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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Monday Musings: Baffert and O’Brien United in Cushioned Defeat

You’d be hard pushed to stand Bob Baffert alongside Aidan O’Brien and suggest they have too much in common, apart from the obvious knack of winning major races around the planet, writes Tony Stafford. Baffert, 64, is the white-haired extrovert who specialises in the big-money pots – Arrogate, for instance collecting both last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic and the Dubai World Cup in March this year.

He also ended US racing’s 37-year wait for a Triple Crown winner two years ago when American Pharaoh added the Belmont Stakes in June to his Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes triumphs, the first since Affirmed and Steve Cauthen won all three races in tight finishes with Alydar back in 1977.

I had a fleeting and slight connection with Baffert during his two earlier Triple Crown near-misses, both with horses he trained for Prince Ahmed Salman’s Thoroughbred Corporation, with which I had a much closer association. He was already approaching 50 years of age when Point Given, a disappointing Kentucky Derby favourite in 2001, atoned with triumphs in the Preakness and Belmont that spring/early summer.

Then the native Arizonan sourced War Emblem, winner of the 2002 Illinois Derby, securing a 90% share for the Prince, with original owner Russell Reineman retaining 10%. He immediately won the Kentucky Derby, from the front, and followed on in the Preakness. That made four successive Triple Crown race victories for trainer and owner, but a bad stumble at the start and an early bump meant the intended New York coronation was never to be. Baffert had to wait another 13 years for his place in US Turf history.

It is with some element of disbelief that we realise Aidan O’Brien has yet to win an English Triple Crown. The quietly-spoken Irishman, busy founding a family dynasty set to dominate his country’s racing industry for many years – wish I could look into that particular future, or else live to 110! – did go agonisingly close, though. Still a few years younger than Baffert was when I first encountered him, Aidan would appear to have plenty of time to find the right horse to complete that elusive treble.

In 2012, Camelot shrugged off French Fifteen to win the 2,000 Guineas before an odds-on five-length romp at Epsom preceded another simple task (if such a thing is possible in a Classic) at The Curragh. All that remained for the champion and his young rider Joseph O’Brien was the St Leger, but despite getting the trip well enough, he could not peg back Encke.

The subsequent involvement of that horse in the Godolphin steroids scandal which cost Mahmood Al Zarooni his job must leave O’Brien feeling cheated out of the right to have prepared a 16th Triple Crown winner, and the first since Nijinsky, handled by Ballydoyle predecessor, but unrelated Vincent O’Brien in 1970.

The only other dual 2,000 Guineas and Derby winner of the present millennium was Sea The Stars, in 2009. In a sequence of unbroken success following a debut fourth place, the John Oxx-trained colt was guided to shorter-distance races after Epsom, and won successively the Eclipse, the Juddmonte International and Irish Champion before ending his stellar career back at a mile and a half in the Arc. He never won by more than two and a half lengths, but always looked far superior to his opponents.

As a stallion he has already produced Taghrooda (Oaks and King George) and Harzand (Derby and Irish Derby), while three of his late-developing sons, Stradivarius, Crystal Ocean and Raheen House are among the strongest candidates for this year’s St Leger.

But to come back to my point about the similarity between the two disparate characters, it is their ability to shrug off defeat for a star inmate, even when the star is beaten by a stablemate.

It happened to each of them over the weekend. On Saturday night in Del Mar, Arrogate, officially and also by popular vote, the Best Horse in the World, suffered a second successive defeat in the Pacific Classic, following an earlier inexplicable fourth at 1-20 in the San Diego handicap, his first run since Dubai in March.

Baffert had been at a loss to explain that “out with the washing” run, but had a more optimistic reaction to the half-length reverse behind his Collected on Saturday. Here he was again sluggish, but rallied to good effect behind the all-the-way winner, who now has an identical seven wins from ten starts career tally to Arrogate. Where they differ is that Collected, whose only defeat in his last six runs was in the 2016 Preakness when he was distanced, has yet to make the £1 million mark, while Arrogate has amassed more than £13 million.

While clearly disappointed, saying it was like his younger son beating his elder son, Baffert managed a similar philosophical reaction to O’Brien’s yesterday when Magical and Donnacha O’Brien, his younger son, beat Happily, ridden by Ryan Moore (successor as stable jockey to elder son, Joseph), with September (Seamie Heffernan) fourth in the Group 2 Debutante Stakes at the Curragh.

“I expect they’ll all go to the Moyglare”, said the trainer, confident in the knowledge that victory for one of these Team Coolmore fillies represents shared success for them all. Once again it was the Galileos to the fore with Rhododendron’s full-sister coming home ahead of Gleneagles’ and Marvellous’s full-sibling.

The Camelots have been a little slow to get going, as did the Nathaniels last year, but with Enable, in line for yet another win this week in the Yorkshire Oaks, leading the way, Nathaniel’s owners, headed by Lady Rothschild and Newsells Park, have been enjoying watching a flurry of winners, generally at a mile and a half.

Since the King George, where Enable joined Winter as the best of a top–class generation of fillies, products of Nathaniel have won nine more domestic races with five in a row from August 11-16 and a Newbury double on Saturday.

The only potential opponent for Enable from Ballydoyle is Alluringly, who ended a losing run with a strong-finishing win in a Gowran Listed race over just short of ten furlongs, but whether connections fancy a third go at Enable after progressively emphatic beatings from the Gosden filly at Chester and in the Oaks is questionable.

Wednesday’s Juddmonte International at York throws up the tantalising prospect of Churchill stretching out to a mile and a quarter (and a bit) after his St James’s Palace reverse, and an encounter with Cliffs of Moher, second to now-retired Wings of Eagles in the Derby and hampered when fourth behind Ulysses in the Eclipse last time out. It would help Churchill’s stud prospects if he could get that Group 1 win at the longer distance, but stablemate Cliffs of Moher could easily give him a run for his money, never mind the others.

I hope Raheen House takes his chance in the Great Voltigeur, a race I’ve loved ever since Hethersett won it in 1962 and helped me collect a vast sum – possibly £50 – after a small stakes patent copped, with Sostenuto (Ebor) and Persian Wonder the other legs, as a 16-year-old. That a Bournemouth betting shop manager would allow my bet and then pay me out after my round of pitch-and-putt at Tuckton Bridge remains a source of wonder 55 years on – we were on holiday and mum and dad went shopping! – but he did and I followed up with a nice bet on Hethersett, my favourite horse of all time, in the St Leger. For the record, my favourite jumper ever was L’Escargot.

Years later, Hitman, in whom I had a share, broke down in the Voltigeur, but I still look forward to it as the best guide to the Classic. Let him run there Brian, please.

Monday Musings: Fate’s Fickle Fingers

Sometimes when watching a televised race, some of the late action gets missed as producers hone in too tightly on the principals, writes Tony Stafford. On Saturday night, the Arlington Park coverage lingered on the winning line just long enough to catch a spectacular, but horrific, moment when a stricken Permian faltered and fell and William Buick was projected somersaulting over his head.

As I was switching forward and back to my normal Saturday night viewing of yet another overseas series – into its final stage – I didn’t keep up fully with the aftermath, save being pretty certain that the brave Permian’s career was at a tragic end. But until the following morning, I was unaware of Buick’s injury to a vertebra. I’ve known William and his father Walter for a long time and hope and trust that his recovery will be swift.

It befell Charlie Johnston to be on hand to accept family responsibility in the midst of a season of hitherto unparalleled success for the Middleham stable. Permian had been the standard bearer, winning the Dante and King Edward VII before failing by an agonising nose in the Group 1 Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud.

He’d only been uncompetitive previously in the Investec Derby, but for once not because of unsuitability to the track, over which he previously collected the Derby Trial. Here he was beaten a long way from home, the serious leg injury which caused the fall proving an undeserved and premature end to a brilliant career.

The Johnston stable has been in the midst of an exceptional run, most times getting somewhere around 18 wins in the fortnightly portions as reported daily in the Racing Post trainers’ feature.

Among the three most active stables – the others being Richard Fahey and Richard Hannon – Johnston has been winning at a considerably higher rate, both in percentage wins to run terms, and on the winners to horses standpoint.

So far 156 victories have been achieved from 914 runs, with 94 individual winners from 184 horses and a domestic prizemoney tally of £2,333,676. The stable’s best of 216 was managed in both 2009 and 2013, while the most prizemoney of £2,992,112 came in 2014. Both those optimum figures, wins and money, must be within reach given the overall well-being of the team.

To compare and contrast, Fahey stands on 127 wins from 1088 runs with 100 individual winners from 261 horses. His prizemoney of £2,834,692 has been swelled by the exploits of such as Ribchester.

Hannon’s 126 wins from 846 runs – 96 individual winners from 227 horses – and domestic earnings of £1,926,341 leaves him some way back in third among the three biggest strings. John Gosden always operates on a more selective level. His 78 wins have been earned from only 385 runs and from 62 individual horses of 153 to run. He has earned £3,137,442 and is in line to beat his previous best of £4,241,991 in 2014, given that more mammoth prizes are likely to fall to his champion middle-distance filly Enable.

A cursory look at the official handicap marks of the 84 horses at present in action in Gosden’s stable explains the high conversion rate from runners into cash. Of 84 with official marks, 20 are rated above 110; 20 more in the bracket 100-109. A further 22 are in the 90-99 category; 16 stand between 80 and 89, with only four in the 70’s and just two in the 60’s.

In the face of such an overall high standard from Gosden, and the greater numerical opposition from Fahey and Hannon, Johnston’s achievement of winning so many races already, with a stable of wide-ranging abilities, is outstanding.

The Raymond Tooth team can hardly claim 2017 to be a vintage year in either money or winning terms so far, but there was more than a chink of light from the Mick Quinn-trained Stanhope when he came right back to the form of his Newmarket late June win when a length runner-up to the progressive Dark Power at Leicester yesterday.

That was creditable as Stanhope had been raised to 82 (from 74) after beating the subsequent dual winner Hart Stopper by three lengths on the July Course. Fran Berry, in the saddle on both good efforts, had been unavailable when he trailed home last after losing a shoe in between the Berry runs. He thinks the gelding has another pay-day in him.

Berry was also on the Quinn team when Great Hall – once owned by the boss – fulfilled stable expectations (backed at 20-1 by the trainer in the week, by all accounts) in the Shergar Cup on Saturday, a first Ascot success for Quinny. I know Tony Hind, Berry’s agent had been hoping for a real run at the jockeys’ title this year, but the early-season breach from his retainer with Ralph Beckett – and Silvestre’s ridiculous run of success – disrupted those ambitions.

With Buick likely to be out of action for a while it will be interesting to see developments in the Charlie Appleby branch of Godolphin, but whoever gets the majority of those rides, big-race opportunities will spread further, and after enjoying the publicity of winning the Shergar Cup Saddle, Fran Berry will be in the frame for his share.

A disappointing Arlington Million meeting for the Aidan O’Brien – Ryan Moore team, headed up by Deauville’s close third in the big race, did not dampen spirits for long, as they collected a Curragh treble yesterday.

Sioux Nation, contesting favouritism with the Gordon Elliott-trained Beckford in the Phoenix Stakes, got home half a length in front to give the trainer his 16th win in the race – a clear case for a referral to the Irish Monopolies Commission.

That followed the encouraging first win of the $3million Keeneland yearling Mendelssohn, like Sioux Nation, a son of the late lamented Scat Daddy, the cost of whose early death at the start of the 2016 stud season, is being acutely realised. When Washington DC ended his run of near misses by taking the Group 3 sprint later in the card, he completed a rare O’Brien treble. Washington DC (by Zoffany) made it three wins in a day, not unusual, except that none of them was for a Galileo!

As for the Tooth team, at least four trainers are reporting imminent action from a hitherto unraced juvenile. I will probably have news of an intended debutant this time next week, but whether we can expect first-time success is quite another thing.

Monday Musing: Making Hayes

Today is not the first time I’ve felt obliged to moan about the difficulty I have in prising information out of the Racing Post statistics data bank, writes Tony Stafford. The new version has all but defeated my ham-fisted attempts. Bring back the old one, please.

Why today, you might ask? It’s all about an image from yesterday’s racing from Galway, which prompted me to undertake a little research. Trainer Brian Ellison and jockey Chris Hayes celebrated a second successive win for the Ellison-trained Dream Walker in the valuable Ahonoora Handicap, feature race on the Festival’s seventh and final day.

Ellison also employed Hayes on the horse for a similar last-gasp win a year ago, and was making it a personal four in a row as Baraweez, caught close home yesterday in an Ellison 1-2-3 completed by Be Kool, had won the two previous runnings, under respectively Donnacha O’Brien and Colm O’Donoghue.

At this point I wish to declare an interest. Back in early 2005, I was at the sales at Newmarket and sat down for an enjoyable coffee with former jockeys and, at the time, trainers Declan Gillespie and Charlie Swan. They both contended that Ruby Walsh was the best rider of either code they’d ever seen, but when I quizzed Declan, whom I’ve known well since his days as Jim Bolger’s stable jockey, as to who he rated the best young apprentice at that time, he had no hesitation in nominating Chris Hayes.

Hayes rode eight winners as a 16/17-year-old in 2004 after a successful pony racing career and was still short of his 18th birthday when he turned up at Hamilton station (if memory serves – it might have been Glasgow Central!) to await onward transportation to the track on April 25 2005.

His Irish weighing room nickname, then and now, was Chesney, as he had more than a passing facial similarity to actor Sam Aston, aged ten at the time and the face of Chesney Brown in Coronation Street. Hayes looked barely twelve when he rocked up in Scotland and first impressions were that it was unlikely he would fulfil Gillespie’s expectations - except that it was Declan.

We had two rides for him, the first on a filly named Ekaterina, named in honour of my future wife. The horse did not live up to even the modest expectations we had of her and after trailing home seventh of eight under Hayes, had only one more run before leaving Wilf Storey’s stable. Dimple Chad, once with Luca Cumani, performed a little better in fourth in his race, but again had no long-term future and was also soon on the way out.

The most significant part of that day, though, was a conversation I had with Brian Ellison, suggesting he might want to employ Chris Hayes when he needed a decent claimer. He watched his two rides and took the opportunity a couple of weeks later when Chris was coming over again to ride Wilf’s handicapper Singhalongtasveer in a Beverley claimer.

That was the second race on the card and Wilf’s horse ran an excellent close second to a Martin Pipe winning favourite, ridden by Alan Munro. By that time, though, Hayes had already been in the winner’s spot after partnering Ellison’s 50-1 shot Seifi to a battling success in the two-mile handicap, going unbacked in this disbelieving quarter.

Twelve years on, the pair still team up occasionally, but of Ellison’s nine Galway runners over the week, Hayes came in for just the ride on Dream Walker.

I’ve still yet to go to Galway because of its direct competition with Goodwood and I’m sure there would have been plenty of those at the normally Glorious Sussex track who would have traded places with their Irish counterparts.

Luckily, I missed Sussex Stakes day, just like Churchill, whose connections, wisely I believe, chose not to subject him to the deluge that turned the ground to heavy. Ribchester, odds-on in the O’Brien horse’s absence, will have had no knock to his reputation after his brave near miss against Jim and Fitri Hay’s veteran Here Comes When in the feature in what was a great week for trainer Andrew Balding.

Instead I was up at Redcar for the belated debut of the boss’s three-year-old filly Betty Grable, who started her career in a quite competitive maiden over seven furlongs. This daughter of Delegator was always immature when with Hugo Palmer as a juvenile, indeed the trainer told me more than once that she was the typical model of a backward horse, with the back end much higher than the front.

With that conformational issue came occasional minor lameness and when she left Newmarket for Kinsale stud, the prognoses were far from optimistic. Eventually she went the way of a long line of Ray Tooth under-achievers, up country to Muggleswick, and the rather rugged grasslands of Wilf’s sheep farm.

Luckily, the Storeys detected after a while she had gravel foot and once they released the stinky build-up of ancient blood from the hoof, she immediately came sound and has never had a lame step since. From minute one she showed talent up the demanding Storey hill, and her debut, returned to Ray’s colours – “she was too good for me to take”, said Wilf – resulted in a promising sixth, a couple of lengths off third.

Of the 13 fillies that took part last week, only two are eligible for another seven furlong maiden there this Saturday, a median auction with a £28,000 ceiling. The only other qualifier is the filly that finished a tailed-off last at 250-1 on Wednesday.

Hopefully Paul Mulrennan, who especially liked the fact that despite an eight-minute wait in the stalls while three recalcitrant rivals refused to go in - she stood stock still, never budging, yet came out running - will be available. She’ll probably get much further in time – she is half-sister to the decent two-miler Gabriel’s King – but this race was too enticing to miss.

For me the highlight of Goodwood was the performance of Winter in the Nassau Stakes. Coming as it did just 24 hours after the trauma of Churchill’s late withdrawal from his objective, it must have taken plenty of soul-searching on the part of Aidan and the owners to let her take her chance on what was pretty much heavy ground.

The fact that she came through it in her first attempt against her elders on that going and over a new extended trip, spoke volumes for her ability and constitution. Pre-race scrutiny revealed she has done very well physically for her short break following her earlier Group 1 treble exploits. Those big feet would have helped her cope with mud, too!

In winning both English and Irish 1,000 Guineas and then the Coronation Stakes, she already has a unique set of big-race wins. This latest triumph must make it easier for the boys to accept that Minding is no longer around to win more Group 1’s. I would not be surprised if Winter were to exceed Minding’s tally of seven by the time she finishes.

- Tony Stafford

Monday Musings: Almost Autumn, But First A Glorious Winter

Don’t look, but it’s August - or will be tomorrow, writes Tony Stafford. Darker mornings and what used to be Glorious Goodwood, but now is officially the Qatar Goodwood Festival, are upon us. I don’t believe Goodwood has ever started as late as August 1 and by the time we get to the weekend, autumn will almost be here.

It has been positively wintry the last few days, but there will not be a shred of discontent from the Coolmore/Ballydoyle contingent if Winter, the second-most predominant filly of her generation after the peerless Enable, should carry her successful run through Thursday’s Nassau Stakes.

Some people may be suited by the various switches to the Goodwood programme, but I fail to see why there is any benefit in moving the Nassau, a perfect counter-point to my mind to the cavalry charge of the Stewards’ Cup and the always-competitive consolation race which precedes it, to the Thursday.

The Goodwood Cup, traditionally staged on Thursday, goes forward a couple of days to the opening stage of the five days, but at least the Sussex Stakes remains on the Wednesday, so not too long to wait for Churchill’s attempt at rehabilitation against Barney Roy and Ribchester, a handy Godolphin double act.

It was hot enough when Churchill could finish only fourth behind his nearest 2,000 Guineas victim Barney Roy in Royal Ascot’s St James’s Palace Stakes – 93 degrees Fahrenheit to my recollection. People everywhere were complaining about the heat, so no wonder some of the horses might have under-performed and maybe that was Churchill’s major reason for a sub-standard effort.

I pass on a slightly amusing story. I was fortunate enough to be based in a box that day and, arriving early with Harry Taylor, had the chance of a leisurely cup of coffee in an otherwise deserted location. Coming inside, I suggested there was a nice breeze outside as I accepted the offer of a second cup. This was greeted with the news that I was sitting with a fan whirring full on right behind me.

The King George duly provided Enable with a third successive Group 1 romp after her Oaks and Irish Oaks successes and firmly propelled her to the top of all the middle-distance ratings, and rightly so. The irony of the result is that while everyone pointed to the fact that she was getting 14lb from the older colts, so success was always highly likely, only one other three-year-old, the Godolphin colt Benbatl, even tried to take advantage of that generous weight concession, in his case 11lb from his elders.

Benbatl had been fifth in the Derby behind the now retired Wings of Eagles and then narrowly won the Hampton Court Stakes at Royal Ascot in a close finish with the Aidan O’Brien-trained Orderofthegarter. His fifth place here was in keeping with those runs and suggested that others of his generation might also have made an impact.

O’Brien ran last year’s King George winner, Highland Reel, and that admirable horse’s full-brother Idaho, but the former was clearly – and as expected – hampered by the soft ground. Fourth place, some way behind his sibling and also Eclipse winner Ulysses, who was a gallant second, represented further testimony to his toughness in adverse conditions.

I also admired the fact that O’Brien apparently had no hesitation about running Highland Reel, never mind Idaho. The pair collected a joint £185,000 for their exertions after which Highland Reel can be rested for a time before more highly-remunerative world travel.

Enable was much too good for this group of colts and indeed the only time she has been beaten, it was her stable-mate Shutter Speed who crossed the line first at Newbury back in the spring. Shutter Speed is one of a handful of potentially-dangerous opponents for Winter on Thursday, as she returns for the first time since her close but weakening fourth in the Prix de Diane in June.

John Gosden also has So Mi Dar to make things interesting, while Nezwaat (who, like Enable, has a recent verdict over Rain Goddess), Queen’s Trust and Godolphin’s Wuheida are other likely runners.

Wuheida, unbeaten at two when she won the Prix Marcel Boussac on Arc day, made a spirited return to be runner-up to the tough Roly Poly at HQ, a performance which looks even better after that winner’s follow up in yesterday’s Prix Rothschild (Group 1) on the opening Sunday of Deauville’s summer meeting.

Last week, I put forward my friend Lew Day’s Raheen House as a potential St Leger winner. Whatever his fate there, Raheen House does have one unique distinction – he is the only male yet to finish ahead of Enable as he split the two Gosden fillies Shutter Speed and Enable in that Newbury race back in the spring.

The outstanding performance on the King George undercard was undoubtedly Nyaleti’s five-length demolition of the previously unbeaten Dance Diva in the Princess Margaret Juddmonte Stakes. Nyaleti had been comprehensively outrun, first by September in the Chesham Stakes at the Royal meeting and then, dropping back to six furlongs, by Clemmie in the Duchess of Cambridge Stakes at Newmarket’s July meeting, but got back on track here in devastating style.

Mark Johnston’s filly is clearly improving and as one pedigree student pointed out to me before and, with more energy after, the race, she probably benefited from the softer ground as her sire, Arch’s, and maternal grandsire Verglas’ produce are usually effective in the soft.

So one might think that the two Ballydoyle fillies that beat Nyaleti are the front-runners for next year’s 1,000 Guineas, but by all accounts you must think again. For hidden away last Thursday night in an otherwise anonymous Leopardstown card, which contained just the four Aidan O’Brien winners – all, incidentally, as Paul Smith might say : “In the purple and white” - was another juvenile who might be the best of the lot.

Running in the Group 3 Silver Flash Stakes, Happily, a full-sister to both Gleneagles and 2014 Irish 1,000 Guineas winner, Marvellous, stretched five lengths clear of her rivals and impressed Ryan Moore. As ever, the biggest task for the trainer will be to plan a path that maximises the potential of all these, and no doubt others to come later. Already it looks as though the English trainers will struggle to make much of an impact in the major juvenile fillies’ races, Johnston and Nyaleti apart.

One of the more interesting aspects of the still embryonic jumps season has been the fantastic run of form of the Dan Skelton stable, enjoyed in equal measure by his younger brother Harry. Both are already into the 40’s for the season and a treble at Uttoxeter on Sunday even had the distinction of achieving the almost impossible – beating an Olly Murphy favourite.

While still in his first month with a licence, Murphy, son of trainer Anabel and former assistant to Gordon Elliott, has won with eight of 15 jumps runners and three of nine on the Flat, for almost a 50% strike-rate.

If the BHA handicappers keep giving his horses ratings like the 47 (won off 50 even with Jamie Spencer’s 3lb overweight at Newcastle on Saturday) for Banff (100 jumps after his second at Stratford on his Murphy debut) or the 43 allotted to Gold Class (103 jumps after beating Banff in that race), then he’ll continue to thrive, even without the obvious ability he clearly has to call on. [In both cases, the mark was achieved before the horse arrived at Murphy’s yard – Ed.]

Monday Musings: On Racing’s Transience

It’s my wife’s birthday today and we’re going to the Whitstable Oyster Festival down on the North Kent Coast, writes Tony Stafford. The last time I was there, I was strolling past the fishermen’s huts along the quay when the phone rang with a six-figure offer for the boss’s then three-year-old Fair Trade.

The offer, from agent Stuart Boman, was greeted by trainer David Elsworth, when reported to him by the owner, with the response: “Don’t take it. I’ll get you a lot more than that!”

Seven years and four trainers on from that memorable remark, I saw Fair Trade on Thursday morning in a field in Muggleswick, Co Durham, where he continues to waste his, and everyone else’s, time. Winner of a Newbury maiden race before finishing tenth in Makfi’s 2,000 Guineas, a run which brought an unnecessary 18lb hike in his rating, he never won again in conventional Flat races, but took a jumpers’ bumper and two hurdles when in the care of Alan King.

Two days earlier, I’d just dropped off Raymond Tooth at Heathrow on his way to a week’s holiday when the phone rang. Former jockey Tom Morgan told me the sad news that David Wintle had died at the age of 82. Tom is married to Dave’s daughter, Alison. I’ve not seen her or her brother James for a long time, but often bump into Dave’s other daughter Becky, who is married to another bloodstock agent, Stephen Hillen.

Becky always kept me aware of her father’s up and down health and then one day in the spring, she suggested I call him. We had a nice chat, reminiscing about horses he’d trained for me and how a Terry Ramsden gamble – I’d brought them together in the early 1980’s – led to Wintle’s losing his licence for a while.

Without that connection, I would never have met Wilf Storey, one of my longest-standing friends in racing, and custodian of the field in which Fair Trade idles the days away. I had a filly with Wintle, called Maid of Ireland, and managed to persuade Tick Vergette – later Saunders – who I’d known when she was Geoff Huffer’s secretary at Cheveley Park Stables (now Stud) to let me use the filly as a makeweight in a deal to buy Fiefdom. Originally he was to be a riding horse for a local girl.

Once a useful handicapper with Bruce Hobbs – he was fifth as a three-year-old in the Cambridgeshire – Fiefdom flopped over hurdles for Tick’s father George, and after a dreadful final run for them over Easter, they were willing to let him go.

Relocated to Rod Simpson, he took a while to get fit, but then won twice in a week, at Folkestone and Lingfield, before running fourth in the ladies’ race at Ascot on King George Day. In those days it was a non-handicap, and the older horses gave lumps of weight to the three-year-olds.

Fiefdom was ridden there by Celia Radband, a very nice girl who made many appearances in Eastenders and other television shows. She recommended Fiefdom as a potential jumper to Wilf Storey’s daughters Fiona and Stella, against whom she competed in ladies’ races, as she knew I’d been trying to sell him immediately before the two wins.

Wilf’s polite and understanding reaction when I said that I’d changed my mind for now, struck a cord and so, soon after when I needed to off-load a couple of horses that had been misbehaving on the Lambourn gallops - “Give ‘em away!”, said Rod, I asked Wilf if he had anyone “with two grand”. He gave the same reply that he still does: “No”, but they went up to him anyway. One was a lunatic and had to be put down, but Santopadre won three in a row and was fifth in Solar Cloud’s Triumph Hurdle.

A couple of months later, I did sell Fiefdom, and fully primed, was able to enjoy a touch when he won a Sedgefield novice handicap hurdle by ten lengths from 10lb out of the handicap first time out. He won a load of races and yesterday at Redcar, Mr Sundowner, the only son of Scat Daddy ever sighted in Muggleswick, gave Wilf a career-equalling eighth Flat winner of 2017.

On Thursday night, I travelled south to Mark Johnston’s for a Friday gallop when Tarnhelm, a promising Helmet filly was making her first comeback gallop after sustaining a chip in her joint, days before her proposed first run in April. To everyone’s apparent surprise, she trailed her two companions up the gallop. Mark and son Charlie, who watched with me, pointed out it was her first gallop since her injury and advised waiting until she could have another go next week.

In racing and generally when watching sport, the disappointments exceed the successes as the recent Murray and McIlroy results again proved. After Tarnhelm, at least there was the expectation of a follow-up win for Stanhope, three weeks on from his course and distance romp in first time visors on the July Course at Newmarket.

They worked well enough the first time, but now he seemed not to want to go down to the start, and he came back even more reluctantly to finish a remote last of seven. “I wouldn’t put them on again,” helpfully suggested jockey Pat Cosgrave. I’m sure Mick Quinn agrees.

It doesn’t only happen to us. I bet trainer Bob Baffert approached Saturday night’s San Diego Handicap with supreme confidence that Arrogate, the world’s unchallenged top racehorse on official figures, would resume with another triumph after that Dubai World Cup master-class by putting away his five vastly-inferior rivals. The Racing Post even suggested that TV viewers should stay up until the off time of 2.10 a.m. BST to watch the “Best Horse in the World” live on At The Races.

In the event, starting at 1-20, he put in a dreadful display, finishing more than 15 lengths fifth behind the winner Accelerate. In the US, even five runner races have three places in the Show Pool, and pay a minimum dividend of 10 cents on a two dollar stake. Thus the value-thieves who lurk around American racing dive in, resulting in the Show Pool’s being at least as big as the Win, while the Place (1-2 in the US) is almost ignored.

Not for nothing is the term “Bridge Jumpers” used to describe them, as the practice, while more often than not profitable, in time and return terms far more favourable than US and UK interest rates, is hardly fool-proof. Usually it takes injury or some other mishap for such a negative outcome to occur. In this case, Arrogate, generously treated in the weights by the Del Mar handicapper, ran stones below his normal level, and no doubt some of the “jumpers” might well have been looking for the nearest bridge from which to propel themselves.

As I prepare for a trip down to the coast and some fresher-than-fresh sea food, I would like to pass on my best wishes to Ana O’Brien in her recovery from that horror fall at Killarney last Monday night. I saw it live and was so relieved that this wonderful young lady’s injuries were no worse than they are.

There can be no such relief for the family of Stephen Yarborough, the senior stalls handler killed at Haydock on Friday in a stalls accident. Both these unrelated incidents show just how dangerous the sport is for those who put on the show, while those who write about, watch or bet on it, are safe to pontificate about what far too many see as the shortcomings of the brave entertainers.

Monday Musings: Emerging into the uplands once more

Until three years ago, a fundamental part of my life involved getting up at 4 a.m. on a Thursday morning and driving the near-100 miles down to Manton for work morning at Brian Meehan’s stable, writes Tony Stafford. This evolved from wanting to be there principally to monitor the progress of the handful of Raymond Tooth’s horses stabled there in those days.

Over time, I had a more specialised involvement as work watcher and owner liaison, keeping a record of the work which gave a rare insight into the progress of all the horses in Brian’s care. It quickly became the favourite part of my week, the early start having its own reward.

Nowadays, it’s Monday and the writing of this column that revives that discipline and it’s with a degree of pleasure that I can record a revival in the Meehan fortunes this year.

For many years Brian worked with the agent Johnny McKeever in the recruitment particularly of yearlings, but that connection has diminished significantly as Sam Sangster has become the main buyer for the stable.

Sam, son of the late Robert Sangster, fundamental in the establishment of Coolmore Stud with John Magnier and the late Vincent O’Brien, Magnier’s father-in-law, signed the ticket on the majority of the sales purchases over the past few seasons, including recent winners Raheen House, wide-margin juvenile scorer Barraquero, and progressive three-year-old I’vegotthepower.

Barraquero runs under the Manton Thoroughbreds banner and carries the same blue, green and white colours that adorned Robert Sangster stars like Derby winners Golden Fleece and Dr Devious, and also among many others, Storm Bird and Sadler’s Wells, sire of Galileo.

There are five Sangster sons, Ben, Guy and Adam before Sam, and Max, the youngest. Of the quintet, many people believe Sam might end up the closest approximation to his father. It’s not a bad start that he knows which end of a horse kicks and which eats if he’s going to make a success of the always-precarious racing game.

Meehan’s recent flurry of form includes two big-race wins for one of his least well-known owners, Lew Day, whose horses run under the ownership handle of J L Day. Spark Plug was his first entry into the yard, prompted by an enquiry to me from a mutual acquaintance in the summer of 2013 that “someone would like to buy a two-year-old”.

Midsummer is hardly the time to be getting anything any good that wasn’t already snapped up, but Brian did have a number of horses, speculatively bought at the sales and at that stage without an owner. They included a son of Arc winner Dylan Thomas, at that stage an under-performing stallion for Coolmore.

I’d been watching this unnamed youngster progress week on week, gradually creeping up the juvenile pecking order, and Brian confirmed that “yes, he can be bought”. I met the would-be purchaser in a pub near the Carlton Tower Hotel in Knightsbridge, but he hesitated about the asking price, even though his careful research of Meehan with veteran trainer Eric Wheeler got a strong affirmative.

Wheeler at the time was still training Lew Day’s sole horse, a modest handicapper called El Libertador, once owned by Katie Wachman, but running under Lew’s dark green livery for 79 of his 80 starts, four of them winning ones.

With no deal forthcoming, the Dylan Thomas colt, who was out of the Group 1-winning South African mare Kornikova, was named Spark Plug and duly won on his Bath debut, minutes before Raymond’s Great Hall ran unplaced in the St Leger.

Lew renewed his interest on the Monday morning: “Can he still be bought?” he asked and the delayed deal was eventually done. Four years on, and a spectacular Cambridgeshire success and last time out’s Sandown Group 3 win behind him, Spark Plug, at six, remains at the top of the Meehan stable hierarchy, a position challenged only by Raheen House.

The latter’s purchase, at 35,000gns, was a notable bargain for Sam Sangster, as he was a handsome son of Sea the Stars and Meehan did well to convince the owner to double his involvement. Raheen House would have been the name for Spark Plug had Mr Day acted with more alacrity back four years ago, as that is the identity of the family hotel in Clonmel, not far from Coolmore, which has staged occasional events there.

Meehan has long regarded Raheen House as a potentially high-class stayer and the care with which he has planned his three-year-old career is reaping its reward. A fast-finishing fourth to Permian in the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot, he stepped up to win Thursday’s Bahrain Trophy at Newmarket, coming home strongly enough to convince trainer – and jockey Jamie Spencer – that he’ll be a major player in the St Leger in two months’ time. With no Ebor Handicap entry on the stocks, it could be we’ll see him next in the Great Voltigeur, the accepted St Leger trial, at that York meeting.

Permian added lustre to the form when failing by a nose to win the Grand Prix de Paris on Friday, so Lew Day, the man with two horses, can dream he might have a Classic winner to add to a Cambridgeshire hero. I’m delighted for Brian, who is no novice in winning big international races, but who had gone through the mill in recent years. It’s always a long way back, but he’s starting to emerge into the uplands again.

Rarely does a champion go through a career unbeaten, so while it was a disappointment that Caravaggio could not maintain his unblemished record in the July Cup on Saturday, the victory of Harry Angel, from the classy older sprinters Limato and Brando, was well merited.

Harry Angel had chased home Caravaggio in the Commonwealth Cup after helping set a strong pace, but here he lasted longer. The favourite’s pacemaker Intelligence Cross, a 100-1 shot, was only a neck behind Caravaggio at the line in fifth place, so there was clearly a disparity in the pace compared with Ascot. Equally, though, Clive Cox was confident that Harry Angel was in prime shape to have a good chance of revenge.

As is the way with Aidan O’Brien, others moved forward from the Royal meeting, Clemmie overturning the smart Nyaleti in the Duchess of Cambridge Stakes; and perennial bridesmaid, Roly Poly, appreciating Winter’s absence to win the Falmouth Stakes with an all-the-way romp that had Breeders’ Cup written all over it.

O’Brien had another notable success at the Curragh on Sunday when Spirit of Valor stepped up from his 66-1 Jersey Stakes neck second to the smart French colt Le Brivido, to win the Minstrel Stakes (Group 2) in a canter under Ryan Moore. That race’s under-estimated merit had been underlined the previous day at HQ when Parfait, fourth at Ascot, strolled home in a valuable handicap.

Much the most significant result over two days on the Curragh concerned Oaks winner Enable. John Gosden’s Nathaniel filly, under Frankie Dettori, followed up in the Irish Oaks, beating the Pretty Polly runner-up Rain Goddess by five and a half lengths. Talk afterwards of the King George or the Arc was certainly not fanciful, given trainer John Gosden’s excellent record in those championship races.

 

 

 

Monday Musings: Moore’s Nightmare of “The Beggy”

If Ryan Moore is having the odd nightmare these days, I reckon it’s coming in the form of a spectre-like being going by the name of “The Beggy”, writes Tony Stafford. It first came into his consciousness in the last 50 yards of the Investec Derby at Epsom, careering past him on the outside on Wings Of Eagles to deny Cliffs Of Moher close home.

Then five weeks later, down the road at Sandown, it was the same Padraig Beggy, this time on the designated pacemaker Taj Mahal, whose slight move into the rail around the seven-furlong marker in the Coral-Eclipse Stakes, led to the same luckless Cliffs of Moher suffering severe interference from which he could never recover. Wonder what Ryan thinks of the eight-day ban?

The problem with writing these words at the unearthly hour I do, is that otherwise easily checkable facts cannot be satisfactorily ascertained. Thus when I needed to find the whereabouts of Seamie Heffernan, fresh from yet another Group 1 win on Capri in the Irish Derby as Wings Of Eagles suffered a career-ending injury during the race last weekend, I could not.

The simple fact is that he has not ridden in public since Thursday and has no booked rides according to the Irish racing web site for the coming days. So whether he’s injured, suspended, or just taken a holiday to spend some of the Capri money, I’ve no idea.

There are plenty of jockeys in Ballydoyle. Two of the more frequent, after Moore and Heffernan, are Wayne Lordan and Colm O’Donoghue, but both were in action at Belmont Park at the weekend, O’Donoghue principally for Jessica Harrington, his main employer these days.

Apprentice Donnacha O’Brien rode three winners on Saturday’s Naas card, two for his father and one for elder brother Joseph, while Ana, out of luck in an international lady riders’ event in Sweden during the week, rode a single unplaced runner for Joseph the same afternoon.

So Beggy, reformed scallywag, was back again in the big time, and there seemed to be a fair degree of input from the first jockey before the race as to what he thought Beggy’s role should be.

What could go wrong? A nice-sized field set off at a reasonable pace, but then came the moment the stewards were later to blame Beggy for initiating. As he edged into the rail on the first bend, he interfered with Decorated Knight, who in turn hampered Cliffs of Moher, causing him to hit the rail and almost come down.

Cliffs Of Moher could never regain full momentum, managing just a laboured fourth place as the Sir Michael Stoute-trained Ulysees continued the Niarchos big-race revival by edging out Barney Roy in a thriller.

This first middle-distance big-race clash between the generations therefore ended narrowly in favour of the older brigade, 1-3 with Ulysses and Decorated Knight against 2-4-5 for the three-year-olds: Barney Roy, all but making a winning start at 10 furlongs, the vanquished favourite, and Frankel’s son Eminent, who showed a tendency towards aggression with an attempt to take a chunk out of the third’s neck.

If the Frankels are not quite getting there yet at the top level, the Galileos certainly intend staying there and Ulysses was yet another top-level winner for the super stallion – 66th in all – being the product of Coolmore’s blue-blood and Oaks winner, Light Shift. A job at the Niarchos family stud clearly awaits, while Godolphin will have lofty expectations too for Barney Roy.

The coming week is always important for Darley Stud and Godolphin, and many of the leading lights in the business will be in attendance at the Darley Stallion Parade and lunch during the July meeting, which also features three days of sales along with three days’ exceptional racing.

Darley/Godolphin may well have another potential stallion in Thunder Snow, like Barney Roy beaten in a 2,000 Guineas by Churchill. He won the Group 1 Prix Jean Prat at Chantilly yesterday and is now fully rehabilitated after his inexplicably mulish display at Churchill Downs in the Kentucky Derby.

Having gone close to a quick follow up with Barney Roy after he reversed Newmarket form with Churchill in the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot, another recent Godolphin acquisition will be stepping out quickly for revenge.

The Clive Cox-trained Harry Angel, denied only by the flying Caravaggio in the Commonwealth Cup and now in line for a rematch with the unbeaten Ballydoyle sprinter in the Darley July Cup on Saturday, is the beast in question. With the Bunbury Cup and Superlative Stakes, the last pair supported by bet365, this is indeed a brilliant card.

Unfortunately, the continuing resistance to what at one time appeared a willingness on the track’s part to revert to a midweek (at least Wednesday to Friday) date means once again the ridiculous triple clash with York’s £200,000 added John Smith’s <Magnet> Cup, Silver Cup and City Walls Stakes and Ascot’s £130k Summer Mile clogs up the afternoon, while Chester is totally off the radar.

In the old days, when the Stewards’ Cup first moved from Tuesday – the first day of the Goodwood Summer meeting – to the Saturday, I was silly enough to make a futile protest and go instead to Newmarket for a few years on that day.

It is probably unthinkable that I might swerve two races that I look forward to more than most – the July and Bunbury Cups – but it is equally likely that York, Chester and Ascot couldn’t care less anyway as all three are likely to attract bigger crowds than the day’s premier fixture.

Clive Cox seems to be a level-headed enough type of trainer, so for him to relish another crack at Caravaggio with Harry Angel is at least interesting. I saw him (the trainer) close up the other morning and he is clearly taking great care in the preparation of the juvenile that Raymond Tooth has with him. Hopefully, when that part of Berkshire sees a little rain, this big son of Mount Nelson could be getting a run.

We were up in Shropshire at the stud on Thursday, running the rule over the yearlings and foals, when the decision was made not to put any in the sales, for this year at any rate. With a handful of two-year-olds, like Cox’s Nelson River yet to run, we are in holding mode for the most part.

The exception is Equiano’s son, Stanhope, quite impressive when opening his account at the ninth attempt on the July Course late last month. The handicappers were hardly kind, putting him up a full 8lb. They can obviously say that was shown to be fair enough when three-length runner–up Hart Stopper, left alone after our race, popped up nine days later at Haydock with a win for Michael Bell. The Queen’s trainer had another winner, runner-up the previous time in the past few days. That one was raised 1lb and bolted up! Micky Quinn wants to know his secret.

 

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