth half the money over that trip at Sandown last week – are entered.

Raymond has a homebred colt by Mount Nelson, called Nelson River, in the line-up and hopefully he will take his chance. Three Frankels and two Nathaniels are among those set to take on Clive Cox’s well-grown colt so it will be a decent examination for sure.

Mark Johnston has one of them, Elarqam, a 1.6 million guineas buy for Hamdan Al Maktoum, who is by Frankel out of Mark’s multiple champion sprinter-miler, Attraction. When I quizzed him he said, in typically forthright manner: “The race is meant to give an opportunity to staying-bred horses, and Elarqam does not really fit that profile, being out of Attraction”, or words to that effect, without suggesting whether he might be “expected”.

As usual there’s a mix of lightly-raced promising types and well-connected debutants representing major stables, but Clive has been pleased with Nelson River’s progress and we hope he will give the proverbial “good account” if he turns up.

One former Tooth inmate, the Wilf Storey-trained Adrakhan, participated last week in an epic day for the Co. Durham trainer when sharing in a Musselburgh double initiated by Mr Sundowner, the only Scat Daddy ever to be sighted in Muggleswick .

Regular readers will know that I have had a connection with Wilf and his family for more than 30 years. He’d been training for quite a while before that and until this year, the most Flat winners he’d sent out in a single campaign was eight, achieved in 1996 and 1997. In those days he was more active in National Hunt, but the near-inevitability that one day most jumpers’ careers will end with some kind of injury persuaded him to change tack.

Adrakhan won one novice hurdle for Dan Skelton before losing his form and Wilf eventually acquired him. A number of Tooth “culls” had already taken that path and the sheep farmer, capably assisted by chief work-rider, box driver and parade-ring escort – daughter Stella – has eked out wins from has-beens that others would hardly bother with.

The two Musselburgh winners were both in Storey’s own colours, because as he says: “Nobody seems to want to have a horse with us nowadays. The other day I heard what some trainers are charging. What they want for a week’s keep will pay for nearly three weeks here!”

The double made it ten for the year, and with at least half a dozen potential winners still active, optimism is high in sheep-rearing country. “It’s made a big difference having the all-weather at Newcastle. It’s a brilliant track – all the other all-weathers are a long way from here – and we can get there in about half an hour. I wish they’d built it 20 years ago,” he says. Needless to say Storey can’t wait for the busy Newcastle winter programme where he hopes to add a few more to that total.

- Tony Stafford

Monday Musings: Tony The Greek

It’s funny how certain comments play on the subconscious, writes Tony Stafford. Many years ago, John O’Carroll, a Daily Telegraph racing desk colleague, with a touch of the gipsy about some of his early life in South Yorkshire, having offered to read my palm, looked at my right hand and refused to tell me what it told him. All he would say was: “You’ll live a long life”.

He’s well on the way to getting that right, as was the senior clerk in my first job at the National Provincial Bank on White Hart Lane, Tottenham, who habitually called me “Acorn Head”. When I recently had the wispy remains of a once-healthy head of hair trimmed off at the behest of ‘Er Indoors, that frivolous observation also showed an element of accuracy.

Then there was Richard Hannon senior, after one of my early appearances in what was to prove a short-lived TV career on the old Racing Channel. “You always look so uneasy,” he opined, and he was right. Uneasy it was, unlike R. Hannon junior, who is one of the more comfortable interviewees among racing people.

One of the less believable observations to my mind came from Derek Thompson, when, coming upon myself chatting with veteran owner-breeder Jack Panos, probably at the July Course, he declared: “You’re brothers!”

But Tommo was not as far offline as I thought. Jack, a Greek-Cypriot, does share a part similarity of heritage with me as my mother was Greek from Egypt where Dad met her during the war.  Jack’s family name is Panayiotou. My mother’s father’s surname was Meimaris, but uncannily, his half-brother’s was Panayiotou also. And I learned at the Raceform Reunion earlier this year from Willie Lefebve, who organised it – Tommo was there too – that I was always known as Tony the Greek. That WAS news to me.

Last year, the boss had his eye on a daughter of Helmet at Book 3 of the Newmarket sale and deputed me with Micky Quinn, who may have recommended her, to try to buy her. The bidding was relayed back to base, but a telephonic irregularity caused confusion and Mick stopped at 30 grand. “What happened?” roared the would-be owner. “It sold”, said Mick. “You …..! You’re both fired”.

It fell to me to pour emollient words onto the flames and remind the boss he’d been advised more than once of a Helmet filly available on the Mark Johnston site for a number of weeks since the trainer bought her at Doncaster. “You’d better go and see her tomorrow, then,” barked the boss.

As we had a runner – Harry Champion – at Redcar the next day, Middleham wasn’t an inconvenient stop-off point and they quickly organised bringing the filly in from the field. One of the things that appealed when she first appeared on the Johnston list was that she was a daughter of Anosti, a Jack Panos homebred who finished a good second when Ray’s Exclamation won the sales race at Newmarket nine years earlier.

The staff, headed by Jock Bennett, brought her in and apologised that she was hardly going to look like a sales entry with all the muck from the paddock. But Jock told me she’d already been through stalls and, a big filly, was around 460 kilos. Now sending me along to inspect a horse is rather like asking David Blunkett to judge a beauty contest, but having ascertained she was a well-developed filly with the requisite number of limbs (four), heads and tails (one of each), gave the go-ahead, in a rare example of Executive decision.

In the spring she came to hand quickly and when in mid to late April she galloped well with two other early types and beat them, all was serene. Then came the bombshell. “She pulled up lame after the gallop”, reported chief on-site vet John Martin, “and we discovered a chip in a joint in a hind leg.”

There was no messing. Within a couple of days, she’d been transported down to Newmarket Equine Hospital and operated on by Ian Wright, the renowned surgeon. Within days she was back walking – no box rest needed, thankfully – and was in faster work by last month.

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Mark and Charlie Johnston were in Deauville on Monday last week, beginning the next cycle of sales acquisitions, when they pinpointed Goodwood as the possible starting point for the filly now called Tarnhelm. Ray Tooth has a bit of a classical musical bent and Tarnhelm is the name of the helmet in Wagner’s Ring Cycle, apparently.

Imagine my surprise 10 months after we bought Tarnhelm, I was about to leave York races on Thursday when the phone rang. “Tony, it’s Jack!” At first I didn’t recognise the voice or number and the line was ordinary, amid the after-racing hubbub. But then I twigged and started by saying how sorry I was about his son <George Michael>, to which Jack said he’d been crying for nine months, but is starting to get a little better.

I incorrectly thought he was in Cyprus, from what he said, and he added he’d like to come to Goodwood to see her. Still believing he was overseas, I said, “Look we’re not sure how she’ll go and she missed so much time. Why not wait to see how she does and if it’s good, come with me next time.”

Well, Tarnhelm ran an excellent second behind the Mick Channon-trained Tricksy Spirit, a Lethal Force filly with two runs behind her. Tarnhelm showed plenty of speed to make the running until inside the last furlong, and once the winner and John Egan swept past on the outside, she rallied under P J McDonald and comfortably secured runner-up spot.

Jack was on straight after the race, delighted at the run and revealed that the filly’s yearling half-brother, by Sepoy is in the sales in the coming weeks and there is also a full-sister to her back at the stud.

I had a day at Kinsale stud in Shropshire yesterday for the Open Day and Rachael and Richard Kempster had approaching 100 guests. It always amazes me how quickly the yearlings develop and Ray’s seven (colts by Pour Moi, Mayson and Mount Nelson and fillies by Nathaniel, Pour Moi, Mayson and Monsieur Bond) all looked in rude health. The next task is to allocate them to trainers.

Winners have been slow to arrive in 2017, and so far Stanhope is the only contributor. He ran his best race yet when runner-up to Andrew Balding’s revitalised Rely On Me at Newmarket, drawing three lengths clear of the rest and earning a highest-yet Timeform rating of 92.

Despite her spring setback, Tarnhelm was the first of the Class of ’17 to run, but Clive Cox has entered Nelson River (Mount Nelson – I Say) for Sandown on Friday and he’s jocked up on the BHA web site.

I took particular interest in Nelson River’s two Nathaniel siblings (yearling and foal) on my visit, being reminded as ever that I Say is by Eclipse winner Oratorio out of a Sadler’s Wells mare.  Enable, of course, is by Nathaniel out of a Sadler’s Wells mare.  You can dream, Ray.

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