Monday Musings: Fine Margins and the Royal Regatta

What is the relevance of the following succession: neck, head, nose, short head and neck? No they are not a new variant on the heads, shoulders, knees and toes kiddies rhyme, although they would comfortably fit the meter of the song, normally sung to the tune of London Bridge is Falling Down, writes Tony Stafford. They are race distances which added together barely stretch to a single length.

These narrow margins offer unarguable evidence of the toughness and talent of the Karl Burke-trained, John Dance-owned, P J McDonald-ridden Laurens.  They were achieved successively in one maiden race (on debut); one Group 2 and three Group 1’s, the latter trio encompassing the Fillies Mile (last October) and then the Prix Saint-Alary and yesterday’s Prix de Diane, her first Classic.

When she didn’t win, second time out as a juvenile at Deauville, and behind the Richard Hannon longshot Billesdon Brook in the 1,000 Guineas on her 2018 reappearance, the margin of defeat was also uniform, one and three-quarter lengths each time.

Maybe the fact of five tight photo-finishes has kept us from celebrating her class until now. There were distinct impressions for instance that if she met her nose Fillies Mile victim, the strong-finishing September, again, she would struggle to replicate the performance, but while September has been off the track since her Breeders’ Cup third at Del Mar in November, Laurens has continued to thrive.

At Chantilly yesterday, race commentator Patrick Faraday (or is it Ferraday, I can never quite catch the name accurately, so sorry Pat) gave emotional gloss to the drama as he talked of a “host of challengers” as they neared the finish. His additional information, after she crossed the line, must have given a jolt to one former jockey who until George Baker’s career-ending injury in San Moritz last year, acted as his driver. No Patrick it was P J, not Frankie McDonald, but happy soul Frankie would have enjoyed the mention.  Again there was a late flourish from the Andre Fabre-Godolphin runner, Musis Amica, coming from last into second, but we won’t be fooled this time.

Who is John Dance? We ought to know as in 2017 he ran 34 individual horses on the Flat and already this year 24 have carried his predominately white colours. These are (or were until sold in a couple of cases) spread among nine trainers with Burke ‘s Spigot Lodge in Middleham housing eight, the most. They are all based in the north apart from one, so far unsuccessful, with Hugo Palmer.

Mr Dance is the proprietor of Salcey Forest Stud, in the centre of Forestry Commission land ten miles from Northampton and he added to that breeding involvement by acquiring Robert Barnett’s Fair Winter Farm in Buckinghamshire last October.

When that purchase was announced, reflecting the history of the place based on the family’s Time Charter line, Mr Dance was already anticipating having Laurens as his own foundation mare, calling her a Classic prospect for 2018. That prediction looks pretty smart eight months down the line.

Will Edmeades, who looked after the Barnett breeding interests in Buckinghamshire, has returned to his former base in Newmarket, no doubt leaving Dance to undergo another demanding activity, staving off the bids which are sure to come from the biggest breeding operations around the world.

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It would be nice to think that he will be as resolute in resisting them as his daughter of Siyouni, one of the most promising young French stallions, has been during her racing career. One of the friends of Salcey Farms Stud’s web page was congratulating herself last night for having “backed her for the Arc before her latest win”. I’m not surprised.

Trainer and owner have already shown admirable enterprise in her programme, never flinching from the next challenge however daunting, so I fully expect to see her back at Parislongchamp – great name for a racecourse! – on the first Sunday in October. Maybe Happily, one of the foiled “host”, barely half a length back in fourth after a far less smooth run than the winner’s, will be there but the O’Brien filly  has been generally frustrating so far this year.

Aiden will have his usual blanket coverage at Royal Ascot this week when there is little doubt that victory for Order of St George will be among the principal aims. There will be no Big Orange to foil his delayed quest for a second victory in the race unlike last year but the quirky Frenchman Vazirabad and John Gosden’s Stradivarius pose obvious challenges.

Royal Ascot always represents the mid-point of the Flat racing year, with car park activity before and after racing celebrating the approach of the year’s longest day. I hope to take up invitations to Jamie Osborne (“Tuesday or Friday, usual spot”) and Brian Meehan (Wednesday), same location, but it all gets a bit hectic. I wonder how I ever got on when I had to write about it, do the tips for every race and bet on all of them – not always the ones I’d selected for the Daily Telegraph readers either?

I enjoyed a ride in Jamie’s gallops car in Lambourn last week, marvelling at his ability to travel up a dirt road at above 30 mph, anticipating and accommodating the regular speed bumps and still keeping the five horses in the work sufficiently in his camera phone screen for me to receive a What’s App recording immediately afterwards.

Raymond Tooth was encouraged by the representation of the display of his home-bred Pour Moi colt, Waterproof (ex Laughing Water), and this first foal might have a bit of a future. On one hand Pour Moi has been swiftly re-branded as a jumps stallion at Coolmore’s NH division: on the other, he was sire of the 2017 Derby winner Wings of Eagles, so clearly he can get a good one given the right ingredients of nature and nurture.

Saturday night was interesting. I’ve never been to Fontwell for a race starting at 8.55 p.m. but that was the assignment of Ray’s lightly-raced Starcrossed in a handicap hurdle stretching up to nearly two and a half miles for the first time.

Compared to the much more experienced and improving staying mare Rebel Yeats, he clearly has plenty to learn as a quite serious mistake at the third flight showed. That meant the gelding and Harry Skelton (who had ridden the two previous winners) forfeited first run to the 10lb claimer-ridden winner, but Starcrossed stayed on resolutely up the hill to get within a length and a half.

Dan Skelton reported him in great shape on Sunday morning and will no doubt be scouring the final days of Volume 2 of the Programme Book 2018 for a quick return. More realistically, he might wait until early next month to find the winning opportunity he strongly anticipates for the Cape Cross six-year-old, bought cheaply on Steve Gilbey’s inspired hunch at Newmarket sales in October 2016 and already a novice hurdle winner at Huntingdon on the second of just four runs.

So enjoy Ascot, whether you are there in person or watching on the box. One normal regular attendee of my acquaintance is staying away in favour of blanket home absorption of all things World Cup. Hope he’s been laying the short ones! [No comment! – Ed.]

 

Monday Musings: If it wasn’t for bad Luck…

Nick Luck on Sunday should be required viewing every week on Racing UK, writes Tony Stafford. This Sunday the show conveniently wrapped around racing from Hong Kong featuring Graham Cunningham who seems to have settled seamlessly into the racing there after a long career on this side of the pond, in more recent years as a regular on the channel.

In my case, disciplined as ever, I usually miss most of it. Yesterday the first segment included Hugo Palmer, who according to his stable jockey Josephine Gordon, also on the show before her dash to Goodwood, had to attend a party so left precipitously. I didn’t begin watching until after Hugo’s departure unfortunately.

That left Luck, soon, believe it or believe it not, to attain the unimaginable age of 40 with Gordon, tipster Maddy Playle and Hughie Morrison, with emphasis on the last-named’s trials and tribulations with the BHA courtesy the Wolverhampton steroids case.

As both interviewer and interviewee readily attested, the affair could easily have ended with Morrison’s losing his licence under the “strict liability” rule even though almost nobody believed the trainer likely to have been in any way involved in wrong doing.

Morrison believes it was his previously unblemished disciplinary record and the access to (if not ownership of) the excessive funds needed to challenge the BHA’s in his mind dilatory approach to the making available of evidence that ended with a satisfactory if expensive outcome on his part.

He talked about “£5,000 to send a letter and £25,000 to arrange a meeting with a barrister and the BHA”, figures which would take the cost of possible justice “far beyond the reach of most trainers”. Far beyond reason if you ask me.

Hughie, who trains three horses for my boss Raymond Tooth, also readily attested that few owners expect to make anything like a profit from their horses but that they should expect to be treated much better on the racecourse than was previously the case. He says, though, that the situation is improving at a number of courses.

Morrison cited the new facilities for owners at Cheltenham and Newbury – both top notch – but could easily have included Ascot and York at the upper end as similarly exemplary. I was at Haydock on Wednesday and that course provides another enjoyable experience for owners, but the five and a half hour trek back down the 50mph limit blighted M6 was less tolerable.

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That was after a disappointing sixth place for Raymond’s and his partners Dilip Sharma and Shahpur Siddiqui’s Laxmi in a fillies’ maiden race over six furlongs. Harry Bentley reported afterwards that she found the going too firm and the trip too short and the fact she did rally late on after getting outpaced seemed to support that opinion.

Laxmi could have run in any number of different types of two-year-old races, being an auction buy (£42,000), and also a product of a stallion (War Command) whose progeny qualify for mid-range median auction races, as well as the now ubiquitous novice contests.

The same cannot be said of all juveniles. In the old days, most races for two-year-olds at this stage of the season were either maidens or winners’ races. This year, the BHA’s race planning division – you know that part of the executive which scheduled afternoon meetings on Saturday at Haydock, Beverley, Catterick and Musselburgh to make it simple for northern trainers and racegoers – have thrown the programme into almost total reverse with previous winners being allowed into most races, both for two and three-year-olds.

Hughie Morrison was more concerned with the older division, complaining that inexperienced, later-developing maidens in their early days are habitually confronted by pattern-class horses totally schooled in racing. He reckoned most novice races for three-year-olds now go to previous winners. He implied that all this is doing is offering additional easy pickings for the most powerful stables – step forward Mr Gosden, and he does!

As an attempt to try to put myself into a trainer’s place, I had a look at the 57 two-year-old races over six furlongs in Volume 2 of the Programme Book for 2018. In order of availability there were 21 novice races, 12 novice auction, nine novice fillies’, five maidens, three each novice median auction and novice filly auction, two for maiden fillies (including Haydock last week) and one each median auction maiden and median auction fillies’ maiden.

The five maiden races were interesting. The first is at York this weekend, a Class 3 that carries a £15,000 prize fund and will therefore be very hard to win. The others are at Brighton, Windsor, with two (in a course series) at Hamilton. In all only nine are confined for maidens out of the 57. For home-breds that didn’t go through a sale to secure a mark for auction races, their opportunities are also limited, in my opinion unnecessarily so.

**

A few weeks ago I rather unfortunately chose Jeremy Noseda as an example of a small-to-medium size trainer who habitually takes on the big stables with excellent hopes of success. I was pointing to his forthcoming proposed challenge with the high-class, Phoenix Thoroughbreds-owned Gronkowski for the Kentucky Derby, even though news had come out the previous week that his colt had suffered a setback and would miss the race. I missed the news! It needed the better-informed resources of the Editor to prevent total embarrassment in this quarter. For Noseda it could hardly have gone worse in the interim.

Subsequently Phoenix, presumably in a pique that the Derby challenge was off, removed all their horses, including Gronkowski (three for three this year) and Walk in the Sun (two for two), along with 12 others. The latter has joined Martyn Meade, while the useful Lansky has gone to Robert Cowell.

It must have been galling for Noseda to read in the build up to Saturday’s Belmont Stakes from new trainer Chad Brown that Gronkowski came to him in wonderful condition. But that would have been nothing compared to his feelings after Gronkowski came from a long way back on his delayed US debut to get nearest to Justify as that brilliant colt gave Bob Baffert a second Triple Crown in three years following American Pharoah in 2016.

After some quiet times it seemed that 2018 would herald a major revival in Noseda’s fortunes. Understandably, following the removal of pretty much all of his best and certainly most expensive horses, his yard seems almost to have ceased operations with no runner since the unplaced Laughing Stranger at Newmarket on May 17. One can only hope that a mid to late summer surge will be forthcoming.

Monday Musings: Derby Fallout

Almost 12 years on from riding his first winner on the Paul D’Arcy-trained Bank on Benny at Salisbury on September 27th 2006, William Buick fulfilled all the aspirations of his friends and family, not least his father Walter, when driving home Masar to win the Investec Derby at Epsom on Saturday, writes Tony Stafford. He has rightfully earned his place in the Annuls of the Turf.

Scots-born Walter had to relocate to Scandinavia and, for a while, Germany where he trained to make a decent living, but he was always determined that young William would make it over here. Regular school holidays to the UK put him in contact with potential future employers, but also introduced him to a few Press Rooms, notably Newbury, where he met a number of racing journalists.

Walter’s numerous connections – not to mention his son’s obvious innate riding talent - helped secure an apprenticeship with Andrew Balding, where he’d been a regular holiday visitor for years. However, when the young Buick, not exactly totally at home speaking English in those days, started out he found the rides hard to come by.

Buick senior is traditional jockey-short in stature and while William was to grow to considerably taller, in his mid-teens he weighed barely 5st. Bank on Benny opened the flood gates, or so Walter thought, but getting on for a month later, that was still the state of play, while the reaction to him at the Jockey School was not always too positive either.

The person who pushed William’s career forward more quickly than would have been the case was a former trainer who sort-of shared Sunday’s Racing Post’s front page with Buick’s Derby win.

By mid-October 2006 Walter Buick was getting desperate – in the true sense of the word – and I managed to put him in touch with a small trainer, based at Exning near Newmarket. That person had already had his first Group 3 winner – his Blitzkrieg beating the previously-unbeaten Dylan Thomas, the future Arc winner - in a two-year-old race at Salisbury a couple of years earlier. Prior to training, Vince Smith was a journeyman jockey specialising in winning the Jersey riding championship both on the Flat and over Jumps.

You might have thought that this would be the impetus for Vince’s career, but owner Richie Baynes, a major nurseryman in East Anglia, decided to sell Blitzkrieg to Hong Kong and then soon after remove the rest of his string.

Anyway, in the remainder of the 2006 season, wins on the Dave Clayton-owned Vacation on November 3rd and December 2nd, interspersed with a Balding-trained success on Lordswood on November 13th, did have the effect of bringing the young jockey, whose struggle to carry the saddle back to weigh in tested his fortitude, to more general attention.

Then it clicked. In the last fortnight of the year Buick rode six more winners, including a double on December 16th, which were the prelude to him amassing 67 victories the following year. Of his 94 total rides in the year, Vince Smith provided 19, not just encouragement, but useful match practice. By contrast William had only 11 rides for his boss. Without Vacation, the start would have been even more hesitant, although the outcome for this highly-personable young man was always written clearly in the stars. It also helped that he was given an invitation to spend the winter riding in the US early in the piece.

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So where was Vince Smith on the Racing Post front page? Like all his friends – and he trained the last winner in my old red colours, coincidentally Richie Boy in the 11.25 a.m. race at Warwick on a Saturday morning in 2004 – I was shocked when I heard he was going to live the rest of his life as a woman.

Now as Victoria, in yesterday’s article he gives Steve Dennis chapter and verse about the whys and wherefores and also the physical steps he will be taking to make the total transformation. I had no idea it would happen and I’m happy that I had an hour or so in the owners’ tea room at Newmarket back in the spring to listen to his detailing the constant anguish he suffered for all his adult life while we all thought him first and foremost a ladies’ man. Having had my 18 stitches out (ouch) last week after my minor surgery, I’ve been imagining what Victoria will have to endure over the coming months and years. I wish her well.

Buick fits comfortably into the Godolphin operation as does their other main rider, James Doyle. Like Buick, Doyle and his sister Sophie, who has done extremely well as a jockey since relocating to the US, are from a racing family, mother Jacqui having trained before latterly devoting herself to her son’s career. Their father Bill Perrin trained jumpers in the East Anglia region.

James and Sophie were often to be seen around Huntingdon racecourse when the Perrins had a runner and when that marriage failed, Jacqui started a stable in Lambourn backed for a while by my old Eton Manor opening partner, Tom Ford, who remains a racehorse owner and a person ever ready for the chance to offer criticism of my fielding prowess of 50-odd years ago to anyone who will listen.

After the Guineas this year I bumped into Jacqui Doyle and she was with Charlie Appleby’s mother, who I learned used to train point-to-pointers in Devon and that was where and when her son had his first win as a rider. Mrs Appleby admitted to her pride in her son’s career, but knew he craved a Classic winner above all else.  That’s happened and now, like young Buick, they will find themselves in a different category.

Charlie Appleby has been with Godolphin for 20 years, for a while with David Loder when he trained, and it must be interesting that so long after those days, the sales purchases that come his and Saeed bin Suroor’s way are jointly sourced by Loder, with Anthony Stroud now reinstalled at the centre since the departures of John Ferguson and earlier Simon Crisford, and with John Gosden as the supreme arbiter.

Saeed’s irritation at what was perceived as an imbalance of talent in the two-year-old intake of last season will not have been assuaged by the sight of the highly-approachable and modest Appleby at the top of the trainers’ table with more than £1.6million in prizemoney from 44 wins and 131 runs, and 33 individual winners from 70 horses. Saeed’s £116k from 15 wins and 66 runs, and 11 winners from 40 individuals must make frustrating reading, bearing in mind the glory days, although he does seem happier with the present crop of juveniles.

But nobody in Godolphin will be anything other than euphoric this morning. Back in 1982, soon after we met in Kentucky for the first time, I sat in a car outside Richard Casey’s livery yard in Dullingham near Newmarket with Sheikh Mohammed and (now Sir) Michael Stoute when the Sheikh was waiting to inspect the young horses about to go into Freemason Lodge.

At one point the Sheikh looked over and said, and this is a sentence I’ve never forgotten: “It doesn’t take just three years to build a stud operation, it can take 30!” Until Saturday and the home-bred Masar, I often found myself saying to myself: “And you’re not there yet!” Now, in New Approach, admittedly a  son of Galileo, but one that they recruited along with Jim Bolger as a way to circumvent their own self-imposed ban on Coolmore pedigrees, they’ve bred a Derby winner from their own Derby winner. True it has taken 36 years, but nobody’s counting any more.

I’m sure that when the disappointment of whatever caused Saxon Warrior’s eclipse – and I did find his pre-race unease in the paddock with some pretty scary raising and pushing forward of first one then the other hind leg towards the front of his body slightly alarming – the common sense among the defeated tribe might reflect that this will help keep the other major player interested.

Going forward it will be interesting to see whether Saxon Warrior will be campaigned again at a mile and a half. Certainly middle-distance Aidan O’Brien Classic-standard colts – though not fillies – are thinner on the ground than for some years. It would be no surprise if Mark Johnston steps in at The Curragh with the ultra-tough Dee Ex Bee.

On the subject of Mark Johnston, his filly Main Edition, almost four lengths too good for the boss’ and his partners’ strong-finishing filly Laxmi on debut at Windsor – as told last week – stepped up with a fast win against colts at Goodwood on Friday night. She won by a similar margin to Windsor’s and the obvious merit of the win can be gauged by the six-length debut romp half an hour later of the Roger Varian-trained filly Impulsion. It took her almost two seconds more – around ten lengths – to complete the six furlongs. Maybe a few will be frightened of Laxmi when she goes to Haydock on Thursday!

Monday Musings: Cut it out!

The clock was ticking on towards 3 p.m. last Wednesday, and the staff in Theatre 1 of Homerton University Hospital’s Day Stay Unit – I think that’s its correct description – prepared yet another patient for surgery, writes Tony Stafford.

Actually surgery is rather stretching the point for what was a minor procedure to excise a tumour from said patient’s forehead, except that the patient was your correspondent. An atmosphere of good-humoured professionalism pervaded, but then one of the female assistants to the surgeon confessed to being a little worse-for-wear after a long day at the battlefront between the NHS and the hordes of patients that make never-ending demands on its resources.

“I can’t wait to go home”, she said plaintively, to which her boss replied: “You’ve still got three hours to go.” “I know”, she sighed, adding: “But when I do get home, I’ll have a massage. I have a man to do that, just for the back”.

Already shrouded, in advance of anticipating the various agents of the surgeon’s trade, I couldn’t help but ask, to somebody I’d never actually seen: “Do you have another man for the front?” a question that got general mirth from the other female attendees, and an admission from the surgeon: “I was thinking that too, but didn’t dare say it!”

Having promised to show me the offending cancerous intruder, it was with a little disappointment when 45 minutes later, after the endless number of stitches was finally applied, I was advised to wait a while before swinging my legs off the bed. My first sight was of the surgeon, scrupulously honest with all my questions during the procedure, already walking away to his next appointment.

It could have been anything or anyone. In the initial stages after my 12.30 p.m. arrival at reception, with around nine others I was settled in a small, private cubicle awaiting the initial consultation. It was more than an hour later that one much younger man – in for a vasectomy, poor lad – was getting quite irritated that he might not be out in time to collect his car, as the parking time was up at 2.20 p.m. He was pushed forward a little, but was probably in for pain on more than one front.

The chap next to me, who I did see beforehand, was told by his surgeon – not mine – he would have the one on his (BCC like mine I assume) cheek removed, but he would have to wait until another time for them to do the one on his nose. “And hang on,” the doctor said, “You have others on your front. Could I look at your back? Wow, they’re all over. You’ll have to have them all biopsied!” In that moment I resolved to stay covered up for the rest of my life, just imagining what horrors awaited the poor man over the coming months.

After discharge, I was expected to wait two days for the dressing to come off, which it finally did on Friday night. My wife reminded me that the previous time, four years ago when a more substantial intruder was removed, it had been bleeding profusely as soon as I got home, and by 9 p.m. my head seemed to have swelled to almost one and a half times its normal size, requiring a drive back to the hospital and a night-long wait for attention.

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This time there was no bleed, but on exposing the wound, I saw that there is a three-inch line, not too straight either, above the right eyebrow. Cosmetically the last one can hardly be noticed, even by the doctors, but this time I’m going to look more like a victim of the 1950’s gang wars of the West/East End of London.

Before signing off last week I did offer some racing intelligence, suggesting that Laxmi, owned in partnership by Raymond Tooth and his Star Sports Mayfair betting shop pals Shahpur Siddiqui and Dilip Sharma, would run a good first race at Windsor last Monday night. The filly, from the first crop of Coventry/ Dewhurst winner War Command, has Saturday’s Irish 2,000 Guineas runner-up US Navy Flag in the dam’s side of her pedigree.

The prediction proved well-founded, as after a slow exit and at least half a furlong to get organised, Laxmi came through fast and late and just failed on the line to get second behind impressive fellow-debutant Main Edition who is destined for the Albany Stakes. Despite being substantial punters, Messrs Siddiqui and Sharma had never previously tried ownership in the UK, but they have certainly entered into the spirit of their new pastime.

“Sharps” as Bobby (the Taxi) Gray, his constant companion when in the UK from his business base in Dubai, calls him, came alone (with Bobby). Dilip though had half a dozen friends and family with him. To say Dilip’s first contact with ownership was exciting was an under-statement. Both new owners posed for pictures in the winner’s enclosure afterwards and then the rest of Dilip’s entourage stepped in to record the moment, and were still there with the patient filly long after the “horses away” call.

That was probably the most encouraging aspect for a debutant. Calm before the race – her groom almost had to drag her around the paddock – she was equally relaxed after the exertions, never showing any sign of irritation at the succession of human celebrants. Bobby, whose brother Johnny, a one-time jockey with Brian Swift was also there to offer professional insight, reckoned when the filly runs again, Dilip will need 40 owners’ badges not six! My thought was if that’s how much they all enjoyed her finishing third imagine how they’ll be if and when she wins?

You always know from trainers’ entry patterns what they think of their horses, and the fact that Brian Meehan suggested Haydock on Wednesday fortnight as her next objective certainly filled me with excitement. He often runs his decent animals there, and won the corresponding Haydock race with Blue Bayou two years ago.

Talking of Bobby the Taxi, he was destined to meet for the first time at Windsor, Harry the Cab (Taylor to regular readers) and as ever prominent on the box as the coterie of Aiden O’Brien jockeys was instructed before yesterday’s Irish 1,000 Guineas.
Both are black cab drivers of long vintage, Harry being far senior, and they both live in Chigwell, on the north-east borders of Metropolitan Essex, just off the M11. It was strange that they had never met before as they have numerous mutual friends and acquaintances, most notably Maurice Manasseh, former County cricketer, businessman, racehorse owner and close friend of Michael Tabor for most of their adult lives.

I’ve no idea whether Maurice, back at base in Star Sports, joined in the each-way support of Laxmi, but I do know that nobody in the world would have cheered more loudly when Gareth Bale, a client of Maurice’s son David and partner Jonathan Barnett, bosses of the Stellar Group, smashed in the overhead kick to kill off Liverpool in the Champions League Final on Saturday night.

I did intend making my racecourse comeback at Lingfield tomorrow when Brian initially pencilled in Ray’s home-bred juvenile My Law for the maiden fillies’ race, but on second thoughts he has decided to wait for a race on turf.

My Law, a full-sister to the promising but as yet non-winning Sod’s Law, and half-sister to the useful handicappers Dutch Art Dealer and Dutch Law came into Manton several months after the sales intake last year. According to Meehan and especially assistant trainer James Ferguson, she is catching up fast.

Ferguson, son of John and until last year’s Godolphin upheaval, filling a similar position with Charlie Appleby, singled out Steve Gilbey, Ray’s right-hand man in the restaurant after Monday’s race and said: “My Law is going to surprise a lot of people.” I hope he’s right. Certainly, so far, our return to Manton where Ray had plenty of success in the past, has rekindled the boss’s enthusiasm. It helps greatly that he has two new partners who also happen to be friends, to keep up the optimism.

Monday Musings: When The Fun Stops…

Anyone who has regularly waded through these jottings over the past six years or so will probably believe that my professional life has been one of many more ups than downs, writes Tony Stafford. However, thanks to an inability to equate a decent knowledge of horse racing and before that greyhound racing form with sensible gambling, I’ve spent much of the past 50 years in various stages of distress.

As the self-righteous ads in the racing press and in the television bookmaker ads say: “When the fun stops, stop”. What they really mean is: “When the money runs out, stop.”

Fourteen or fifteen years ago, in one of the deepest troughs, my son plucked up the courage to suggest I tried to find a branch of Gamblers Anonymous. Around six months of regular Monday night meetings in a church hall in East London went a long way towards curing me of my worst excesses. It helped though, that the money truly had run out.

What imprinted itself on my conscience were the stories of the dozen or so fellow sufferers, with their various illnesses and obsessions, much like drink or drugs. The compulsion to have the next bet whether on horse racing, greyhounds, betting shop machines, at bingo or in casinos, was common to all of us.

One very nice woman came along only sporadically, but the memory of her fall from grace, which she readily admitted, must always have been with her. She’d been in a position of trust in the accounts department of a small company and to fuel her compulsion to play the machines and bingo, she’d embezzled quite a large five-figure sum. She admitted that it was only by a degree of mercy by her employers that charges were not brought, but she would need to pay back the money over time, which she was doing. Hopefully that process will have had a happy conclusion by now.

Others of them, and there was quite a wide age and social background spread, would be in betting shops from start of play until the close, a bit like my own story at the time of my greatest level of betting activity, more than 30 years ago. Still others would bet on-line, bearing in mind that it was relatively early days for that activity.

With all of that in mind, I’ve always hated the presence of the FOTB machines in betting shops. Next year the limit of a single unit stake will be reduced from the present £100 to £2, causing some of the major bookmakers to scream that “up to 4,000 shops might have to close”. That in turn, they say, will lead to a serious reduction in prize money from horse racing.

To paraphrase one insider last week: “If our wonderful sport needs the FOTB machines to be allowed to ruin lives as they undoubtedly do, then that is too big a price to pay in human terms.”

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The scale of the money the machines rake in is not only obscene to my mind, it defies belief. I rarely go into betting shops, but one friend, who lives in a town in the East of England, gave me two recent examples that he swears are correct.

One regular, after two winning turns, lost all the previous profits and then some, putting £22,000 in cash in a single machine in one day. Another punter, who apparently would struggle to verify his source of income as honestly earned, lost £5,000 on his own debit card and systematically racked up similar losses with five family members’ cards.

During the Cheltenham Festival last year, Harry Taylor and I wanted to find somewhere to watch a Champions League match. The only place in the small town we found was a betting shop, and there was just one other person in there, betting compulsively on every race, be it domestic horse racing, US racing, or dogs. Me all over: 1980’s style.

There was a single member of staff on duty that evening, and his main task, coming up to closing time was to empty the machines. I always understood that there was a maximum of four per shop, but I’m sure, by some device, this shop managed to have at least double that. The £20 notes came out in a thick bundle from each machine and the manager - as the only one there he qualified for that title - confided that they could take up to £6,000 in a single week.

That’s a handy £300,000 a year, so the bets they take on the various forms of racing in relative terms are a flea bite in comparison. Yet the few successful horse racing gamblers who regularly make a profit quickly have their accounts closed, and often only a fraction of their requested bets accepted.

With a £2 minimum stake, given the quick repetition time on the machines, it will still be possible to lose a nice amount of cash; it will just take longer to lose it than is possible now. Coming back to “When the fun stops, stop”, the same observer says that every week he sees machines being punched and pushed over, such is the frustration and anger, hardly surprising, with the fact they are “tailored” to guarantee a decent profit for the shops.

“Many years ago,” he recalled, “one friend of mine found one of the earliest machines and three weeks in a row on a Saturday, he lost all his wages in it. After the last episode, he went away, returning with an axe. He broke the machine, took out the money and was lucky that the manager, who had tried to make him stop, accepted the loss.” Clearly, it’s only fun when you win.

Over the years, I’ve noticed some unlikely machine punters. My friend Peter, once fairly regular in casinos, can be found playing Rainbow Riches with the best of them at times, while at least three trainers, one retired, to my knowledge have if not an obsession, certainly an affinity for the machines.

Naturally, though, there will be no corresponding limitation to on-line casino betting once the changes come through. Predictably, the bookmakers were immediately on their guard when it was suggested that any short-fall resulting from the reduction to a £2 maximum unit bet could be made up.

*

I might be tempted to have a tiny each-way tonight at Windsor on the Brian Meehan-trained two-year-old filly Laxmi, owned by my boss Ray Tooth, with two new partners, Messrs Siddiqui and Sharma. She’s a daughter of War Command and worked nicely at Manton last week. Most of Brian’s are running well and she could out-perform what seem like generous odds on the overnight markets.

Monday Musings: Harry’s Knight To Behold

After last week’s eulogy about the continuing success and imagination of the Coolmore operation, I got a gentle nudge from my editor, saying “other stud farms are available”, writes Tony Stafford. At Lingfield on Saturday, one such stud, Abergwaun Farms, took centre stage with its home-bred colt Knight to Behold, impressive winner of the Derby Trial for the Harry Dunlop stable.

It was the second win in the race, now only Listed, but a Group 3 back in 2005 when Kong won for Abergwaun and Neil King. Trained by John Dunlop, Harry’s father, Kong beat the Michael Tabor-owned Walk in the Park for his only career success from 21 starts. After 14 runs from Dunlop’s stable he was sold for 65,000gns, proving a severe disappointment for Sublimity’s trainer Rob Hennessy in Ireland.

Walk in the Park didn’t do much better on the track. His only success in 15 races was as a juvenile, trained by John Hammond in France, in a one mile minor event. A week later he was third in the Criterium International at Saint-Cloud.

After Lingfield, the pair went on to the Derby, Kong finishing a remote last of 14 under Richard Hughes, but Walk in the Park far outstripping any other performance when a five-length runner-up to Motivator. Two years after Epsom, he even tried hurdling for Hammond, finishing fifth of eight in a newcomers event at Auteuil, an experiment which was never repeated.

Of course, as a stallion he has produced umpteen good jumpers, and in the case of Douvan and Min, two Willie Mullins-trained champions. John Hammond was at Newmarket for the Guineas meeting, and I had a quick chat with him about Walk in the Park, a son of the brilliant Montjeu, whom memorably he also trained for Michael Tabor.

John said: “The problem with Walk in the Park was that he could never quicken, and that’s true of his progeny, even Douvan and Min. Obviously they are very good but they just do not have instant acceleration.”

It is odd to think that when Walk in the Park finished second at Epsom, he was three lengths ahead of Dubawi, racing at a trip longer than a mile for the only time and palpably failing to stay. Dubawi won five of his other seven starts before becoming the international stallion Godolphin and the Maktoum family needed to go head to head with Galileo over the past decade.

Sadler’s Wells was the sire of Galileo and is also the maternal grandsire of Knight to Behold, a son of Sea The Stars, another of the supreme racehorses of the modern era and a half-brother to Galileo to boot.

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Neil Jones has had his greatest success to date with Millenary, the 2000 St Leger winner for John Dunlop. Such was his durability, Millenary gained his 12th and final win from 35 starts as an eight-year-old in the 2005 Doncaster Cup. As a late-starting stallion Millenary has been a decent producer of staying jumpers, Last Goodbye winning a €50k pot at Leopardstown in February. In the UK, Brother Brian has done well over jumps for Hughie Morrison.

Harry Dunlop might have been destined for training greatness, not only because of his parentage and as brother of Ed, trainer of Ouija Board and Snow Fairy, but also as a godson of Sir Henry Cecil. Warren Place was one of a number of learning locations, and Harry was a well-liked pupil assistant there when the Thoroughbred Corporation had horses of the order of Royal Anthem, Oath and Dr Fong in the stable around the turn of the century.

He continued his education elsewhere, but made his best career move when marrying Christina. In his web site he relates that one of his greatest triumphs was when he showed his wife’s pig to earn a third prize in the local show. The graduate of Cirencester Agricultural College confesses his alternative career would probably have been horticulture.

As many well-connected young aspiring trainers have discovered, you need luck to succeed and the day that Dunlop, via Anthony Stroud Bloodstock, paid €47k for the Con Marnane pin-hook Robin of Navan, he was provided with the impetus he needed.

The first trick was to get him sold, and he could hardly have done better in that the four-man partnership included Peter Deal, a long-standing owner who won the 1997 Champion Hurdle with the Martin Pipe-trained Make A Stand.

Robin of Navan, as a French-bred, was immediately targeted at races in his country of origin, where ordinary events carry significantly better prizemoney than in the UK and also generous premiums for owners. To date, his five wins have all come in France, with the Group 1 10-furlong Criterium de Saint-Cloud providing a decent percentage of the half a million he has won so far - without the premiums!

I made a silly decision at Chester last week, offering my Horses in Training 2018 book for what I thought would be a brief look by Harry Taylor. Bet he fell asleep once he got past Jeremy Noseda. Of course he didn’t return it yet, so I’ve no idea if the 40-odd horses Harry Dunlop raced in 2017 is matched or even exceeded this year.

What I do find slightly odd, is that Pirate King, to my mind one of Lionel Holliday’s home-bred stallions around the 1960’s and Roman Warrior, a champion sprinter for Nigel Angus at the end of that decade, now reside in the Dunlop yard. Both are owned by Daniel Macauliffe & Anoj Don. One assumes they are racing history nuts like me.

Also in the yard, once home to Nicky Henderson and Peter Walwyn, is the Dutch Art filly, Laura Kenny, named after the multiple Olympic champion cyclist, formerly Laura Trott and owned by Velocity Racing.

When a couple of weeks ago I suggested to George Hill that maybe he would authorise a small portion of the mounting pile in his coffers to buy into a certain racing partnership, he responded: “Too late, Liz <wife> has been persuaded by James Fry <International Racing Bureau> to go into a two-year-old filly with Harry Dunlop”. Later, after her debut at Kempton, he said, “Everyone loves Harry!”

Well if Knight to Behold can produce a performance to match his runaway Lingfield win when the heavily-backed and strongly-fancied Kew Gardens could never get in a blow, everyone truly would love Harry. At any event, he will provide an interesting sidebar to what has become the province of the big guns. Whether he can trouble Saxon Warrior, now down to odds on, might be beyond him, but where there is a possible question mark on the favourite’s stamina, with the Lambourn horse there’s absolutely none. Good luck Harry, Neil Jones and Richard Kingscote, who gave him such a fine, opportunist ride last week.

Monday Musings: Sunday Silence and the Daddy

When you watch American racing – not that I do very often these days – it is always obvious that when there is a tight outcome, any deviation off a straight line by one of the protagonists is treated with unsympathetic correctitude, writes Tony Stafford.

Memories of those middling-to-far-off evenings in the old Racing Channel studio around the corner from London’s City Road – Old Street junction, scene of my schooldays at Central Foundation Grammar School – bring back overwhelmingly-superior winners being unceremoniously and totally-expectedly taken down.

On Saturday at Churchill Downs, poor old Ryan Moore (can we call him that?) and the Coolmore team’s Mendelssohn were given such a buffeting at the start; on the way to the first turn, and apparently just at the bend, that he never had a chance to add to his Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf and UAE Derby (on the Meydan dirt) triumphs on a rain-drenched night in Kentucky.

Step forward Luis Saez. He and his mount, the Todd Pletcher-trained Magnum Moon, have been identified as the catalyst for the mayhem which brought Moore such initial difficulty. From a single viewing it looked as though after such a rough introduction, Ryan had battled his mount valiantly into a reasonable position quite close to the turn but then came out of it mysteriously a fair way back and was never happy thereafter.

So while one Scat Daddy colt trailed home last of the 20 – one place behind the initially-swerving Magnum Moon – another, the favourite Justify, was always in the first two; led four furlongs out and was never troubled to maintain his unblemished record.

Favouritism - he started a shade under 3-1 on the local Pari-Mutuel – was guaranteed a long way before the off. I remember on my sole trip to the Kentucky Derby in 2002 we were gathered in the paddock for at least an hour before War Emblem went out to do his stuff, gazing up at the giant odds board. For the whole of that time the prices for the 20 runners barely fluctuated.

It left such an impression on me that when I was in the studio for the following year’s race, I had cause to question the normally-erudite James Willoughby. He said with a decent while to go before the race: “The prices could still change quite a lot”. I felt qualified to suggest, rather too forcibly I fear, that like Exit Polls in UK elections, these very large samples are almost set in stone.

This re-telling of an old story is not used to imply excess knowledge on my part. Rather it is to rebuke UK bookmakers for their treatment of punters aiming to back Mendelssohn.

A year ago, almost as a mark of respect to the great statesman after whom last year’s 2,000 Guineas winner was named, I stopped off at Woodford Green, close to the statue for the area’s former MP Sir Winston Churchill, and bought a nice piece of fried fish in Churchills fish shop, having first looked in on the odds on that evening’s big race in Churchill Downs.

My interest, though not for a bet, was on Thunder Snow, also previously winner of the UAE Derby, but in his case, only narrowly, whereas Mendelssohn won his renewal by 18 lengths. In the event, Thunder Snow proved intractable, and once leaving the gate, rather than run with the others, did a fair impression of the bulls which are specially trained to test the skills of the rodeo riders in the Wild West shows.

Whatever assailed him there, Thunder Snow bounced back three weeks later to chase home Churchill in the Irish 2,000 Guineas; was third just ahead of him in Barney Roy’s St James’s Palace, and more recently won the Dubai World Cup, beating the Bob Baffert-trained favourite West Coast by almost six lengths.

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On Saturday, having dropped off Mr Taylor at his car in Loughton, I retraced my steps, satisfying my unfathomable need for further sustenance with a battered sausage in Churchills and then looking in again on William Hill’s shop across the road. I was amazed to see him quoted the 11-4 favourite.

Ridiculous, I thought, but upon asking the counter assistant whether an SP bet would be settled at “industry” or American odds, was told that William Hill prices would hold. A long time before the race, Justify was clear market leader at 3’s with Mendelssohn one of a trio around 6-1. He ended up 6.8-1 on the machine, but less than half an hour before the race, was showing 9-4 with most bookmakers on the Oddschecker facility on the Internet. Larceny of the highest order, I would call it.

What with the shenanigans, intended or otherwise, of Senor Saez and his errant mount, and the corporate “price-fixing” of the UK layers where the Ballydoyle colt was concerned, his backers were the gambling equivalent of drawn and quartered. Fortunately the boys and their trainer have seen it all before, so Aidan’s pledge that the colt will return for the Breeders’ Cup Classic back at Churchill later in the year was both reassuring and realistic.

I cannot imagine whether the identical plan for the Roger Teal-trained and Mrs Anne Cowley-owned and -bred Tip Two Win will bring too much trepidation for O’Brien, but the small grey Dark Angel colt certainly gave the awesome Saxon Warrior a race when runner-up in Saturday’s 2,000 Guineas just ahead of the favourite, Masar. Roger and his intrepid owner deserved their 30 minutes of fame and Mrs Cowley pledged once more that her little champion will never be sold. Who says racing is not for the small owner?

Like Justify, Saxon Warrior is unbeaten with four from four, and like his American counterpart, could have Triple Crown pretensions, although it’s much less likely to be attempted on this side of the pond, with an honourable mention of its closest recent attempt by Camelot, whose stock predictably are on the up. This was Saxon Warrior’s three-year-old reappearance, unlike Justify who became the first colt to win the Derby for 136 years without having run as a two-year-old. Apollo in 1882 was the last.

Justify and Mendelssohn are, as mentioned above, both from the penultimate crop of the much-lamented Scat Daddy; and as the television screens showed the deluge from Churchill – three inches fell during the day – it reminded me of a similar day’s weather when I attended a party arranged before the day at Monmouth Park 11 years ago when a broken leg tragically ended George Washington’s career. I believe the host for the party was James Scatuorchio, the original owner and latterly partner with Michael Tabor in Scat Daddy.

Scat Daddy’s racing career had ended with an 18th place in the Kentucky Derby that May, but he went into Ashford stud the following season for a $30,000 fee. As is normal with untried stallions, the early years are tough commercially, so by the 2011 season, when his first crop was about to be launched, the fee was down to $10,000.

From then until his untimely demise in late 2015, when the price for his 2016 matings had already been fixed at $100,000, his progeny have far out-performed those limited expectations. Had he lived, with the quality of the runners since, it would have been more like $400,000 by now.

Saxon Warrior’s emphatic win on Saturday proved yet again what brilliant and imaginative people run Coolmore. He was one of the first examples of the bold decision to send a number of Group 1 winning mares to be mated with Deep Impact in Japan. At a stroke, a much-needed outcross source for the many high-class mares, particularly daughters of Galileo, seems to have been established.

That top-class son of Sunday Silence was foaled late in his sire’s long career in Japan at the Yoshida family’s farm in Hokkaido. I had the good fortune to get a trip to Japan in the early 1990’s and saw Sunday Silence winding down at the end of his first year’s residence.

Back in 1989, Sunday Silence won the first two legs (Derby and Preakness) of the Triple Crown, but failed in the Belmont as was often the case until American Pharoah came along two years ago to end the void since Affirmed in 1979. Both times he beat the favoured Easy Goer, his major rival, before losing the argument by eight lengths in the Belmont. Finally, by defeating Easy Goer in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, he earned championship honours.

A disappointing four-year-old campaign left US breeders generally unmoved, but Shadai had already bought an interest and he was shipped to Japan where he became the perennial champion stallion, a position Deep Impact has inherited a decade and a half after his father’s passing.

Deep Impact might conceivably have had another European Classic winner if his diminutive daughter, September, had been able to take her place in yesterday’s 1,000 Guineas. She was very unlucky when a fast-finishing runner-up in the Fillies’ Mile over the same course and distance behind Laurens, herself runner-up yesterday behind Billesdon Brook, at 66-1 the longest-priced winner of the race.

As with Saxon Warrior, who had won the Group 1 Racing Post Trophy over a mile at Doncaster last autumn, the May Hill Stakes over that course and distance at the St Leger meeting provided the fillies’ Classic’s winner. Billesdon Brook, trained by Richard Hannon, was twice successful at Goodwood last year, showing finishing speed and determination to win a handicap and then a Group 3. After those runs, fifth at Doncaster behind Laurens was probably a disappointment. She certainly put it all together up the hill yesterday and never looked like being caught.

I’m off to Windsor this Bank Holiday Monday to see if Sod’s Law can confirm what we’ve long hoped might be above-average ability. Raymond Tooth and Steve Gilbey are coming too, so let’s hope he’ll at least go close. Apres Le Deluge has been entered for Market Rasen on Friday. As the only previous winner in the field he has to be interesting, but there are some well-connected and quite pricey newcomers to worry about. Hughie Morrison can do it if anyone can.

In between it’s off to Chester, to check whether the scoff in the owners’ room remains up to standard. For me, it’s the best anywhere.

Monday Musings: Join The Racing Club

I know that at least 25 people see these ramblings every week – I send them to that number of friends and acquaintances and they get them, errors and all, without the benefit of the editor/proprietor’s editing, writes Tony Stafford.

We both – the prop and me - like to think that a fair number more see them on the website pages. [We have metrics for that, and I know they are! – Ed.] Two weeks ago, when I  saw fit to explain why I’d be missing the opening day of the Craven meeting, I was more than surprised at quite how many people outside that inner 25 wished me well for my forthcoming little bit of surgery to remove the latest BCC from my person.

This early morning, I’ve tried to calculate how many weekly offerings I’ve made and it appears that they’ve been going since at least May 8th 2012. Even that might not be the starting date as in that piece I referred to Matt Bisogno as though we’d already been associated for some time.

But at any rate, it’s at least 300 articles. When I start something I like to stick to it. A couple of years after my second marriage – coming up to ten years ago already – my wife suggested the fact that my first had lasted for more than 30 years had been a positive rather than negative recommendation. This time, hopefully, it will last!

But I have to admit, the lead-up to this article has been the hardest of all the 300. I’ve found it almost impossible to sleep lately, as for the past few months I have been the agent of causing an almost impossible situation for one of my longest-standing friends.

The wintry weather in the North of England has probably been an even more malign influence on the situation in which Wilf Storey finds himself. On the heels of his best-ever season, most wins and highest prize money, I came up with the idea of the Wilf Storey Racing Club and that’s where the problem started. But from early December, it’s been a case of rain washing out the gallop, before almost permafrost in January and February. Then it was snow, blown in drifts across the moors, so when it had cleared in the south it was still stacked four-feet deep in places behind the stone walls at Grange Farm, Muggleswick, while impassable roads often prevented staff getting in to work.

When it’s nice there, as it was two weekends ago on my latest visit with the sun shining with malicious deceit just 24 hours after the previous day-long deluge made the gallop unusable for the umpteenth time, it’s lovely. But, for Wilf and family, it was only a couple of days since the open-topped van came once more to collect the many dead new-born lambs too weak to withstand the rigours of the never-ending winter.

January to March had been the launchpad for Storey’s 2017 campaign, taking advantage of the newly-instigated Newcastle Tapeta to get the horses going. They didn’t all appreciate the surface, but its proximity, less than 40 minutes by horse-trailer, opened up a new opportunity. Previously the nearest all-weather surface was at Southwell, 150 miles away.

Wolverhampton is more like two hundred and, as when Nelson’s Bay ran an amazing race, finishing fast into third as a 20-1 outsider in the 8.45 finale one night in early December 2014, Wilf’s daughter and assistant trainer Stella was forced to stay behind with jockey Emma Sayer for at least an hour and a half before officialdom would release them after an inquiry as to whether the horse had tried or not. They made it back sometime after 2.30 a.m.

Emboldened by the 2017 results, we came up with the idea of the Wilf Storey Racing Club, not so much a club as a syndicate or partnership. We had the six horses, all sourced by me via Raymond Tooth, and all with form and handicap ratings. Only one of the six, Climax, had any soundness issues, having been injured when with Mark Johnston in the previous year, but now fully recovered. The other five - Adrakhan, Nelson River, French Kiss, Betty Grable and Tarnhelm - all ran regularly last year.

For the past 33 years, ever since he called out of the blue to the Daily Telegraph to ask whether  Fiefdom might be for sale, I’ve been struck by his honesty, loyalty, and the ability to get the best out of the animals in his care.

As a noted stockman Wilf always reared cattle and sheep; branded cattle, bought, trained and sold “flappers” and even raced greyhounds for a time. He could easily have won “One man and his dog” as his mastery of developing sheepdogs to control the herd of sheep which has more than subsidised the horse training business for years is peerless.

Fiefdom, after a break, was eventually secured from me and in no time at all developed from a 0-75 miler to a staying hurdler in the high-120’s winning three Ekbalco Hurdles. As a result of the impression that single phone call made, in between those events, I reacted to being told by Rod Simpson to give away two of “my” horses – I hadn’t paid Malcolm Parrish for them, or the other eight yet! – as they had been “mucking about” on the gallops.

Asking whether he had anyone with “two grand for Santopadre”, Wilf replied, as he pretty much has every time I’ve asked the same question in the intervening decades: “No.” He went up there anyway and after an initial Musselburgh run where the grey showed unexpected talent in a seven-furlong race, Wilf schooled him over hurdles.

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In those days I was buying quite a few horses for Terry Ramsden, and he was alerted when Santopadre – seriously unfit as originally I was hoping to set up a handicap coup of sorts on the Flat – lined up for his jumps debut at Hexham, in a selling hurdle.

Shortened up from 20-1 to 13-2, Santopadre got up on the line, and then followed up with two more wins. First he beat stablemate (a £500-odd Doncaster buy) Stars Delight - later rated in the high 150’s - in a Newcastle claimer, before winning a Wetherby novice under a double penalty by 15 lengths, after which Ramsden bought me out. Santopadre was fifth in that season’s Triumph Hurdle, not quite getting home after looking a threat to all going to the last.

It was at this time that Jockey Club security requested an informal meeting with me at Ascot racecourse. Their starting proposition was that this character Wilf Storey had suddenly started having heavily-backed winners and their “information” was that the horses were still actually being trained by Rod Simpson. I told them having known Rod, an excellent stable man, for many years, in my opinion, admittedly on much shorter acquaintance, Storey was the superior horseman. Their information, I told them, was nonsense.

The bargain theme continued with Great Easby, I forget whether it was £1,000 or £2,000 from the late Robert Sangster for the son of Caerleon who’d been totally devoid of pace and ability in training with Peter Chapple-Hyam at Manton. Wilf won Flat staying races at places like Goodwood, Haydock and Kempton as well as the 32-runner Gold Card Hurdle (now Pertemps) at the Cheltenham Festival with him.

The Sangster connection has a more recent chapter. In the days when I still went every week to watch Brian Meehan’s horses on gallops Thursdays, I was always struck by one horse whose work seemed unbelievably moderate compared to everything else. His name was Card High, and after a final humiliation, Guy and Ben Sangster were advised to “get rid of him” by the trainer. “I know someone who’ll take him,” I piped up, and off he went to Co Durham. It took time and TLC to turn the decently-bred animal into a racehorse, but as usual Wilf found the key and Card High had a great 2016, winning Catterick’s valuable mile and a half handicap in the autumn. Card High was off for a long time last year, but is one of two Storey stayers lined up to give the team their initial runner for several months on the same track on Wednesday.

The other is Mr Sundowner. As regular readers will know, I’ve often joked about the “only Scat Daddy in Muggleswick”. The last two-year-olds by that ill-starred stallion, who died two years ago, went through the ring at Tattersalls Craven Breeze-Up sale last week and fetched up to 900,000gns with several others from half a million upwards.

We paid 600 quid for Mr Sundowner and last year he followed Card High by winning the same Catterick race, among four handicaps Wilf won with the former Newmarket discard.

So now here we were. Wilf was telling me: “Stella says we’ve never had horses of the quality of these. They’re all well handicapped, eligible to run where they can win and the prizemoney situation is better than before”.

So the plan was set. “Make them as decent value as we can, and with affordable training fees.” I would speak to my contacts and friends. We needed 20 people  – 5% shares of £1,800 and training of just £240 a month, first two months up front  – working out about a third pro-rata of many of the syndicates advertised in the Racing Post and on sites like Racehorses for Sale.

We chose that medium, and the first day, a man from Liverpool said if he took six shares (30%), would he still have to pay two months in advance? I started life in a Council estate, so should have realised that Mr Liverpool might not be serious. He wasn’t.

Right at the start of this over-long ramble, I mentioned Matt B, and have to say that all through the months of would-be preparation, making the web site right and factually accurate and honest, Matt said, only one thing matters, getting the members over the line.

It’s slightly embarrassing to have a mentor three decades one’s junior, but that’s Matt to me. He was so right, and for the past 10 weeks, what I thought to be potential members have slipped through the fingers, each subsequent week putting Wilf in more serious financial strife.

I believe Betty Grable, trying a new more suitable longer trip, will run very well at Newcastle next week and seven-year-old Adrakhan, a winner over hurdles with Dan Skelton; twice successful on the Flat last year, and according to Stella still improving but rated only 48, will be out soon too.

The two big boys, Nelson River and French Kiss, are potential three-year-old stayers with the physique to go jumping later in the year. The fear is they will have to be sold to arrest the financial drain on Wilf, for which I will be eternally ashamed.

The luckless 25 who get this unadorned each week, will see these words. I hope the Editor, whose own syndicates have done so well, and on whose pro-forma our Agreement has been closely based, will allow this one try at publicising the awful situation into which I’ve placed Wilf Storey, his family and staff.

Wilf has no doubt that if we can get a few people in all will be well. The horses will do their own advertising once they get on the track. The sun’s been shining in Muggleswick for the past week – let’s hope it’s not just to mock the efforts of the most admirable person I’ve met in my long life. So one last plea: look at wilfstoreyracingclub.com and see the pictures of the horses and the entirely truthful write-ups of them all. Thanks, and sorry to be so long-winded. It won’t happen again, I promise!

On a slightly different tack: after that unlucky run at Aintree, Theinval did indeed as predicted win at  Aintree, but naturally not on the Friday, which we knew about last Monday morning. He was unlucky again that day, landing slap bang on a faller. Of course, he turned out yet again the following day and won. Better late than never I suppose.

- Tony Stafford

 

Editor's side note: I have had horses with Wilf for four years. Not only is he great value in terms of training costs, but he is also one of those rare breeds who have forgotten more about stock than the likes of me will ever know. He's a humble gracious man and, most importantly in this context, a bloody good trainer! If you happen to live in Scotland or the north of England, it's a pound to a penny that you won't find a better opportunity to indulge your racing passion than this. With six horses running, the likelihood you'll have an option to go racing as an owner at least once most weeks through the flat season. I'm joining today - Matt

Monday Musings: An Unconventional National

Did you enjoy the Grand National meeting? I did, although it was one of the less conventional Aintree experiences of my existence, writes Tony Stafford. I didn’t go up until the Friday; disappeared north-easterly after racing, only returning to Liverpool the following morning. Then, instead of watching the race first hand, with some friends, I followed the first five races on the big screens of the Sir Thomas Hotel by the waterfront before setting off home, and listening to the big race on the car radio.

Top-class racing often doubles up with entertainment these days, especially in the summer, with many other tracks following the example of the long-established Newmarket Nights. At the Cheltenham Festival, arrivals at the main entrance were treated to a highly-talented female duo performing from a rooftop above the doorway and in the Sir Thomas, the gaps between races were filled with a brilliant singer/guitarist, Paul Hand, who must have sung more than 30 numbers in his six stints before making way for each of the race commentaries.

At least 100 party-goers were booked for lunch, but our local host, Scouser Bob, had the inside track and manage to persuade the management to allow us to order some food to go with the cocktails – J2O’s in my case. The snag was that half our group had to leave in time to get to Anfield, so the food did not arrive before they left. It hadn’t come by the time we set off at 4.45 either, but sometimes the anticipation is good enough.

It is only by going racing that you get the full experience, of course. On Friday, in the owners’ room – thanks Alan Spence for the tickets! – there was a premium on seating, but an accommodating gentleman who I was sure I’d seen many times before, made room for a little one.

Upon my inquisitiveness, he said he was a friend and near neighbour of Paul Nicholls who always kindly manages to get tickets for himself and his wife, who appeared not to be at the track. His name was John Bolton and he said I might have heard of him in relation to the Frankie Dettori seven-timer back in 1996.

I hadn’t, but on my return home I looked back and sure enough, there were stories on the internet of the fateful day 22 years ago when John was going racing at Ascot while his wife Mary was spending the day shopping in London. Mary was the Dettori fan and somehow they decided on a bet involving doubles and an each-way seven-horse accumulator.

The bet, struck with Ladbrokes, actually came to a theoretical £930,000, but the couple were more than happy to accept the firm’s then daily limit of £500,000. John Bolton seemed a thoroughly-genuine, under-stated chap and it was no surprise when reading the back story to discover Mrs Bolton worked with disadvantaged children.

I felt I also had a little input, in that at the time I had just finished ghosting Frankie’s account of 1996, A Year in the Life. In those days pages were not as easily changed as nowadays, and the full run was already set, if not in stone, in type. We had to add a chapter starting something along the lines of: “Just when I thought….” As you can guess, the relevant volume is no longer in my possession.

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I digress… The 2018 Grand National will be memorable for many reasons. I expected it to be something of an easy touch for Total Recall, but it didn’t take a clairvoyant to realise he wouldn’t be winning after the first few fences when his jumping technique proved totally inadequate. I doubt he’ll have a Recall next year.

Listening rather than watching, there was the feeling that there was a fair amount of carnage, but analysis of the result tells us that of the 38 horses that set off, only six actually fell, one of them because he was short of room.

Five more unseated their riders, and two of these, including my 66-1 long-shot Lake Windermere, were badly hampered. You could hardly blame the only two to be brought down, including the strongly-fancied Blaklion, who ended the hopes of connections, his legion of backers and his breeder Mary Morrison, when taking the opening fence right in the path of Perfect Candidate, the only other victim there.

Thirteen more pulled up, including Total Recall who got to the second last before being allowed by Paul Townend to ease off. Of the 12 finishers, my other each-way shot was the fellow (to the winner Tiger Roll) Gigginstown representative Road to Riches, at 50-1, who was a gallant sixth. Should have gone to Specsavers – certainly not to William Hill, who only paid down to fifth!

There will have been plenty of British-based trainers who would have been having a bit of a giggle when thinking back only just over a year to the bleating of Gigginstown’s boss Michael O’Leary, saying Phil Smith, the soon-to-be-retired senior BHA handicapper, was treating his (and other Irish) horses unfairly. O’Leary went as far to say he wouldn’t allow his trainers to run them in those circumstances. The Irish had the first four over the line, and five of the first six (eight of the twelve finishers in all).

Maybe it’s a shame he didn’t stick to his guns, as he does in the management of his airline, Ryanair, where if you want something remotely extra it’s a case of pay, pay, pay! Scouser Bob passed on a nice joke on Saturday. Michael O’Leary went into a bar, and outside there was a notice saying: Guinness 50p a pint. “Is that right?” says O’Leary. “It is,” replies the barman. “I’ll have a pint, then” says O’Leary. “Will you be wanting a glass with that?”

The weather for much of the country has been anything but a joke. Going across the Moors from the Cumbrian village of Tebay adjacent to the M6 across to Wilf Storey’s in Muggleswick, all the streams were running fast and there were still on Saturday morning the last isolated remnants of what by all accounts has been snow of biblical proportions.

It’s only now starting to dry out with temperatures creeping into double figures and at Hedgeholme Stud, the new location for the Raymond Tooth mares and young stock, evidence of what has gone before remains obvious.

The good news, though, is that the three foals so far born are thriving and the very flashy Mayson – Lawyers Choice colt, thus a full-brother to Sod’s Law, who ran well enough when fourth on his Kempton comeback last Wednesday, and half to Dutch Law, looks well up to the family standard.

Anyway, as I look across the rooftops from my office this morning there’s a bright sky promising more Flat-racing friendly weather for Newmarket and Newbury this week, and also less demanding ground for Cheltenham and, hopefully, Ayr’s big Scottish Grand National meeting.

Not much went wrong for Nicky Henderson with his host of Aintree Grade 1 wins, but one that should have won but didn’t was Theinval. If he turns out quickly again at Ayr on Friday there must be  very high hopes of a successful recovery mission.

Monday Musings: Sod’s Law!

Once upon a time I thought I had a decent memory, writes Tony Stafford. Not quite total recall, but pretty good. Yet nowadays it’s anything but. For example I was recently given a couple of slim bright red volumes of Copes Racing Encyclopaedia (properly ae-diphthong-ed) for 1958 and 1960. Copes were one of the old football pools companies as well as bookmakers founded in 1895.

The 1958 version, apart from telling me that as long ago as 1957, the Queen was Leading Owner on the Flat with a handsome £62,000 in prizes, from 30 victories including the Oaks with Carrozza, and subsequent stallion Pall Mall, has many more compelling reminders of a different era.

One I’m sure I spotted was a snippet that mentioned a young Irish apprentice, Tim Hyde, who rode his first winner for Harry Wragg. When I saw the said Timmy Hyde at Cheltenham last month, he told me he came to Newmarket aged just 15. I promised to bring along the pertinent book to the Craven meeting, but ever since, I’ve been scanning the pages and cannot find the relevant passage.

During our Cheltenham chat, I told him that on my first Cheltenham visit, Persian War won the Champion Hurdle and L’Escargot the second division of the Gloucestershire (now Supreme) Novice Hurdle. Timmy reminded me he had been on Kinloch Brae in 1970 when L’Escargot won the first of his two Gold Cups. Kinloch Brae, in the Arkle colours of Anne, Duchess of Westminster, started favourite and according to Timmy “would have won”, had he not fallen three fences from home.

A week after Cheltenham, Timmy, best known for running Camas Park Stud, put on his other hat, as trainer, and won with both his runners at Limerick. Incidentally, my friend Harry Taylor managed to be on each of the beaten favourites. The following day he told me: “I backed two horses yesterday. Guess who beat me both times? Timmy Hyde!” It didn’t make Harry feel any better when I pointed out they were Hyde’s only winners of the entire season so far.

I started about Total Recall. I presume the now-Willie Mullins-trained nine-year-old of that name collected the label from the 2012 film, a remake of the 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger original. I saw the later offering only the other day and for a while wondered where I’d last heard the phrase.

While Native River and Might Bite were exchanging blows at the conclusion of the Gold Cup last month, I thought they might have had something to think about if Total Recall had not crumpled on landing after an apparently secure jump four from home – one after Kinloch Brae’s departure almost half a century before.

Until that point David Mullins had started to move his hands almost apologetically by which time Total Recall had moved comfortably into a closing sixth. On Saturday, in the Randox Health Grand National, he runs off 156 and 11st 4lb, 3lb behind Anabale Fly, who stayed on strongly into fourth after the race was almost over at Cheltenham. I’ve heard pundits reckon Anabale Fly is well treated. If he is, then Total Recall must almost be thrown in, but of course in this race that’s a difficult premise to justify.

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Total Recall started with the late Dessie Hughes, before switching to Dessie’s daughter Sandra, only moving to Mullins on Sandra’s retirement. Before Cheltenham, three races had brought three wins, the second in the Ladbroke, the first of that sponsorship following Hennessy’s departure. Native River was the last horse to win the Newbury feature during the Hennessy stewardship.

I’ve never stopped marvelling at the Irish handicapper allowing Total Recall to run off 125 in a quite valuable handicap hurdle at Leopardstown – of course he made all – a couple of months after that Ladbroke victory off 147. That day he beat Oscar Knight three lengths at levels. Oscar Knight was my very confident fancy (at 16’s if you please) off only 136 for the Irish Grand National on Easter Monday, and was, naturally, brought down at the fifth.

Although there are signs that after all the bad weather of the winter, it’s warming up, there’s still not too much dry about. The forecast at this stage for Aintree this weekend is soft. We were hoping that Apres Le Deluge (after the storm/deluge), a home-bred son of Stormy River, might be an appropriate contender for Friday’s bumper. But Sod’s Law, he rolled in his box on the night before his final prep workout and banged his joint. It’s doubly irritating for all of us, especially Hughie Morrison, who laid out the plan soon after the gelding’s easy Hereford debut win last December.

That came three days after another home-bred of Ray Tooth’s, Sod’s Law – see, it all links up! – beat all bar subsequently-Hong Kong-bound Rusper in the middle of that Jamie Osborne horse hat-trick at Kempton. That was a first try for Dutch Law’s half-brother, who got within a short-head without P J McDonald exerting much more than token pressure in the closing stages.

Sod’s Law will have his first run since then in the Kempton seven-furlong novice race, sure to divide on Wednesday evening. If he is anywhere near as good as his brother, and so far the signs are promising, then he’ll be worth keeping an eye on.

The proximity of Punchestown, a little earlier than sometimes later this month will naturally restrict the number of leading Irish horses coming to Aintree. One whose staying away would not be regretted by potential opponents is Samcro. He easily won the two miles, five furlongs Neptune Novice Hurdle at the Festival when On The Blind Side was a forced absentee after a minor injury.

Similarly unbeaten, it would have been interesting, to say the least, for the Gordon Elliott – Nicky Henderson rivalry to have been tested again last month. I’ve no idea whether On The Blind Side will take his chance as Henderson has other options, but he started his career for Alan Spence with an Aintree win before more demanding Cheltenham and Sandown assignments, both easily accomplished.

I’ve always enjoyed Aintree, seeing many Grand Nationals and backing and tipping quite a few winners of the race, too. I made my first appearance as Mr Tooth’s Racing Manager there 11 years ago for Punjabi’s second placing behind Katchit, his Triumph conqueror in the Juvenile race. Sadly, I was unable two years later to witness first hand his Champion Hurdle win as I was at Moorfields Eye Hospital following up a detached retina operation.

Age catches up on all of us, and for the start of the Craven – happily restored to three days, Tuesday to Thursday next week - I’ll be absent again on medical grounds. This time it’s an assessment of a second basal cell carcinoma – skin cancer to you. The previous bout - a few years ago - involved lots of stitches, above and below the surface. It didn’t hurt much – till they took them out, that is. [Mend well, Tony - Ed.]

 

Monday Musings: The Quest for the Roses

“It could only happen to Michael!” Those words, spoken to me by Victor Chandler after Thunder Gulch, owned by Michael Tabor, had astounded everyone in racing when he won the 1995 Kentucky Derby, were repeated many times in the days after that unlikely success for a hitherto small-scale English owner, writes Tony Stafford.

Trained by Wayne D Lukas and ridden by Gary Stevens, Thunder Gulch narrowly missed out on what would have been a first Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1977 when only third to stable-companion Timber Country in the Preakness before his Belmont Stakes success.

Thunder Gulch died two weeks ago at Ashford stud, Coolmore’s Kentucky base and his home throughout his own long stud career. Before his amazing Derby triumph, any thought that Tabor would ever be teaming up with John Magnier in the Coolmore ownership group would have seemed fanciful in the extreme. Yet that Run for the Roses was the catalyst that brought the pair, joined later by Derrick Smith, together and to their unchallenged position at the top of the thoroughbred world.

Ashford is also home to American Pharoah, the horse that finally ended the 38-year US Triple Crown drought three years ago. By the time he had completed that feat and long before his Breeders’ Cup Classic victory at the end of the 2015 campaign, he had been partially acquired by Coolmore. He shares with their outstanding European stallion Galileo the distinction of a “private” stud fee for the 2018 covering season.

One of the enduring oddities of the international racing calendar is that the first Saturday in May is the traditional date for both the Kentucky Derby and the 2,000 Guineas. In the days of Concorde it would have been theoretically possible to attend both – the five-hour time difference more than making up for the three and a half hour Mach2.5 Atlantic crossing - but you would have needed some heavy duty transfers.

But after Mendelssohn’s UAE Derby extravaganza on Saturday night at Meydan, there can be little doubt that Tabor, John Magnier and especially Smith, in whose colours the $3million colt runs, will be unlikely to forego Churchill Downs for the Rowley Mile, however compelling the prospects of unbeaten Saxon Warrior, or any one of half a dozen Ballydoyle colts that might pitch up for the Qipco-sponsored Classic.

The Coolmore story, and especially the last 20-odd years of it, is one of continuity. When Demi O’Byrne paid $200,000 on Tabor’s behalf for a yearling colt by Hennessy in Kentucky in September 2000, he was beginning a process that was to culminate in those astonishing events on Saturday night in Dubai.

Johannesburg won all six of his races as a juvenile in Europe, starting at Fairyhouse; going on to Royal Ascot for the Norfolk – the only time he started odds against – before winding up domestic and UK operations with an easy Dewhurst victory.

In hindsight, it seems crazy that he could have been allowed to start at odds of 36-5 for his juvenile swansong in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on the dirt at Belmont, but that was entirely because of the reputation – I would have been talking it up, for sure – of the Thoroughbred Corporation-owned Officer, trained by Bob Baffert and a 4-6 shot after easy wins in Californian and then the Grade 1 Champagne at Belmont.

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He flopped on his big day, however, and so on balance did Johannesburg the following May. After a soft-ground comeback defeat at home, he was only eighth of 20 behind War Emblem, Officer’s stable-companion also owned by Prince Ahmed Salman’s Thoroughbred Corporation, in the Derby. That remains my only time to attend America’s greatest race and, as I was part of the TC’s entourage, it remains one of my best memories in racing.

Johannesburg was promptly retired and with his pedigree and Grade 1 dirt win, it was pretty obvious he would be based in the US. It didn’t take too long for Scat Daddy to arrive. Todd Pletcher was the buyer when he came up at the same Keeneland September sale, five years almost to the day that his daddy went through the Lexington ring; and for a similar sort of price, $250,000.

The new owner was Joe Scatuorchio and his colt was campaigned at a high level, winning the Grade 1 Champagne at Belmont before finishing fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Gulfstream, Florida, behind wide-margin winner Street Sense. Pletcher also had Circular Quay running in the Tabor colours and this Doreen Tabor homebred started favourite, having upset the odds-on Scat Daddy when they met earlier in the season.

Both colts turned out for the Derby the following May, Circular Quay again faring better, albeit only sixth behind Street Sense, who completed the Juvenile - Derby double with an emphatic win from Hard Spun and subsequent champion, Curlin.

Presumably with the Johannesburg element to encourage him, Tabor bought into Scat Daddy and the immediate success of such as Caravaggio and Lady Aurelia quickly promoted his status within the Ashford stallion hierarchy. He had been upgraded to a $100,000 fee before a fatal accident curtailed what subsequent events show might have been a career in the Galileo mould.

Until Saturday night, that comment may have seemed over-doing it a touch, as equally might the $3million paid by M V Magnier for Scat Daddy’s yearling colt out of Leslie’s Lady, back at Keeneland’s September sale, 10 years and two days after the sire’s acquisition and 15 years and four days on from granddad’s.

But then Leslie’s Lady had already produced Beholder, whose racetrack earnings after 18 wins from 26 career starts were a touch short of four million sterling. She won three Breeders’ Cup races, from age two to six, all at Santa Anita, and Mendelssohn has already emulated the first of those, winning the Juvenile Turf last November.

Aidan O’Brien wisely brought him out for an all-weather prep at Dundalk early last month when Threeandfourpence and Seahenge were also in the field before both joined him in Dubai. The margin over the former was a modest three-parts of a length at Dundalk, Mendelssohn conceding 5lb. It would probably not have mattered if he had been giving five stone on Saturday as once Ryan Moore got him to the front, there was nothing Gold Town, favourite after two home wins for Charlie Appleby and Godolphin, or anything else could do to prevent the Irish horse’s lap of honour.

It is still easy to picture Arazi’s spectacular Juvenile win around the outside of his field all those years ago, but equally his Kentucky Derby defeat. In Mendelssohn’s case, the ever-widening gap had stretched to more than 18 lengths by the line, and was achieved in a time more than two seconds better than ever previously recorded in the race’s history as a nine and a half furlong affair.

O’Brien senior already has umpteen Derby’s and untold Group 1’s in his locker while elder son Joseph is the Melbourne Cup’s youngest winning trainer. Just what will Donnacha, and sisters Sarah and Ana have in store for us in the coming years?

Now the Kentucky Derby beckons. Johannesburg begat Scat Daddy; Scat Daddy begat Mendelssohn. It’s Easter and there’s almost a biblical theme to it all. If any family was destined to achieve yet more history and become the first Irish-based trainer to win the race, Aidan O’Brien’s undoubtedly is. As is Johannesburg’s!

Monday Musings: A Jungle in the Bungle?

About a couple of months ago, I was at Mick Channon’s West Ilsley stables, watching his most forward two-year-olds doing a brisk canter up the hill, writes Tony Stafford. At that stage Mick possibly hadn’t got all their identities a hundred per cent to memory even if younger son and assistant, Jack, had.

So as the string started back down the incline, he called to one of the Indian lads: “What’s that one by?” which prompted the reply “Jungleinthebungle!” Of course he meant Bungleinthejungle, a name I was no more than vaguely aware of, despite the fact that it was only six years ago the son of Exceed and Excel won four of his nine runs as a two-year-old.

After laughter all round, I gave away my imperfect memory asking, “Who trained that?” Mick put me in my place saying: “I did. He could be champion first season sire!”

Needless to say, the malapropism has stuck and the chestnut colt out of the Oasis Dream mare Princess Banu was duly named Jungleinthebungle. Casting my eye down the 13-strong field in Saturday’s first-day juvenile feature, the Brocklesby Stakes at Doncaster, the presence of three of that young stallion’s progeny was an indication of likely precocity.

The fact that none of the trio is from West Ilsley, or that any of them could do better than Carey Street’s sixth place, does not invalidate Channon’s prediction. When I spoke briefly to the stable on Friday in response to an enquiry about the Pour Moi – Ms Cordelia filly that Mick trains for the boss, it might have been an idea to ask his expectations for the Clodovil colt, Izzer, who was about to represent the stable.

The following afternoon, having watched from the Newbury racecourse betting shop as first Addeybb won the Lincoln in a hack canter and then witnessed Izzer land a gamble, allegedly from a morning 14-1 down to 4’s, that lack of  inquisitiveness was a source of real frustration.

Mick has three by the sire, whose biggest wins were in the Molecomb at Goodwood, where he was a 14-1 shot despite already having two victories in his locker. Then, after narrowly going down to Sir Prancelot in the Flying Childers, he got the better of subsequent Group 1 winner Garswood in the Cornwallis (Group 3) at Ascot.

Unlike Garswood, Bungleinthejungle failed to train on and stands at €5,000 at Rathasker stud in Ireland. Izzer, bought from Tattersall’s Book 3 sale by Gill Richardson, Channon’s long-term sales advisor, for only 11,000gns, was named in the trainer’s ownership in the recently-published Horses in Training 2018 book, which I collected from Rupert Mackeson’s Marlborough Bookshop’s stall outside the Newbury weighing room on Saturday. He had been passed on to David Hutt and Chris Wright by the time he turned out at Doncaster. I hope Mick got a nice turn on the deal.

The arrival of the book – I had usually collected a copy during Cheltenham, but having left the first one in a box minutes after buying it last year, necessitating a second, I waited a week. There’s nothing quite like the anticipation of discovering which stables are thriving while others are doing less well, but the tendency of quite a few to be reticent takes away some of the validity of the publication.

Trainers such as Mark Johnston and Richard Hannon are completely up front, understandably perhaps with their teams well above 200 – in Hannon’s case 261; Johnston a more modest 221.

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For several seasons, Richard Fahey has had comfortably the biggest number in his ever-expanding stable, but disguises it by neglecting to add his two-year-olds to the 119 listed aged three and above. This season, for the first time, John Gosden has also gone down that route, owning up to 126 older horses, but keeping the identity of the youngsters to himself.

It is unlikely that we’ll be seeing too many of that age from Clarehaven much before May, but since the Godolphin shake-up which led to the departure of John Ferguson last year, Gosden has been the prime figure for Godolphin at the sales. It must be highly likely that some of the more expensive acquisitions might end up with him rather than Saeed bin Suroor or Charlie Appleby.

Fahey, predictably, was quickly off the mark on Saturday with one winner, and two more yesterday from the 17 runners he had on Town Moor. He also sent a handful over to Naas for their opening turf meeting of the year, but one third place was the best he could manage.

It will probably take Roger Teal at least a couple of months to send out 22 Flat runners, but he was off the mark on turf at the first attempt before Fahey’s last-race success. That came with 50-1 shot (100-1 on the Tote) High Acclaim in the Spring Mile, consolation race to the Lincoln. His winning time was barely half a second slower than Addeybb’s an hour later and from his present low mark, High Acclaim can continue to provide further proof of his trainer’s talent.

Last week I touched on the advertising benefits of sponsoring jockeys, and there is no doubt that the highly-consistent David Probert, who rode High Acclaim and will be continuing his blossoming partnership with Teal’s Tip Two Win in the 2,000 Guineas, is value for money with geegeez.co.uk’s support. Tip Two Win remains one of the few possibles outside the mainstream stables for Classic success after two sparkling wins in Qatar over the winter.

The early positioning of Easter does give some continuity to Flat racing, providing a bridge from Doncaster to the Craven. As well as the well-endowed All-Weather Championships meeting at Lingfield on Good Friday, Newcastle (rather than Musselburgh, which waits a day) and Bath also provide opportunities.

Then on Saturday, three more Flat meetings, Musselburgh’s turf being supplemented by Kempton’s all-weather card featuring the Rosebery Handicap and Magnolia Stakes, both £50k guaranteed affairs. That evening’s racing at Chelmsford might tempt holiday fans if the east wind stays away from its wide-open spaces.

And jumping enthusiasts still have a fair bit to look forward to, with Aintree and Sandown’s season-ending fixtures to come. Before that, on Saturday, Haydock stages a seven-race card, the first six races of which are Challenger Series Finals over all disciplines and distances, three each chases and hurdles. All six Challenger races carry £50,000 total prizemoney. It will be interesting later today to see which trainers have kept some resources back for these tasty opportunities.

Finally, another book that has recently come my way is the well-received latest effort by Jamie Reid, winner of the William Hill Sports Book of the Year in 2013 for “Doped”. “Monsieur X” is the tale of the audacious French aristo, Patrice des Moutis, who courted the acquaintance of many of French racing’s leading figures, in his quest to make a fortune from the Tierce bet from the late 1950’s to the 1970’s.

My friend Prince Pippy, who was the Paris correspondent for The Racehorse when I edited that late lamented publication, knew Patrice well. “He would park his car right outside the main entrance at Longchamp, Chantilly and even Royal Ascot and Newmarket, and everyone who was anyone would come up and talk to him, often accepting the glass of champagne he always offered,” he said.

Reid has, as ever, skilfully woven his tale, and the story of de Moutis’ battles with the authorities, fully chronicled in the French papers of the day, as they tried to stop his regular big wins, will leave older racing devotees – no names – with a deep nostalgia for former times.

Monsieur X, by Jamie Reid, Bloomsbury, £18, hardback.

- Tony Stafford

Monday Musings: Teddie and the Fez Jocks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday Musings: Chunky, Kalashnikov and the Snail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday Musings: Onset of the Big Thaw

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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