Monday Musings: Rediscovering the ‘Lost’ Champion Apprentice

Six former champion apprentices lined up for the Bahrain International Trophy and its first prize of £250,000 over a mile and a quarter of Sakhir racecourse on Friday, writes Tony Stafford. The least well-known of them by a long chalk, Scottish-born Lee Newman, was the unlikely winner on a stable second string owned and trained locally by Bahrain national Fawzi Abdullah Nass on his first run in his new surroundings.

Riding with great enterprise on the ex-Mick Halford-trained Simsir, a four-year-old son of Zoffany, Newman sent his mount past the early runaway leader four furlongs out and stayed on well enough to hold off a host of fast, but too late, finishers. Frankie Dettori on the John Gosden-trained but locally-owned Global Giant just failed to get up but still had inches to spare over Ryan Moore on the Aidan O’Brien-trained Sovereign, last year’s Irish Derby winner, to secure second spot.

Nass also provided the fourth, Port Lyons, another ex-Irish performer. Since joining from now-retired Madelaine Tylicki, sister to Freddy, also a former champion apprentice, who was forced to retire after a fall at Kempton in October 2016 left him paralyzed from the waist down, Port Lyons had won four in a row and carried by far the major hopes for the home team.

Fawzi’s talent as a trainer has been best advertised over the years by his exploits with the sprinter Krypton Factor whose biggest win came in the Golden Shaheen in Dubai where he always sends a strong team every Carnival. Alan Spence’s home-bred Salute The Soldier won two races for Nass early this year and no doubt will be on parade again at Meydan in the 2021 Carnival.

I wish I could find a full resume of the why’s and wherefore’s of Lee Newman over the past eight years. I vaguely remember bits of it as in how he had serious trouble with his weight, something the other quintet of champion apprentice alumni in the field on Friday have not had to worry much about in their careers. More certain is that he suffered a bad neck injury when riding in Australia late in 2018 and is based there, but he has been a regular visitor to Bahrain, and finished third on another outsider, Rustang, 12 months ago in the same race.

Friday was not the only time that Newman had got the better of the two global champions. In 2000, the year of his title, he arrived like a comet, winning 87 races, stepping up on the 22 of 1999. In that regard he had a considerably higher tally in his championship than either of Friday’s immediate victims. Dettori won his junior accolade with 71 victories in 1989; Ryan Moore, who had his first Flat rides in 2000, won his title three years later with 52 wins. William Buick, 50 in 2008 when he shared the apprentice title with fellow Andrew Balding trainee David Probert, and another Balding graduate, Oisin Murphy, won with 76 in 2014, but still 11 fewer than Newman.

The final member of that exclusive club in Friday’s field, and the most recent recipient of the title was David Egan, who rode 52 winners in 2017 and weighed in with 50 in the latest Flat campaign when he benefited from his association with the Roger Varian stable. David Egan’s father John, who rode his first winner in 1984, is, at 52, two years older than Dettori who will be 50 next month. Egan senior was also in Friday’s line-up.

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Weirdly, neither of Newman’s closest rivals on Friday could manage to beat his tally in 2000. Moore had six wins, his first on the Flat – his initial winner was in a selling hurdle at Towcester earlier that year – then none the following year before going on his journey to the top. Dettori, having won 22 races in 1988 – coincidentally the earliest year for the statistics readily available to me, always far exceeded 87 in the ten years from his title until the Millennium when his tally dipped to 47 as a result of his being injured in that plane crash at Newmarket where his friend and later agent Ray Cochrane dragged him from the wreckage.

So what went wrong for Lee? Starting in 1998, when he didn’t trouble the scorers, Newman rode in the UK during only eight seasons, 1998-2002, then 2010-12 so with two eight-year gaps. After his title he achieved double figures only twice more, 22 in the year following his title and 43 in the second year of his comeback. Otherwise his scores in the three barren years were five, three and seven. In all, apart from that landmark 2000, his grand total in the other seven years he rode in the UK was only 102, small beer when you consider Murphy had 144 wins in this truncated year and Buick 137.

For sure Newman must have had talent way beyond the average. Richard Hannon senior clearly thought so as did David Barron. Between them the two master trainers provided him with 60 of his 189 wins. What a waste, but in the warmth of Australia rather than in cold UK winters on the all-weather, he perhaps finds it easier to keep his weight in check.

In all, the Bahrain International attracted five multiple champions. Dettori, Moore and Silvestre de Sousa, who was ninth on the very disappointing Bangkok for Balding, each have three titles. The present title holder, Murphy, has won the last twice and Jamie Spencer also has two championships, the second in 2007 shared with Seb Sanders. Other notables in the line-up were winter champion on the all-weather, Ben Curtis, who easily outscored Murphy and Buick overall this year with 164 wins, and Hollie Doyle, whose 131 wins set a record for a female rider.

Only two female riders have won the apprentice title: Hayley Turner, who shared the honour in 2005 with Saleem Golam, himself retired this year and now a barber in Newmarket; and Josephine Gordon four years ago. Doyle, a late bloomer, has the talent and connections to challenge Murphy and Buick, as well as her partner Tom Marquand even more closely in the coming seasons. How the racing authorities and the media, and indeed large swathes of the racing public, will be hoping she achieves that unprecedented accolade one day soon.

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National Hunt racing continues to gather momentum and there will be many who love jumping at Kempton – me for one – frustrated that they will be unable to be there to see the smart Shishkin make his first steps as a chaser today. Like Altior, the latest brilliant two-mile champion chaser from the Nicky Henderson stable, this Supreme Novice Hurdle winner is being sent straight over fences rather than challenge for the Champion Hurdle next March.

There were plenty of reasons to think that Altior rather than stablemate Buveur D’Air should have won at least two Champion Hurdles as he had that horse well beaten off in third when they met in the Supreme. With the Henderson stable also housing the 2020 Champion, Epatante, who could easily repeat the dose next March, Henderson has a proven formula to follow. It is understandable that going in a beginners’ chase like today with four opponents would be less demanding than, say, a Fighting Fifth Hurdle. If he can cope – and his 1-6 forecast price suggests he will - with the four-year-old Mick Pastor, in the same McManus colours as Epatante, he should be on the way to the Festival once again.

There were a couple of nice performances yesterday at Navan when Minella Indo, beaten a length by Champ (Henderson/McManus) in the RSA Insurance Novice Chase at Cheltenham, cantered round under Rachael Blackmore to the sort of bloodless victory that the Shishkin connections will be craving  this afternoon.

Earlier, fair hurdler Blackbow showed sufficient promise first time over fences for Willie Mullins in a beginners’ chase over two miles and a furlong to suggest he might develop into a Cheltenham contender next spring. Ruby Walsh, who maintains his close connection with the Mullins stable, reckoned on Racing TV that he’ll be a far better chaser than hurdler.

There were some smart performances over here on Saturday, the highlight being Bristol De Mai’s third win in four years in the Betfair Chase at Haydock, putting him almost in the Kauto Star category. Paul Nicholls’ multi-champion won the race four times and but for twice being diverted to Northern Ireland for seasonal debut wins in the JNWine Chase at Down Royal, he could have had an almost-unimaginable six in the same Grade 1 race.

This latest triumph For Bristol De Mai was gained at the expense of Nicholls’ Clan Des Obeaux. It had the Twiston-Davies stable mentioning the Grand National next April and at ten years of age it is easy to imagine the grey soaring over the fences. Clan Des Obeaux will now attempt to repeat last year’s win in the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day when his stable-companion Cyrname is the obvious one standing in his way.

One impressive Saturday winner who will not go for the King George is the Kim Bailey-trained Imperial Aura. The handicap he won at Cheltenham last March will no longer be run, but in-form Kim will aim him at the Ryanair Chase where his bold jumping front-runner will be a big threat to anything the Irish can produce.

The most remarkable success of the day was back at Haydock where the David Pipe stable sent out Main Fact for a ninth win in the calendar year. Bought out of the Dianne Sayer stable for only £6,000 in May 2018, the Juddmonte-bred, who won as a young horse in France for David Smaga, was then off the track for almost 18 months until last December. A close third after making the running on stable debut, that set him up for his first win early in January. Off 104 in a two-mile Warwick handicap he launched a quick-fire eight-day hat-trick. Then it was two more close together wins in early March, by six lengths off 123 and 15 lengths off 9lb higher, already revealing astonishing progress.

Lockdown halted the momentum and it wasn’t until late last month that Pipe brought him out for a Flat foray, which brought three wins at two miles in under a fortnight, starting off at 60. He will be on 78 when the turf resumes next March. Judged on Saturday’s events, that figure will be nowhere near enough to stop him.

For here he was, having never previously run over further than two and a half miles, the distance of his Uttoxeter win on March 14, trying three miles on heavy ground in a 17-runner Grade 3 handicap hurdle sponsored by Betfair. Turning for home another Main Fact win looked most unlikely as, off 147, 7lb claimer Fergus Gillard could be seen to be riding away vigorously miles behind the leaders. In the end, though, the gelding’s will to win came to the fore and he strode past the highly-talented Third Wind to make it nine-in-a-row. Where will it all end? One thing’s for sure, they haven’t forgotten how to enjoy such winning streaks down at Pond House!

Monday Musings: There’s No Doubting Thomas

Success in any area of endeavour depends firstly on talent, writes Tony Stafford. But then again there have been very many gifted people who didn’t have the resolution or determination to project that natural ability into the ultimate result. Above all, even given those important requirements, you still need a little luck.

Take Sam Thomas. When he started out as a jockey in the early 2000’s his first two seasons yielded no wins from three rides in 2001/2 and one from 24 the following winter. Then came the fortuitous connection with Venetia Williams and an instant upsurge. The next three campaigns brought 47 and 55 twice, a momentum that only accelerated further when Paul Nicholls took notice of his qualities.

In 2006/7 73 wins from 462 rides took his winners’ prizemoney to more than £750k, in great part thanks to Kauto Star’s Betfair Chase score at Haydock Park. The next year, now firmly established as Denman’s rider, Thomas had 88 wins from a career-high 563 rides and an almost doubled figure of earnings at a sliver under £1.5 million. He went close to maintaining that level with 78 in the following season but, from that point, the peak had passed.

So, like Covid-19 in the summer, down went the numbers. Twenty-seven, a slight rally to 36 and then 30 told the tale over the next three years, but 10 from 201 mounts and then three from 65 in 2013/4 signalled the end. Sam had been in the company of two of the country’s most accomplished trainers and ridden some great horses so the wish to have a shot at the conditioning side of the business was understandable.

He clearly had talent and certainly the good fortune to ally himself where he had done for the ten years of the middle and most productive part of his 15-year riding career.

Now came the difficult part. All the expense and organisation that go with setting up stables were the obvious obstacles to overcome. But by the 2015/6 season as he quietly, rather anonymously, finished riding, he had gathered together a team of horses. Eleven of them got to the track, but none of their collective 30 runs yielded that elusive first win. The next year, a quartet of successes came from 59 appearances and 16 active horses. The steady increase followed with 79 runs and seven wins from 28 individuals in 2017/8 and Sam must have been delighted when Dai Walters, initially often with partners, sent a number of horses to him for the following campaign.

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From little acorns they say, great oaks can grow but it would have been understandable if the owner of Ffos Las racecourse had thought again when those eight horses appeared a collective 16 times for no wins. Therefore, it might have been a great relief for Sam when, in his second season training for the businessman, eight Walters horses won two races from 23 runs.

The figure may well have been improved had the latest jumps season not ended abruptly in mid-March with his score on six. By that time the Horses In Training annual had already been published. Sam Thomas, from his base near Cardiff, had 38 horses listed, 15 with the Walters Plant Hire name affixed. One or two of these remained in partnership but this was clearly a case of Dai’s putting most of his ownership eggs in an upwardly-mobile Welsh-based basket.

Thirteen of the Walters horses have run so far this season and, until recently, progress was steady rather than spectacular. But this month the transformation has been astonishing: since November 5th, that’s 11 racing days, Sam Thomas has had nine runners, eight in the dark blue and white of his principal owner. Six have won, five of them for Dai, one more finished second and a further two were third; the biggest losing margin was just one and a half lengths.

It’s never a guarantee that one major owner can propel a trainer into the top division, although not just trainers but jockeys, as the saying goes, can’t go without the horse; and so many capable people in the sport are never destined to hit the heights as the chance of getting a good animal is so remote.

In those 11 days Sam Thomas has won with bumper horses, hurdlers and chasers. The biggest win was yesterday’s Cheltenham Listed bumper success with Good Risk At All, a son of No Risk At All – bet it took a while to think of that one, Dai? Like the Thomas training career, Good Risk At All has been a slow burner. Bought at Arqana three years ago he didn’t make the track until last month when he finished second at Newton Abbot. Despite going up in grade at Cheltenham he saw off a recent Oliver Sherwood Fontwell winner with a good display of stamina on the heavy ground.

Thomas, with nine wins from 33 runners, is already well past his previous best score of seven, but the brilliant form of his horses makes him the most strikingly in-form trainer around.

The rapidity with which the ground at our top jumping tracks can go from good to heavy after rain is going to be a cause for concern among trainers who have good-ground horses in their care. For much of last winter, indeed until a few days before Cheltenham’s ill-starred Festival, abandonments and/or heavy ground were the order of the day for months with barely an oasis of good going to be found. Looking out of the window recently it seems we might be having more of the same.

Cheltenham’s three-day November fixture started on good to soft on Friday but by yesterday the ground had become as near to heavy as makes no difference when times and the class of horses on show were considered. There were, as ever, fine performances on all three days with Put The Kettle On yesterday showing once again that she has the talent to beat the boys at close to the highest class when winning the Shloer Chase. Henry de Bromhead’s mare’s task was made easier of course with the defection of Harry Whittington’s much-fancied Rouge Vif, the trainer having previously stated that he’d try to avoid deep winter turf with the polished top of the ground performer.

On The Blind Side was regarded as a potential Gold Cup horse as he went impressively through his novice hurdle season but the Nicky Henderson inmate did not take to chasing. Returned to hurdles and in pretty strong company too on Saturday, he showed he retains all his courage and a fair portion of his ability by staying on strongly to win a competitive three-mile handicap.

On The Blind Side won only one of his seven chases but a characteristically sharp bit of race planning by Henderson took the gelding to Newcastle for a jumpers’ bumper three weeks before Cheltenham. He won it and then missed the Festival which in retrospect looks like a good decision. Saturday was his first appearance since and had he never run over fences, his career record would have been six wins from eight starts, all bar his point-to-point debut in Alan Spence’s year-round-successful colours.

Gordon Elliott has been dominating the juvenile hurdles in Ireland and won two with Duffle Coat, at 16-1 on debut having never raced anywhere beforehand, and then at 1-6 with his penalty. Leaving his lesser lights to continue to mop up at home, Elliott sent Duffle Coat recently to Wetherby for a Listed race where he outstayed and outclassed some capable home-trained previous winners and on Saturday employed that stamina again to give weight away all round impressively in the JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial, in receipt of an outstanding waiting ride from Robbie ‘Puppy’ Power. It’s a bit early to be talking of the Triumph Hurdle itself but it will take a good one to wrest him off the top spot.

Two more impressive performances had come on Friday when Kim Bailey’s Does He Know (Grade 2 Ballymore Novice Hurdle), and the Skeltons’ Protektorat in a small-field but high-class novice chase, also gave notice that there is plenty more to expect from them in their respective divisions.

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I was saddened on Sunday evening to learn of the death of Des O’Connor, the all-round entertainer and all-encompassing nice bloke at the age of 88. I met him only once, when I was sent by the Press Association to Ludlow – my first visit there, or was it Hereford: why did I chuck away those old form books? I had to go into the winner’s enclosure to interview him after his horse Bermondsey – unplaced earlier in his career in the Derby - won a novice hurdle. I can clearly picture him sporting a black leather coat, not exactly jumping garb in the age of tweeds. He was one of the old-style performers who could do everything quite well and never minded being ridiculed on his guest TV appearances by such as Morecambe and Wise. Goodbye Des and I’m delighted that racing gave you so much pleasure. I can certainly vouch for one enjoyable day all those years ago when he seemed totally unaffected by his fame.

- TS

Monday Musings: Wishing to be elsewhere…

I’m getting onto my travel agent (actually I don’t have one any more as I’ve been nowhere for ages) this morning, writes Tony Stafford. I’ll be trying to find the best (and obviously cheapest) way of getting to my new favourite place, Mata’utu, capital of the little-known Wallis and Fortuna Islands.

You didn’t know it was a country? Nor did I till yesterday when hard on the latest lockdown news, I thought it was time to rekindle my spring and summer obsession with Covid-19 and the statistics thereof.

When, two months ago, August in the UK ended with two deaths and September began with three, we all knew that racing’s apparently idiotic continuation with strict separation of limited-allowed owners from their trainers and jockeys had been way over the top. As I’ve said before, I’ve not gone racing since Cheltenham, but why couldn’t you talk in close company to trainers and jockeys when you could meet them in the pub freely before or after the races?

Now we learn that it was precisely because of how draconian it had all seemed that racing now can continue. The situation with owners has yet to be determined but if we don’t want the rest of society to get the hump, maybe it’s best to give that concession. Well done BHA.

Where so recently there were two and three fatalities, two months on it was 274 and 326, a neat average of 300 which is what it has been for the past five alarming days. Pubs, bars and restaurants will be packed until Wednesday and on Saturday the first sightings of the re-emerging toilet-roll hoarders supplanted the usual non-stop flow of trick-or-treaters on Hallowe’en. When I didn’t hear the one knock by would-be recipients of the goodies Mrs S as usual dutifully provided, we were treated with a raw egg thrown on the newly-cleaned front kitchen window for our pains! Messy to clean eggs are [as Yoda might say].

I thought it would be timely, now total cases in the UK have topped the million, so 14,000 per million of population, which is the ninth highest globally, to return to the subject. Deaths have risen above 46,000, fifth behind the US, France, Russia and Mexico.

Propping up the entire table at 218th – although a couple of cruise liners are included – is the above-mentioned Wallis and Fortuna Islands, which between them have recorded one case, the victim of which has happily recovered.

The islands are in the South Pacific, in between such better-known tourist spots as Fiji, Tonga and Samoa, rugby nations whose influence on the game far exceeds the size of their population. Fiji has a team over in Europe at the moment. With only 34 recorded cases in the country it must have been a shock for the tour management to discover that “between five and seven” of their squad due to play an international in Paris with France next week have contracted the virus, so the match is off. Lesson for South Sea islanders: stay home!

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I love statistics. With only one now recovered case, Wallis and Gromit – sorry Fortuna – are listed on that same Worldmeters league table as having 90 cases per million of population. I’d be willing to take my chance, as long as they tell me which of the 15,289 souls from the latest census it was that copped it. Maybe he should be required to wear a badge? Not that they are a total island paradise. Even-handed Wikipedia reports that the “main health risks are mosquitos and sunburn, while drunk driving and intoxicated locals can also be a problem”. Thinking twice now, what with my skin cancer!

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It would be tragic if racing stopped again not least because it would deny us another sighting of Saturday’s marvellous Charlie Hall Chase winner Cyrname, who put together the complete three-mile performance when cantering home a couple of lengths ahead of the doughty Vinndication.

Sometimes apparent ease can be deceptive but surely not here as Harry Cobden always looked to be in first gear all the way round two circuits of Wetherby as the rest of them huffed and puffed behind front-running Aye Right. Cobden kept Cyrname wide, possibly giving lip-service to the fact the country’s highest-rated chaser hadn’t previously won going left-handed. As the 1966 World Cup commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme would have said: “He has now!”

Stamina didn’t look a problem around a galloping track and the fences, never the easiest, were treated like the most welcoming of hurdles as he soared over them in perfect union with his jockey. Paul Nicholls ought never again to have to justify Cyrname’s being rated 4lb higher than Altior, and all of a sudden the great recent domination of Irish stables in the staying chaser ranks might well be getting properly challenged. Certainly even if he wasn’t able to stretch himself to three and a quarter miles around Cheltenham in March – and how do they bet whether we can go to see it or not? – Kempton’s King George looks a Christmas gift for Cyrname.

Meanwhile here we are at the start of November and within the next six days we will have got the Melbourne Cup on Tuesday and two days of the Breeders’ Cup in Keeneland, Lexington, Kentucky, out of the way. In other words, all the worthwhile Flat racing of 2020 will have been and gone.

The O’Briens, father and elder son are back down under again, Aidan yet to win it, with 2019 Derby winner Anthony Van Dyck who heads the weights for the 24-runner two-mile handicap, and Tiger Moth, second in the Irish Derby this year and then an easy Group 3 winner thereafter. Joseph, who has won it before, also has two chances with proven stayers Master Of Reality and Twilight Payment.

Anthony Van Dyck will have his supporters after his recent close second to Verry Elleegant in the Caulfield Cup, for which the winner has incurred a 1lb penalty. Considering the first prize was £1,666,667 and the runner-up got £476,190, you could say that was hardly harsh treatment. Incidentally, Prince Of Arran, Charlie Fellows’ regular challenger for Australia’s biggest race, third and then second the last two years, got £114,000 for his fourth in the Caulfield Cup.

Verry Elleegant is some handicapper. This year the five-year-old mare, trained by Chris Waller, has gone to the races nine times, five before the actual end of the season in the Australian autumn. Her two best efforts before the break also earned her big money, each time running second behind William Haggas’s Addeybb and Tom Marquand as they picked up £1million plus prizes each time, at the start of his memorable year, while racing was in its lockdown phase back home.

After Verry Elleegant’s break, four more runs have followed bringing three wins including the Caulfield Cup.  All in Group 1 races, she started with a win over 7f, was then fourth over a mile, before further victories at 10f and a mile and a half. The three wins all came in photo-finishes. There must be a big chance that her toughness will be rewarded by victory in the biggest race of them all for Australians, and it comes at a time when Melbourne, so badly affected by Covid-19 earlier in the year, is celebrating as there have been no new cases anywhere in Australia on Friday and Saturday.

Presumably only insiders will be there rather than the six-figures that usually flock to Flemington  but the magic of getting up at all hours tomorrow morning to see John Berry give his usual virtuoso performance, not just on the big race, but all the supporting contests on the day, is an annual treat I don’t intend missing.

So the main tip is going to be Verry Elleegant and it will be a proper Aussie fairy story if she can do it. It’s always good though to see European trainers taking on the locals by using their training methods.

For years I’ve noticed more than a few horses run just before the big race. In the case of the Andreas Wohler four-year-old Ashrun, a son of Authorized – purchase authorized by Tony Nerses, of course! – he has run twice in the last fortnight, finishing a solid fourth to Steel Prince and ex-Hughie Morrison inmate, Le Don De Vie, in the Geelong Cup (Group 3) before as recently as Saturday coming home on top in another Group 3 at Flemington.

Unlike the brilliant home-trained mare and Anthony Van Dyck, Ashrun has no stamina worries for lasting out the two miles. In August he ran in the 1m7f Prix Kergorlay at Deauville and was a very good second, staying all the way to the line, behind Call The Wind. He gets 2lb extra for his win the other day, but again it will be a lovely story if the local pro-forma works for an invader.

Over the years, it seems, fewer Europeans attempt the costly trip across to the US to challenge for the Breeders’ Cup races and nowadays the dirt has become almost a total no-go. With five juvenile contests on Friday, the likeliest win for the invaders might be the Ballydoyle runner, Battleground, who has been reserved for the Juvenile Turf.

Royal Ascot winner Campanelle will be all the rage for Wesley Ward in either the Juvenile Turf Sprint, where she might meet Lippizanner for Aidan and the team, or the possibly easier-looking Juvenile Fillies’ Turf in which the Roger Varian-trained Nazuna might also be dangerous.

Three of the Saturday races that stick out as possible obvious chances for the travellers are the Mile, the Filly and Mare Turf, and the Turf. They could give us (yes it’s still ‘us’ even if we can’t be there!) three wins. In the F & M T Cayenne Pepper, Peaceful (my pick), and recent rivals Tarnawa and Audarya are a likely team for exotic wagering. In the Mile it’s One Master, Circus Maximus, 2,000 Guineas winner Kameko, and Irish 2,000 hero Siskin for the same bet. O’Brien (AP) and Gosden will line up with two runners each for the Turf, but this time it looks a straight match between Lord North (Gosden) and Aidan’s Magical. It has to be Magical for me and how I wish she could have had another shot at Addeybb after her luckless run at Ascot.

- TS

Monday Musings: Bolger’s Bright Futurity

I remember back in May when the BHA and the more influential trainers were hoping for a resumption of racing during that month, I was thinking that because the weather can be less wintry during October and November, maybe Flat racing could extend a few weeks longer to help restore some of the losses of fixtures during the spring closure, writes Tony Stafford.

Fortunately the BHA are not so stupid, and the end of turf racing will be at Doncaster on November 7 when hopefully the Bombardier British Hopped Amber Beer November Handicap – if not simply so that the commentator can try that on for size – can be staged, unlike last year.

Last year, not only the end of season card but also the two scheduled turf meetings at Doncaster and Newbury equivalent to last weekend were washed out. The Vertem Futurity, the last UK Group 1 two-year-old race, was switched to Newcastle’s Tapeta the following Friday and won by Kameko, who went on to 2,000 Guineas success seven months later on the first Saturday after the restart.

This year’s Vertem Futurity went ahead at the normal venue. The Doncaster going, officially described as heavy and deemed too testing for Wembley, left the Ballydoyle team with a rare blank in the contest. It was won by the Jim Bolger-trained and -bred Mac Swiney and while the race didn’t have a single son (or daughter) of Galileo on hand, Mac Swiney is by Galileo’s son New Approach out of a mare by Teofilo, also by Galileo so is closely in-bred to the great champion.

Both Teofilo and New Approach were bred and raced initially by Bolger and went unbeaten through their juvenile campaigns, each winning five out of five, culminating in the Dewhurst and being awarded two-year-old champion status.

Teofilo retired after that single season, being the first juvenile champion for the sire, but New Approach went on to win the Derby at Epsom, the Irish Champion Stakes and the Champion Stakes by an overwhelming six lengths. Narrow defeats in the 2,000 Guineas and then the Irish equivalent briefly tarnished his reputation as did a sole third place in the Juddmonte, switched to Newmarket when York closed for a year. His overall record stands the closest inspection.

Not content with a track career, he was sent to stud and immediately produced Dawn Approach, yet another unbeaten juvenile champion that collected the Dewhurst as his rite of passage and then the 2,000 Guineas and St James’s Palace Stakes for good measure. The family has done Mr Bolger proud, just as gentleman Jim was fundamental in the early years to help along the Galileo legend.

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But back to the going, and certainly Mac Swiney’s combination of speed and power through soft ground – it was barely heavy according to the times on Saturday – will serve him well when sure as night follows day he turns up for the Classics on one side of the Irish Sea or other, possibly both.

It was definitely heavy at Newbury and looking at those seven times I wager that the racecourse authorities there must be relieved they can turn their attention to the separate jumps course which will not have been watered during the dry months while racing was off, unlike the Flat strip where the recent deluges have rendered it virtually unraceable.

The least excessively slow time was the 10.22 sec above standard it took to run the second race, a six-furlong fillies’ nursery. Everything else, including the Radley and St Simon, the two Group races on the card, were almost two seconds per furlong slow, unconscionably so for Flat races. The finale, an amateur handicap, took almost 30 seconds more than standard to run a mile and a half.

With rain seemingly about all over the country it will be more interesting to see which of the remaining nine scheduled turf Flat fixtures can go ahead. Leicester (heavy) and Redcar (soft) are planned for today and are expected to survive. Then we have Catterick tomorrow (soft/heavy), Nottingham Wednesday (soft), and Newmarket on Friday and Saturday for the season finale again on soft ground. Next week Redcar and Nottingham on Wednesday and Thursday respectively and that Doncaster date on Saturday week bring matters to a damp conclusion.

Last weekend featured, as ever, three of only 13 Group 1 juvenile races to be run all year in Europe. Ireland’s three are run earlier than the five each of the UK and France. This year the 6f Phoenix Stakes in August and both the Moyglare and National Stakes the following month were staged on decent ground and run in acceptable times.

The first four juvenile Group 1 races in England were all staged at Newmarket. The Royal Lodge, Middle Park and Cheveley Park are the triple centre-pieces of Future Champions Day and the Rowley Mile on that September afternoon was blessed with fastish ground and quick times. It was also satisfactory for the Dewhurst won by St Mark’s Basilica early this month. Interestingly, before their Group 1 victories, both colts had run in the National Stakes behind Thunder Moon, St Mark’s Basilica finishing third and Mac Swiney eighth. Immediately before that, they each won on the same card again at the Curragh, the O’Brien colt in a maiden and Mac Swiney as a 28-1 shocker in a Group 2.

But it’s the French who are most often a hostage to fortune, seeing that their only pre-October Group 1 race is the Prix Morny close to the end of the Deauville summer festival. Wesley Ward and Frankie Dettori won that this year with the filly Campanelle and, while the ground was officially soft, the winning time of only a second slower than standard argues with that.

For the remainder, there are two races on Arc Day, the Jean-Luc Lagardere over 7f for colts and fillies, and the one-mile Marcel Boussac for fillies only. Heavy was the designation, and times of plus 3.49 and 5.73 suggests the description may be a shade exaggerated. When you get to heavy, after that, there’s probably only treacle. Of the year’s last two G1 races, one is the Criterium International, a race I remember fondly because of French Fifteen. That, over a mile, is the shorter while the Criterium de Saint-Cloud is a gut-busting 10 furlongs.

They were run on the Paris track on Saturday and heavy really did mean heavy. The Aidan O’Brien-trained Van Gogh, by American Pharoah, was an emphatic four-length winner but took 10.71 sec longer than he normally should have done. The Mark Johnston-trained Gear Up, making it three wins in four starts, relished the ground and with a show of great determination saw off a challenging quintet of would-be top-level winners at 27-1 under James Doyle. His time was more than 18 seconds slower than standard.

That race’s scheduled off time was only five minutes after the Vertem Futurity and you could call it an acceptable few minutes in the 78-year life of Jim Bolger as Gear Up, by Teofilo, was also bred by the trainer/breeder. The dam Gearanai, by Toccet, was of little account in racing terms but has been a brilliant mate for Teofilo producing four decent winners as well as another by New Approach. Sold as a yearling for €52,000 at Goffs just over a year ago, Gear Up has brought fantastic enjoyment to Teme Valley 2 and the Johnstons.

Having collected the final French juvenile Group 1 race of the year, Mark also had the last word by winning not only France’s final Group 1 of any age but also Europe’s concluding Group 1 of all at Longchamp yesterday. His three-year-old, Subjectivist, who faded into seventh behind Galileo Chrome after setting the pace in what is turning out to have been a high-quality St Leger, kept going to the finish to win the Prix Royal-Oak against his elders. Tony Mullins’ mare Princess Zoe, attempting to follow her Prix Du Cadran win over the Arc weekend, could get no nearer than fourth over the half-mile shorter trip.

*

The ground was pretty slow too for both Cheltenham on Saturday and Aintree yesterday as the jumps season finally got into its stride. I also watched one early race at Hexham where 14 set off for a 14-runner handicap hurdle and with half a mile to go basically two were galloping, one plodding and the rest crying enough. It was heavy for much of last winter and trainers will be dreading similar conditions this winter having had the last season so cruelly ended before Aintree and the other important spring fixtures could be concluded.

Aintree yesterday gave a couple of indications that the Skelton team was getting into full stride. Their summer activity, a feature of Dan’s early training career, is almost negligible in comparison nowadays, but the smart horses are coming out now. Two from yesterday (from a sample of 13 winners during an accelerating two-week period) that advertised the team’s well-being and the trainer’s skill, were debutant Real Stone, a comfortable 50-1 winner of the competitive maiden hurdle which opened the card and bumper winner Elle Est Belle, also a newcomer who swamped previous winner Windswept Girl in the finale.

She is a daughter of Fame And Glory, whose early demise – he was just 11 having raced until six winning 14 times – was such a loss to Coolmore’s jump stallions. After this stylish win Elle Est Belle would be an early contender for the Cheltenham and Aintree Festival bumpers if Dan and owner Mrs Suzanne Lawrence can wait that long.

It was a frustrating few days for the Geegeez.co.uk colours as Windswept Girl’s stable-companion Coquelicot was a beaten favourite at Fontwell, where her jumping on hurdles debut was open to a deal of improvement. Both talented females carry high hopes into their second season with Anthony Honeyball and, don’t worry Matt and co, I reckon you have days of success and enjoyment to look forward to.

Monday Musings: Tom and Hollie’s Top Class Show

Many famous men through history have had to accept second place in their relationships with their even more well-known better halves, writes Tony Stafford. Their own celebrity was undoubtedly the reason they first came to the attention of their future partners, none more so than Joe Di Maggio, America’s supreme baseball star of the 1950’s, who had to grow accustomed, once hitched, to being referred to as Mr Marilyn Monroe.

Joe clearly accepted that slight (as it was in those unenlightened days) on his manhood, for why else would he have continued to support the troubled platinum blonde film star through the various subsequent alliances and scandals that stretched all the way to a President of the United States? For Donald Trump and Stormy Daniels, read John F Kennedy and Marilyn, illicit alliances half a century apart.

While entertainment and sport stars have occasionally got together, rarely has it been on such an equal basis as Mr and Mrs Hollie Doyle. Sorry, not quite yet, as although the wonderful Hollie and the equally admirable Tom Marquand are no married couple, they do live together in Hungerford. After Saturday’s exploits where the 20-some pair – Tom is the younger by two years – monopolised Champions Day at Ascot to the tune of four wins, so 67% of the six races, Tom hinted that marriage might be on the horizon.

Halfway through Saturday’s card, the various television outlets were in full Hollie mode. She won the first two races on Trueshan (by miles in the Stayers) and thrillingly by a nose on Glen Shiel (Sprint) before finishing a creditable second on Dame Malliot behind the highly-talented Wonderful Tonight, trained by David Menuisier in the fillies’ and mares’ race. Had the finishing order been reversed you could have imagined Frankie Dettori, already tailed off on Stradivarius in the opener and destined to share in Palace Pier’s first career defeat later on, wondering what was going on. Ascot’s supposed to be his private venue, but sorry Frankie, even Peter Pan had to grow old one day.

As it turned out, Glen Shiel was her final win, but after a brief break in the changing room while Palace Pier was struggling into third behind The Revenant in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, she picked up lesser cheques, for sixth in the Champion Stakes on Extra Elusive for her new boss Imad Sagar, and another second on Sir Michael Stoute’s Solid Stone in the Balmoral Handicap which closed the show.

I’m not sure whether the Marquand/Doyle team pools its earnings. By all accounts they usually sit down to relax after their respective long days, maybe playing a game of cards, watching telly or maybe even examining closely the relative quality of their performances.

At times one or other might be in the ascendant, as Hollie clearly was in the first half of Saturday when the total earnings of her two wins and three minor places added up to a whopping £495,000. Modesty precludes me from checking just what the precise share of that will go to the jockey, but somewhere around seven per cent might not be far wide of the mark.

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So Hollie could rightfully say as they shuffled the cards: “Here’s my Group 2 and Group 1, can you match that?”. Well, fortunately, late-starting Tom could indeed counter. “Yes Hollie, here’s my 62 grand for the Balmoral Handicap on Njord, but my Group 1 and the 425k Addeybb won in the Champion Stakes easily matches your day’s work!”

In monetary terms it might just do so, but in the media perception – I still didn’t watch it on ITV, but Sky Sports Racing, who had to share their rightful coverage of Ascot with Racing TV and the national broadcaster - both revelled in Holliemania. It was indeed mostly a one-way street.

In the end, though, it proved to be almost a dead-heat on the earnings front, the final figure arriving at almost exactly £1 million (505 Tom and 495 Hollie); just like their riding styles: tidy, unobtrusive and in each case being in the right place at the right time in just about all their races.

I’ve mentioned Tony Nerses before and there’s no doubt that Imad Sagar’s Racing Manager played a big part in securing Hollie’s services earlier in the year. When the news came it was with a mixture of surprise at the appointment and dread that it might all go pear-shaped, but the tiny Hollie quickly grew into the role. The first Group races soon came, notably on Sagar’s Extra Elusive at Windsor in August, the highlight of her personal five-timer that day. Now she has that first Group 1 on her ever-expanding list of achievements and a record number of winners for a female rider: already pushing 120, that in a truncated year. Which of them will win the championship first? Possibly Hollie, but either will be a credit to the accolade.

There seems no limit to the list of potential employers – if you’re good enough for Sir Michael Stoute, you’re good enough for anyone. At the same time Marquand has seamlessly moved from the guy who happened to be available to partner Addeybb in those two winning Group 1 rides in Australia last winter to now being the go-to man for that well-travelled mudlark’s trainer, William Haggas.

I use the term mudlark advisedly, and there is little doubt that there is no point in turning up on Champions Day if you cannot cope with the soft ground that is almost inevitable in mid-October. That was always the main argument against staging such an important date so late in the year. In a normal mid-October once the European pattern gets through the various Classic schedules of the three major racing nations, there is little scope to go elsewhere. The Irish have their Champions weekend; France and the Arc meeting follows three weeks later, so this is where our big day has to be.

Not that the winners of Saturday’s races are anything but worthy, even if the names John Gosden and Aidan O’Brien, for whatever reason, didn’t manage to collect any first prizes. I was surprised to hear that Gosden was citing the going for Stradivarius’ capitulation in the opening Stayers race. It was the fourth time he’d contested it and he’d won it only once previously. This time he’d gone through the extra exertion of a full preparation for the Arc with a mile and a half run in one of the trials. Gosden’s suggestion that because the Arc had been run at a pedestrian pace it was less demanding than usual seemed surprising.

The biggest surprise, though, in view of his less than outstanding record at this fixture – nowhere near the level of his three Gold Cups there or four Goodwood Cups in high summer – was that he started as short as 11-10.  Trueshan came to the race having won six of ten career starts, including a defeat of smart stayer Withhold in Listed class last time at Salisbury. Runner-up Search For A Star had won the last two renewals of the Irish St Leger for Dermot Weld and third home Fujaira Star had won a Royal Ascot handicap before impressing in a top-class Ebor at York and following home Search For A Star at the Curragh. It was a hot race.

I fully expected Andrew Gemmill to have been at Ascot on Saturday for Trueshan’s win, but he stayed home. Andrew was one of the four original owners – the Singula Partnership- of Trueshan but in May last year they leased the horse to the Barbary Lions 5, a bigger syndicate of 20 in which the quartet also participates. That lease ends at the end of the year according to Andrew and it will be interesting to see whether Alan King will allow this four-year-old gelding to run over hurdles which must have been the original plan. More than likely he’ll be happy to stay on the level and try to win next year’s Gold Cup.

Some spectacular results have been achieved by two of Saturday’s winners, cheaply bought at auction some way into their careers. The Darley-bred Glen Shiel had already raced 11 times in all, once at two, then as a three- and four-year old for Godolphin with Andre Fabre, winning three times. Turning up at the Doncaster May sales as a five-year-old, unraced so far that year, he was bought on behalf of Archie Watson for £45,000 and didn’t see a British racecourse until October. Five runs before the turn of the year didn’t produce a win, but the first of three pre-lockdown appearances did.

On January 8 at Newcastle off a mark of 96 and ridden by Hollie, he won readily. It was not until another five runs later, also at Newcastle in late June that he collected again and that was the start. The son of Pivotal has shown his and his trainer’s ability with a second to Dream Of Dreams in the Haydock Sprint Cup and then by reversing that form while also seeing off perennial Group 1 sprint contender Brando, much to his rider’s evident disbelief.

Marquand was also the beneficiary of an inspired purchase. The four-year-old Njord had started out with Sheila Lavery’s Irish stable, gaining his first win off 63 in May last year. He collected again on October 13 before going to Goff’s sales six days later when BBA Ireland paid 54,000 Euro on behalf of Jessica Harrington. By now on 82, he ran back at Gowran Park only nine days after the sale, winning comfortably. Another win, soon after racing’s resumption in June came off 88 at The Curragh. On Saturday Njord ran away with the highly-competitive Balmoral Handicap and must now be on at least 110, more than three stone higher than where he started.

I highlighted the chance of The Revenant last week in this column and was not at all surprised that he coped with conditions better than Palace Pier when going one better than last year in the QE II. He now has the remarkable figures of 10 wins, two seconds and a third in 13 career starts. In that race, Sir Busker’s alarming tendency to hang left when put under pressure didn’t stop him from finishing fourth, showing that if he had been drawn on the stands side in that most unfair of all Cambridgeshires, he might well have won it. Fourth in this coveted Group 1 and almost £35k will have been satisfactory compensation.

One other horse that we in the UK probably have hardly noticed – I hadn’t! - even after his achievement of splitting Addeyyb and Magical, who was unluckily denied a run at a crucial stage, is Skalleti. This five-year-old, trained in Marseille by the talented Jerome Reynier has a record on a par with The Revenant’s. Even after Saturday’s defeat he has 12 victories from 16 and this autumn has a Deauville Group 3 victory over subsequent Arc winner Sottsass and an easy Prix Dollar victory on Arc weekend on his record.

Preconceptions proved misguided in several cases on Saturday, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that some of the winners weren’t up to standard. They were.

- TS

Monday Musings: How much soup have you missed?

So we’re to brace ourselves for another retrenchment in the battle against Covid by all accounts? Having voluntarily hidden away for five months apart from the once weekly drive to Tesco, sitting in the car while the shopping was effected by the household’s responsible adult, and some less than regular walks around one of the two massive local parks, I don’t feel minded to go back into that oblivion any time soon, writes Tony Stafford.

By my calculations at the very least I’ve missed a conservative 100 trips to the races and, at Chelmsford alone, at least 30 bowls of soup. Where some things are concerned I just can’t help myself. And they do serve up the most wonderful soup (and chicken goujons and chips) in the owners’ room. Okay, the racing goes on everywhere but where you’re looking, but I love it – as far as I can remember!

I’m pleased to learn that the wonderful Linda is still looking after either the owners or is it the trainers at Newmarket? She never sees this, so how can I tell her how much I miss her. Not everyone it seems is happy that as much is being done to thank the owners for their continuing stoical support in face of reducing prize money and a feeling that the entire race programme in Europe is morphing into a homogenous mass.

Last weekend it was the Arc; then it was the Dewhurst and Cesarewitch and next week it’s British Champions Day at Ascot. The week after that the clocks go back and it’s ten minutes to Christmas. You might disagree but I can tell you I was at Cheltenham for the entire four days and nights and that only seems about six weeks ago so quickly has Covid time progressed.

The three O’Brien stables, father and two sons, had the hammer blow of the French testing of their Gain feed which led to the voluntary withdrawal of their Parislongchamp runners over Arc weekend but the levels were clearly back on track in time for Newmarket. There, the number cloths were transposed for Aidan’s two runners in the bet365 Fillies’ Mile on Friday to cause another stir. Snowfall (50-1) and Mother Earth (18-1) actually finished third and eighth rather than the reverse that everyone believed had happened.

Busy at the time of the race – amazing what you find to do when the alternative is coming over and having to quarantine afterwards! – as soon as Aidan O’Brien saw the race recording he spotted the error. Unfortunately the team based in Newmarket, managing the Ballydoyle UK runners in these oddest of times, was not quite as firmly on the ball.

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Part of the confusion, for the viewing public anyway, could have been that both were outsiders and ran in Derrick Smith’s purple colours. So too did the Coolmore partners’ third and most eagerly-anticipated contender, the 7-2 shot Shale who was renewing an on-going rivalry with the favourite, Pretty Gorgeous. The talented pair had met three times previously, with the verdict 2-1 in favour of Shale as they filled the first two places each time, including most recently in the Moyglare at the Curragh last month when Shale, trained by Donnacha, beat Pretty Gorgeous, from Joseph’s stable, by almost a length.

Shale could do no better than sixth here, adding to Donnacha’s frustration just days after the rookie trainer’s stable star Fancy Blue retired to stud following her inevitable withdrawal from her planned Arc weekend target.

Joseph, already with Friday’s fillies’ Group 1 in his locker, would have been excused for thinking the Dewhurst Stakes might be coming his way too.  In the National Stakes last month at The Curragh, the previously once-raced Thunder Moon overcame his inexperience when bursting through to beat the Ballydoyle pair of Wembley and St Mark’s Basilica by a length and a half and a short head.

On Saturday, Declan McDonagh soon had Thunder Moon in a more prominent position. Instead of that being the launch-pad for a replica winning spurt up the hill, less than expected materialised. Rather it was dad’s re-opposing duo, St Mark’s Basilica, ridden by Frankie Dettori, crossing the line more comfortably ahead of Wembley, who again finished well into second, this time under Ryan Moore, who had ridden Saturday’s winner in Ireland. The result in other words was a 1-2-3 exact reverse of Ireland’s main juvenile race and Aidan O’Brien’s seventh Dewhurst.

It was tempting for bookmakers to put St Mark’s Basilica, a $1.3million yearling by Siyouni from the Galileo mare Cabaret, at the head of the betting for next year’s 2,000 Guineas after this as he is half-brother to Magna Grecia, (by Invincible Spirit) who won the Classic two years ago. If you prefer to stay with the authentic Guineas-winning formula rather than make do with the broodmare sire, you can always hope that Wembley can turn the form around over another furlong. He’s certainly strong at seven. Battleground (by War Front), another stable-companion and a Royal Ascot and Glorious Goodwood winner, is also an early 8-1 shot.

When you work every day in close proximity to such giants of any business as Coolmore, Juddmonte or Godolphin, there must be deep down a latent wish or belief that some of the magic dust might percolate on to you. Over the years many of Coolmore’s senior staff have dabbled, or in truth much more than dabbled, in breeding and bloodstock. Always, it seems, they do so with John Magnier’s full support and encouragement.

On Saturday at HQ, when the big cats had done their day’s work finishing 1-2 in yet another Group 1 championship-defining race and metaphorically vacated the scene, some of the “Coolmore mice” were allowed to come out to play. Not that the Group 3 Darley Stakes which ended the two-day meeting was an insignificant affair.

On a day when the only winning favourite came in the 34-runner Cesarewitch with Willie Mullins’ hat-trick-completing Great White Shark, events concluded with a 28-1 success (some people got 40’s!) for a Fozzy Stack-trained four-year-old filly ridden by Jamie Spencer.

It will not be a shock to learn, if you didn’t see the race, that the Co Tipperary Spice Girls who own the filly – and who also raced the filly’s mother, similarly a Group 3 winner before her - had to wait until the last 100 yards for Spencer to put them out of their misery and go into the eventually comfortable winning lead.

I’m sure that the smaller than usual contingent over for the yearling sales at Tatts, but still witness to two massive multi-million buys in M V Magnier’s name last week, would have stayed behind to cheer as the racecard – if there was one – puts it, Mrs Tom Gaffney and Mrs Barbara <wife of Clem> Murphy.

Attempts, admittedly after sensible people will have been long tucked up in bed, even the afore-mentioned no doubt still-celebrating Mr Tom and Mr Clem, initially failed to elucidate Mrs G’s first name, but the wonderful Wendy Normile called just in time to remind me it was Marie. Their filly is called Lady Wannabe, a daughter of Camelot, the nearest we’ve had to a Triple Crown winner since Nijinsky in 1970, out of Wannabe Better, who was a half-sister to the even more talented Wannabe Grand.

Both fillies were daughters of the 1990 foal, Wannabe, coincidentally who arrived on this earth seven years before the song of that name which launched the Spice Girls’ careers. So it’s a stretch, but that’s what I’m calling them. I know that with Camelot doing so well in his early years as a stallion and the blue chip female family, even if their two husbands cannot continue to keep the two Tipperary girls in the style in which they are in danger of becoming accustomed, Lady Wannabe will!

As for next Saturday, this morning the entries for Ascot, where soft ground is expected, will be eagerly awaited. Magical, in whichever race she targets, must be a prime candidate for another win having dethroned Ghaiyyath last time, but I’ll be looking for The Revenant, so smooth on his delayed comeback in Paris a week ago to perform a minor giant-killing against Palace Pier in the Mile race.  Fresh is best at this time of the year and no horse will be fresher than the French five-year-old.  In the Balmoral Handicap it is hard to look beyond the Brian Meehan-trained recent course winner Raaeq. He’s 5lb well in despite his penalty and he seemed to love soft ground on the track last time out.

- TS

Monday Musings: Joy and Pain in the Rain

One of the clichés of modern sport is No Pain No Gain, writes Tony Stafford. At Longchamp on Sunday, because of a batch of contaminated Gain horse feeds with the non-permitted ingredient Zilpaterol, there was plenty of pain (and rain) for the Ballydoyle contingent and all ante-post supporters.

First it was Love, sensibly withdrawn when the ground went from good to soft to truly heavy, in the first couple of days after last week’s offering in this place was rendered non-sensible by the Parisian deluges. Around the same time, Serpentine was supplemented into the race and I recall telling my pal Scott Ellis that it was a master-stroke – he’d be the only pace in the race and would have a similar solo from the front as he had at Epsom.

After all, had he not had the one atypical – in other words running in midfield – dress rehearsal in his course and distance comeback in stablemate Mogul’s Prix Niel after a 71-day gap following his all-the-way Derby victory?

That possible tactic would have probably altered the eventual time of 2 minutes, 39.30 seconds, which apart from Ivanjica, 0.10 sec slower in 1977, was the third slowest since 1941. Puissant Chef with a funereal 2min 44.00 in 1960 holds that dubious honour.

In the event Sottsass followed last year’s third to Waldgeist and Enable by winning the race for Jean-Claude Rouget. In Swoop in second, and the miler Persian King, who was allowed to set a slow pace, filled the places.  Enable, on what will likely be her final valiant try, was sixth of the 11, just ahead of fellow six-year-old and stable-companion Stradivarius in seventh. Meanwhile Japan, Mogul, Sovereign and Serpentine were left kicking their hooves while alternative feed supplies were organised and important autumn and winter schedules were urgently addressed.

Sottsass, a son of the crack French-based stallion Siyouni, is out of a Galileo mare who has also bred the top-class US racemare Sistercharlie, a seven-time Grade 1 winner, including at the Breeders’ Cup, for owner Peter Brant and trainer Chad Brown. Sottsass also runs in the colours of Brant’s White Birch Farm, and given the closeness of the New Yorker to the Coolmore partners, it is hardly a shock to find they negotiated a half-share at the beginning of the year with a future stud career in mind.

Friend Scott was initially tempted by the 14-1, but whether he got round to striking a bet I’m unsure as the 14’s proved elusive. Plenty will have got on however and I’m wondering whether any bookmaker will be kind enough to grant an amnesty over non-runners, especially those caused by what the horses had eaten rather than their ground preferences.

Love lives to fight another day, although with the amount of rain that fell on Ascot before Saturday – more than enough to wash out the important fixture on Arc eve at Her Majesty’s racecourse – whether they’ll want to go to the Champions Day card is another matter. The Breeders’ Cup seems the obvious choice.

I know the Editor dislikes my gravitating into areas of sport, but the almost overlapping 2019-20 and 2020-21 Premier League seasons have already shown enormous effects of Covid-19. For No Pain No Gain – replace it with No Cheer, No Fear. How else would Manchester United (third in the late-finishing previous season) be allowed to keep shipping goals to Tottenham at Old Trafford to the extent of a 6-1 record home loss? Or Liverpool allow a series of defensive mistakes to translate into a 7-2 loss to Aston Villa, one of two 100% teams along with Everton.

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As recently as July 11, during the re-convened season interrupted after the weekend before Cheltenham, Aston Villa had 27 points and were 19th of the 20 teams. Bournemouth had 28 and Watford 31. Eight points from their final four matches to the end of July brought them to 35, ending a point above their two rivals who were relegated.

Meanwhile Liverpool ended the season on 99 points, clear of Manchester City and Manchester United. The three elite teams conceded a very similar total of respectively 33, 35 and 36 goals in their 38 matches. Already this season, Liverpool in four games have given away 11 goals, a third of last year’s tally; Man C, seven (so one-fifth of last time) in three and Man U 11, so just under a third of a season’s total, in three games!

Something’s up, be it the short gap between the two seasons, or be it psychological – none of the usual hero-worship but a magnification of the social media attention by fans unable to attend matches, is grinding players down. Three internationals for the elite players over the next two weeks could only magnify the weirdness.

Footballers are being shown to be only human and I marvel at the fact that clubs can routinely consider paying by all accounts up to £100 million to secure the transfer of a single player as Manchester United have been trying all through this latest transfer window.

To pay those sums for players while allowing lower league clubs to go out of business for less than a single player’s weekly salary exposes the immorality of the sport and its television paymasters. Of course, I and probably many of you who read these words are complicit just by paying the monthly subscription.

Xxxx

I had intended leaving mention of the Arc to others this week, but several attempts to track down my intended featured subject came to naught. Nobody answered the phone at Tony Mullins’ stables near Gowran yesterday and I have to suspect that his two-week isolation might have started with him and the owners being slightly tired and emotional.

The reason for his probably delicate condition was easy to understand. In a training career dating back 33 years, Tony Mullins has operated rather in the shadows of his brother Willie, but his skills as a trainer and identifier of a good horse are widely appreciated.

He was a brilliant jockey in his day, and a frequent partner of Dawn Run. The great mare was trained by his father Paddy and, while Tony enjoyed many winning days, the two biggest of her career in the Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup were shared by Jonjo O’Neill.

Tony Mullins has never had massive strings, but knew how to develop a young horse, win a race with him and then pass him on. As the years went by the totals dropped but he still has the knack as his handling of the four-year-old hurdler Scalino this year shows. Scalino had run in six maiden hurdles without getting into the first three before turning up at Punchestown early last month in an 18-runner handicap.

Starting 20-1 he was closing up to the leaders when hampered by a loose horse, but soon challenged. He went to the front before two out, soon went clear and was eased on the run-in but still won by 13 lengths at 20-1.

Earlier in the year Mullins took charge of a German mare, a five-year-old who had raced regularly in the two previous seasons earning two wins and eight places from 15 appearances. Mullins had her ready for her Irish debut late in June and obviously thought her capable of a big run off the 64 handicap mark allotted by the Irish handicapper in collaboration with his German counterparts.

Backed to 4-1, she got within a length of the winner in a 16-runner handicap over 1m5f at Navan. That reverse was put right the following month when she won the 15-runner Ladies’ Derby at the Curragh off 70 by five easy lengths.

Three wins followed at Galway. The first two came at the big summer meeting, initially over 2m1f in a Premier handicap off 83 then comfortably a few days later with a 7lb penalty under claiming rider Joey Sheridan. The 18-year-old was again in the saddle when the mare, a daughter of Alan Spence’s tough horse Jukebox Jury, now a successful stallion in Germany, won the Listed Oyster Stakes. That day, back at 1m4f, she beat the mare Barrington Court and Oaks runner-up, Ennistymon.

Mullins didn’t hesitate, aiming at the Group 1 Prix du Cadran on the first day of the Arc meeting. After her run of success, she started the second favourite behind Call The Wind, winner of the race in 2018 and runner-up last year. Joey Sheridan, naturally unable to claim, sat in mid-field in the nine-horse marathon, while prolific winning stayer Alkuin was allowed a long lead. Coming to the straight Sheridan went in pursuit of the leader who still held a big advantage.

In the last furlong, though, the relentless mare cut into the deficit and caught the leader a few yards from the line with Call The Wind toiling 15 lengths back in third and the rest needing a telescope to find them.

Afterwards a jubilant Mullins said he would not hesitate to run Princess Zoe at a mile and a half and cheekily suggested next year’s Arc as a possible target. I wouldn’t put it past this modern-day alchemist to go where Enable couldn’t (not this year anyway!).

Tony Mullins has crossed my path a few times over the decades, usually to my rather than his benefit. There was the time I suggested he might want to land a gamble in the UK, and he earmarked Carla Adams, a mare who had been initially with Ginger McCain, to fit the bill. She had a couple of runs in low-grade hurdles for Wilf Storey, finishing third in the second of them. The day was set for Hexham but she disappointed. Wilf said he couldn’t work out why she never seemed to get any fitter and a few months later when the foal came, we had our answer.

It was more than a decade after that, crossing towards the conveniences at Cheltenham, when Tony stopped me, interrupting his own call saying, ”Wait, I need to talk to you.” As I’ve recorded here more than once he said I shouldn’t miss his one in the last.

I was with Raymond Tooth that day, watching Punjabi finish fourth in the Triumph Hurdle a few weeks after I’d first met him when the horse won at Kempton. Before Raymond left the track, I passed on Tony’s advice on Pedrobob, and the horse duly won the County Hurdle from 27 others under Paul Carberry at 12-1. On the Monday morning Raymond called and offered me the job as his racing advisor.

Until Saturday, Pedrobob was probably Tony’s most valued winner, but the £87k prize for the owners, a Group 1 win, and what more might be to come with Princess Zoe must be the supreme moment for this lovely man. I couldn’t have been happier. For Tony, over the years there’s been plenty of pain, so at last some real joy in the rain.

Monday Musings: Arc Love Abounds

The betting will tell you that next Sunday’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe is a virtual match between 6-4 shot and dual fillies’ Classic winner Love and the Queen of world racing, Enable, who is available at 5-2 after just the 13 Group wins in an 18-race career over five seasons which has yielded 15 victories in all.

That two of them were in the Arc seems not to matter in the face of Love’s faultless campaign of 1,000 Guineas, Oaks and Yorkshire Oaks. The memory of an almost unthinkable defeat when going for the hat-trick at Longchamp last October when Waldgeist got up late to deny her, and another second place to Ghaiyyath in the Eclipse Stakes this summer have only slightly dented Enable’s air of invincibility.

The promise of rain in Paris this week will not shake the confidence of the Gosden-Dettori-Abdullah team, nor will the prospect of facing some of the best colts in Europe on Sunday. Those two elements have still to be addressed by Love, representing the Aidan O’Brien filly and her Coolmore owners. Their three-year-old will have a 6lb weight advantage against her revered rival, but obviously boasts a great deal less experience.

That said, Love did run seven times as a juvenile, winning three. Two of those victories last year were on good ground, the other on good to firm. When she was defeated, three of the four were on good to soft or yielding. All three of her Group 1 successes this year have also been officially on good. Add in that she has yet to meet a colt and, while the margins of her wins have been uniformly eye-opening, this represents a new and deeper test.

At this distance, the big two overseas squads (as far as the French are concerned) of Gosden and O’Brien are garnering high-class back-ups. Gosden can bring another six-year-old, the multiple champion stayer Stradivarius, who has shown on two occasions, admittedly in defeat behind Ghaiyyath and Anthony Van Dyck in the Coronation Cup and Anthony Van Dyck again in Longchamp’s Prix Foy, either side of a third Gold Cup at Ascot and fourth Goodwood Cup, that he is effective at a mile and a half. Soft ground or worse would only add to his competitiveness on Sunday.

He will have Olivier Peslier in the saddle this time as Frankie is understandably ever more welded to Enable. The third Gosden runner is anything but a lightweight too. Mishriff had not been considered one of the stable’s superstars when he travelled over to Chantilly for the French Derby (Prix Du Jockey Club) in July, but he won the 10.5 furlong Classic by a length and a quarter from The Summit. Next time out, in a four-horse field for a Deauville Group 2 over slightly further than 12 furlongs, he more than tripled his advantage over the same rival. No non-entity he!

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The ground will finally determine which of the host of potential Aidan O’Brien contenders will form his back-up squad. Mogul is an obvious prime contender after his bounce back to form in the Grand Prix de Paris and the trainer was ready to forgive Japan’s lapses this season by pointing out that he has a good record around Parislongchamp, winning last year’s Grand Prix and finishing fourth to Waldgeist and Enable in the Arc. Derby winners Santiago and Serpentine would be possibles along with Anthony Van Dyck – less likely in the event of soft or heavy – and even Magical. I’m sure the mare herself, still on the upgrade at five, would relish the chance of another nip at Enable.

I think it could be a step too far for Pyledriver, but I feel Willie Muir’s three-year-old was unfairly condemned in many quarters as a non-stayer when third in the St Leger. Had he kept straight he could easily have been right there with Galileo Chrome and was getting back to the leaders again at the finish.

Recent Grand Prix de Deauville winner Telecaster will be aiming to complete his rehabilitation as a Group 1 performer without the services of Christophe Soumillon who guided him to a very easy success on soft ground that day at the conclusion of the August festival. That emphatic six and a half-length verdict on heavy ground at Group 2 level has encouraged Hughie Morrison and the Weinfeld family to take the plunge, with far less downside than the colt’s unfortunate Derby experience caused them last year.

A work-out over the full trip on the testing home gallop convinced Morrison that his four-year-old has the tools needed for a strongly-run Group 1 test and hopes it will keep raining. If Love or for that matter Enable can come through to beat that host of dangers on Sunday, she will deserve the highest accolade. But then, they both have been greatly acclaimed already. I take them in that order, LOVE to beat Enable and I’d be thrilled to see Telecaster get third.

*

Apart from the fact that the two horses I fancied for Saturday’s Cambridgeshire got impossible draws – one of them, Walhaan, won the race on his side and finished 13th of 27, I enjoyed the result. It was nice for Paul Hanagan that at the age of 40 – surely not - he was back in the big time after suffering such a bad injury from a fall at Newcastle when fracturing three vertebrae and having another – the sixth – badly crushed.

How he could come back from that I can barely imagine, but all he could do afterwards was thank everyone, especially Jack Berry House where he did most of his rehabilitation work, and long-term ally Richard Fahey who kept faith with him in the early stages of that recovery and continues to support the former champion jockey.

Now fully fit, and gratifyingly self-effacingly humble as ever, he teamed up with Paul and Olly Cole on Majestic Dawn and their lightly-raced four-year-old surged up the favoured stands rail to win by almost five lengths. This was only his second start of the year, after a last of ten around Kempton three weeks earlier.

At 40-1 it might have looked a forlorn hope, but Olly Cole certainly fancied Majestic Dawn’s chance as he had been fifth in the race last year behind Lord North. Cole junior has grown quickly into his role as co-trainer with his father and it is certain that all those earlier big race triumphs for Paul Cole can be remembered in the context of this revival in the yard’s fortunes.

Paul and Olly Cole were the first of the co-trainers to record a win, quicker even than Simon and Ed Crisford, who were operating under that banner earlier than their Berkshire-based counterparts. The Crisfords have had a brilliant season from their Newmarket yard and so have two much newer operations in the same town.

I remember a few years ago I discovered that George Scott, still working as assistant to Lady Jane Cecil at Warren Place, had a house in Newmarket where Ed Crisford, assistant to his father; James Ferguson, with Charlie Appleby for Godolphin; and George Boughey, Hugo Palmer’s assistant, were his house-mates.

In view of where they all are now, it’s interesting to ponder what they managed to talk about in the evenings when settling down to Coronation Street on the telly. Judging on Scott’s steady progress from his larger premises and support of father-in-law Bill Gredley, and the flying starts made by Ferguson and Boughey, the quartet probably did a little knowledge-exchanging about the business they are now adorning with so much promise.

Talking of promise, I wonder what will assail the ears of young Leo Sangster, christened last week by proud parents Sam and Maddy, over the next week or two. Sam is readying himself for another sales season with his thriving agency, but before that gets too demanding, the Sangsters and their co-owners have a date in Paris, where his late father Robert enjoyed three Arc successes in four years with Alleged (twice) and Detroit.

Sangster senior was one of the first owners that supported Nicolas Clement when he was compelled to take over the Chantilly stable of his father Miguel on his sudden death. Clement struck almost immediately in the 1990 Arc with Saumarez, ridden by Gerald Mosse (still going strong 30 years later) for owners Bruce McNall and Wayne Gretzky, the ice hockey legend, great friends of Robert Sangster.

Sam Sangster has already enjoyed Stakes success with horses trained by Nicolas Clement and they have high hopes of their bargain two-year-old Camelot filly, King’s Harlequin, bought for only €30,000, in the Group 1 Prix Marcel Boussac. King’s Harlequin won the Group 3 Prix d’Aumale, one of the customary trials for the Marcel Boussac, over the course and distance, in impressive all-the-way fashion last time and is sure to be a major contender on Sunday.

- TS

Monday Musings: The Day Pat Changed The Law

I only met Pat Smullen once, as against bumped-into as we do or rather did on the ever-moving canvas that is or was until March 2020, the world of horse racing, writes Tony Stafford. I’m sure I smiled across at him on one or more of my increasingly-rare trips to Ireland, or his sporadic jaunts to the UK while he was busy winning his nine domestic titles and an immense warmth within the Irish racing community and his own family which is right at the centre of that intense world.

It was with a mixture of delight and trepidation that I learned on July 7th 2016 from Hughie Morrison’s ultra-efficient secretary Jane Bexx –maybe the real Posh and Becks! – that Pat Smullen would partner Raymond Tooth’s home-bred Dutch Law in the 6.05 race on the following Saturday.

It seemed he’d not been required for Tipperary that day and had been booked for six rides at Ascot’s Summer Mile meeting, presumably working around his primary objective, riding Sir Michael Stoute’s Convey in the feature race. Convey was a disappointing seventh that day but Pat’s trip over did provide its dividend when he brought home Ed Dunlop’s 6-1 shot Manjaam to a comfortable success in the 5.35 race, a mile and a half handicap.

So Smullen’s final act of a long day, before he headed off to nearby Heathrow for his flight home, was his mount on Dutch Law.  At that point in his life the gelding was a 13-times-raced winner of one handicap under Martin Harley on the July Course just over a year previously, and less-than-honourable possessor of five second places. Hence the trepidation: the delight was the prospect of what Pat might encourage him to do!

Well he, with the jockey’s help, made it six runner-up slots, with a decent effort which the race close up in the Racing Post reminds me that he squeezed through after being short of room to run the George Baker-ridden Experto Crede, a three-year-old trained by Ed Walker, to just over a length, conceding that younger horse 12lb.

I tried to rekindle the visual imprint I have of that race by pressing the race video feature on the Racing Post site this morning, but was instead shown the first race of Salisbury’s evening fixture, scheduled off five minutes earlier at 6.00 p.m. Inevitable, maybe, with all that racing going on, as was the case last Saturday when three races with their mini-screens, were showing at the same time on Racing TV.

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What I do remember clearly though without any need of a memory jog is Pat spending quite a lot of time being very gracious about a horse that in the scheme of things could easily not have meant anything much to him. I left the track that night reflecting on what a nice man as well as a brilliant jockey he was.

His riding also had an emollient effect on Dutch Law. Next time out, just a week later, back on Newmarket’s July Course, this time teaming up with Oisin Murphy for the only time, he won with a last-stride lurch on the line. Then the partnership did something I’d never previously witnessed on an English racecourse. Oisin was aware that the gap between this 4.55 race, off almost five minutes late, and his intended ride on a Ralph Beckett good thing in Lingfield’s 6.10 race did not leave much spare time for the 95-mile (presumably less as the plane flies) trip.

So there they were actually cantering across the July Course paddock and into the winner’s enclosure with barely room for the announcement of his narrow win with future champion Oisin looking back apologetically saying: “Can’t stop, see you!” He did make it to Lingfield, incidentally, winning easily and as he has often conceded since, it’s the fastest he’s ever gone on a racecourse after pulling up!

Then came the Charlie Bennett show. That 5lb apprentice also showed a good degree of communication when after another successful run on the same Newmarket track three weeks later, Charlie stayed and chatted for at least half an hour following a more comfortable seven-furlong victory with me and Peter Ashmore.

Tried at a mile there six days later he was third, not really getting home, but then came his greatest triumph when together Dutch Law and Bennett came from last to first to collect a £50k to the winner prize in the Albert Bartlett handicap early in September. We had a couple of frustrating eliminations from races we thought he could win from the bottom of the handicap, but did get a final run on that track when for a time looking like winning the £112k first prize in a Heritage handicap before fading into a close 11th of 18 behind Librisa Breeze.

The last rites on Dutch Law’s career were left to Jim Crowley, who in three previous tries on him had never been over-complimentary, in a conditions mile race at Doncaster when he was slowly away and never in contention finishing last of eight.

Jim, never one to mince his words and never mind that Dutch Law had won three nice handicaps in his previous five races, said: “Basically he’s a shit!” That was telling Raymond and me too, but fortunately Raymond was safely at home and never got to hear Jim’s measured condemnation. For some reason Raymond has chosen not to use Charlie, so I’m delighted that the jockey has been getting plenty of rides and winners lately. His performance on easy winner Bad Company at Windsor recently was an excellent example of his developing talents.

Here it’s worth acknowledging Hughie Morrison’s skill with members of Dutch Law’s family, progeny of Ray’s dual-winning mare Lawyer’s Choice, who now is the dam of five winners. They all need careful management as their knees are often not the best.

There is a post-script to the Doncaster run. Only days afterwards, Dutch Law went to the Tattersalls Newmarket Horses In Training sales and was sold for 150,000gns. Constant vigilance has shown only one subsequent public mention of him, an entry in one race in Dubai that wasn’t taken up and he didn’t appear again.

The aforementioned Experto Crede never raced again in the UK after that Ascot defeat of Dutch Law, turning up in Hong Kong, presumably after a whopping private sale. While ultra-busy for the next two years there, Experto Crede never achieved a high level. He did manage to win three of his 31 races, one each with the Hong Kong greats, Zac Purton and Joao Moreira, as well as Silvestre De Sousa also winning on him.

Another major player that day also had only a limited time before his career and almost his life was ended. It’s easy to erase the memory of even recent events and I admit I’d forgotten just how successful George Baker had been.  He is now one of the regular expert guests on Racing TV, mostly for the all-weather fixtures and often with the immensely-talented American, Rachel Candelora. George has overcome the dreadful injuries sustained in a horror fall on the ice track in San Moritz, Switzerland, on a John Best-trained horse in March 2017.

When George won the race at Ascot on Experto Crede, it was one of 1364 winners in an 18-year riding career during which he recorded six centuries, four in a row to 2016. The most unlikely statistic was his tally of 163 in 2014, astonishing in view of the fact that ever since his first rides in 1999 he always had to cram his six-foot frame into riding at 9st, something that even the two brilliant O’Brien boys could handle for only a few seasons once they reached maturity.

There’s something of the Pat Smullen about George Baker, polite and friendly to all, despite his travails. It’s marvellous that he could rebuild such an unpromising life prospect into a successful second career as well as his valued role behind the scenes helping Ed Walker.

There was to be no positive long-term happy solution to Smullen’s cancer, though, after it was first diagnosed in 2018. From that point, Pat, married with three children to Frances Crowley, sister of Anne-Marie O’Brien and therefore uncle to Joseph, Sara, Anastasia (Anna) and Donnacha, worked tirelessly (and no doubt often more than tiredly) in charitable causes and above all organising that memorable race when A P McCoy and many other greats of racing joined together to make such a financial emotional success.

It isn’t unusual for people to be spoken of in a kindly way when they die. What is remarkable is for an entire country to show such shock, dismay and above all love and deep affection for someone. Pat Smullen, only 43, should have had many more years to live and enjoy with his family and legion of friends not only in his native land. As I said, I met him properly only once, but I never forgot the experience. Neither did Dutch Law!

- TS

Monday Musings: Quelle Weekend!

Compacting the 2020 racing season in Europe’s three major nations has caused some difficulties, but when weekends like the one we’ve just witnessed happen, then assuredly it will be remembered for many years, writes Tony Stafford.

The last of four days of the St Leger meeting started on Wednesday with a trial gathering of 2,500 spectators and then neutered back again to selected insiders only by rising Covid-19 infections, if not deaths, both locally and nationally. France, meanwhile, had its customary trials day on Sunday, three weeks ahead of the Arc meeting itself, and Irish Champions Weekend, at Leopardstown on Saturday and the Curragh yesterday, completed the puzzle.

Normally the trainers associated with the big winners would have wanted to be there to witness their achievements. That wasn’t the case for Joseph O’Brien, who completed an astonishing feat in his 28th year by becoming the only man since the great Harry Wragg to first ride and then train a St Leger winner when Galileo Chrome got the better of Berkshire Rocco under Tom Marquand on Town Moor.

As has been widely reported, Marquand fortuitously got the ride on his first Classic winner because his proposed mount, English King, was re-routed to Longchamp’s Grand Prix de Paris yesterday - where he ran disappointingly. Original booked rider Shane Crosse was in quarantine after testing positive for Covid-19 despite showing no symptoms and “feeling on top of the world”.

Harry Wragg, born in Sheffield in 1902, was one of the leading jockeys between the wars. Known as the Head Waiter for his preferred style of leaving his challenge late – a 1930’s prototype of Jamie Spencer - he won two St Legers, although only the first was truly authentic. Sandwich, in 1931, was trained at Newmarket by Jack Jarvis for the 6th Earl of Rosebery, once captain of Surrey CCC. The 1943 winner, Herringbone, trained by Walter Earl for the 17th Earl of Derby, the last of his six St Legers and twenty Classics in all, was a war-time substitute run at Newmarket.

Wragg’s sole training success in the St Leger was in the 1969 race when Intermezzo won under the Australian jockey Ron Hutchinson for Gerry Oldham. Thus Wragg, who began his training career in 1947, took 38 years between riding the winner of the Classic and training one.

Joseph O’Brien had retired from riding by the age of 23 having been a triple champion jockey in Ireland. He was 20 years old when Landing Light won the St Leger. Compared with Wragg he certainly isn’t any kind of “waiter” with just seven years between the two events.

Back in 1980, a year before Wragg’s retirement from training and only five before he died aged 82, I visited him at his Abington Place stables in Newmarket’s Bury Road, accompanied by his son Geoff who would take over the stable with continued success in 1982.

I went there with Prestatyn-born Bryn Crossley, who sadly died two years ago, as at the time I was helping book his rides. We worked together for only that season, when he was apprenticed to Geoff Huffer at Cheveley Park, the racing stables now the location for Cheveley Park Stud. It was mutually satisfying when that very popular and personable young Welshman became Champion Apprentice that year.

Harry Wragg had booked Bryn for his three-year-old filly Popaway, a sound stayer who from (questionable) memory had 6st9lb in the long handicap. The old master, a true innovator, and one of the first trainers to weigh his horses regularly, wanted to go through the race with Crossley and it was quite an experience for us both. Bryn claimed 5lb and was planning to get down to 7st2lb – which he comfortably managed - for only the second time in 1980. The first was on Jim Bolger’s Lynconwise at Leicester, a race he won very easily on Whit Monday.

There was a chance that if the original Cesarewitch top-weight were to come out at the overnight stage as was rumoured, there would be a big hike in the weights, but he stayed in and that left the very tough Popsi’s Joy, owned and bred by the bearded solicitor Victor Morley Lawson and trained by Michael Haynes at Epsom, to run almost loose on 8st6lb.

Haynes shrewdly booked Lester Piggott, still at the height of his powers in his mid-forties, for the ride at his minimum weight. Two furlongs out Crossley took Popaway to the front, but Lester and Popsi’s Joy were always going easily and soon joined the filly. The two horses quickly drew away from the other 25 runners which included Sir Michael, who had won for Huffer the previous year and John Cherry, successful four years previously under Piggott. Popsi’s Joy won comfortably by a couple of lengths with Popaway around five lengths clear of the rest.

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Popsi’s Joy won eight races in 1980 and 17 in all, culminating in a four-length victory as a 10-year-old in the Tote Cesarewitch Trial at Warwick. He survived at Michael Haynes’ stables until dying, aged 25, in 2000.

There was a post-script, as the top-weight, who did eventually miss the race despite having been kept in until the final declaration stage, was to make one further minor footnote in his career.

In those days, the Press Association, where I worked for three years in the early 1970’s, used to issue for Weatherbys a daily bulletin of Official Scratchings in a system far removed from the instant technical processes of today. At the bottom was a sorry final section entitled, “All engagements – dead”. There within a few days of the race, while we were still bemoaning Popaway’s bad luck to be so far out of the weights, was the name of the absent top-weight. If that had happened in 2020, the conspiracy theorists would have had a field day. I think at the time I was just about the only person who noticed.

Incidentally, Morley Lawson had already owned a Cesarewitch winner, the Arthur Pitt-trained Ocean King, ridden by lightweight Tommy Carter in 1974. The previous year, Morley Lawson, then aged 67, won an amateur riders’ Flat race on that horse. I’ve mentioned here a million times about my part-time additional job as Editor of the old Racehorse newspaper. In the first front page piece I wrote for that still revered weekly, I happened to select Ocean King, who won at a long price.

In that issue, it was attributed to The Editor, and on the following Monday morning, my colleague Roger Jackson passed on a letter from Peter O’Sullevan noting the great tip and wishing him a successful career in the future. Understandably Roger’s name, alongside his greyhound selections, was the only one the always very gracious future Sir Peter could find to congratulate.

***

This past weekend was one of tremendous success for Irish stables, not least for the evergreen Dermot Weld who sent over his improving filly Tarnawa to beat Jean-Claude Rouget’s self-professed “champion filly” Raabibah by three lengths in the Prix Vermeille a couple of hours before his Search For A Song repeated last year’s success in the Irish St Leger. Amazingly – and I’d be willing to bet he never expected it to happen – that took him level on nine wins with Aidan O’Brien in that Classic’s long history.

Weld is 72, but he was not the oldest winning trainer at the meeting. Both Jessica Harrington, born a year before Weld, and Jim Bolger, her senior by a hardly-believable five years when you see him, were on the scorecard yesterday. The only notable non-celebrant on the day was Kevin Prendergast, still going strong and training winners. Kevin was born in 1932, the year after Harry Wragg’s first St Leger win as a jockey!

Harrington’s Cayenne Pepper won the Group 2 Blandford Stakes, but it was the exuberant triumph of her two-year-old colt Cadillac in Saturday’s mile Group 2, a win and you’re in ticket to the Breeders’ Cup, that caused most eyebrows to rise.

Over the weekend, British-based – or more accurately Yorkshire-based – trainers won four races, three of them yesterday. The single link is that John Quinn, who won a Group 2 race with the ultra-tough seven-year-old Safe Voyage on Saturday;  Richard Fahey, with a Sunday double, and Kevin Ryan, who won a sprint with Glass Slippers, are all Irish.

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Mrs Harrington needs to get somebody, presumably her daughter Kate who often works as an expert – which she surely is! - on Racing TV’s Irish coverage as well as an important cog in mum’s operation, to talk to Wikipedia. That fount of sometimes accurate knowledge, says she is “principally a trainer of National Hunt horses but has had some success in Flat racing”. Well said, Wikipedia.

One of the features of this behind-closed-doors season, which started in Ireland with Naas on June 8, has been the astounding success of the irrepressible Johnny Murtagh. He has already won 41 races, gaining a career-defining Group 1 win in Saturday’s Matron Stakes with the ever-improving Champers Elysees who came from last to first to see off the Group 1-winning  Coolmore pair of Peaceful (Aidan) and Fancy Blue (Donnacha). Johnny, highly successful in his time at Ballydoyle of course, continued riding when he first took out a training licence and was in the saddle in 2013 for his first four stakes winners, three at Group level. Champers Elysees was his first Group 1 and a memorable one.

Murtagh also concluded the two-day and two-venue extravaganza with a spectacular handicap win with his 99-rated (up from 68 three runs ago) Sonnyboyliston, who drew almost five lengths clear of the other 21 runners. Talk about a Group winner in handicapper’s clothing!

Meanwhile Dad and the two precocious sons more than did their bit to keep the family firm in the ascendant. Donnacha had only a handful of runners over the two days but yesterday his Galileo filly, Shale, carrying the Derrick Smith silks, reversed Debutante Stakes form with Joseph’s Pretty Gorgeous when making all in the Group 1 Moyglare Stakes.

Joseph wasn’t content with just the one Group 1 winner over the weekend, though. In a high-class renewal of the National Stakes his once-raced Thunder Moon produced a sensational burst from an unpromising position in the colours of Mrs Chantal Regalo-Gonzalez. Aidan’s duo of Wembley and St Mark’s Basilica avoided trouble in that congested affair to take second and third. It would be more than interesting to see Thunder Moon and Cadillac line up in competition before the end of the year, maybe in Kentucky.

And as ever there was Aidan. His two 2020 Derby winners, Santiago from the Curragh and Serpentine, who made such a mess of the Derby field at Epsom, reappeared, although to be pedantic Santiago had run third to Stradivarius in the Goodwood Cup in between.

Serpentine went across to France for the Grand Prix de Paris and could finish no nearer than fourth to his hitherto disappointing stable-companion Mogul, who had gone into Epsom as the Ballydoyle number one. This was Mogul’s third run since Epsom and he took advantage of his subsequent race-hardening to suggest that those earlier high hopes for him were not illusory. Serpentine, foregoing front-running this time, will have plenty to say in the future, I’m sure.

The two 2019 Derby winners were also out over the weekend. While Curragh hero Sovereign could not keep up the gallop after setting the pace in the Irish St Leger, Anthony Van Dyck avenged that Goodwood Cup reverse for his stable by holding Stradivarius all the way to the line in the Prix Foy at Longchamp. He has not always been able to replicate the form that won him last year’s Derby but on his day, and given fast ground, he’s a formidable Group 1 performer.

Sorry Aidan, it’s not going to get any easier keeping that armada of middle-distance Classic colts apart, especially when you add to the mix Tiger Moth, a four-length Group 3 winner on Saturday in his first race since a strong-finishing second in the Irish Derby. And that’s not to forget where Magical comes into the picture. Good enough to stay close to Ghaiyyath before outpointing her York nemesis memorably in Saturday’s Irish Champion Stakes, this insatiable five-year-old phenomenon will keep her male companions in the shadows for as long as she wants to continue.

- TS

Monday Musings: Weird Ky Derby Looks Authentic!

It’s been a topsy-turvy world for everyone this year, writes Tony Stafford. I bet the connections of Tiz The Law, 7-10 favourite for Saturday night’s re-scheduled Kentucky Derby, run in 2020 as the second rather than first leg of the Triple Crown, wished the race had simply been erased from the schedules. Instead it took place in September rather than the first Saturday in May and the Bob Baffert-trained Authentic outstayed the favourite for a memorable sixth win in the race for his silver-haired trainer.

The Americans have not found it within their powers to re-write the programme books as their European counterparts did to keep their Classic races, if not to the normal schedule, certainly in the prescribed order.

The Stateside authorities changed the distance and position of the Belmont Stakes, but kept it in June, racing having resumed over there a good deal earlier in some jurisdictions than others and well before France, the UK and Ireland in that order.

The Belmont, normally the last leg and over a mile and a half of the biggest oval in North America was reduced in distance to nine furlongs. The Barclay Tagg-trained Tiz The Law was untroubled to beat nine rivals there and extend his career stats to five wins in six starts. He embellished it further with a facile win in the Travers Stakes – normally the August date which identifies the summer champion among the three-year-old colts – two months and more after the Belmont.

By the time the three-race, five-week war of attrition is concluded on that June afternoon in New York, normally most of the Classic generation that managed to keep all three dates are on their knees. It takes a good one to survive it.

Two years ago, Justify was Baffert’s fifth winner of the race and his second to complete the generally-elusive Triple Crown. The Belmont, following the Preakness two weeks after the Derby and then the race in New York three weeks further on, proved to be within Justify’s capabilities, but no more. His career came to a full stop after a training injury soon after, but at least he could be retired as an unbeaten winner of the Triple Crown with six out of six on his scorecard.

Three years earlier Baffert was immediately denied an unbeaten campaign for American Pharoah once he was beaten on debut in a maiden the previous autumn. But by the time he’d won his Triple Crown, his tally was seven for eight, with all bar one of the wins in Grade 1 company – the exception a first-time three-year-old cruise in a Grade 2 to get the competitive juices flowing again.

He was tough, too. He won the Haskell Invitational in early August at Monmouth Park, but then as so many before him, got beat in the Travers at Saratoga, for good reason known as the Graveyard race for Triple Crown race winners or Horse of the Year candidates. He bounced back after a sensible break with an impressive win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic before drawing stumps and preceding his younger fellow TC hero into stud duties at Ashford Farm.

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I was on hand – for the only time - to see Baffert’s third Kentucky Derby win in 2002 with War Emblem in the green and white stripes of Prince Ahmed Salman’s Thoroughbred Corporation. That 20-1 chance made all the running.  Baffert had already sent out Silver Charm (1997) and Real Quiet the following year to score. I’ve no doubt that having put away Tiz The Law in a thrilling set-to up the Churchill Downs home straight, many would have been hoping to see them do battle again at Pimlico racecourse in Baltimore for the Preakness, but immediate post-race reaction suggested one or even both might miss the final leg.

That race, normally run two weeks after the Derby but this year four, unlike the Belmont but in common with the Derby, has retained its traditional distance of one mile and three-sixteenths. This was the course and distance over which California-based Seabiscuit memorably beat the East Coast champion War Admiral, the 1937 Kentucky Derby winner, in that famed match race. This of course was made doubly treasured by Laura Hillenbrand’s book and the film in which Tobey Maguire and Gary Stevens – as good and natural an actor as he has been for so many years an outstanding jockey – played the roles as the great underdog’s jockeys.

As they turned for home in that 1938 race, the big favourite War Emblem had drawn upsides and most of the massive crowd expected him to pull away. Instead it was Seabiscuit, who had become a much-loved symbol of the American working class in those Depression years, who gained the upper hand: courage and toughness outpointing class and evidently superior breeding.

Saturday’s Classic was virtually a re-make of the Seabiscuit film. Two horses came around the long turn between the back stretch and the home run with the favourite poised on the outside and the rest clearly irrelevant. Authentic had moved quickly from an ordinary start into an early lead from his wide position, so it was reasonable watching live to think he could be swamped when Tiz The Law, always well placed, came with his customary wide run to take his rightful place at the top of the podium.

But as with Seabiscuit, this relative underdog, third favourite at a shade over 8-1, kept going much the better for a length and a quarter success.

Going into the race, Authentic, like the favourite, had suffered only a single reverse, in his case behind Honor A P in the Santa Anita Derby, turning over an earlier result between the pair. Understandably, Honor A P edged him for second best in the Derby market, but there can be no doubting the pecking order now, as Honor A P finished five lengths behind the winner in fourth.

A smaller-than-usual field contested the race this year. Normally it’s a bun-fight to qualify for one of the 20 available stalls. This time, only 15 turned up, reflecting that there are fewer untested dreams at this stage of the season from later-developing horses than is customary. What I did notice, possibly because of the smaller field and the fact that the runners have had more racing experience than is customary, hard-luck stories seemed minimal.

Also it was one of the fastest-ever Kentucky Derbys, the winner clocking 2 minutes 0.61 seconds. Secretariat in 1973 still holds the all-time best with 1 minute 59.4 seconds in his Triple Crown year. Monarchos in 2001 has the fastest electronic time, while in 1964 Northern Dancer, the ultimate sire of sires, most significantly the direct line, from his son Sadler’s Wells through to Galileo and then Frankel and the rest, clocked an even 2 minutes.

Other fast times were Spend A Buck, 2.00.2 in 1985 and Decidedly 2.00.4 in 1962.  Authentic, with only five faster than him is right up there in historical terms, certainly in front of Baffert’s previous quintet, the less attritional, more even-tempo nature of the race – on a track that was riding fast – doubtless contributing.

Many times, beaten Kentucky Derby runners avoid the Preakness entirely. This year, of the nine horses beaten by Tiz The Law in the first leg of the Triple Crown, only two – neither in the shake-up on Saturday – tried again.

It would be eminently understandable should either or both the big two miss the Preakness in four weeks’ time. A great shame too as if they did clash they would surely provide another proper shoot-out. Considering, though, how much money is on offer for the Breeders’ Cup Classic in the autumn and how easily future stallion fees can be affected by reverses, maybe it’s more likely that we’ll have to wait for a definitive verdict of the Horse of the Year - Covid19 edition!

*

While the Kentucky Derby was taking all the attention over the water, Enable was fulfilling presumably her last public duties in the UK (she still has entries on British Champions’ Day – here’s hoping) before embarking on her final act of an epic career when easily landing the odds (1-14 are hardly odds!) in the September Stakes at Kempton Park.

She was quickly into the lead under Frankie Dettori and won easily from Kirstenbosch, owned by Luca Cumani’s Fittocks Stud. Lightly-raced and on the comeback trail after an interrupted career, Kirstenbosch looks sure to win more races for the James Fanshawe stable.

Meanwhile Enable will be preparing for her ultimate quest, aiming to add a third Arc win after last year’s agonising second to Waldgeist, interestingly on the same weekend as the Preakness. Dettori has been a fitting co-respondent in the mare’s final glorious chapter along with trainer John Gosden. How typical in sport that a younger rival has come along from out of nowhere – well, Ballydoyle! - to make this possibly the toughest of all her four challenges for the famed French race that has become the true European championship.

Love stands in her way, gloriously after three authoritative and sometimes wide margin wins at Group 1 level in the 1,000 Guineas, the Oaks and the Yorkshire Oaks. I suppose there will be other challengers, but nobody loves a two-man (or woman) sporting tussle more than the viewing public. I’d love Enable to win but I don’t think Love will enable her to do so. If you see what I mean!

On an otherwise quiet weekend domestically, Haydock Park’s Group 1 race, the Betfair Sprint Cup, developed into a battle of the six-year-old geldings. The 5-2 favourite Dream Of Dreams, ridden by Oisin Murphy for the Sir Michael Stoute stable, got up in the closing stages to beat the Archie Watson-trained and Hollie Doyle-ridden 25-1 chance Glen Shiel, the pair leaving the three-year-olds Golden Horde, Art Power and Lope Y Fernandez well behind. The same went for two previous winners, The Tin Man and Hello Youmzain.

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A race with rather more significance for the future was Yesterday’s Prix du Moulin de Longchamp on the first weekend since the racing roadshow decamped back from Deauville and its chewed-up terrain to the capital. Only six turned out, but it was a high-class affair. The Andre Fabre-trained Persian King (by Kingman) turned away Pinatubo by just over a length, with Circus Maximus a long way back in third but still ahead of Irish 2,000 Guineas hero Siskin who seems a shadow of the early-season version.

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Persian King had been three lengths in arrears to Circus Maximus when they were third and fourth behind unbeaten Palace Pier in the Prix Jacques le Marois (also Group 1) three weeks earlier over the same trip at Deauville. This performance requires some re-alignment among the division, but it is clear that Palace Pier stands alone at the top of the mile rankings. Those three Irish fillies, Fancy Blue, Alpine Star and Peaceful, who dominated the finish of the Prix de Diane over the extended mile and a quarter at Chantilly, might prove more of a test to Palace Pier than any of yesterday’s Moulin contestants should they be given the opportunity to tackle him.

  • TS

Monday Musings: Never Mind The (Gender) Gap

Watch out Oisin, and for that matter Tom, Hollie’s on the prowl! The estimable Master Murphy might be a 6-1 on shot to retain his title in the 2020 Flat Jockeys’ Championship, but in the world of sport (yes Sky it’s sport not sports!) momentum is everything, writes Tony Stafford.

The 23-year-old pocket battleship already had one record on her growing honours board – I bet Mr Marquand has to look at it every day in their shared home in Hungerford – that of the 116 best-for-a-female wins in 2019. At Windsor on Saturday, while Tom was an hour and a half away at Newmarket drawing a blank from his five mounts (two favourites), Hollie had five memorable winners at Windsor. While the cat’s away, one might say.

Needless to say, this was the first time a female rider had ever ridden a five-timer on a single UK card. No doubt Julie Krone, the American who retired from professional race riding in 1999 when Hollie was barely two years old, will be aware that in this unassuming young lady, there are many similarities with herself.

In July 1992, the Daily Telegraph sports editor, in his wisdom, despatched me off to Redcar for a Wednesday night meeting that really did attract attention. The first race was the Julie Krone Maiden Stakes and, fittingly, the then 28-year-old Michigan-born sensation was duly set up with a winner. Al Karnack, an 11-2 on shot trained for Ecurie Fustok, major owners at the time, by Mohammed Mubarak, won by 20 lengths.

Four more rides followed, with two wins. I spoke to Ms Krone a few times during the event and, thinking back, like Hollie today, you were immediately struck by her small stature but most obviously the strength in her powerful broad shoulders. Picture Ms Doyle in five years’ time after many more hours in the gym and on the Equisizer and you will have Julie Krone mark 2.

Krone at that time was really about quantity, just as Hollie had been until the recent flurry of Listed and Group wins following her initial Royal Ascot success two months ago on the Alan King-trained Scarlet Dragon. At Windsor she collected two more stakes victories, a Listed on Hughie Morrison's Le Don De Vie and the Group 3 Gallagher Group Winter Hill Stakes on the Roger Charlton-trained Extra Elusive for her new retained boss, owner Imad Sagar. The following summer from that Redcar evening, in June 1993, Krone won her only Triple Crown race, the Belmont Stakes on Colonial Affair, highlight of her 3,704 career wins.

Both Hollie’s big winners and the other three that comprised her epic achievement owed as much to her ability to find a clear course on her mounts and the determination with which she sometimes contrives such a position through sheer willpower. On to Yarmouth yesterday, where three more victories followed and only bar narrow reverses by a short head and then, irritatingly, a nose, was a second five-timer within 24 hours foiled.

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I noticed one race at Beverley on Thursday where the Archie Watson–trained Harrison Point looked in danger of being reeled in by Tony Hamilton on fast-finishing Zip. But as he came alongside, Hollie allowed her mount to edge slightly left, making her own mount’s mind up and possibly persuading the eventually runner-up to think again.

Watson of course, one of racing’s young innovators, was first to give more than a passing acknowledgement of the young rider’s potential – although Wilf Storey says he beat Archie to it! -, putting her on the majority of his flying juveniles painstakingly-schooled at home and often in barrier trials to show their form first time.  She repaid that confidence by almost invariably getting them quickly away from the gate – a vital skill in sprints that many other riders find elusive. No names, as Mr Bolger might say.

At Windsor, on the rain-softened ground, Hollie identified the need to get to the favoured far rail, tailoring her tactics with that in mind. Every time she was first onto the far side, she stayed there until the finish. At Yarmouth, she made it to the front four times, and while it looked as though each of her mounts was vulnerable to a challenge from behind, it was only in the last stride that Jamie Spencer, on a typical last-to-first flourish on Ilalliqa could get to her on the Crisfords’ Late Arrival.

Her other near miss, Little Brown Trout, would have needed only another couple of strides to catch the Tom Queally-ridden Spirited Guest. Ten winners in two days surely would have been too much, for the racing world generally and especially for the boys at the top of the table.

Momentum in the Jockeys’ Championship race can be vital. Oisin Murphy, at 6-1 on might seem uncatchable on 94 wins, bolstered by the first three at Goodwood yesterday, but he has an eight-day suspension to serve out which means he misses the St Leger meeting this week. Ben Curtis, more annoyingly for another of the go-to men for big southern stables when their horses head north for minor meetings, has an automatic  14-day exclusion for his ill-judged foray into the nowadays-sacrosanct owners’ area at Newmarket last week, breaching the strict - but of which many may now say - outdated Coronavirus rules.

Those rules, though, were the basis that racing was allowed to start and remain the cornerstone of its license to persist. Curtis’ mistake was that he chose to talk to the owner of the one horse he was going to ride at HQ, annoyingly a late switch because Hamilton was abandoned through waterlogging. As one trainer who uses Curtis’ talents said to me, “He could have arranged to meet him in the garage half an hour earlier, sat down and had a coffee, no problem.”

So, after a momentous weekend, after Murphy there’s a massive gap to William Buick (7-1) and Marquand (9-2) both on 70. Curtis is next on 63 with Doyle up to 60. She is almost certain to narrow the gap in the coming week given her present rate of progress and while talk of a championship this year might well be so much pie-in-the-sky, second place at the main expense of her partner Marquand looks entirely possible.

Tony Nerses, someone I’ve known for almost 40 years since the time he looked after the racing affairs of Prince Yazid Bin Saud, has been the power behind the upward mobility of Imad Sagar who, with Saleh Al Homaizi, owned Derby winner, Authorized. In recent years, Al Homeizi withdrew from their Blue Mountain stud operation, leaving Sagar to go it alone. Nerses was a constant factor throughout that time and the public face of the operation. I love his ads in the Racing Post when one of the Sagar horses wins a race, which say, purchase Authorized by Tony Nerses.

I’m sure he had more than a minor part in securing Hollie’s services. So far from only seven rides, she has recorded four wins including Group race success in the Rose of Lancaster at Haydock and Saturday’s big race both on Extra Elusive, yet another example of Roger Charlton’s skill in improving horses, along with the beneficial effect a gelding operation can bring.

The main issue here was that while Extra Elusive likes to go from the front, it was almost inevitable that he would be challenged for that position by the Mark Johnston candidate, Sky Defender. But instead of going head-to-head, Ms Doyle allowed Franny Norton to have the lead, tracking him a length behind before moving up on his outside to get the rail position she wanted after the point where the figure-of-eight crosses over. From there she was never going to be denied.

Earlier, on Hughie Morrison’s Le Don De Vie, she engineered a similar position at a crucial stage and the Australia-bound four-year-old won with some authority starting off what was to be a memorable weekend for the trainer.

Yesterday at Goodwood, his five-year-old mare Urban Artist, running for the first time in a handicap after winning her novice race at Windsor second time on the Flat, signalled a profitable future with an emphatic all-the-way win against some highly-regarded younger fillies. A couple of hours later Telecaster, continuing his French love affair with Christophe Soumillon, replicated the mare’s front-running exploits with a six-and-a-half length demolition of his Grand Prix de Deauville (Group 2) opponents.

Both horses are home-bred, Telecaster by the Weinfeld family’s Meon Valley stud and Urban Artist by the late Tim Billington. Morrison was very subdued when I spoke to him yesterday morning in advance of the Goodwood race. He said that Tim had died unexpectedly three weeks earlier. In all the debate about racing and its place in the world he said that Billington had paid £2,000 for yesterday’s winner’s fourth dam and she over time had been responsible for at least 30 winners and Tim, via his syndicates – “he couldn’t afford to own them outright himself” – had brought at least 50 people who would never have thought of owning a horse into the sport.

“That’s what it’s all about – or should be” said the trainer, who at the time could not have envisaged a better afternoon than the one he was to experience. Both yesterday’s winners are excellent examples of the value of continuity in racing and breeding. Telecaster is something like a sixth generation product of one of the two main Egon Weinfeld foundation mares, and the way he has progressed from somewhat flighty and disappointing Derby candidate last year to a potential Group 1 middle-distance winner as a four-year-old is testimony to his trainer’s patience and skill.

When Urban Artist was unsuccessfully tried last winter in a Newbury novice hurdle following two bumper wins (one Listed at Cheltenham) she was stepping outside her mother’s comfort zone. Urban Artist is only the second foal to race of Cill Rialaig. She too won two bumpers, one a Listed also at Cheltenham, but never raced over hurdles. Instead she went Flat racing and got into the 100’s while winning races among them at Royal Ascot. I remember her well, but I doubt she had quite the power of this talented mare who sluiced through the ground to complete the Oisin Murphy hat-trick with complete authority to suggest a big hike from her initial 80 is inevitable.

It was Hollie’s weekend though, so I make no excuse for returning briefly to Julie Krone, about whom it is sad to relate that she never rode again in the UK during her professional career. But to get an estimate of how talented she was, she did ride in two consecutive Legends’ races at the St Leger meeting. In 2011, a full 12 years after retiring, and at the age of 48 she came to Town Moor for the mount on Declan Carroll’s Invincible Hero who started 4-1 favourite in a field of 16. He won with ease. Third that day was George Duffield who had been the runner-up to Krone 19 years earlier when on Richard Whitaker’s Gant Bleu, a 9-1 shot, she rode her second winner. “Led on bit two out and stayed on well” was the close-up comment.

As I said at the start, for me Hollie Doyle is the new Julie Krone. It’s amazing to think that now with Hayley Turner, Josephine Gordon and Hollie, all in turn riders with 100-plus wins in a season on their record, and with a host of French female riders benefiting from their continued (if in the case of the UK trio, unnecessary) weight allowance, the first female champion is not far away. I think we know who that will be!

- TS

Monday Musings: Pocket Talk!

We were looking for performances of championship quality at York last week and Ghaiyyath, Love and Battaash certainly provided them, writes Tony Stafford. Battaash maybe didn’t need to be quite at his best to win a second Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes, benefiting from unexpectedly disappointing runs from Art Power and A’Ali as well as the absence of the Wesley Ward two-year-old Golden Pal. But he overcame difficult ground conditions and had to catch a flying filly in Que Amoro to land the odds.

Love was also an odds-on shot in the Yorkshire Oaks, and she made it three majestic Group 1s in the year following 1,000 Guineas and Oaks supremacy with another flawless performance, galloping five and a bit lengths clear of 33-1 shot Alpinista.

Aidan O’Brien and winning rider Ryan Moore did nothing to dissuade us that Love’s rightful objective and a highly winnable one would be the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in which she would form the third major protagonist along with Enable, wisely pulled out of a pre-emptive clash with her last week in favour of the September Stakes, and Ghaiyyath.

Much was made after the Yorkshire Oaks of the three-year-old fillies’ big advantage in the Arc against their elders and contemporary colts. They need to be good, though, and no female of that age contested last year’s race. Two did the year before, the sadly ill-fated Sea of Class just failed to catch Enable when her 7lb weight pull (10lb from older males) was almost enough. Magical, back at her best trip when a three-length second to the impressive Ghaiyyath in the Juddmonte last week, was tenth in that second Arc victory by Enable.

I think Love will win the Arc, and the way she coped with the rain-affected ground last week was probably the final piece in the puzzle.

I want to gloss over the rest of the big-race action at York to concentrate on three if-only moments, one from the Knavesmire, two of which certainly deserved to have a different result.

Peter Charalambous is an owner-trainer based in Newmarket who breeds most of his own horses but rarely has more than ten in training at any one time, many now running in the partnership name of pcracing.com. Over the years he has been particularly successful on the July Course at Newmarket where Trulee Scrumptious has been a standing dish, winning seven times on that track, usually at the Friday Newmarket Nights meetings, so greatly missed by regulars this year.

Before Trulee Scrumptious, Peter did even better with the higher-class mare Boonga Roogeta, who over five seasons won 11 of her 46 starts, at one time achieving an official rating of 96.

Now she is one of his most valued broodmares but when her 2018 foal by Equiano hit the track on the Rowley Mile this month, there was little hint of expectation in the overnight betting market. Called Apollo One, the colt, who went unsold through Book 3 of Tattersalls yearling sales last October at 3,500gns, opened at 33-1, drifting to 40’s before the Charalambous insiders caused him to drop to 22-1 at the off.

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Difficult to load, he was slightly slowly away but Martin Harley allowed him to lead and despite setting only a modest pace, he was soon clear. Eased some way before the finish, he won pulling up by four lengths from the Richard Hannon-trained Keep Right On.

That was only a maiden auction race and he was receiving 3lb from the runner-up in a field of 11, so when he turned out for yesterday’s Solario Stakes, Group 3, at Sandown he was again an under-valued contender. Charalambous might be excused for thinking the horse was disrespected just as he, pointing to his Greek Cypriot heritage as a possible underlying reason, has often felt shunned and excluded by the Newmarket establishment.

In the race, faced by the highly-regarded Hannon colt Etonian, Apollo One, and this time the complete outsider of the field at 28-1, he was again was the subject of late support. He ran accordingly. Fast away under Luke Morris, he led until inside the final furlong where Etonian finally got to him and it was only in the closing strides that second-favourite King Vega got up to deny him second place by half a length.

The Racing TV team certainly gave Apollo One more than a passing complimentary mention and I’d love to see him win a Group race to give this enthusiastic and talented professional’s many years of hard graft some financial reward to go with the already secured black type recognition. Certainly Boonga Roogeta’s subsequent foals will get more attention at future yearling sales. It was nice, too, to see Julie Wood’s colours, after a quiet time, coming to the fore again with Etonian.

Like most of her horses in a much-reduced string compared with a decade ago, Etonian was bought as a foal, in his case at Goffs in Ireland for €14,000. Re-submitted in Tattersalls Book 4 the following year, fortunately he was led out unsold at 10,000Gns. A son of Olympic Glory, originally owned by Mrs Wood, but then bought by Qatar’s Sheikh Johann at the time when he was becoming briefly a major player, he won three of his four races in her colours. His first run for new connections was a victory in the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere on Arc day, so it would be a nice piece of symmetry if, as planned, Etonian takes in that same race this October.

I’ve been following the William Knight-trained Sir Busker all season, delighting in his wins, at Newcastle before lockdown when beating subsequent Royal Hunt Cup winner Dark Vision and then again in the consolation Hunt Cup. Since then he’s probably been the unluckiest handicapper in training, first throwing away a winning chance by hanging violently left in the last furlong of the Bunbury Cup at Newmarket before recovering to chase home Motakhayyel.

At Goodwood he was possibly the pick of all the many “stuck on the rails in handcuffs” victims, but at York this week came the unkindest cut of all. Dropped out by Oisin Murphy in the ultra-competitive 17-runner Clipper Logistics Handicap, he was easily spotted, moving along serenely up the inside under the champion jockey.

Then approaching the bend into the straight with nothing apparently to hinder his course, Murphy suddenly was confronted by a vision in light blue, the 50-1 shot Red Bond, on whom John Egan effected a wholly-unnecessary, highly-illegal and totally-damaging abrupt left turn onto the rails right in Sir Busker’s path.

Instead of turning for home in midfield, he now had five more horses than would have been the case to re-pass once he was able to re-engage forward movement. In the straight, with the whole field coming up the middle, Sir Busker, who, as he showed in the Bunbury Cup tends to go left, drifted across to the far rails with absolutely no cover. He had maybe five lengths to make up from less than two furlongs out only failing by a neck with once again a Hamdan horse, this time Montatham, denying him victory.

Rated only 92 at the start of the season, he was running off 15lb higher at York and in finishing second in a race where the first four home in that big field were the quartet at the top of the betting, should mean that his handicapping days are almost over. Knight though has long felt that the Cambridgeshire, over nine furlongs at his new home course Newmarket, is the ideal race while acknowledging he’ll need another personal best with the probability of another small rise in his mark to win that for all that it’s ideal in terms of getting cover and room to make your move. Then of course there’s the three-year-olds to worry about.

There was another instance of an unlucky loser at Cartmel yesterday on a day where massive prices, a week on from the 300-1 winner in Ireland, were once again commonplace, not just in Ireland, but also in England and France.

Ben Haslam was the star of the show at Cartmel, winning with a 66-1 chance, Black Kraken, in the opener and book-ending the card with 22-1 shot Ever So Much. The latter, an 11-year-old in the J P McManus colours was winning for the 13th time in his career, off a mark of 92. As the Haslam double came out at a massive 1,540-1, it is doubtful whether J P had too much on it! And, if he did, he’s very likely cursing his other Haslam runner, Demi Sang, finishing second at 9/1, narrowly foiling a 15,400 treble!

For much of the closing stages it appeared that his veteran would have to be content with second place as the 40-1 shot Artic Quest, having his first run for 13 months and stable debut for Micky Hammond, looked the certain winner three hurdles from home.

Unlike Ever So Much, Artic Quest had never managed to finish in the first three in any of his previous 16 races in Ireland, under Rules or in points. He achieved a solitary fourth place and that was the only time he got within hailing distance in any race.

In his last Irish outing, on July 6 last year, he ran in a three-mile hurdle, by which time the official Irish handicapper had given him an initial mark of 87. In a field of five at Bellewstown he started 100-1 and finished last, 47 lengths behind the winner and 20 lengths adrift of the fourth horse.

Three days later, Ever So Much, already a 12-time winner, ran his last race over hurdles before yesterday and was well beaten running off 99. In the interim he won one of five chases. In his wisdom, the handicapper dropped him 7lb to 92 for yesterday’s return to hurdles. The same official saw fit to rate Artic Quest, whose deficits in his 13 previous runs were (in bumpers) 25 lengths, pulled up and 19.5; then, over hurdles, 38 lengths, 9.5, PU, PU, 3.5, 55, PU, 116, 40 and 47. No wonder he rated him 7lb HIGHER than his Irish counterpart had done, so that yesterday he was GIVING weight to a prolific winner!

I spoke to Micky Hammond before the race and he said that while his form in Ireland was poor, Artic Quest had been working well, although the early-morning 25-1 had become double that before some small correction into his 40-1 SP.

Just like Sir Busker, ill-luck was to step in. At the sixth flight, as Becky Smith was just allowing the eight-year-old to move closer to the leaders, one of the front runners fell immediately in front of him, interrupting his progress. He recovered and, remarkably, was cantering all over the three leaders, with the rest already well beaten off jumping two out.

I can hardly call Micky at four a.m. to check if his horse, dismounted by Becky immediately on passing the line, had finished lame as I feared he may have done, but the way he weakened markedly while the winner plodded on halfway up the long run-in would tend to suggest he might have.

You guessed it. Sir Busker, Apollo One and Artic Quest, I was on them all. As I said, if only!

On a day when there was a 48-1 Group 1 winner in France for James Fanshawe, his third Prix Jean Romanet in six years; those two big prices at Cartmel and winners at 20-1, 22-1, 50-1 and 22-1 at Naas, why couldn’t I be allowed a 40-1 winner of my own?

- TS

Monday Musings: Lies, Damned Lies, and…

Don’t look now, but York starts on Wednesday and every year for me that means the beginning of the end of summer, writes Tony Stafford. The nights start to draw in; evening race meetings begin at 4 p.m. and if they want to stage ten-race cards as they have been doing recently, they’ll need to be over by 8 p.m. at the latest, except on all-weather.

I’m still not going racing, instead waiting for the day that, like the French, the British (and Irish) public can attend. Harry and Alan are going up to York and have got a great deal in the Marriott at the mile and a half gate. All they need now are some of the highly-regulated owners’ badges to go their way. Wednesday looks good apparently, but some of the other days are more questionable. It might be a case of watching on the hotel telly.

There’s been a fair amount of goalpost-moving lately. I’m delighted that I can get back from today to ice-rink chauffeuring. In the end Mrs S and her skating chums didn’t have to resort to chaining themselves to the Downing Street railings like latter-day suffragettes to get their pleas heard. Now she needs to see if she can still skate after six months off since her latest leg operation.

But the biggest movement, and one more than relevant to someone who has meticulously – as you all will be aware – kept the Covid-19 UK daily death figures since mid-March, immediately after the conclusion of the Cheltenham Festival, is how they are reported.

Spikes and the now seemingly-defunct “R” number have kept us all in check – bar the odd quarter of a million on Bournemouth, Brighton or Southend beaches when it got really hot. But in the middle of last week, suddenly the Government finally proved that there really are “three kinds of lies - lies, damned lies and statistics” as commonly attributed to the American writer Mark Twain, though whose true origin may predate that great wordsmith.

Back in mid-April, in the week to April 12 there were 6,425 recorded Coronavirus UK deaths, an alarming figure that mercifully began to reduce steadily. By mid-July we were in the realms of below 500 a week and still falling. During the same period, testing was increasing exponentially from the starting point of barely 10,000 tests – in other words, at that time people were really only tested when it was obvious they had the virus. But, by July, between 100,000 and 200,000 tests were available every day.

Then suddenly last week, the Ministry – amid renewed local lock-downs where clusters of positive tests were revealed – concluded it would no longer count as Coronavirus deaths, anyone tested as having the virus but who died more than 28 days afterwards.

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So from July 31, when the brave new world came in, and when positive tests were going back up again to 1,000 plus each day the daily deaths in the UK were not. Starting on the last day of July the number of deaths has been 5, 1, 18, 14, 18, 12, 3, 5, 17, 14, 20, 18, 11, 3 and 5. Those numbers are probably smaller than many other routine causes of deaths in a population of 60 million. In all honesty, if that is the basis by which it’s judged, shouldn’t we be getting back to normal?

If they don’t yet have a vaccine ready, shame on them. There have been plenty of people willing to act as paid guinea-pigs, especially if their jobs have disappeared. You might even say if the figures can be presented thus, what’s all the fuss been about?

To the racing. It’s expected to be fast ground at York – amazing news for anyone who has been waiting for the action to start at the Test match at Southampton over the past few days, and they are the conditions I prefer to see on the Knavesmire. Frankie Dettori won’t be there but as the great man approaches his 50th birthday in December, he is showing a rare facility for making correct choices.

While the racing goes on at York, he’ll be staying in Deauville having had the news on Friday that the newly-re-imposed 14-day self-isolation period for people returning from France and some other countries has been modified for elite sportsmen. They, it seems, need only face a seven- or eight-day spell under specific conditions in self-isolation at home before resuming full activity.

Frankie was anxious not to miss either Mishriff, the French Derby winner, impressive again at Deauville last Saturday, or the unbeaten St James’s Palace hero Palace Pier in yesterday’s Prix Jacques Le Marois. That fast-improving colt came through to beat Alpine Star with the older horses led home by Circus Maximus, and best of the home team, Persian King, well beaten off. He is now being lined up for the QE II Stakes at Ascot in the autumn.

Alpine Star had been narrowly pipped in the French Oaks by the Donnacha O’Brien-trained Fancy Blue who went on to take the Nassau Stakes at Goodwood with authority. Jessica Harrington trains Alpine Star, and the two Irish fillies – along with the Aidan O’Brien-trained Peaceful – comprise a formidable trio of mile/ten-furlong star sophomores.

None of them will be at York, but the best of the lot among the Classic generation of females will be.

Potential opposition to Love in Thursday’s Yorkshire Oaks again seems to fall principally on Frankly Darling, who disappointingly failed to provide much of a test at Epsom for the Coolmore filly as she added the Oaks to her 1,000 Guineas honours in spectacular style. The four-year-old Manuela De Vega is smart but conceding lumps of weight? Hardly! Dettori’s absence from York – he’s staying en France an extra week – tough! – to wait for a Wesley Ward runner in next weekend’s Prix Morny.

That will still give him time for the requisite eight and a few more days before teaming up with Enable in Kempton’s September Stakes, a cleverly-thought-out target from John Gosden which obviates the need to tackle Love before the Arc. Enable won the September Stakes two years ago as a prelude to her second win in Paris in October. How they would cherish a third as a six-year-old after the shock of being caught close home by Waldgeist last year.

The York meeting opens with another Gosden star, Lord North, the major loss this week for Dettori judged on the four-year-old’s upward-mobility this summer. Winner of six of his nine career races with two seconds and a luckless eased last of eight in the other, Lord North has progressed from a laughably-easy Cambridgeshire winner to outclassing his Prince Of Wales’s Stakes opponents at Royal Ascot. James Doyle is the beneficiary, as he was at Ascot when Dettori rode Mehdaayih. Who’s to say Lord North cannot progress enough to beat Ghaiyyath, as well as the 2,000 Guineas winner Kameko and possibly Magical in the Juddmonte International?

We won’t have Saturday’s Ebor Handicap runners until around 1 p.m. today and I can’t wait to see which potentially top-class horse Messrs Gosden, Haggas or Varian will have lined up to win it. Even though the total prize pool has been slashed from £600,000 to a relatively frugal £250,000 I’m sure there will be enough horses to fill the 22 available stalls. It would be great if a hard-knocking horse from the North could see off the aristocrats from Newmarket.

Another race that I’m looking forward to is Friday’s Nunthorpe Stakes, not least because Wesley Ward is bringing a lightly-raced but clearly talented juvenile to tackle Battaash, Art Power and A’Ali. His Golden Pal, runner-up after making the running to The Lir Jet in the Norfolk Stakes will be going there as a maiden with form figures of 22, having earlier been beaten when favourite for a Gulfstream Park maiden in the spring.

He will be echoing to a large degree the pre-Nunthorpe record 13 years ago of the John Best-trained juvenile Kingsgate Native, a 66-1 debut runner-up in the Windsor Castle Stakes and then second again in the Molecomb at Goodwood.

Backed down to 12-1 (among many, by me!), Kingsgate Native easily beat Desert Lord with future stallions Dandy Man and Red Clubs the next two home. I note the weights will be unchanged from then, so Battaash carries 9st11lb; three-year-olds Art Power and A’Ali 2lb less and Golden Pal only 8st1lb. He will have Andrea Atzeni, who rode him at Ascot, back on board.

I know the other three are highly-talented, and it would be another feather in the Charlie Hills cap if Battaash could win a second Nunthorpe, but I’d much prefer Wesley’s undying love for British racing to get a reward after a couple of less than wonderful years. He certainly seems to have all his ducks in line this time.

So in conclusion, I say enjoy York, if you are, like Harry and Alan, fully documented-up. If not, the wonderful coverage – free and flourishing on ITV though I still doggedly stick to Racing TV – deserves watching for all four days. Please then, start taking off the restraints, Mr Boris. Five months using only two tanks of fuel has been sacrifice enough.

Monday Musings: Charlie Gives Maurice the Blues

Until York next week, there isn’t very much of great moment happening on the racecourses of the United Kingdom, but Sunday in France and Ireland was highly interesting and informative, writes Tony Stafford.

Every year the Prix Maurice De Gheest offers a fascinating mid-season barometer of the relative merits of the classic and older generations. At the same time its 1300-metre (6.5 furlong) straight trip brings together pure sprinters and horses that stay further. Often it’s the latter grouping that comes out on top and so it proved yesterday when the four-year-old Space Blues got the better of a field chock-full of Group 1 performers.

Space Blues is trained by Charlie Appleby who sent the four-year-old over 12 months earlier to finish a staying-on third behind the Martyn Meade-trained Advertise.

Appleby showed great enterprise in bringing him back for this repeat attempt, barely a week after a smart win at Goodwood. The field was headed, form- and betting-wise, by the Andre Fabre-trained but also Godolphin-owned Earthlight, unbeaten in six starts and twice a Group 1 winner in a five-race unblemished 2019 juvenile campaign.

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Earthlight had every chance throughout and was moved into contention by Mickael Barzalona in the middle of the track, while Space Blues seemed to be struggling after making a sluggish start close to the stands rails.

But then William Buick could be seen to be manoeuvring him into a challenging position and once he secured a gap inside the last furlong, he breezed through and comfortably held Hello Youmzain and Lope Y Fernandez with the favourite only fourth.

Space Blues began life by winning a late-season Nottingham juvenile maiden over a mile and started out last year over 10 furlongs at Newbury, finishing fourth. Dropped in trip he won two seven-furlong races, a York handicap and Epsom Listed before that initial trip to Deauville.

This year – following a single run in Dubai in the winter - he has moved quickly though the grades, collecting a Haydock Listed; a Longchamp Group 3, and then up one more level for the Lennox Stakes (Group 2) at Goodwood where his turn of foot quickly settled that argument.

His ability to quicken characterised yesterday’s display and I have no doubt that for the rest of the season he will be hard to beat at the highest level at anywhere between six and eight furlongs. Considering his pedigree, it was understandable that initially middle-distance racing was at the forefront of Charlie Appleby’s plans.

The son of Dubawi was bred to Miss Lucifer, a triple winner for Barry Hills, and a daughter of Noverre. Noverre was trained for his first seven races by David Loder, all as a two-year-old when Loder had just re-located to train at the recently de-commissioned Evry racecourse near Paris. Noverre had already won twice before retaining his unbeaten record when coming over to Newmarket for the July Stakes.

In all, his form figures with Loder in Europe were 111212, but the decision to send him to Churchill Downs for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at the end of that year proved unsuccessful, Noverre finishing nowhere: 11th of 14. Sent to be trained at three by Saeed Bin Suroor, he was to win only once more from 14 starts, but that one was pretty good, the Group 1 Sussex Stakes at Goodwood!

Space Blues enlivened events at Deauville barely half an hour before another exceptional performance, this time by the Jessica Harrington-trained filly Lucky Vega in the Keeneland Phoenix Stakes at The Curragh.

This six-furlong race attracted most of the best of the Irish juveniles to have raced so far as well as The Lir Jet, Michael Bell’s Royal Ascot winner. Steel Bull, so impressive when winning the Molecomb Stakes at Goodwood was also in the very strong line-up.

Lucky Vega had been caught late on in a recent run at The Curragh by the big outsider Laws Of Indices, but here she had that rival well in arrears as she strode to a near four-length margin in a style that suggests the Matron Stakes must be on her agenda, as well as all the top fillies’ races elsewhere in Europe.

- TS

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