Monday Musings: A Global Game

Racing at Sandown on Saturday was like going back in time at least 30 years, writes Tony Stafford. Traffic built up a couple of hours before the early start; car parks were packed but then came the major difference: going into the track, racegoers were funnelled through a narrow opening where the Saturday staple drug-detecting dogs had a sniff at everyone.

I don’t know whether the course releases details of the number of non-admissions as a result of the screening policy but at the time I survived the examination it was all pretty good-natured, as it remained throughout.

The main attraction obviously was the return to action of the peerless Altior in the Betfair Tingle Creek Chase. The sponsors’ yellow scarves were draped around many shoulders but did little to nullify the effects of a downpour during the running of the race.

With only four contestants it might have been a relative non-event, but in the form of Un de Sceaux, such a reliable adversary, the champion was faced with a serious test.

When Ruby Walsh gathered the Irish 10-year-old for his run for home it looked as though Altior might struggle, but once the acceleration which has characterised his entire career kicked in, there was only one possible outcome. Altior won by four lengths with the other pair, Saint Calvados – who took Un de Sceaux’s customary position at the front for almost half the race, and Sceau Royal a respectful distance behind.

As all three remain among the immediate group of possible beneficiaries should Altior lapse from his present level in next March’s Queen Mother Chase at Cheltenham, it is understandable that Nicky Henderson’s eight-year-old is now odds-on for that race.

The entire Sandown card provided entertainment as did the track executive’s decision to broadcast on the big screens all the action from Aintree complete with Mark Johnson’s commentary. Often going racing means you lose track of what is happening elsewhere and while you needed rather more research to dig out Chepstow, Wetherby and Navan, it could be done.

I’ve always had a good crack at solving Aintree’s Becher Chase puzzle believing that previous visitors to the Grand National fences often hold an advantage. A field of 18 included a few with decent claims and, of these, previous winners Vieux Lion Rouge and Ultragold again performed with credit, unlike Blaklion who never recovered from an early mistake and trailed home in 11th spot.

With the ground all over the country suddenly having gone to soft or even heavy, I decided to have a late, brief look for a suitable light-weight and landed on the Robert Walford-trained Walk in the Mill, a son of Derby runner-up Walk in the Park, sire notably of Douvan and Min.

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When Call It Magic, trained by Ross O’Sullivan, husband of the enchanting Katy Walsh, as seen on Luck on Sunday yesterday, was still well clear at the third-last fence, victory seemed probable. That was until you noticed Walk in the Mill, who found a strong burst around the outside and by the penultimate fence he looked unassailable. Denied a run in last April’s big race by an injury, he will be a contender next time round.

One For Arthur, the 2017 Grand National winner appeared on the Aintree card, in his first outing since, but in the Betway Many Clouds Chase over the smaller Mildmay fences. Unfortunately he blundered and unseated Tom Scudamore at the third fence leaving prolific winner Definitly Red to make all under Danny Cook. Brian Ellison has the Gold Cup firmly on his agenda.

Willie Mullins looked the trainer to follow in Ireland yesterday, with established and emerging stars sprinkling both the Punchestown and Cork cards. Mullins is fortunate to have – apart from a stable chock-full of brilliant horses – two authentic champion jockeys. So Ruby Walsh, fresh from his multi-tasking at Sandown, was at Punchestown, while Paul Townend took the road south to Cork.

Townend got the better of the day numerically winning four races while his senior colleague had a favourites’ treble. Townend was off with a rush, collecting the first two maidens with Maze Runner and Come To Me for his boss, then teaming up with Pat Fahy to collect the Hilly Way Chase (Grade 2) with Castlegrace Paddy after Mullins’ 4-7 shot, Great Field (Jody McGarvey), departed at the second fence.

Then Camelia de Cotte made it four in the mares’ novice chase before what looked a certain five-timer was narrowly denied in the finale. Here, Mullins’ well-backed Eight and Bob strolled clear before two out in a 20-runner novice handicap hurdle, but a scruffy jump at the last was all the encouragement fast-finishing Ronald Pump and jockey Robbie Power needed to get up late.

The aforementioned Min was the centrepiece of Ruby’s Punchestown treble, but the multiple former champion needed all his steel to overcome some tactical room-denying by a couple of his rivals coming to the closing stages of the John Durkan Memorial. In the end Min had a little to spare over Gordon Elliott’s Shattered Love and, with stable-mate Footpad, is one of the leaders in the group paying homage to Altior among the two-milers.

Sunday was an uncharacteristically barren day for Elliott, with none of his 12 runners getting top spot after three the day before at Navan. The last straw must have been the defeat of odds-on Santana Plessis in the concluding Pro-Am Flat race, where the honours went to Tom Hamilton on the Joseph O’Brien newcomer, Embittered, a son of Fame and Glory.

Joseph was not there to witness his winner although the communications from Hong Kong would have enabled him to see it. O’Brien was on track at 6 a.m. GMT, almost ten hours before his home winner, for the Longines Hong Kong Vase where his Irish Derby winner Latrobe was one of eight European contenders for the £1 million plus first prize.

Latrobe could manage only 11th of the 14 runners. Best of the Europeans, behind the four-year-old Teofilo gelding, Exultant, was Dermot Weld’s Eziyra in the Aga Khan colours. She picked up just shy of £200k while fifth-placed Waldgeist (Andre Fabre) collected just over £60,000 for fifth. None of the other visitors collected a cheque. Best of these in seventh was the much-travelled Rostropovich (Aidan O’Brien), with Charlie Fellowes’ Prince of Arran in eighth and Salouen, Sylvester Kirk, ninth. Ed Dunlop’s Red Verdon beat just one home, the Sir Michael Stoute-trained Mirage Dancer, who continued Ryan Moore’s run of overseas disappointments.

David Elsworth also sent over a challenger on the day, but his Sir Dancealot probably found the hotly-contested Hong Kong Sprint happening much too quickly after a busy season, and was never in contention, finishing last of eleven.

After her strong-finishing fifth at the Breeders’ Cup it might have been expected that William Haggas’ One Master would make an impact in the Hong Kong Mile, but while best of the three Europeans, she was still unable to collect any money for finishing a well-beaten eighth. Andrew Balding’s Beat the Bank was 11th and the Fabre-trained Inns of Court last of 14 behind Beauty Generation.

The Hong Kong racing pattern occasionally throws up horses in the mould of this New Zealand-bred six-year-old. Beauty Generation had won only one of his first ten outings as a developing horse. Since those days he has improved consistently and here completed a five-timer in the major mile races of the season at odds of 1-2. His earnings exceed £6,000,000 and it would seem he will continue to dominate for trainer John Moore and rider Zac Purton.

Monday Musings: Joseph is coming!

Something remarkable happened at Fairyhouse yesterday, writes Tony Stafford. Joseph O’Brien had six runners on the second stage of the track’s December Festival as it was billed and none of them won! Has the magic run out? I bet a few trainers at the top of the Irish jumping scene will be hoping so, not least Gordon Elliott, who will have noticed the drift of a considerable number of Gigginstown House horses into the young genius’s care.

I invoke the term “genius” in the clear knowledge that it is something Joseph and his entire family will prefer to shy away from. Having been the first of four products of champion trainers either side of his pedigree, he has been brought up in an atmosphere as far as one can judge by second-hand observation where to err on the side of modesty is the way to proceed.

Born as recently as May 1993, Joseph O’Brien, just like his siblings Sarah, Anastasia and Donnacha, has been immersed in horses and racing all his life. In May 2009 he finished third in the European Pony Show Jumping Championships and by the end of the same month, had his first riding success on a racecourse.

Such was the progress that by the end of the following year he shared with two others in a triple tie for the Irish Apprentices’ Championship; a first Classic success came on Roderic O’Connor the following May, and by the summer of 2012 he had collected the 2,000 Guineas, Derby and Irish Derby with Camelot. Together they only narrowly failed to record the first UK Triple Crown since Nijinsky and Lester Piggott in 1970 when denied by Encke in the St Leger.

Irish riding championships followed that year, and again in 2013 when 126 wins easily exceeded the previous record. As recently as March 2016 he announced he would stop riding, having succumbed at the age of 22 to the struggle with his weight. Like his younger brother, Donnacha, who will surely have to think about his future sooner rather than later, O’Brien is very tall for a Flat-race jockey.

I mentioned yesterday’s blank at Fairyhouse, which was all the more surprising when considered alongside Saturday’s exploits at the same track. He won four of the seven races on the jumps card, and none of the quartet started favourite. The cumulative odds, if you had managed to put them together, exceeded 700-1.

Two of the four were for Gigginstown, the 10-1 shot Mortal, making a seasonal comeback in the opener, and the former Mouse Morris-trained Desir du Large in the bumper. J P McManus, easily his biggest supporter over jumps, picked up a maiden hurdle with Lone Wolf, one of seven wins in the green and gold hoops between Newcastle, Newbury, Bangor and Fairyhouse on the day.

Gigginstown House Stud, owned by Michael O’Leary of Ryanair and managed so skilfully by his brother Eddie, has so far this term had 16 Joseph O’Brien-trained runners, and at this relatively early stage of the winter season the brothers must be highly satisfied that ten of them have already won, five on their only start to date for the campaign.

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It has become commonplace, especially since O’Leary’s split with Willie Mullins, to see multiple Gigginstown horses, mostly trained by Elliott, contesting  the most valuable handicap chases, but big Gordon will not be getting complacent.

No doubt, with 95 for the campaign to his credit already, he’ll be happy enough, but the stats for the young man in a hurry make spectacular reading. Over jumps, starting two winters ago, his figures are 38, 67, and 49 for the campaign already with exponential growth suggesting somewhere near three figures by the end of April.

On the Flat, his fast-developing training career brought 23 wins in a truncated 2016; more than double up to 52 last year and again doubling up to, so far, 106, with more sure to come before the end of the year at Dundalk where he is so successful. That makes a total 335 wins at the two codes in a little more than two and a half years.

He has yet to train a UK jumps winner from eight and then 16 runners in the past two seasons, and no raiders yet this time. The horseboxes have been only sporadically launched on the Flat, too, with five wins in all, two this year. He sent over a few all-weather runners early in 2018, winning a small race at Kempton in January. The other, Iridessa, obliged in rather more exalted company, defeating his father’s Hermosa in the Group 1 Fillies’ Mile at Newmarket in the autumn.

As a trainer who is yet to send out a UK jumps winner, it might be fun to ask a British bookmaker to name a price he trains at least a couple of Cheltenham Festival winners next March?

One race O’Brien – and all the other leading Irish trainers – will struggle to win is the Champion Hurdle, dominated for the last two seasons by Buveur D’Air. That gelding is now the overwhelming favourite to make it a third next March having treated Elliott’s Samcro with contempt in the BetVictor Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle on Saturday.

Buveur D’Air came into Saturday’s big race with a record of 10 wins from his 11 previous hurdles starts; two from two in novice chases early in the 2016-7 season before switching back to hurdles when Altior was sent chasing. Two defeats in his four bumper runs are the only other blemishes. In that context it is hard to make sense of Samcro’s starting marginal favourite in preference to him on Saturday at level weights, especially after his comeback defeat by Bedrock at Down Royal last month.

Buveur D’Air’s sole hurdles lapse to date was behind stable-companion Altior in the 2016 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, when Min was a seven-length runner-up. Buveur D’Air, at the time the accepted Nicky Henderson second string, was only third.

Since then the Henderson pair have each gone unbeaten, Altior into unchallenged pre-eminence among two-mile chasers and Buveur D’Air, with his exceptionally-fluent hurdling, in line to emulate Istabraq as a three-time Champion Hurdle winner for J P McManus.

The owner’s Saturday seven-timer featured three more victories for Henderson, one at Newbury and two at Newcastle;  one for Paul Nicholls at Newbury and a 50-1 shot for Philip Hobbs at Bangor as well as Lone Wolf at Fairyhouse. As ever, while many smaller teams have been waiting for the weather to break, the top stables seem to have the resources in all regards to keep going.

The ground is set to ease this week. We have been waiting for Ray Tooth’s Apres Le Deluge to make his jumps debut and have had him pencilled in for some time at Exeter on Friday. In anticipation of softer ground, 47 horses were entered for his race and because of the paucity of available stabling, and no chance of a division only 13 are likely to get a run. We have an elimination number of 25, so it looks as though eight of those with higher numbers or none at all will need to miss the race for him to get a run. Not very likely is it?

Monday Musings: Almond’s Japan Cup Record

Early yesterday evening I was flicking through the channels and was slightly surprised to land on Eurosport’s showing a recording of the closing stages of the Japan Cup, run overnight in Tokyo, writes Tony Stafford. The winner was named as Almond Eye and my ears pricked up when the announcer related that the race had been run “in record time”.

In the matter of such eventualities, I immediately did some research and found that Almond Eye, a three-year-old filly, making only her fifth career start, was a 2-5 chance defending an unbeaten record in a 14-runner field. In the 38th running of Japan’s most celebrated race, she sliced 1.5 seconds off the previous best time, set in 2005 by the Frankie Dettori-ridden and Luca Cumani-trained Alkaased.

I was interested in how Capri had done but sadly the 2017 St Leger winner’s truncated season did not end on a high note. Only a few Europeans have managed victory. In its third running, 1983, Epsom-based jockey Brian Rouse won aboard the Frank Dunne-trained and family-owned Stanerra.

That well-travelled mare also collected a couple of times at Royal Ascot for her Irish connections, owners of Dunnes Stores, and previously and indeed subsequently patrons of Jim Bolger’s stable. Stanerra’s record of over-achievement from her small private yard also included an Ascot track record.

Still early in the Cup’s history, Clive Brittain won with Lady Tavistock’s home-bred Jupiter Island, while also before the turn of the century Michael Stoute (pre-knighthood) took successive renewals (96-7) with his great middle-distance world prospectors, Singspiel and Pilsudski.

Clearly it takes a decent horse to win the Cup. Alkaased was a hard-knocking five-year-old when holding off the very talented Heart’s Cry and Christophe Lemaire by a head in a race where the four-year-old filly Ouija Board finished only fifth. That great Ed Dunlop trainee returned a year later to record a highly-creditable third to Deep Impact, the outstanding stallion in Japan over the past decade and sire of Saxon Warrior.

In his turn, Deep Impact is a son of Sunday Silence, horse of the year in the US in 1989, but denied the Triple Crown the previous year by career-long rival Easy Goer, with an eight-length defeat in the 1988 Belmont Stakes after his own narrow victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.

I had the good fortune to visit Japan in 1992 and that trip included a trip to Shadai Farm in Hokkaido where we saw Sunday Silence just before the momentous stud career which transformed Japanese racing and breeding. The son of Halo, another great, Sunday Silence died in the same year, 2002, in which Deep Impact was foaled.

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My itinerary also took in visits to Tokyo for the Cup, and Hanshin racecourse near Osaka for an international jockeys’ event at which Pat Eddery was among the contestants. My Tokyo tour included a stop off at the office of Mitsuoko Haga, owner of the great Michael Kauntze-trained filly Kooyonga, who had been an intended runner in the Cup until her form tailed off at the end of that season. Mr Haga, a golf course developer at the time of spectacular growth in the sport in Japan, had a window in his office in which Mount Fuji was perfectly framed.

I was intrigued by the Almond Eye time, as to take a full one per cent, one and a half seconds, off 142.1sec seemed quite excessive. We get used to shaving rather than slicing. I wondered whether the components of Almond Eye’s pedigree offer the clue. I have a friend who believes emphatically that the dam is at least as important as the sire, and as he has only three horses and two of them are the high-class pair Spark Plug and Raheen House, it is easy to listen to his opinion at least.

Almond Eye’s dam Fusaichi Pandora also ran in the 2006 race won by Deep Impact and like him is by Sunday Silence, indeed they were among six by him in that 11-horse field. Fusiachi Pandora ended her career in the corresponding race a year later, finishing unplaced behind Admire Moon and retiring with a career tally of two wins in 12 starts, all in good company.

But it is when we come to Almond Eye’s sire, Lord Kanaloa, that we strike gold. The 2008-sired son of multiple champion stallion, King Kamehameha, won nine of 13 races culminating on his final start in the 2013 Hong Kong Sprint at Sha Tin, beating Sole Power by five lengths.

In that far-reaching career he only once raced as far as a mile – narrowly winning the 18-runner Grade 1 Yasuda Kinen – but in first-crop product Almond Eye, he has already clearly demonstrated the ability to get his progeny to stay much further.  No wonder the filly has been promoted to the front of the Arc betting for next year.

The Japanese have had dreadful luck in that race, which was one of only two defeats for Deep Impact when he finished third – later disqualified for a banned substance – behind Rail Link and Pride but ahead of 2005 winner, Hurricane Run, in 2006. Incidentally the same Heart’s Cry, narrowly beaten in the second-fastest Japan Cup, was the only horse to defeat Deep Impact in Japan, when regular jockey Yutaka Take gave the champion too much to do in the Arima Kinen (Grand Prix).

Meanwhile, on domestic shores, I had an unusual experience at the weekend but one which still afforded me much of the excitement of a great day’s racing. Owing to a staff crisis, I was a late addition to the racecourse bookstall at Ascot, run by war hero, one-time bank official and protector of old school manners, Sir Rupert Mackeson.

Having had a few weeks when Mrs S was hampered by a broken leg and ankle, needing wheelchair accompaniment around Tesco – every little helps – and support of crutches (happily at an end) around the house, I marvel at how Rupert manages with a severe disablement caused by a broken back. His long stick, effective as a weapon when necessary, is his means of mobility, but he is still limited and further hampered by an irritating driving ban. How he can run a book stall with all the humping about, I cannot conceive, but manage heroically he does.

We had a couple of nice signings from authors of Christmas-suitable volumes, Colin Tizzard popping up on Friday to put his name to his book on Cue Card, quite a favourite, and then Henrietta Knight and David Ashforth on Saturday for their offerings respectively on The Jumping Game and Fifty Shades of Hay.

The still-hirsute Ashforth retains an impish quality far beneath his years and he – or his publisher – certainly has a gift for knowing what will stop especially ladies of a certain vintage in their tracks as they peruse the stand. Henrietta’s presence was especially valued by me as she reported on last week’s school by Ray Tooth’s Apres Le Deluge, also passing on the news that he’ll be back again for a final top up on Wednesday before next week’s hurdling debut at Exeter. Hen said: “I never bet, but I’m going to back him!” I think we should take note and don’t miss Say Nothing at Wolverhampton on Wednesday either.

Monday Musings: Apres le Deluge

Early in the summer, I went up to Hedgeholme Stud in Co Durham to catch up on the boss’s breeding stock after their switch to that farm, writes Tony Stafford. Three of his remaining mares had safely delivered their offspring and had also been tested in foal for the coming season. After some serious thinning down over the previous 12 months, that left just a fourth, I Say, who on looks and one-time race potential had seemed the pick of the bunch.

But this bright day Andrew Spalding had a pessimistic report. She’d slipped her foal to Paco Boy earlier in the year. With that Highclere Stud stallion repatriated for the 2018 season to somewhere in Eastern Europe there was the option of a late switch to another from that highly successful nursery, but instead the tried and tested path to Cheveley Park had been chosen.

Unfortunately the mating to Lethal Force did not take and, as Andrew showed me the 2010-foaled daughter of Oratorio, there was little sign of energy or enthusiasm in her. Clearly her loss had been both physically and emotionally draining. “We’ll have to pass her on”, was the verdict.

Snag was,would she attract much attention at the sales? Her former colleagues at Kinsale Stud in Shropshire, Yarn and Grass Green, cost a combined £139,000 at auction and realised less than £6,000 last winter after disappointing racing and initial breeding careers. A third, Catfish, a better racehorse than either, would probably have won rather than finish third in Stone of Folca’s world record Dash at Epsom on Derby Day a few years back if her saddle hadn’t slipped at the start. She was as bad as a broodmare as she was fast but moody on the home gallops and she also attracted only minimal interest last December sales.

I Say’s first foal, by Mount Nelson, was very big, had three ordinary runs as a juvenile with Clive Cox and was destined for the proposed Wilf Storey Racing Club. For some reason that six-horse Storey/Stafford brainwave, despite some determined marketing and help from influential sources, not least Mr T, fell flat on its back.

By this time, I Say had two more foals on the ground, fillies by Nathaniel. The younger of them went to the sales as a foal last year, realising 13,000gns, thus not nearly recouping the stud fee. The elder one, then a yearling, was retained.

Also in the proposed Racing Club was a soon-to-be-gelded son from the first crop of French Fifteen, Ray’s Group 1 winner of the Criterium International at Saint-Cloud as a juvenile. French Fifteen was passed on after that within the Nicolas Clement stable and finished only a neck behind Camelot in the 2,000 Guineas.

In the meantime, when asking Nicolas whether he might have a horse suitable for hurdling, he recommended the winning filly Ms Cordelia, and rather than attend the Horserace Writers and Photographers Annual Lunch, I went to France and bought her for €20k.

Sent to David Pipe she finished second on debut, but faded after hitting two out at Fontwell and sustained an injury. Nicolas suggested his former Group 1 horse, Stormy River, for her first mating and she stayed over to visit French Fifteen the following year before coming across to the UK.

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She was a giant and the characteristic certainly stayed with the progeny. Both that first foal, called Apres Le Deluge – told you Raymond was good with names – and French Kiss, the younger one had plenty of size. With her deteriorating feet causing increasing problems, her final mating, with Pour Moi, aimed at replicating Treve, who was by another Derby winning Montjeu stallion, Motivator, and like her out of an Anabaa mare, required a foster mother as she barely lasted until the delivery.

French Kiss, like Nelson River, again after three ordinary juvenile runs, was earmarked for the Club, but with Wilf struggling with the worst Muggleswick winter in living memory – frost, snow or flood for four months – he felt compelled to pass them on and Tony Carroll stepped in and took the pair. Meanwhile the last foal, now a two-year-old, never showed as much ability as attitude, either with Mick Channon or at spells back at Hedgeholme and those high-blown aspirations ended with a £3k bid at Tatts’ Horses in Training sale last month.

Wilf did get fairly positive initial reports from Tony, who in between getting seriously injured in the spring when kicked by one horse, and recently less severely, but painfully sustaining cracked ribs with a glancing blow from a different animal, said Nelson River jumped very well.

It was probably not entirely the plan when on second start for Wilf’s former jumps rider, Nelson River came from last to first to win a Wolverhampton handicap at 20-1 off what had appeared a severe enough mark. A more predictable second at Pontefract – on the day Sod’s Law won for Ray – confirmed there was something there.

In the meantime, the Nathaniel filly, named Say Nothing, had been gently settling in at Hughie Morrison’s. Along with pretty much everything in the diminished Tooth team she had a sales entry and it was only when the trainer unilaterally took her out that the bells started ringing, especially for Steve Gilbey. “He must know something”, said Steve. He did.

I remember that the first time I went down to see her Hughie said she “looks like Enable”. Both fillies are by Nathaniel and as Hughie says they are wide rather than high. They also have Sadler’s Wells close up on the female side of the pedigree. Say Nothing, in the manner of the trainer, did nothing especially while the summer ground was rock hard. Then one day her lad riding out reported “she’s all right” and a gallop with a reasonably well-regarded colleague confirmed that view.

As suddenly as it seemed, she appeared on the card last month at Newbury, with minimal apparent expectations and the only pre-race hint was the sudden rush down from 16-1 to 7’s in the few minutes between paddock and the off. Eighth place and a commendation from the highly-skilled Gerald Mosse gave us heart, but not as much as Hughie’s departing words as he set off for Marmelo’s lucrative Melbourne Cup second: “She’ll run in a fortnight!”

That brought us to last Wednesday, when at 5.30 she lined up at Kempton for what was probably a hot enough fillies’ novice over a mile. That, though, was not before I Say’s first foal and Ms Cordelia’s second both made their hurdling debuts for Carroll in the 4.00, a juvenile hurdle at Bangor. Nelson River, backed from 7-2 to 11-4, beat an Alan King hotpot, with the 33-1 shot French Kiss a creditable third, but still betraying the fact he’s simply big and weak.

Say Nothing, cut from an afternoon general 33-1 to 12’s at the off, couldn’t quite complete the I Say  double, but was only half a lengths adrift of the 340,000gns Gosden newcomer, Kimblewick. It was the faster of two divisions and the suggestion of decent form is confirmed by the identity of the stables of the next ten home. Owen Burrows (Hamdan), Roger Varian, Roger Charlton, Martin Meade, Amanda Perrett (Abdullah) came next, followed by Messrs Botti, Beckett, Stoute, George Scott and Simcock. Looking at the pedigrees and understanding her trainer’s modus operandi, Ray’s filly will be the most obvious of them all to stay longer distances at three.

I Say was second on her only juvenile start at Newbury over the straight mile behind the more-experienced Secret Gesture, who was runner-up when favourite for her Oaks. Injury prevented I Say’s running until winning her maiden for William Haggas in late July as a three-year-old.

In the autumn I went back to Hedgeholme, and on a glorious late afternoon, picked up the clearly-revitalised I Say’s miner’s lamp of a heart-shaped star (not unlike Enable’s) glowing from 500 yards away on the top of a hill. She has passed that emblem on to both the Triumph Hurdle candidate and the promising staying filly. Now fully restored to health, she will go to Ulysses for an early covering in an attempt to produce a potential middle-distance Group performer at Cheveley Park.

Ray Tooth is still punching above his weight. We hope that Jamie Osborne’s Waterproof will run well at Kempton on Wednesday, while French Kiss’s elder brother is gearing up for a first hurdles run with Morrison. Apres Le Deluge has not been sighted in public since running away with his only bumper to date at Hereford last December. Nobody came in with a bid afterwards. Have a look on the Racing Post or At tThe Races site and try to work out why not?


Monday Musings: When the name sounds the same

One of the few pleasures for generally-beleaguered owners, weighed down by ever-increasing costs and hard-to-secure prize money in the age of the three G’s – Gosden, Godolphin and Galileo – is to name one’s own horses, especially when it’s a home-bred, writes Tony Stafford.

Raymond Tooth approaches the task with a mixture of intelligence, research and devilment, as the successful naming and so-far upwardly-mobile career of his nice miler Sod’s Law exemplifies.

He got that one past the names police at the British Horseracing Authority, and a quick look on their site, which gives an instant initial yea or nay to future applications, suggested that “Bogeyman” was available. Ray had liked the name for the big, strong and recently-reacquired yearling by Garswood out of Lawyers Choice, thus younger brother to Sod’s Law, Dutch Law and Dutch Art Dealer.

There is always a rider, though, that further investigation will need to be made before confirmation. On Sunday morning I retrieved an email from Jane, Hughie Morrison’s ultra-efficient secretary that the name had been rejected owing to the “phonetic match with Bowgey Man (GB)”.

Naturally, having never heard of said racehorse, I scoured the records and discovered that there is (or maybe was) a horse of that name. He was a 2015 foal by Pastoral Pursuits out of the winning Proclamation mare, Black Annis Bower.

The pronunciation by racecourse commentator Malcolm Tomlinson at Ripon on July 22 2017 was indeed Bogeyman, with no emphasis on the middle “W”. It may well be that the single utterance, just after the three-furlong pole in that minimum trip maiden will be the only one of his career. With at that stage two even slower starters in the 11-horse field behind him, Mrs A Jarvis’s home-bred was recorded thus: “Bowgey Man well back” and that was it. At the finish, the two that had been adrift of him were still in rear, but a long way ahead of Bowgey Man.

In a five-furlong race, the juvenile was 22 lengths behind the winner and hasn’t appeared since. He had been expunged from the Mick Easterby list in Horses in Training 2018 and also the full index of all named horses in training at the back of that volume.  The 2016 foal, a filly by Heeraat is listed and has subsequently been named Annie’s Bow. To date she has made little impact, well back in two late-season efforts at massive odds.

To assume that a “phonetic match” alone is justification for rejection of a name is clearly nonsense. Horses of different generations are unlikely ever to be in direct opposition and even if racing in different races on the same day, the names in this case are clearly differently spelt. Depending on which commentator you get, Bowgey Man could indeed sound as Bowgey Man (not Bogeyman) in the unlikely event he ever reappears 16 months on from his sole hapless effort to date.

There are a number of doubled-up named horses racing in the UK, usually in the case of animals bred in different authorities. We had a nice colt called Weekender (Fr), originally with Nicolas Clement, but moved across to Mick Channon sometime over the winter of 2016/17 when he would have raced as a three-year-old at the same time as John Gosden’s smart Frankel colt of that name.

Unfortunately a few days after arriving at West Ilsley he was found stretched out dead in his box. I remember well the shock it caused Mick who said in all the years he’d been training, that was only the second example of such a loss.

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I plan to write this morning (Monday) to the BHA, but in the hope that this might reach some people with a little influence in that organisation, maybe some intervention can achieve a more sane reaction. I would prefer not to inform Mr T of the situation until it is irrevocable.

The final day of turf Flat racing at Doncaster on Saturday was a joy and not just for the soup and steak and kidney in the press room. The weather was initially sunny, the racing competitive and, from the outset, it was a day of days for the always-jovial and immaculately-attired John Ryan.

Mick Ryan’s son may not have had the big-race winners like Katies and many more enjoyed by his father, but he shares his sire’s clubbable nature. The early start was cited a potential problem by Ryan and his equally-affable owner Jon Thompson, once of Ladbrokes, now one of the ownership lynch-pins in Ryan’s Newmarket stable.

They were on hand for the final racecourse appearance of JT’s four-year-old filly, Lady Freyja, and from the two-furlong pole there was no conceivable threat to the daughter of Mayson as she powered clear under Cieren Fallon. No-one seems to mind that the embryo jockey is a phonetic match to his father Kieran, not present this time. Maybe it was too early for the ex-champ to make it from Newmarket.

Lady Freyja, with three of Ryan’s 20 Flat winners this year – from 36 individuals – has been the most prolific, and she now retires to stud. I understand they are trying to get a nice deal with Bated Breath.

I should think there would have been a fair amount of bated breath, certainly from Messrs Ryan and Thompson, after the second race at Chelmsford later in the day. I trust the pair made it safely down in the afternoon drive south as there was a nice enough time gap before proceedings got under way at the track that Derek Thompson, no relation, always describes as: “the premier racecourse in Essex”.

Having collected the first winner in the nursery with joint-favourite Shining Armor, Ryan followed up in the novice event half an hour later with 10-1 shot Battle of Waterloo, close enough to the anniversary of that event. Both horses are owned by Gerry McGladery, also proprietor of Ryan’s two hurdles winners this season, Normal Norman and Needs To Be Seen.


I very rarely doubt the wisdom or information emanating from Chris Richardson and John Marsh at Cheveley Park stud, but having committed the boss to using Garswood as well as Mayson for the bulk of his now reduced breeding operation, I was becoming edgy about the former’s first season even with Marsh’s assurance that: “there’s plenty of nice ones still to come!”

It all began well enough with Little Kim and early winner Gabriel the Wire, but midsummer was pretty bleak. Cala Tarida in France, with three out of four and a Group 3 win recently perked me up a little and Saturday’s nice win for Edgewood in a competitive novice race, kept the old red colours, now much better fitted on David Armstrong’s horses, mostly home-breds, in the picture.

One person you cannot keep out of any aspect of the 2018 Flat-racing season is John Gosden. He wound up the year with what in retrospect was a highly-predictable raid on the final decent Flat prize of the season with his Dubawi four-year-old, Royal Line, in the November Handicap.

A field of 23 lined up, but it was clear from some way out that Royal Line, in the old Sheikh Mo colours now adorned by horses owned by his daughter Sheikha Al Jalila, was cantering. Up 10lb from his last and winning run back seven months ago at Epsom, he duly took the prize under Rab Havlin, still benefiting from remaining second jockey to a boss who rewards loyalty in this tangible way.

That is equally true of Seamie Heffernan at Ballydoyle. After more than 20 years’ riding out every morning, he approaches each day with equal enthusiasm and despite partnering two fillies in Saturday’s Listed races whose chances had been compromised by heavy overnight rain, he still retained his good humour, before heading back across the Pennines for his plane home from Manchester.

As for Gosden, having already showed that he can pick up races like the Arc, Champion Stakes, Irish Champion and all the top staying races with his stable stars Enable, Cracksman, Roaring Lion and Stradivarius seemingly at will, you can just imagine him settling down to the task of identifying the horses with which he will knock off the massive prizes offered for the Ebor and Cesarewitch next year. He probably already knows which ones he is going to win them with!

Monday Musings: Breeders’ Cup and stuff

Second marriages are definitely different, writes Tony Stafford. I would never have entertained putting on a gorilla mask to “scare” Halloween callers to the house in search of those Haribo scare sweets as happened (see picture) last Wednesday.

First time round, all Halloween meant to me was the top-class jumper who won the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day 1952 and 1954, ridden by the great Fred Winter and trained by Bill Wightman. We used to go to my great uncle George in Clapham every Christmas when watching racing and playing solo were the big attractions, apart from the turkey.

Obviously, going to the US for Keeneland November or, later, Breeders’ Cups, involved seeing houses decorated with massive orange pumpkins outside the door. As with so much American stuff – now Sky even wants us to start watching giants putting big balls through hoops – it will be impossible to stem the stealthy tide.

I bring up Halloween because I had to rush back to supervise sweet doling out after Sod’s Law failed to make 110,000gns at the sale (a good decision by Ray Tooth). Mrs S is still recovering from the broken leg and mashed up ankle she sustained in a skating accident, which has ruled her out of a competition in Slovenia and probably a few more next year.

Her interest, though, has given me a little more knowledge than in the old Alan Weekes days when it was always on the BBC. Thus I know that Zagitova is not just the Aidan O’Brien juvenile filly that largely under achieved this year. It is also the Russian skater who won the last Olympic ladies figure skating gold medal aged 16 and only last week we watched collect an easy triumph in a Grand Prix event in Helsinki.

I digress. Sod’s Law won a couple of nice races leading up to the unfulfilled sale, latterly at Pontefract. Whenever I drive down from off the A1 into the town I always notice the Haribo factory on the roundabout and look forward to the complimentary Pontefract cakes – little round black liquorice sweets – that are offered as you collect your badges at the owners’ gate.

From 5 pm the local kids start knocking, mums supervising, and among the first group, one little girl shrank at the sight of my mask. The rest – they tend to arrive in groups of six or even more – pushed forward but the little one was hesitant. “Go on Athena!” encouraged mum, and for a moment I wondered if the lady had known my late mother whose name it was, but no.

In the manner of such things, in a few days, the name came up three times, obviously with the filly Athena, who over-performed when fifth in her Breeders’ Cup race, and also in the name of a Ralph Beckett horse, yet to run, but part of an unbelievably successful venture by owners Waverley Racing.

A few years back Raymond was talking about trying to buy progeny of or send mares to Lope de Vega, but at €60k a pop this year at Ballylinch stud it was rather too rich for his budget.

He would have noticed on Friday night when Newspaperofrecord – wonder who named it, as the Tattersalls Book 1 sales buy at £200k was bred by one-time prominent owners, Times of Wigan Ltd – slaughtered the opposition in the Juvenile Fillies Turf at Churchill Downs.

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In my favourite book, especially when the horses are named at time of publication, Horses in Training 2018, the Beckett stable has seven Lope De Vega fillies listed, all under the ownership of Jasros Racing. Instead of being in Kentucky I went to the very pleasant end of season meeting in Newmarket and one of the Lope de Vega’s, Feliciana de Vega, made a winning debut by six lengths in a fillies' novice contest.

I think Waverley Racing (more palatable than Jasros) might be happy with their £1 million total investment. The first of the seven to run was Antonia de Vega, in a race on the July Course at Newmarket where Ray’s partnership horse Laxmi looked the likely winner two from home. Then Antonia de Vega swooped late to race past her and comfortably held off, coincidentally, fellow debutant Zagitova.

She followed up at Goodwood in a Group 3 in August before losing her unbeaten record when finishing lame and last of eight in the Fillies Mile at Newmarket last month.

Amazingly, that excusable defeat has been the only reverse for the Waverley team. All four to run won first time, and as well as Feliciana, Dancing Vega won in a canter at Doncaster just over a week ago and Manuela de Vega has Salisbury and Pontefract (Listed) wins already to her credit.

Still to come are Lope Scholar, who cost £97k and the two most expensive of the septet, Teodora de Vega (250k) and Lope Athena (that name again), who cost 280,000gns. If that’s not the most brilliant bit of rewarded obsessive behaviour you’ve ever seen then let me know. Looking for a pattern, I see that all seven have different broodmare sires, so it’s all about the Vega. That Beckett’s a bit of a trainer!

Kevin Ryan’s not so bad either. The twice-raced East went into the Breeders’ Cup unbeaten. If you want to run a horse to get second to a certainty then get Jamie Spencer to sit last as he did on East while Newspaperofrecord did her stuff at the other end of the field. She came through very strongly to take runner-up prize of 125 grand. [She could have sat on the shoulder of the winner and would have still only finished second - Ed.]

I don’t know whether when agent Steve Hillen paid €315k for the daughter of Frankel at the Goresbridge Breeze Ups in late May that he intended having to keep her. Whoever didn’t come up with the cash will be seething now. Instead she runs in the name of Steve’s wife, Rebecca, and the cameras caught the couple after the race on Friday night with understandably huge smiles.

There should be no problem in passing her on in the US to some wealthy owners for a big mark-up. I was so happy for Becky, who I’ve known for more years than she would care to remember. She is the daughter of my great pal and brilliant trainer, Dave Wintle, who sadly died last year after a long struggle with cancer.

I was in not a small part to blame for a ban he once received after setting up a nice Terry Ramsden gamble around one of the West Country jumping tracks. But the best one we planned and successfully executed was with a horse called Topsoil, which we switched from Rod Simpson specifically for the purpose.

Wilf Storey, who at the time was providing big-punting Terry with some brilliant gambles with the likes of Santopadre and Fiefdom, was the key element to the touch. Wilf got hold of a useless animal, put Peter Scudamore on and had his first bet on the yoke with his brand-new £2,000 Ladbrokes account half an hour before the race, a seller which opened proceedings at Haydock Park.

Understandably the bookies would not push out his price, instead waiting for Terry’s massive wager they knew would come. It never did, Scud pulling up at halfway on the still prominent in the betting Darwina, while Topsoil got the better of a battle with the only other feasible runner, trained by John Jenkins, with 25 lengths back to the third.

Somehow for Ramsden the result was unsatisfactory, never mind he backed the winner and had the straight forecast for bundles. “What went wrong?”, he asked, unhappy with the three-quarters of a length margin. Everyone else was more than delighted. Of course in those days you only heard the races and maybe the commentary was panic-inducing?

David Wintle was the kindest man. I’d love to think that somehow he will know that his daughter – and her sister Alison who is married to Tom Morgan, the ex-jump jockey – continue to be doing so well. STOP PRESS: I understand the editor has been imbibing with the same Tom Morgan this very weekend. Small world, racing.

- Tony Stafford

Monday musings: there but by the grace…

From the moment I saw the six-day entries for last Saturday’s Conundrum Consulting EBF Fillies Stakes at Newbury, my thoughts very rarely strayed far from King Power, writes Tony Stafford. The two-year-old Frankel filly of that name, a £2.5 million Andrew Balding-trained filly who was in the first division of 12, while Ray’s debutante had ten to beat in the second part of the race.

Normally I’d travel to the races with Harry Taylor and often Alan Newman, my recent companions on that epic Irish trip which took in Newbridge and Shelbourne Park dog races, Leopardstown and The Curragh over Irish Champions weekend and trips to Ballydoyle and Coolmore where we made acquaintance with Galileo.

They had more important issues, so instead went together to Doncaster for the Vertem Futurity (late Racing Post Trophy) in Alan’s smart new white car, and were rewarded when Grecia Magna made it nine wins for Aidan O’Brien in the Group 1 race – the last of its category in the UK this year.

The filly King Power started joint-favourite but could fare no better than fifth behind fellow newcomer Nausha, a daughter of Kingman trained by Roger Varian. The blue and white colours were soon to the fore, though, with Happy Power winning a hot nursery at Doncaster, ridden by geegeez-sponsored jockey, David Probert. Five minutes later the team’s Morando got up in the last stride to force a dead-heat with Young Rascal in the re-styled St Simon Stakes.
Both horses are trained by Andrew Balding and later in the afternoon, he sat down in the owners’ room at Doncaster with Harry and Alan and told them he was happy with the performance of his Dashing Willoughby, eighth in the big race for owners Nick and Janice Mariscotti.

Meanwhile Andrew’s wife Anna-Lisa looked after affairs at Newbury and she took advantage, as did Peter Ashmore and I, of the much-improved facilities of the Owners’ Club room. At just after 3p.m. Say Nothing took her place coincidentally in the same race in which her dam I Say had finished runner-up behind Secret Gesture on her first appearance six years earlier.

Leaving the paddock, we stopped at the small line of bookies situated away from the main area in front of the stands, and had a little of the 16-1 on offer. Minutes later as they arrived at the start, Say Nothing was 10-1. It was not until I got home after her eighth place – jockey Gerald Mosse reported her “very nice and went well for most of the way, but got tired” – that I discovered she’d been 7-1 at the off!

That plunge either suggested rather more confidence than the always-cautious Hughie Morrison displayed beforehand from somewhere in the Summerlands stable or merely the general weakness of the on-course market. It was reassuring that Hughie, stopping off before his Saturday night flight to Melbourne and Marmelo’s second stab at the Cup, suggested another run in two to three weeks.

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In the car travelling back, we switched on the Leicester City – West Ham match. Leicester hadn’t drawn a League game for 13 matches, but a last-minute equaliser ended that sequence. The only team in the English Leagues with a longer draw-free run was Arsenal with 25 and that went yesterday!

It must have been adding up to a wonderful day for Mr Srivaddhanaprabha, but then as the news programmes and media outlets have shown since in such detail, it all ended with the crash of his helicopter soon after its traditional post-match take-off from the centre spot. The crowds had barely left when the tragedy which took Vichai and four others occurred, altering the lives of everyone in the city in which he’d contributed so much to so many of its citizens quite apart from the football club.

For racing too it is a disaster, a word over-used but in this case wholly appropriate. In just two seasons King Power Racing Co Ltd was on the way to becoming a major force, principally with Balding but also on a large enough scale with Richard Hannon. Additionally as promising horses came to his advisors’ attention, they were added to the team often staying with the original trainer.
Balding has to come to terms with a possibly uncertain future for the horses that wear the blue, white hoop of Fox Power. His 29 individual runners from that source in 2018 include as well as Morando, Beat the Bank, who first brought them to notice when winning at Glorious Goodwood last year. The four-year-old added further Group race wins at Newmarket, Ascot and Goodwood again, in this campaign. Hannon has had ten individual runners from the King Power team.

I never met Mr Srivaddhanaprabha, but noticed him one day at Sandown when he seemed most undemonstrative, clearly enjoying the experience of horse racing with friends. Such enthusiasm from an owner who only recently passed 60, will be hard to replicate.

The Leicester game had already started when we set off from Newbury after a 25-minute delay to the confirmation of an alteration to the final contest’s result. Two lady amateurs were the subject of the stewards’ deliberations after one horse tightened up another in the last few strides following a ding-dong throughout the last furlong.

Their no doubt daunting experience of justice, administered with far less leniency than the stewards at Doncaster dealt with Magna Grecia’s interference to runner-up Phoenix of Spain close home in the Group 1, showed once again the random and often unsatisfactory nature of such decisions.

I called Harry as we got halfway to London and learned that my usual passengers were extremely lucky to have survived a travel incident of their own. Alan had switched to the M1 as the normal A1 route had serious roadworks and a closure near the A14 junction. At around 5.15 p.m. he was going serenely along at 70 mph in the second lane of four when a sudden bang from a heavy impact on the driver’s side filled the pair with understandable anxiety.

“The car, obviously going much faster, suddenly came from the next outside lane, banged into the side, then moved ahead of me. From there he quickly went to the inside lane and on to the hard shoulder where he stopped.

“I pulled up some way behind him and was more than a little worried when he came running up to us, wondering what he was going to do. Fortunately his urgency was only to ask if we were all right. He immediately said it was his fault entirely and that he had made a miscalculation when overtaking,” said Alan.

“When I looked at the damage it became clear why we had been so lucky. The impact marks on my car were restricted to the two doors and not on either the rear or front wing. Had he hit me there, I’m sure we would have tipped over. It was our lucky day, thank God”, he said. Not for everyone, though.

Monday Musings: A Royal Scoop!

What was different, indeed unique, about Saturday at Ascot? With the sun shining and the temperature climbing into the 20’s it could have been the warmest Qipco Champions Day yet, writes Tony Stafford. With 30,000 in attendance the day confirmed Ascot’s ability to pack in the crowds, and John Gosden collected three big prizes with his trio of equine (and one human Italian) superstars.

But no, none of those was unprecedented. Maybe the sight of Sheikh Fahad Al Thani jumping up from his seat next to the Queen in the Royal Box as his Roaring Lion went to the front in the Mile race was a little out of kilter with traditional behaviour. But as the Qatari related afterwards, he was given full licence by her Majesty. “You are allowed to enjoy this”, she reputedly said.

At the age of 92 it is hard to imagine anybody in the world with Her Majesty’s multitude of obvious qualities, and her approachability is becoming more discernible too. Certainly Ali Idrissi, whose day job is as the House of Lords butler, was captivated by her on Saturday as he was called in for duty in the Royal Box.

“She was very friendly, talking to everyone and really enjoying the whole occasion,” he said later. “What surprised me was when she told me: “After all these years coming to Ascot, this is the first time I’ve ever had lunch in the Royal Box”.

Idrissi is based in a different location during Royal Ascot and his revelation showed just how much thought goes along with the traditional elements of racing at Ascot. Saturday’s early start meant the guests would have needed to be tucking into the langoustines and chicken well before noon had the normal Windsor Castle timetable been observed.

Instead it was Kensington Palace for dinner on Friday night when I understand partridge was on the menu – and on Saturday with no carriages coming down the course. This was just as well with the ground still on the heavy side by the time racing went ahead a full hour and five minutes before the traditional start of the Royal’s racedays.

Gosden took no time getting under way, sending out Bjorn Nielsen’s home-bred Stradivarius to add the Qipco British Champions Long Distance Cup to his million bonus-earning series of staying-race victories through the year.

Sheikh Fahad’s personal triumph with Roaring Lion came in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, with the sponsor’s name added only in parentheses before the British Champions Mile notation. His colt held off I Can Fly whose late rally belied her 33-1 starting price and also indicated her as a possible Breeders’ Cup challenger for Ballydoyle next month.

The lavish sponsorship of two major British meetings – Goodwood is the other – has kept Qatar in the game at the top level at a time when the Middle-eastern country has been at loggerheads with many of its neighbours and the subject of severe financial constraints as a result.

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But the signs recently – certainly in the horse racing world – have been a little more promising for Sheikh Fahad’s Qatar Racing Ltd if not as much for Al Shaqab, now with far fewer horses in training in the UK after stories of unpaid bills earlier in the year and the departure of its UK advisor, Harry Herbert.

Herbert returned to manage the affairs of his brainchild Highclere Racing and the Royal Ascot Racing Club along with John Warren, his brother-in-law and the Queen’s Racing Manager.

Qatar Racing’s senior representative is David Redvers who also runs Tweenhills stud in Gloucestershire, where Roaring Lion and fellow Group 1 winner, Lightning Strike, will begin stallion careers next year. In Roaring Lion’s case, it could possibly be after a Breeders’ Cup tilt if the sheikh is to get his wish over Gosden’s more measured approach.

The purse strings had been visibly tightened during the period of Qatari austerity, but loosened enough for the Qatar Racing Ltd team to acquire the 3.5 million guineas full-brother to the champion 2018 two-year-old Too Darn Hot, so impressive in the Dewhurst, at Tattersalls October Yearling sale two weeks ago.  That was the highest price paid anywhere in the world for a yearling at auction in 2018.

Without Aidan O’Brien’s numerical support, the day would have been thin enough in a number of races. The reigning champion could never threaten to peg back Gosden’s lead but  he still managed to win the Fillies and Mares race over a mile and a half with Magical, who raced past Gosden’s favourite Lah Ti Dar before holding the late challenge of the latter’s stable-mate, Coronet.

The late summer and autumn has been very much about the success of Godolphin’s Royal Blue colours, with Charlie Appleby leading the way in Britain, France and Australia, more recently joined by teammate Saeed bin Suroor, who collected Saturday’s Caulfield Cup in Melbourne with Best Solution – The Cliffsofmoher third.

But with more than a little obvious disagreement between the two neighbouring nations, it seems pointed that neither Charlie nor Saeed had a runner on British Champions Day. Indeed the only Godolphin runners on the card were Harry Angel, runner-up to 28-1 shot Sands of Mali in the Sprint and the Andre Fabre-trained Kitesurf who was fourth in Magical’s race.

Harry Angel did a fair bit to restore his reputation after a couple of disappointments, He had never won at Ascot in five previous tries – five wins in six runs elsewhere - so to be staying on into runner-up spot for the Clive Cox stable was acceptable before his departure to stud. Kitesurf ‘s Prix Vermeille win last time was put into perspective in this stronger affair.

Sir Michael Stoute has enough experience to accept that the otherwise admirable Crystal Ocean has been little more than cannon-fodder since his near miss on this course in the King George behind now-retired stable-companion Poet’s Word.

First he provided Enable with some worthy if over-stretched, conceding 8lb, opposition in Kempton’s September Stakes on that filly’s Arc prep, and now, back to 10 furlongs, set up the final crowning of Cracksman in the Qipco Champion Stakes. As Cracksman, gifted his preferred testing ground after a frustratingly dry summer, careered six lengths clear, you could sense Dettori, brandishing the whip to the stands through the last furlong, rehearsing a fresh version of the trademark flying dismount.

After the championship races it was left to James Doyle to collect the finale, the Balmoral Handicap, on Sharja Bridge trained by Roger Varian. Doyle, with his new girlfriend in attendance and brand new car in prominent display in the car park, was standing in for Andrea Atzeni, forced to sit out the race after earlier confusion on whether a French-imposed ban should be implemented.

His elder sister Sophie, one of the leading riders at Hawthorne in Chicago at the moment, took time off last week to attend the sales in Newmarket with mum Jacqui. The aim was to look for suitable yearlings to go into training in the US. It’s great to see such enterprise paying off.

One thing that clearly did not pay off happened last week when I suggested possibly the worst bet ever, on Big Brother of all things. Thanks to Roger Hales’ “inside knowledge”, I put up Atzeni’s former partner Isabella Farnese at 14-1 after Roger said she’d win the event having come in as a late addition. I did tune in the night after I passed on the “knowledge” and within minutes it was clear that she had already annoyed half her fellow inmates. She’s an inmate no longer. Thanks Roger! [More accountability, please! – Ed.]

Monday Musings: International Flights of Fancy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Tony Stafford

Monday Musings: A Bold Bid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday Musings: Johnny vs Obie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday Musings: Making Hayes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday Musings: Sorry I’m Late…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday Musings: Missing The Leger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday Musings: Great Nights under the Chelmsford City Lights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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