It must be an optical illusion. Something to do with the placing of the cameras at Aintree, but I cannot work out what’s happened to Becher’s Brook, writes Tony Stafford. Obviously it isn’t anything like as spectacularly dangerous as it used to be with the big, sloping drop on the landing side almost guaranteed to catch out one or two in every circuit of the Grand National. Now there’s no sloping drop to draw fallen jockeys into the Brook – and maybe even no brook.

What I did notice, having flopped into Wilf Storey’s vacant guest armchair on Saturday afternoon too late for the Becher Chase but comfortably in time for the Sefton, was that they no longer seem to have to twist and turn left in mid-air to continue onto Valentine’s. In the Sefton, two miles five and a bit, they were, as commentator Mark Johnson announced, halfway at the latter fence, the 11th, and they seemed pretty much to have gone straight on at the fearsome fence at which Captain Becher of historic Aintree yore came to grief, leaving his name to adorn the obstacle in perpetuity.

The trip North was partly to renew my 35-year association with the Storey family – the old sausage is recovering from a painfully-injured left shoulder - and also to check in on Apres Le Deluge, on winter holidays at Hedgeholm stud in Co Durham.

I wonder whether the Captain would have approved of the safety measures that many old timers believe have “neutered” the course. I have no such harking after the good old days, but it looked that they went straight on rather than turn half-left. Skilful course management to limit the potential for interference and consequent grief that was always the accompaniment to races over the Grand National fences, especially at Becher’s, or an optical illusion by the latest television director?

We still got a fatality, at the first in the Sefton, and sadly for the France-based Louisa Carberry, wife of Philip and therefore daughter-in-law of L’Escargot’s brilliant jockey, the late Tommy, who rode out two epic finishes – one successful, one in vain – in the days when Red Rum ruled Aintree almost 50 years ago.

I loved L’Escargot and whenever the names of jumping greats come up, I have to point out that he’d won two Gold Cups at Cheltenham before Dan Moore turned his attentions in later life to the Grand National. He was a 12-year-old when he eventually won it under 11st3lb in 1974, two years Red Rum’s senior, and the wonderful story goes that Brian Fletcher, who’d won the previous twice on Red Rum, told Carberry at the last to “go on, it’s yours!” He did, and it was by a wide margin, the weights having turned around considerably from their previous encounters.

Philip Carberry’s elder brother Paul also won the race, on Bobbyjo in 1999, so it must have been an even more agonising moment for the Carberry family when It’s Jennifer, a triple winner in France, fell at the first fence with Felix de Giles and was fatally injured.

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There was a similarly shocking incident at Sandown, which would normally be my choice of venue on that particular weekend, when the London National, over three miles and five furlongs – the course and distance of the old Whitbread Gold Cup every April – ended in confusion and tragedy.

The race commentary in the Racing Post talks of “stricken horses” in the plural and involved a yellow flag-waving official being apparently noted by jockeys who seemed to hesitate before continuing on to the finish rather than obeying the instruction.

Seven were interviewed and given ten-day bans, the timing of which means all seven will miss the valuable Christmas period. Whether the proposed appeals are successful or not, according to a friend, Scott Ellis, who had already set off for the station across the course, it was chaotic with hordes of punters gathered in front of every bookmaker’s pitch awaiting reimbursement. He’d had a “losing” bet using his phone and it wasn’t until he got to the station platform that he learnt the race had ben voided. Again there was a fatality, this time the epic old warrior Houblon Des Obeaux, and the pressure groups who would have jump racing abolished in this country will have tucked these two incidents 200-odd miles apart in their armoury.

One race I had been particularly keen to listen to on the William Hill Radio commentary in another friend’s car – the whole way north, Aintree, Chepstow, Wetherby and Sandown offered wall-to-wall coverage – was Sammy Bill’s second run over fences. Even with a 14lb raise for his debut chase win at Kempton, the Oliver Sherwood trainee still received a handy 11lb from Charlie Mann’s Fixed Rate, who had been off the track for 13 months.

Fixed Rate, a Juddmonte-bred son of Oasis Dream, won his first two races over fences last year, having run 17 times over hurdles. In 26 career starts, Fixed Rate won twice six from six on the Flat for David Smaga and Khalid Abdullah in France, three times over hurdles and two chases for cheerful Charlie.

It took the highly-promising Sammy Bill a long time to get past Fixed Rate on Saturday and I’m sure there are a few big races that will fall to these two talented six-year-olds in the rest of the season. Fixed Rate’s versatility reminded me of a conversation I had last week at December Sales with James Underwood, whose Bloodstock Review of the Year, is such a feature of the Tattersall’s  December sale when he gives it out to all and sundry totally free and gratis. James said it would be his last. “I am 91!" he suggested, to which I offered: “So what!” I was showing him a picture in another free book I’d picked up, a directory of stallions for 2020, a two-page spread of the stallion Intrinsic, who stands at Hedgeholm Stud in Co Durham.

“Oh, Oasis Dream!” he exclaimed. <He’s Intrinsic’s sire> “That horse can do anything with any mare. Sprinters,  stayers or middle-distance horses. He works with the lot!”

Five days later I could have added chasers to that list, but it was uncanny when yesterday, while looking out for Apres Le Deluge, a big grey gelding happily palled up with a quintet of barren mares quite close to the farmhouse, awaiting his return to action next year, the name Oasis Dream kept cropping up.

“That’s going to Oasis Dream; that’s by Oasis Dream,” said Andrew.

My point to James Underwood is that certain stallions get no help in the headlong search for potential mates for mares at the top end of the market. Intrinsic is a case in point. Owned by Malih Al Basti he boasts a top Cheveley Park Stud pedigree and a very active family yet has had only a handful of mares and consequently runners in his first crop. One or two have been placed at ridiculously-long odds, one at 150-1, one at 100-1, and a single UK winner was the Sir Mark Prescott-trained Najm in Mr Al Basti’s colours.

After that Najm was sold privately to race in France, and a glance at the Racing Post shows he won a 10k claimer at Chantilly almost immediately on arrival in his new home. As we went muddily around the farm on Sunday, Andrew Spalding said Najm has actually won three times over there and on looking at the France Galop site this morning I discovered he has indeed had three more races since Chantilly. Initially he finished second before winning twice since, all over 1500 metres at Marseille.

He has met the same horse, Pic Cel, in all three claimers, being beaten by a nose first time, gaining revenge over that horse by half a length on November 18th and then two weeks later giving 4lb and having two and a half lengths in hand over Pic Cel and a dozen others. Like his sire he’s improving with racing.

Intrinsic’s racing career, ten runs in all, featured wins in succession, the first for Sir Michael Stoute and Cheveley Park and the last three, culminating in the Stewards’ Cup for Mr Al Basti and sprint maestro Robert Cowell. Intrinsic, a very good-looking and impeccably-behaved horse deserves more support, as so many stallions do.

The trip was great, but when I got home I looked back at some old videos of races over the Grand National Course and still wonder what happened to the sharp left turn after Becher’s? Did I imagine it?

- TS

The exploits of Paisley Park, last season’s champion staying hurdler, were fundamental in thrusting Emma Lavelle into the top echelon of jump racing in the UK last season even if she’d been highly respected with major winners for at least a decade before that, writes Tony Stafford. Labelthou and Crack Away Jack were among her early stable stars, but last weekend at Newbury produced a quickening of the Lavelle pulse.

There is always a slight (or sometimes more than slight) concern when an existing champion returns to start a new season, and both Lavelle and owner Andrew Gemmell were fully aware that resuming in a race as competitive as Newbury’s Ladbrokes Long Distance Hurdle offered a potential threat.

Off the track since his convincing win over Sam Spinner and 16 others in the Stayers’ Hurdle last March, it would have been understandable if Lavelle did not have him fully primed last Friday. There probably was something left to work with but the outcome was more than satisfactory as he came home under Aiden Coleman for a one-length verdict.

The victory should not be under-estimated as the runner-up was the 11-year-old Thistlecrack, running over hurdles for the first time since finishing a well-beaten favourite in the corresponding race two years previously when only fifth of six behind Beer Goggles. The last named, lightly-raced since that day, tragically broke down badly in Friday’s race and had to be put down.

Thistlecrack had turned belatedly to chasing for the Colin Tizzard stable, soon after preceding Paisley Park by three years in winning the Stayers’ Hurdle. Here, as Tom Scudamore produced the now veteran to head on up the run-in on Friday with a narrow lead, you wondered whether Paisley Park would be sharp enough to deny him; but Coleman had everything under control and the build-up to a second title is under way.

For most stables, such a triumph in Grade 1 company would have been sufficient excitement for one weekend, but Lavelle and the Makin Bacon Partnership, which also includes Mr Gemmell, had the effrontery to secure the weekend’s most lucrative prize, the Ladbrokes Trophy (formerly Hennessy) with De Rasher Counter.

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Many moons ago, in my formative years on the racetrack, the Exchange Telegraph Company shared with the Press Association (my employer at the time) the responsibility for compiling starting prices for the newspapers. In those days markets were strong and betting shops were in their infancy. Extel had a veteran SP man whose name I seem (possibly wrongly) to remember was Arthur. But he was universally known as Rasher for the simple reason that he had worked as a young man on the bacon counter at Sainsburys.

The Hennessy was never an easy race to win and with so many of chasing’s biggest names, equine and human, on its roll of honour, not least dual winner Denman, it has always had a cachet. This year’s race had no outstanding candidate so 24 horses lined up. De Rasher Counter and young 5lb claimer Ben Jones got the better of a finish of three seven-year-olds, followed home by The Conditional (David Bridgwater) and Elegant Escape (Colin Tizzard), with Nicky Henderson’s nine-year-old Beware The Bear a close fourth.

Henderson also provided two other well-backed horses in ante-post favourite OK Corral and also On The Blind Side but neither ever held out much hope. Another with multiple runners was Tizzard and his 13-2 favourite West Approach was one of only two casualties, unseating Robbie Power at the seventh fence. Yorkhill, trained by Willie Mullins, was already a beaten horse when falling four fences from home, so in effect the only horse to hit the deck in a race of three and a quarter miles and 21 obstacles, all the better for the spectacle and the sport’s image.

De Rasher Counter, by winning off his mark of 149, might be some way off challenging for the weight-for-age championship races like the King George or the Gold Cup but Elegant Escape, who carried 11st12lb top weight and finished very well, must be among Tizzard’s host of challengers for both. Already the veteran of 15 runs over fences and with four wins, he has contested  big races for the past two seasons without much luck but the way he closed out the race on Saturday suggests he’s still progressing.

Another horse improving fast is Micky Hammond’s Cornerstone Lad, who overcame a 19lb gulf in hurdles ratings with dual Champion Hurdle winner Buveur D’air to win the Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle. Henry Brooke sent the five-year-old clear from the start and despite being joined by the former champ on the run-in had the temerity and also the tenacity to see him off by a diminishing short-head despite all Barry Geraghty’s best efforts. After the race it was reported that Buveur D’air had finished lame on his off-fore leg, having taken a large shard of the second last in the top of his hoof.

Cornerstone Lad had already earned a rating of 142 over jumps when he finished last season with a win in April over the same course, his fourth success in 11 starts. At the time his Flat rating was only 65, ridiculously 77lb lower than his hurdles mark so when he turned up on Oaks Day in a two miles, one furlong handicap at Carlisle on heavy going I thought all my Christmases had come at once. All day I was regaling anyone at Epsom who would listen that this 6-4 shot was the biggest certainty of all time, so when he was beaten a short head by Only Orsenfoolsies, a 10-year-old 33-1 rag also trained by Hammond, imagine my embarrassment – only exceeded by the hit to my finances.

Only Orsenfoolsies won his next race over hurdles soon after, but Cornerstoine Lad was not sighted again until five months after Carlisle and, still rated 65, won as the 4-1 favourite at Catterick, an effort that brought his Flat rating to the dizzy heights of 71. A couple of weeks later he reverted to hurdles at Wetherby and showed how accurate the 142 was when “leading on the bit three out and drawing clear” in the words of the close-up man in the Racing Post.

So as he lined up at Newcastle on Saturday, also facing 154-rated Silver Streak and Lady Buttons (146), who received 7lb as well as the long odds-on favourite, he was available at more than double that pair’s price with only the Ray Tooth-bred Nelson River (142) at longer odds. That pair were comfortably beaten off and it doesn’t take a crystal ball to predict another big hike in Cornerstone Lad’s mark, possibly somewhere near 160, or 158 if the line to Silver Streak is taken literally.

That will mean if Micky Hammond wishes, he can revert to the Flat again, but now with an 87lb differential, in other words he’ll be a 10lb bigger certainty than at Carlisle – that is if Micky doesn’t have another old-timer to ruin the job.

A few weeks back I got a call from my son saying he was eating for the first time in the fish restaurant that had opened literally one hundred yards from my home in Hackney Wick about a year prior and it was “fantastic, we’ll have to go there one day soon”. I remembered those comments, so when a friend, Scott Ellis, wanted an option of where we could meet for lunch last Thursday, that conversation immediately came to mind. There wasn’t a chip to be seen but the food, overseen by the restaurant’s owner Tom Brown, apparently a Michelin starred chef in his earlier days, had recently been named Restaurant of the Year for London at the AA awards. There was never ANY restaurant in Hackney Wick for more than 60 years, just the Wick Café where I read my paper every morning.

“What’s it called?” asked Scott. “I’ll look it up.” “Hold on, yes, it’s Cornerstone! Bugger me!”

The Kings are dead – long live the Kings. Nicky Henderson and Nigel Twiston-Davies might disagree but in just 60 minutes on Saturday between the hours of 2.07 (the off time of the Christy Ascot 1965 Chase) and 3.07 p.m. (conclusion of the Betfair Chase at Haydock) two champions were dethroned, possibly terminally such is the merit of their respective conquerors, writes Tony Stafford.

First it was Altior, unbeaten and unblemished in 19 races over hurdles and chases, but almost psyched (well Nicky Henderson and owner Patricia Pugh were) by the official handicappers to risk his record over the longest distance he’d ever tried. There has been general disbelief in many quarters (not least this one) that the weights and measures men from Wellingborough could translate two wide-margin wins around Ascot by Cyrname as worthy of a 176 rating, 1lb more than Altior earned in 14 impeccable runs and 28 miles of effort over three seasons’ hard labour.

More remarkable perhaps was that when Cyrname had finished a remote seventh of 13 at Ascot last year on the corresponding day’s racing in a 2m1f handicap chase, Altior had already been adorned with his 175 mark ever since beating Min easily in the Arkle at Cheltenham back in March of that year. In none of his previous triumphal marches to victory was it deemed necessary to mark him even the single pound higher than would have staved off Cyrname’s two-race surge early this year.

Cyrname exploded with a 21-length demolition of Doitforthevillage, Happy Diva, Mister Whitaker, Flying Angel and Mr Medic, smart chasers and big-race winners all, in the bet365 Chase over Saturday’s course and distance in late January, necessitating a surge to 165 from 150.

Four weeks later, back on the same track, this time for the level weights Grade 1 Betfair Ascot Chase he made all, in another clinical humiliation of a top-class field, running home 17 lengths clear of the 170-rated Waiting Patiently with Fox Norton (166) and Politologue (168) clustered up close behind. It would have been possible to give Cyrname less than the 176 he got, easy on a literal application to go even higher. The result on Saturday with Altior just over two lengths behind, suggests the officials got it right – at the longer trip – but that Altior is still pre-eminent over two miles.

Then again Nicky Henderson might be looking over his shoulder towards Ireland where Laurina’s first try over fences resulted in an eight-length margin over the more than useful Minella Indo, all produced with an effortless stroll up the run-in after the pair were close coming to the last fence at Gowran Park. Maybe that’s why Nicky didn’t rule out a rematch even in the King George where Paul Nicholls is intent on next revealing the new champ to his soon-to-be-adoring public, never mind Saturday’s restrained reaction to the upset.

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For make no mistake, upset it was. The betting public had, it seems, as much respect for the present official ratings as the rest of us, making Altior a heavily-backed 1-3 shot after mathematically bigger  odds-on prices had been available earlier in the day. Cyrname was never bigger than his 5-2 starting price. One thing I didn’t expect to witness happened as the horses came up to the line. Harry Cobden is still a relatively inexperienced jockey, albeit one whose boss thought enough of his potential to cast aside the excellent Sam Twiston-Davies not too long ago as first jockey. I was waiting for the Dettori-esque whip brandishing, extravagant waving to the crowd or the triumphal shake of the fist and a loving grab of his mount’s neck, but there was none of that from Cobden, just a professional message to his horse to slow down, the job’s done.

Having seen that happening 55 minutes earlier – got this timing thing down to a tee! – I was a little surprised when after a masterful waiting-at-the-back ride from Robbie Power on Lostintraslation in the Betfair Chase at Haydock, he did the full victory celebration as his horse crossed the line a comfortable length and a half ahead of dual previous winner Bristol de Mai.

His victory was anticipated by approximately half the betting public as he was shortened in to 5-4 equal favouritism with the title-holder, despite there being a 9lb deficit in their ratings, 161 against 170, the stylishly-ridden and economically-minded Lostintranslation living up to all Colin Tizzard’s pronouncements.

Since being beaten by Defi Du Seuil at the Cheltenham Festival last March, Lostintranslation won at Aintree the following month and easily landed the odds at Cheltenham on his return three weeks ago. It is hard to see how Bristol De Mai would turn the form around in next year’s Gold Cup, despite last March’s third place, and at this stage the Tizzard improver has to be one of the main contenders.

It was a case of the Kings are all dead (if you include De Sousa, Dettori and Moore) and Long Live the King in Tokyo on Sunday morning as overwhelming 2019 UK champion Oisin Murphy guided home Suave Richard to an opportunistic first place in the Grade 1 Japan Cup, squeezing through up the rail inside the last furlong and a half and holding the renewed effort of Curren Bouquetd’or by threequarters of a length.

Suave Richard was third favourite at just over 4-1 and earned the £2.16 million first prize. None of the other international riders got into the money, which goes down to fifth place. William Buick partnered the 16-5 favourite Rey De Oro in the 15-runner, all-Japanese line-up but could do no better than 11th. Christophe Lemaire, a regular in Japan, did best of the others in eighth on a 14-1 shot; Christophe Soumillon was ninth (19-1), Frankie Dettori 10th (14-1) while Ryan Moore beat only two home in 13th on a 33-1 outsider. The changing face of international jockeyship appears to be echoing what is happening in the UK steeplechasing ranks.

This weekend’s big attraction is another race that habitually throws up potential Gold Cup winners to show their early-season paces. In the Ladbrokes Trophy Chase’s more recognisable guise as the Hennessy, I hit on what was almost a guaranteed formula for finding the winner – a seven-year-old second-season chaser – not that it always worked.

When I had one of my biggest bets of all time on Jodami, who fulfilled my conditions in the 1992 Hennessy, he carried 10st2lb, a full 25lb less than previous Gold Cup winner The Fellow. He did beat The Fellow, who finished third six lengths back in a wonderful renewal of the race, but was still threequarters of a length behind another seven-year-old, Geoff Hubbard’s Sibton Abbey, trained by the late Ferdy Muphy. He was a 40-1 shot ridden by the brilliant Adrian Maguire and ran from 21lb out of the handicap. Three unbeaten runs later Jodami lined up at Cheltenham and won the Gold Cup.

It’s was sad news to learn of Ferdy’s death two months ago. He’d relocated to France in his later years but it’s good to see Mr Hubbard’s great friend Pat Betts still looking in fine fettle at Sandown recently watching his horse Le Reve finishing third for Lucy Wadham. Pat didn’t take any reminding of Sibton Abbey and was also quick to mention the great French Holly.

That brilliant, versatile horse won ten of his 20 career starts and would have been even more vividly remembered had he not been around at the same time as Istabraq. In three consecutive Grade 1 races he was beaten one length by the brilliant Aidan O’Brien-trained star at Leopardstown; was a six-length third to him in the 1999 Champion Hurdle and then after leading the great horse over the final jump of the Aintree Hurdle the following month, again gave best by a length.

He raced only once over fences, three miles at Wetherby and still had 18 lengths to spare of the field despite being eased, presumably when rider Andrew Thornton “felt something”. That was his final appearance. Ferdy was a great man, prone to sudden bursts of energy, suddenly calling you up to discuss the latest “vital” topic or other, and just as quickly moving onto another, and as a horseman he had few peers.

Sibton Abbey was the first big winner under his own name but as head lad to Bill Durkan in Ireland - in all but name he was the trainer - Ferdy guided the great mare Anaglog’s Daughter through her brilliant career in the 1980’s.

Back to next Saturday and, whereas the Henderson stable’s nine-year-old Ok Corral is ante-post favourite, I’m hoping that fellow Seven Barrows inmate On The Blind Side, who does fulfil age and experience requirements, and who was noted here after his fourth to Vinndication at Ascot three weeks ago, can win the race for Alan Spence.

How Cheltenham ever managed to race for two days heaven only knows, writes Tony Stafford. As we – Steve Howard, a good friend whose mortgage-securing acumen helped me a couple of times in my financially-injudicious past, and me – followed directions to Fergal O’Brien’s new yard less than ten miles short of the track, water streamed or rather surged through the gulleys next to the road. Evidence of what it must have been like on Thursday, when the decision to abandon Friday’s card was made, remained all too visible.

Fergal’s brilliant start since his switch from alongside Nigel Twiston-Davies has been accompanied by the sights and sounds of extensive building work and on Sunday morning as a group of existing and prospective owners concluded their visit, the mud was testimony to the recent climatic excesses.

On a former working farm, non-descript barns have been imaginatively transformed to luxurious housing for the equine performers that have propelled O’Brien into the horse racing consciousness. He is one of the star names of this early phase of full-on jumping. As winter extends its grip, as by some forecasters’ accounts it may well do in this most capricious of years, you had to wonder how horse boxes will negotiate the gradients of the narrow roads by which you approach the farm.

Kim Bailey, just down the road from O’Brien posted pictures one day late last week of his snow-decked driveway, so there must have been some of that at his near neighbour’s place. The sign for “flood” showed where the worst had been, and Sally Randell, Fergal’s right-hand, still apparently believed it was a hazard, warning us while beaming us in that “your car will get through it okay”. It did because there wasn’t one, but we marvelled at the thought of how close to being flooded some of the properties along the way must have been on Friday.

The O’Brien team had a rare disappointing day yesterday, Benny’s Bridge never giving the slightest indication that he might replicate his last-to-first spectacular from the last meeting, and the two in the bumper finishing just outside the placings as a tag team.

Beneficiaries of the day were clearly the Pipes, with senior (Martin) accompanying son David to the sports. There were plenty of O’Neill’s there too, Jonjo senior and wife Jacqui, nephew Joe, who helps run the admin at Jackdaws Castle, and his dad over from Ireland for the weekend. Jonjo junior, recently back from injury, was the chosen one to steer the Pipe-trained and J P McManus-owned Duc De Beauchene in the opening conditional riders’ race – a benefit for Pipe in recent years – and he did that with style and exquisite timing.

If that success was predictable, 100-30 in a massive field the give-away, the last-race bumper win of Israel Champ was less so, as his 16-1 SP testified. Here it was supposed to be J P again with the once-raced course winner Times Flies By, who had given Barry Geraghty a comeback winner after his latest injury absence at the previous meeting, but that one was unable to peg back Tom Scudamore on the Pipe runner.

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Israel Champ, a wide-margin Irish point-to-point debut winner in the spring had been “expected” when running for the first time at Worcester less than a month ago, starting 13-8 favourite but, after setting what the race-readers observed was a very slow pace, faded into a modest sixth.

Up a good deal in class yesterday, and with Scudamore riding him for the first time, this was more traditional Pipe-Scudamore mode from a generation and a half ago. Now Tom orchestrated a sound gallop, one which none of the others, struggling to decide which portion of the by-now heavily poached terrain to choose for this last of 15 races over the two days, was able to counter.

Cheltenham very helpfully kept us appraised of the jockey standings and as we left the track after the last, the honours board listed a number of riders each with the number “1” alongside their names. In fact, possibly uniquely, especially with a couple of four-runner races yesterday, 15 different jockeys got into the winner’s position over the two days so there was no room for at least half the names to be displayed. I bet Richard Johnson, who won the first race on Saturday, never expected to share the spoils with 14 other riders.

Despite Time Flies By’s defeat in the bumper, J P will have been happy enough with his day’s work, present at Cheltenham to welcome Defi Du Seuil, who outpointed Politologue, Simply Ned and Saint Calvados up the hill to win an intriguing Shloer Chase. He also had doubles at Punchestown, initiated by Yanworth in his first try over the Banks course for Enda Bolger, and Cork where Joseph O’Brien chipped in with two young hurdlers with an obvious future.

There was no McManus winner at Fontwell where pride of place went to Gary Moore and his remarkable young stayer Goshen. After three runs as a juvenile, ninth of 12 at 40/1; eighth of 15 at 100-1 and tenth of 11, again at 100-1, beaten 21 lengths, Gary might have thought a 64 rating a shade defensive on the part of the officials.

Whether he realised just how ineffective that defence was when the horse showed up at Brighton early in June was not obvious from the betting, Goshen eventually strolling away to a 12-length win from a Mark Johnston odds-on shot. A week later I remember thinking him a mad short price to follow up at Sandown with other progressive young stayers in the field, but he won that by nine lengths off 70 (6lb penalty). After Sandown he again went missing until late October, reappearing at Nottingham, and again winning by a wide margin, this time seven lengths off a perch of 80, provoking a furrther 8lb rise.

Writing the Racing Post Analysis on that Brighton run back in June, Gary Savage made an intuitive point that Goshen is jumping-bred and the way he demolished his field by 23 lengths at Fontwell marks him out as exactly that. One downside was that he was showed exaggerated right-handed tendencies from the start and went markedly in that direction at the last two obstacles, between which Jamie Moore spent as much time looking back than forward. Goshen has to be a Triumph Hurdle candidate if the right-handedness, no use at all at Cheltenham, can be eradicated or at least tempered.

While Jamie was minding his father’s shop close to home in Sussex, big brother Ryan was continuing his world tour in Kyoto, Japan, along with new champion Oisin Murphy, William Buick and multiple former French champion Christophe Soumillon. They competed in the Mile Championship, worth a shade over £800k and won by Indy Champ ridden by local jockey Kenichi Ikezoe. Murphy did best of the visiting quartet, collecting his rider’s portion of the 200 grand his mount Persian Knight picked up for third in the 17-horse field. Oisin has ridden enough in Japan not to be impressed by the conversion of currency from pounds sterling to yen, but for you and me 140 yen to the pound would make an eye-opening sum.

Ryan, 16th of 17, and the other visitors would have had to be content with the appearance money one assumes they are paid for such jaunts. Meanwhile Ryan’s regular Ballydoyle team-mates, Seamus Heffernan and Wayne Lordan, were on Aidan O’Brien duty at Lingfield the day before, riding Simply Beautiful and Quote, fulfilling their Gillies Stakes engagements originally frustrated when Doncaster’s last day was washed out the previous weekend. Both were also out of the money, Lordan suggesting that Quote would have fared much better if able to run in the mud rather than fast Polytrack.

Meanwhile, Frankie Dettori checked in at Lingfield for two wins, starting with Scentasia for John Gosden, who was on the premises along with wife Rachel Hood and replete with US-style cap. With Lord North a non-runner, Frankie pulled rank on this year’s French champion and Arc hero Pierre-Charles Boudot, claiming back the ride on Crossed Baton when Lord North was withdrawn from the Churchill Stakes field.

It wasn’t a wasted trip for the Frenchman though, as in the opener he squeezed through on the William Haggas-trained Fruition, clearly enjoying his win in the Royal colours, and ran closest to Frankie on the Chrisophe Ferland-trained Velma Valento in the aforementioned Gillies Stakes.

My Law didn’t quite get her first win but a year on from her sale, Sod’s Law’s little sister gained her first second place in the opener for Jim Boyle, so promises soon to become a fifth winner for her dam Lawyer’s Choice after Dutch Art Dealer, Dutch Law and Highway Robber as well as Sod’s Law who was sold last month and will be racing in Ireland in the winter.

The day before Lingfield, I received WhatsApp messages from Joseph O’Brien, showing two fleeting sights of the latest of the family to go into training. Soon after came word from Joseph that this yearling colt has done well physically since starting exercise and is in the main training yard. This was a great fillip for everyone and I can’t wait to get to Pilltown to see him and the set-up. We’re trying for Gaelic Law which Ray Tooth agrees would be an appropriate name.

So much happens in a week in racing. Last Monday morning I sat in front of the computer screen anticipating the Melbourne Cup and, a few days further along, the conclusion of the 2019 turf Flat season, writes Tony Stafford. The Cup did indeed stop the nation and I was up at 4 a.m. to watch it, and the Flat season did indeed conclude but without Doncaster, flooded in common with so much of much of the Don Valley in the worst conditions in living memory.

It is in no way meant to trivialise such a harrowing experience for so many people around the country and particularly in South Yorkshire and surrounding counties, but the weather, so different from the autumn of last year, has enabled jumping stables to get their horses onto grass with the result that fields for National Hunt racing are already looking healthier than in several recent late autumns.

Armistice Day, today being the 100th anniversary of the first one following World War 1, is a significant watershed between the racing seasons. This year, there is an actual week’s break in all-weather Flat racing and as long as not too many jump courses are unraceable, it should be competitive stuff starting at Kempton and Carlisle this afternoon. The ceremonial part of Armistice Day of course was yesterday, and as I’d decided to enjoy the rare glimpse of sunshine and travel to Sandown Park for the Sunday fixture, the usual sequence of military marches from the Cenotaph had to be experienced on the car radio.

One interested onlooker at both was the Queen, nowadays observing from the Foreign Office building alongside as Prince Charles leads her more youthful wreath-laying male relatives at ground level. I bet she wished she could have taken the car for the 15-mile hop down to Esher where her Kayf Tara gelding Keen On came with a thrilling run to deny the favourite Protektorat up the hill in a very hot novice hurdle. Nicky Henderson, who trains this prospect for eventual honours, also sent out Santini to win the following Intermediate Chase.

The official going for Sandown before Saturday had already been “heavy” so it was with severe misgivings that afternoon that I set off on a near reconnaissance of yesterday’s ride around the M25. The whole way to my destination for a brief meeting close to Kempton Park I travelled in near torrential rain and it only began to ease halfway home three hours or so later. Sandown can’t be on, I thought, but it was. Andrew Cooper certainly has something when it comes to course clerkmanship, or maybe he’s just lucky when he and his courses need to be.

A feature of yesterday’s racing was a hurdles double by the in-form Fergal O’Brien team with proven mudlarks Lord of the Island in the two-and-a-half- mile handicap, and Totterdown, who repeated last year’s all-the-way victory in the two-mile handicap. Totterdown had been in the Richard Phillips stable a year ago and it was some surprise on looking up that day’s results that I noted the ground had also been described as heavy on the hurdles course.

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Perhaps even more surprisingly, both O’Brien winners clocked faster times, in the case of Lord of the Island significantly so, than a year ago. Tottterdown made all on both occasions, in the earlier race as a 25-1 shot in a 20-runner field, going clear on the bridle two hurdles out and lasting home well by six lengths. Yesterday, at even money, he was sent into an immediate long lead by Paddy Brennan and none of his seven rivals ever got nearer than the ten lengths by which he passed the post in front, 0.40sec faster than in his initial victory.

With Doncaster abandoned on Saturday, Southwell’s early evening card which wound up Flat racing for a week until Wolverhampton next Saturday evening, took my notice. I mentioned here recently about my belated return to the world of horse race tipping competitions and the fact that along with a little job for, secured in a time of need with the help of the owner/editor of this publication, came a place in the William Hill Radio Naps table.

Fergal O’Brien is one of 16 trainers whose thoughts have gone towards my daily nap selections since I joined the team in February and for the first few months I was genuinely and blissfully unaware that the naps appeared anywhere. Then in late May it was mentioned that I was close to the leaders in the said event. By late summer I had taken the lead and it was one that was still in place on Saturday morning, the final day of the competition.

Doncaster’s cancellation denied me a much-fancied candidate in the big race, but also prevented the two closest rivals from having a decent chance of finding a feasible outsider to bridge the gap. My Saturday tip faded away in the Wincanton gloom just after 1 p.m. leaving me to make the drive to South West London fearing the 16-1 morning-price shot selected by the main challenger in a 0-50 classified race at Southwell would unseat me at the last. Opening at 10-1, the horse drifted out to 14’s causing a few quakes before settling at her SP of 12-1. The fact she was never in contention behind a Mick Appleby steering job was academic but pleasing in the extreme.

I’d won, but I couldn’t tell anyone. Suddenly on Friday, in between calls, my phone suddenly stopped working. Calls stopped coming in, as did texts and Whats Apps but I was stuck in such a ridiculous traffic jam after a major accident having dropped Mrs Stafford at a nearby Underground station, that it took me until after 4 p.m., two hours after setting off on the five-minute trip, to get home.

If there’s a telecoms expert in this house, there’s only one qualifier but she wasn’t due home until 9 pm and all my fiddling with the phone’s various menus had no effect. When she finally returned she concluded it was probably the Sim card, but in practical terms it wasn’t possible for that to be attended to until Monday morning from the Ray Tooth office.

So I decided – well one of us did – to get a pay as you go Sim to see if it worked in my phone, and fortunately it did but with hardly any of the numbers on its memory. It wasn’t until 9 pm on Saturday evening that part of the mystery was solved. Harry Taylor called round on his way to work asking “What’s happened to your phone?”

He said: “I called early yesterday afternoon and a woman answered saying her name was Anita. I rang off and dialled again and the same woman answered. I asked her to tell me the number and it was yours.

“I thought I’d ring again, but not just repeating the last call on the menu but dialling out the numbers and this time there was just a message. I thought ‘she knows it’s me and isn’t answering’ so I got Alan Newman to call and he had the same result.” So too, later did Steve Gilbey, Ray Tooth’s right-hand man and Mrs S. Seems someone got my number almost in mid-conversation. Strange. I’ve no idea at time of writing whether I’ll ever get the old number back.

Rekindling just a scintilla of the type of lifestyle that accompanied tipping horses every day for all those years became remarkably comfortable, indeed almost routine, even after 17 years of not living that way. It’s sharpened me up, not just in trying to find what might be winning each day, and tells me maybe I should never have left the Daily Telegraph. But then, they wouldn’t have waited much longer to get rid of me anyway!

- TS

As the advance guard of the 67,000 crowd began to gather at Santa Anita Park, Los Angeles, at 9 a.m. Saturday – some might say unseemly early - for phase two of the Breeders’ Cup and the first of three warm-up races, about 5,500 miles, eight time zones further east and at least 25 degrees Fahrenheit cooler, one of the O’Brien racing clan waited in driving rain at Chelmsford racecourse for the first of two winning rides on the evening card, writes Tony Stafford.

Not for Donnacha O’Brien the warmth of Santa Anita and the Breeders’ Cup. That was the centre of focus for the rest of the family, for Ryan Moore and Wayne Lordan, whose minimum riding weight of 8st fits more readily into the structure of American, and indeed Australian, racing. Wayne will be going on to partner one of the seven family horses – there along with a few former inmates – in tomorrow morning’s Melboune Cup.

The truly amazing thing about Donnacha O’Brien is that he has regularised – in the manner of a Lester Piggott or more recently George Baker – his weight so that as little as 8st12lb is not impossible.

Earlier in his career – and he’s still only 21 - Donnacha was routinely listed in racecards as *possible 2lb overweight, with 9st2lb the absolute minimum. That discipline which characterises every day of his riding career was tested to the full on Saturday as the wind came across the arid wastes of the old Essex Showground along with the squalls of rain that drenched your correspondent as he waited in the paddock for the debut of Ray Tooth and Clive Washbourn’s Mayson Mount.

Donnacha was in attendance –along with Seamie Heffernan, whose ride in that race had to be withdrawn – on the second leg of a brief UK tour based around Friday night’s eventual running of the Vertem Futurity, switched from waterlogged Doncaster six days earlier. Rather than a six-runner affair with Andrew Balding’s Kameko the only interloper preventing an Aidan O’Brien monopoly, the switch to a first floodlit and all-weather UK Group 1 resulted in a field of 11 with four home and two other Irish challengers.

The main new element was Ralph Beckett’s once-raced Kinross and I bet now Rafe wishes he’d stuck to the original plan of the Horris Hill Stakes, also switched from the previous weekend at similarly-inundated Newbury to Newmarket on Saturday. Kinross had recently made his impressive debut in very soft ground there and as a result was the short-priced favourite on Friday but he never made an impact. In the end Kameko won impressively, leaving the O’Brien contingent having to be content with the next four home with Heffernan second on Innisfree and O’Brien only fourth on original short-priced favourite Mogul.

Donnacha’s initial interest at Chelmsford was the once-raced Battle of Liege, a War Front colt whose full-brother Hit It A Bomb had won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in the same Evie Stockwell colours four years earlier under Ryan Moore at Keeneland. Facing Battle of Liege was a once-raced Charlie Appleby juvenile Desert Peace, a $1.3 million colt who’d won nicely on debut at Kempton and he started 100-30 on. In the event it was the Clive Cox colt Emirates Currency who split the pair.

It was probably a decent race, evidence being that Ahmad Al Shaikh, once the resident journalist and television presenter for Sheikh Mohammed in Dubai but nowadays a notable owner of among others last year’s Gimcrack winner Emaraaty Ana, was a surprise arrival before the race to see his Emirates Currency make his second start.

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In the manner of one of my usual coincidences he greeted me with: “I was just talking about you to someone an hour ago!” as he swept into the owners’ room while I tucked into my first bowl of the always excellent soup. There’s no need to go into the whys and wherefores but it surprised me that he would choose to be there on such an awful evening at what Derek Thompson always refers to as “Essex’s principal racecourse” <of one!>. He said: “We like the horse very much,” prophetic words as Emirates Currency produced a fine second effort.

Preceding Ahmad to the paddock, I saw Clive Cox and said: “Your owner’s here” to which he replied: “He’s not!” It’s never disappointing to prove someone wrong and the look on the trainer’s face as Mr Al Shaikh approached was one of my moments of an interesting evening.

In the race, Mayson Mount, experiencing not just the racecourse for the first time, but floodlights and the horrible gusting winds and torrential rain, never put a foot wrong in the preliminaries. He did start a little slowly, but set off after the pack with such gusto that by the approach to the turn he was on terms with the leader. “Then at the two he just blew up,” said Josie Gordon to Shaun Keightley. The eventual distance behind the fourth horse was 14 lengths but the promise he showed was great encouragement for the future.

Then yesterday, Ray’s other horse with Shaun, the Pour Moi gelding Waterproof, made his planned hurdling debut at Huntingdon. Now rated 51 after his good second of 16 at Chelmsford the previous Saturday night, he was confronted by a field of vastly superior Flat-race horses. The eventual first two have both held ratings around two stone higher than his. Waterproof jumped very well and finished third to Building Bridges (ex Jessica Harrington) and Silkstone. His proficiency had first been set in motion with early schooling by Josie and she showed her team ethic by turning up and helping saddle him beforehand, then welcoming him back with a bucket of water.

As I said before, it’s doubtful Ray has another Punjabi on his hands, but the way he jumped and the enthusiasm he showed were two big positives.

While Donncaha was back home riding his final winner of a second c

hampionship season at Naas yesterday, elder brother Joseph was making the journey down to Australia where he has four contenders as he tries to win a second Melbourne Cup following Rekindling two years ago when in only his second year as a trainer.

On Saturday, in the Filly and Mare Turf race, Joseph added to his status as the youngest-ever jockey to win a Breeders’ Cup race, when Iridessa pounced late under Lordan in a race expected to be a benefit for Sistercharlie, who finished only third. Iridessa, who has won five times, including in a maiden on debut under Seamie Heffernan, has chosen her spots well. All her subsequent wins have been at Group or Grade 1 level and each time Lordan has been in the saddle.

Lordan will partner proven stayer Il Paradiseo for Aidan as Ryan Moore stays with his recent Cox Plate fourth Magic Wand and Heffernan gets on Hunting Horn, ridden by Moore to a six-figure win on the Cox Plate under-card last weekend.

Joseph’s quartet could hardly be much stronger. His 2018 Irish Derby Latrobe will be ridden by top Australian rider James McDonald; Frankie Dettori comes in for Master Of Reality; Winx’s rider Hugh Bowman is on Twilight Payment and John Allen stays with Downdraft, my fancy for the race; while many thousands of miles away, Joseph has master-minded a true Australian training and racing schedule for the tough Downdraft, winner of four of his previous eight races prior to his trip to Australia.

Nine days ago he was a close fourth under Allen in Hunting Horn’s race, then on Saturday he did the traditional “Cup paid work-out” over a mile and a half of Flemington racecourse collecting more than 100k in facile fashion. He’ll be super-fit and he’s my pick.

I feel sad for Hughie Morrison, whose 2018 runner-up Marmelo was denied a second shot at last year’s winner, Charlie Appleby’s Cross Counter, when ruled out by the veterinary panel, a decision that the trainer may well pursue, such was his chagrin after two highly-regarded vets had declared him sound. Aidan O’Brien also had the disappointment of a veterinary decision ruling out his main hope Fleeting from Iridessa’s race when she must have been a serious contender.

It was a luckless meeting for Ryan Moore and it will have been no consolation for the jockey that Derby winner Anthony Van Dyck has clearly come back to form in finishing a closing third to Bricks And Mortar in the Turf race. Bar being hampered, causing a slight stumble at a crucial stage, they might have won thereby questioning Bricks and Mortar’s right to what looks an assured Horse of the Year accolade.

Mention of Morrison cannot pass without thanking him for the training of Say Nothing and Sod’s Law, two Ray Tooth home-breds that sold very well at Tatts last Wednesday. Ed Dunlop and Luke Comer, their respective new trainers, can win as many races as they like as Ray still has both dams up at Andrew Spalding’s Hedgeholm Stud.


So I got it wrong. It wasn’t Graham Lee and Frankelio who got up to deny Sod’s Law and Danny Tudhope on the line at Pontefract last Monday, hours after the almost-uncannily correct prediction appeared in these pages, but Joe Fanning, that other regular rider for Wilf Storey back in the day. Joe gathered the Mark Johnston-trained front-running Bo Samraan for a renewed effort just before the line and won by a head, writes Tony Stafford.

There were 14 runners that day in the Yorkshire mud and only two of them truly acted on it. We knew Ray Tooth’s homebred would cope, but timing was all. Danny did nothing wrong except come up against a Johnston horse who’d been absent for half the year recovering from injury. Any normal trainer would have waited until next year to bring the son of Sea The Stars back – how unfair to run a mile and a half-bred horse against us at a mile and a quarter! MJ couldn’t wait.

And where were the other twelve? Well if I tell you the extended distances were ten lengths back to the third, then 3.25; 5; 1.25; 4; 4.5; 3.5; 11; 2; 2.5; 6 and 1.25 lengths you can picture the scene as horses rolled about all over West Yorkshire with everyone coming home as though they’d been on an SAS Survival course in the Brecon Beacons.

Thus Sod’s Law finished his honourable service career for Ray <possibly> on a questionable note. Timeform, those arbiters of equine quality, managed skilfully to face both ways at once. They more than questioned his honesty by applying the dreaded “squiggle” – shush! - alongside his rating while at the same time raising it by a full 6lb to 92. So he goes to Tattersall’s Autumn Horses in Training sale on Wednesday on a highly-saleable mark and proven to stay ten furlongs which had not been fully established before Pontefract.

The Halifax firm produce a special book evaluating all the horses in that sale and every Middle Eastern buyer aiming at filling his orders will be marching around with one under his arm from today. I’ll be going up later this morning for a preliminary skirmish prior to Wednesday when Sod’s Law goes under the hammer in the evening with the second batch of the Hughie Morrison contingent.

I felt a bit sorry for the old boy – the horse not the trainer! – as he’d needed to dig pretty deep to get where he did on a day of attritional racing. Up the hill and over his longest distance yet, he even gave indications that a mile and a half might not stretch his capabilities while there were whispers that maybe even jumping could be a possible, although there haven’t been many of the Maysons try it.

What of Frankelio, who as I said last week, has been a constant nagging at the back of my brain ever since I discovered his form connection with The Revenant. I saw Micky Hammond before the race, suggesting I feared his horse and he candidly said: “I’m not sure he’ll stay and in any case when we gelded him in the summer it seemed to take a lot out of him. It’s going to be all about next year for him.”

For the record, Frankelio was almost 45 lengths back in 11th place but more annoyingly, Rake’s Progress who’d come late to deny our chap at Nottingham the previous week, this time was never in contention and more than 18 lengths behind in fifth at the finish.

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Now it’s up to the bidders and Ray doesn’t ever let them go for nothing. That will apply too for Say Nothing, his three-year-old filly by Nathaniel who is due to sell in the earlier batch of Hughie’s Wednesday auction items. She is one of nine declared for a mile and a half handicap at Southwell early tomorrow evening. The Morrison horses always do well on Fibresand and the hope is she’ll finally earn a winning bracket and then go straight on to the sale in advance of Wednesday.

She’s a looker and for a while we were tempted to send her hurdling as her half-brother – and the mare I Say’s first foal – Nelson River was fourth in this year’s Triumph Hurdle for Tony Carroll. With a robust physique that had Hughie calling her “little Enable” when he first saw her, she would attract at least a look from dual-purpose shoppers. The Enable point is easily made. The great mare is by Nathaniel out of a Sadler’s Wells mare. Say Nothing is also a daughter of Nathaniel, and I Say has Sadler’s Wells as her maternal grandsire.

It was Sod’s Law for us again on Saturday evening. Waterproof, running in a 16-runner classified race, also finished runner-up, this time by half a length again with the rest of the field trailing along behind, though not quite in such disarray as Pontefract. There was an element of slight misfortune too as Shaun Keightley’s gelding got a hefty bump from the winner a furlong out. “If it had been a head we might have got it,” said the trainer. It wasn’t so we didn’t.

While preparing for Chelmsford, Waterproof has also been schooling over hurdles and is due to make his debut at Huntingdon on Sunday while the boys prepare to fly back from the Breeders’ Cup in Santa Anita over the previous two days. In encouraging Raymond to try jumping: “The Pour Moi’s do well over hurdles”, I repeatedly suggested, again there was a Sod’s Law element. When we sent Laughing Water to Coolmore, Pour Moi seemed a good choice, as he’d already sired the Derby winner Wings Of Eagles for the Coolmore partners and Aidan O’Brien. But even before Waterproof was a year old, Coolmore had switched the Derby winner to their NH division.

Today I read that poor old Pour Moi has now been seconded to a French stud, reflecting his having covered fewer than 60 mares this year. The supreme irony for the stallion is that his son Wings of Eagles, having attended to the mating requirement of four times as many mares as daddy in his native France, is coming back the other way to Coolmore. Who said money talks?

There were so many Sod’s Law moments this week, most of them encapsulated in the two days’ Flat racing scheduled for Saturday and Sunday. Doncaster and Newbury both succumbed to the deluge – if you were wondering, Ray’s potentially smart jumper Apres Le Deluge is having a break at Hedgeholm stud – but the big races have been reprieved.

Again last week, I suggested Aidan O’Brien had no prospect of clawing back the money deficit to John Gosden, but with five of the only six declarations for the Vertem Futurity at Doncaster, he would have had a chance of heading his rival for a couple of days at least. The race has been reopened and will be run on Friday night’s Newcastle card and added to the eight races already scheduled. Ralph Beckett plans to add Kinross, impressive on debut at Newmarket recently, while Andrew Balding’s Kameko, the only non-O’Brien acceptor last week will run. Aidan apparently will stick with the quintet already listed.

Newbury’s Horris Hill Stakes was also lost and transfers to Newmarket on Saturday. That had been Beckett’s original target for Kinross, and HQ’s management will be hoping that the course’s noted drying capacities will provide acceptable conditions for its two-day finale.

I suppose Phoenix Thoroughbreds can afford the odd setback, but they had a Sod’s Law moment par excellence at ParisLongchamp yesterday. Only four horses were declared at the final stage for the Criterium International (which Ray won in 2011 with French Fifteen), two by Aidan and one Joseph. The only non-O’Brien was the German-trained Alson, in the private stable of Gestut Schlenderhan handled by French-born Jean-Pierre Carvalho.

The heavy ground caused the morning defection of Wichita, one of Aidan’s pair leaving Alson and Armory, respectively second and third in the Lagardere on Arc Day, to renew rivalry. Joseph’s entry was the supplemented filly Lady Penelope, recently bought to remain in his stable by Phoenix. The supplementary fee would have been more than dealt with by the guaranteed third-place money, but she flipped over in the stalls denying Group 1 black type and Shane Crosse a moment of Group 1 glory.

That left just the two and after a very short time it was clear that Armory and Donnacha O’Brien were not coping with the ground while Alson clearly was. With Armory eased off, Frankie Dettori enjoyed his 19th Group 1 win of the year and it was surely easier than any of Enable’s during her entire career as the 20-length margin was announced.

Afterwards Donnacha expressed his amazement that no French horse could be found to contest that race and no doubt many others will have similar thoughts about the paucity of English challengers for some of our top domestic race.

I’m not sure I’ve really taken to the way the Breeders’ Cup has evolved into its present two-day structure and certainly for UK watchers, the first set of races offers few points of interest, although no doubt the Editor will already have been sorting out the likely longshots in the dirt races to fund his trip.

One race that will attract universal attention will be Magical’s run in the Filly and Mare Turf race on Saturday. If she wins she’ll have to have beaten the US crack Sistercharlie, but don’t be surprised if that perennial over-achiever Billesdon Brook goes close. I don’t think Richard Hannon has had anything like the credit he deserves for keeping her going at the level he has.

- Tony S

I think everyone who has racing’s best interests in heart should be thanking Chris Stickels, writes Tony Stafford. His early decision to utilise Ascot’s unwatered inner hurdles track for three of Saturday’s six Champions Day races undoubtedly saved the day. Whoever arranges the on-the-day weather also deserves congratulation. As we drove away in lovely late autumnal sunshine a big crowd was celebrating some excellent competition despite the testing underfoot conditions.

Last year’s fixture was run on ground official described as “soft, heavy in places”. The three races run on the close-to-unraceable ground until Saturday’s respite were run in uniformly slower times than 2018; the opening sprint 2.04sec slower; and the two mile races, the QEII 2.40 sec slower and the concluding Balmoral Handicap 2.30 sec slower than their predecessors.

Two of the three inner course races were run over officially shorter yardages than normal. The stayers’ race, 93 yards shorter, was run in eight seconds faster time than last year. The Fillies and Mares, 87 yards shorter than the mile and a half was run almost five seconds faster than last year. The Champion Stakes was still officially a mile and a quarter and interestingly only differed from last year by 0.37sec, Magical’s time actually minutely quicker than six-length winner Cracksman 12 months earlier.
So when adding the “missing” yards from those two earlier Inner Course races, all three of the switched races were run close to last year’s times.

Swinley Bottom is always the sticking (or perhaps Stickelsing) point when the ground gets bad. Ascot’s facilities and glamour, even after a week of monsoon conditions in the soft southeast of the country, continue to attract the crowds and as ever it was the younger generation that energised and populated the enclosures.

It was on that day that the Alizeti consortium announced the completion of its buy-out of the Tote from Betfred. Anyone who has backed any horse minutes or even seconds from the start of a race and waited for the win dividend knowing it will almost certainly, especially in the case of a winning favourite, be considerably less than the pre-race figure shown on screen will be hoping for less disingenuous dividends. If the technology that allowed such disgraceful returns is still in place, Alizeti or even Ali Baba would be destined to failure. One day somebody should look into past events. It happened often enough to be comical never mind questionable.

But let’s go back to Champions Day. So Stradivarius didn’t win again, just being nosed out of a second Qipco British Champions Long Distance Cup by last year’s St Leger winner, Kew Gardens, under a masterful ride by Donnacha O’Brien. At least Stradivarius, in winning ten consecutive races since another Ballydoyle Classic winner, the five-year-old Order Of St George, denied him in the same race two years earlier, won the four £1 million bonus staying races in both the last two seasons. This race is not included in the bonus. Maybe to make it harder, for £2 million, throw in this race.

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John Gosden is not the greatest loser in the world. He suggested after the race that the going beat Stradivarius. Sorry John, it was always reckoned Kew Gardens didn’t like soft ground, but as he showed when winning at Doncaster last September, he relishes a battle. On Saturday he also made it clear that he will be the one to beat in the Gold Cup next June, and in finishing five lengths clear of the rest it is hard to suggest Stradivarius did not run up to form.

But undoubtedly the star of the show was Magical, and typically, the name chosen by Mrs Susan Magnier has been uncannily appropriate. As they milled around in the winner’s enclosure after her comfortable win over mudlark Addeybb, Derrick Smith was talking to Aidan O’Brien about the possibility of her going to another Breeders’ Cup. Aidan said: “Sure, if you asked her, she wouldn’t say no!”

Amazingly since her fourth place behind Laurens in the Matron Stakes on Irish Champions Day 13 months ago, she has raced 13 times, 11 of them in Group or Grade 1 races. In five of them she has finished behind Enable, when tenth in last year’s Arc and fifth when Enable was beaten this month by Waldgeist.

Otherwise she’s been in the first three every time, and the only months in which she has not appeared have been between December last year and March.
As Smith again was saying on Saturday: “Imagine what her record might have been if Enable hadn’t been around. It tells you how good Enable is to see her win like that.” It does indeed, Derrick.

And “like that” it truly was, Donnacha hardly picking up his stick even when the filly with 18 races already on her dance card, having cruised through the race on going which, as with Kew Gardens, was hardly playing to the accepted strengths of a product of the peerless Galileo.

Had another of his fillies, the 20-1 shot Delphinia, been able to hold off Gosden’s Star Catcher rather than succumb by a short head in the Fillies and Mares race that Magical won last year, or more probably had Donnacha O’Brien and Fleeting not been unlucky in running in fourth in that race, then O’Brien would have passed Gosden in the race for the Champion Trainer title. Big John is just over £100k ahead and with the Vertem Futurity, the final Group 1 of the UK season being worth only £111,000 to the winner he should hold on.


I’m looking forward to the jumping now and with the recent torrents come safe conditions on the training and schooling grounds for the top trainers. Nicky Henderson was at Ascot on Saturday and said he had been very happy with his horses in their preparations which, until last week, had been almost entirely on his all-weather strips. “But then when we got on the grass, I realised they weren’t quite as “ready” as I’d thought”. Don’t worry, that’s one stable’s horses which won’t appear until they are ready. Like everyone else I can’t wait to see the next chapter in the unbelievable history of Altior. Who knows, maybe in time he’ll do a Desert Orchid and win a Gold Cup?

I’m off to Pontefract this afternoon where Raymond Tooth’s homebred Sod’s Law gets the chance to win for the second time on the track with ground, trip and Danny Tudhope all in his favour, before next week’s visit to the Horses in Training sale. But there’s a nagging worry at the back of my brain. All year I’ve been following a Micky Hammond horse with the greatest of frustration, including in the ladies’ race on King George day.

Frankelio is the name and he’s a four-year-old son of Frankel who had decent form in France. On his last start there he was beaten three-quarters of a length into third in a conditions race over a mile at Saint-Cloud, one which caused me all year to refer back to it saying how ridiculously well-handicapped he had become.

On Saturday at Ascot, the horse that beat him that day, namely The Revenant, and now with an official rating of 120, finished runner-up to the 2,000 Guineas second, King Of Change. That Saint-Cloud run was Frankelio’s second encounter with The Revenant, as they had been second and third, again separated by three-parts of a length, at Compiegne a month previously and almost a year to the day to Saturday’s epic performance, again on heavy ground.

At Pontefract, Sod’s Law, a 5-1 shot, gives 7lb to Frankelio now rated only 72. I can picture it now, Tudhope coming from way back to hit the front 100 yards out and then Graham Lee swooping even later on Frankelio. Magical might be the best-named horse of all time, but Sod’s Law isn’t far behind.

I didn’t realise it at the time, watching the finish of the race, but I wish Party Playboy had won Saturday’s Emirates Cesarewitch (sounds funny, EMIRATES Cesarewitch doesn’t it!), writes Tony Stafford. As Stratum came up to the line narrowly in front, the name Mullins reverberated. It was only hours afterwards that I noticed that Willie’s 25-1 shot  – by far the longest-priced of his three runners - had denied brother Tony’s 50-1 outsider by half a length.

Oblivious to the runner-up’s identity, I neglected to pay a visit to the winner’s enclosure, and attempting to put that right, spent much of yesterday trying in vain to reach him at the stable. I’d mislaid his (and many other long-held mobile numbers) when leaving my previous phone on the roof of Jonathan Powell’s car as he drove off from the Ascot car park last year.

We have history. In my “why don’t you send one to…” days, I suggested to Tony in the summer of 1992 he find a suitable horse for Wilf Storey reckoning no one would suspect the impending gamble. He did, producing a mare, Carla Adams, that he hadn’t run since acquiring her after she had been bought out of Ginger McCain’s stable for a couple of grand. In four runs for Red Rum’s trainer she showed nothing, twice having the benefit of the services of one Donald McCain junior, at the time a 7lb claimer and long before his illustrious training career.

So Carla was readied for a selling hurdle. The money was on and she started favourite, but after leading under Kevin Doolan, she fell away and was unplaced. Wilf and as far as my dimming memory can recall, Tony also, couldn’t believe it, so she turned out again three days later with a slightly better result, third of eight in a Hexham handicap under Kenny Johnson.

You’d think she’d be tightening up after those two quick runs but for some reason unknown to the trainer(s) the weight just wouldn’t come off. A return to Hexham two weeks later brought an even more disappointing outcome and Kevin Doolan suggested she might be in foal – horror of horrors. The vet was called. He duly inserted his hand where it is needed to investigate and declared: “She’s about six months!”

Hence the 485 days’ absence from action during which time she produced a bonny chestnut colt which was to bounce around Grange Farm, Muggleswick, for three years before finding a buyer as a riding horse. “He never got above 14.3hh” recalls Wilf.

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He added: “Some time after the vet’s visit we found out she’d been covered by a black and white <coloured> horse while in the ownership of the buyer. I caught up with him at Doncaster sales and asked him for some “luck”. He said: ‘Her foal’s by one of the best coloured horses in Ireland. You don’t need any more luck than that!’”

That episode was to lead 15 years later to my getting the job with Raymond Tooth. I was in his company on the day Punjabi finished fourth in the 2007 Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham and was hurrying from Victor Chandler’s marquee where we were based that day for the toilet in my “soon to be diagnosed as diabetic” stage. En route I saw Tony engrossed on a phone call. Waving, I was about to pass him when he stopped the call and said “hold on”. I waited, crossing my legs to stave off the potential embarrassment, which happily didn’t happen.

Tony quickly ended his call and said: “You mustn’t miss mine in the last.” ‘Mine’ was the nine-year-old Pedrobob, a prolific winner already with six victories including a five-length defeat of Beef or Salmon on his card. Lightly-raced, somehow he got into the County Hurdle on bottom-weight, and under Paul Carberry duly strolled home at 12-1.

Mr T and his entourage had already left the track and were waiting in a lay-by in the chauffeur-driven Bentley listening to the race having received the intelligence just before their departure. The following Monday morning I received a call from Raymond asking me to come to his office whereupon he offered me the racing manager (in his words ‘advisor’) post and, otherwise unengaged, I accepted. We’re still just about clinging together on greatly reduced numbers and I’ll be at Windsor today, if it survives the inspection, hoping his home-bred Nathaniel filly Say Nothing can finally say something!

The Cesarewitch was a race in which traditionally the Irish struggled to make any impact. In the modern era – I’ve been looking at 1974 (and Ocean King, 25-1 winning tip!) onwards – it was not until Dermot Weld brought the brilliant Vintage Crop to win as the 5-1 favourite in 1992 that there was an Irish-trained winner. Tony Martin followed in 2007 with Leg Spinner, and Low Sun won for Willie Mullins last year.

All three trainers were represented on Saturday, bolstered by Tony and nephew Emmet Mullins, David Henry Kelly and Aidan O’Brien. Apart from O’Brien’s Cypress Creek, a died-in-the-wool Flat performer with a pedigree to match, the others all had National Hunt connections and all eight Irish runners came home in the first 14 of a 30-runner line-up.

English jumps trainers like Nicky Henderson and Alan King have often provided fancied and in some cases successful runners but Saturday’s result will surely encourage more Irish jumping trainers to target the race, especially now with its massive £350,000 prize pool. Mark Johnston and Hughie Morrison were third and fourth respectively with Summer Moon (50-1) and Not So Sleepy (33-1). The first three produced a £44,000 Tricast dividend to a £1 stake. A first-four style Superfecta bet would have had cumulative odds of around one million to one.

Party Playboy is a strange horse. Rarely can a maiden have got into the Cesarewitch, so strong usually is the demand for places, but oddly this year there was not even a full field. An 82 rating after 14 career Flat races, the first seven in France and Germany producing six placings, was enough to give Party Playboy his place in the line-up. For a while a furlong out he looked the likely winner. The fact that in 23 career starts his only victory came in a hurdle race might suggest he does not have too much in the determination stakes, but a 113 mark there should enable Tony to exploit him over hurdles this winter. Tony though, I read, has a $2 million race in Saudi Arabia in February on his radar. He better not tell his brother about it!

The six other Irish runners on Saturday, with the exception of dual bumper horse Sneaky Getaway who finished sixth and looks sure to be a top novice for Emmet Mullins this winter, have jumps ratings. Most of them come into the usual 40-50 differential Flat to jumps bracket save Buildmeupbuttercup, just 34lb higher, so Willie Mullins may make hay with her.

There was a domestic example of a potentially-lenient jumps mark on show on Saturday and the highly-skilled dual-purpose trainer Ian Williams certainly identified the potential for Speed Company in a nice handicap hurdle at Chepstow. Rated 89 on the Flat after a successful summer, he was only on 119 after four placed runs in novices and two handicaps over jumps and duly obliged. He’s one to watch out for in either code from now on, as is his handler.

- TS

No, I didn’t make it to the Arc after all. I was unceremoniously “bumped” in favour of a well-known trainer from the last seat on a little plane, writes Tony Stafford. I’m sure he had a nice day, but so did I and I’m saying this without a scintilla of irony.

What was ironic was that Newsells Park Stud, which had derived such reflected glory from the exploits of Nathaniel’s daughter Enable over the past three years, are part-owners of Waldgeist, the five-year-old entire who ended her unbroken run of success at the last gasp of what we presume to be her final race.

Newsells Park shared with the late Lady Rothschild in Nathaniel’s racing career, most notable for his King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes win as a three-year-old, when in 2011 he beat the previous year’s Derby winner, Workforce, and noted globetrotter, St Nicholas Abbey.

As a four-year-old he was beaten a nose on the nod by Danedream in the same Ascot race. Danedream, a German filly, won the previous year’s Arc by five lengths at 20-1 and was as big as 9-1 when winning her King George.

But almost the most memorable aspect of Nathaniel’s career was that he had participated in the first and last acts of the flawless Frankel his immortal fellow son of Galileo. It was only by a narrow margin that an immature Frankel prevailed on their shared debuts in a maiden on the Newmarket July Course in August 2010. Twenty-six months later they both bowed out after Ascot’s Champion Stakes, this time with more than four lengths separating the old adversaries with the brilliant gelding Cirrus Des Aigles splitting the pair.

Nathaniel retired to his part-owners’ stud at a fee of £20,000 which was held, apart from a one-year drop to £18k, before going up to £25,000 for the 2019 covering season. In truth, without Enable’s exploits, 13 wins from 14 starts before Sunday’s unexpected defeat, Nathaniel would have been regarded as the sire of decent staying horses, but none in Enable’s class – not that many horses over the past decade have been swimming in her pool.

Waldgeist, the German word for wood sprite or ghost, and like Nathaniel a son of Galileo, races under the Gestut Ammerland – a noted German stud – and Newsells Park (owned by the German Jacobs family) banner. Having three times failed to match Enable in the past, most spectacularly in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf where he came a long way short as Enable and yesterday’s fifth Magical had another of their tussles far ahead, he chose her swansong to deny her.

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He gave fair warning in the King George this summer, staying on well to finish only a couple of lengths adrift as Juddmonte and John Gosden’s great mare got the better of Crystal Ocean in an epic battle up the straight. The news that Crystal Ocean will become a jumping stallion with Coolmore shows how seriously the world’s premier stud is taking the production of jumping stock at the same time as it reflects the relative lack of commerciality of middle-distance horses  when their racing is over.

So Waldgeist’s future stud career, seemingly easily promoted for that brilliant burst in the ParisLongchamp mud, might still be problematical. In the race he took advantage of Enable’s vulnerability to a late thrust after she and Dettori had dealt efficiently with Magical and French Derby winner Sottsass, the latter in the White Birch Farm colours of Peter Brant.

Maybe he’d be a welcome addition to the Newsells team. In the recent past, the arena of choice for Derby winners and their ilk has been Japan, and German breeding doesn’t seem to be predicated against stamina either. But a few years ago Newsells had to call time on their Eclipse winner Mount Nelson after demand for his services dwindled to a trickle. Now rebranded and more significantly re-invigorated by a move to an Irish jumping farm he gets maybe ten times as many visits from mares than was the case in his final year in Hertfordshire – and the results to justify it.

The influence of Galileo in the major middle-distance races never wanes. Coolmore’s champion appears in the first two generations of the first five home yesterday. Apart from the winner he is also sire of both Aidan O’Brien trainees, fourth-placed Japan, who ran a solid race that promises much more if he gets a full four-year-old campaign and the tough Magical, fifth on her 20th career start, five runs more than Enable who has been going a year longer.

Sottsass has Galileo as his maternal grandsire while Enable of course is Galileo’s grand-daughter on the paternal side.

Longchamp, sorry ParisLongchamp – I won’t get used to it until I go there [you’ll never get used it, Ed.] – provided lovely Arc weather for the second day to reward the many British visitors who braved the trip in the final month before Brexit; and the British punters got about as much generosity in their treatment as Boris and before him Theresa May received from the EU negotiators.

Apart from Enable, backed down to 1-2 on the Pari-Mutuel, Battaash (Abbaye) and Mehdaayih (Prix de l’Opera) were also short-priced British flops on a day of betting carnage. There were two British and one notable Irish wins for those who looked beyond the perceived “good-things”.  Jessica Harrington’s two-year-old fillies in particular have been enjoying a golden autumn and yesterday Albigna, in the Prix Marcel Boussac, followed the example of Millisle in the previous weekend’s Cheveley Park Stakes to become a strong-finishing winner of a Group 1 race.

William Haggas allegedly doesn’t enjoy flying, so One Master’s second successive win in the Prix de la Foret – another five-year-old mare! – would have steeled him for the short hop back in his little plane. I keep telling people to look back at One Master’s Doncaster debut two years and a bit ago when she was all of two lengths ahead of the great Betty Grable – four wins and five seconds in ten runs this year and up as high as 60 in the BHA handicap. That makes her just 52lb behind One Master, but maybe a little more when yesterday is taken into account by the handicappers.

The most remarkable performance of all for me though was the Prix de l’Abbaye demolition by the Kevin Ryan-trained and Terry Holdcroft (Bearstone Stud) -owned Glass Slippers. She went clear of a big field of sprinters before halfway and from that point was never less than the winning margin of three lengths ahead of So Perfect and the rest. That was a third successive win in France for the daughter of Dream Ahead who was rated only 96 when she started the sequence at Deauville in August. Another success followed at Longchamp but still there was so little hint of imminent Group 1 triumph that she was allowed to start at almost 13-1.

The tough So Perfect was a 27-1 shot as she continued the trend of Ballydoyle/Coolmore placed finishes, with Fleeting (19-1) also runner-up in the l’Opera and the well-backed Armory a creditable third to an impressive but economical Victor Ludorum in the Jean-Luc Lagardere for Andre Fabre, pathfinding for the brilliant and venerable trainer’s triumph in the Arc an hour or so later.


Like the plane, I was also denied in another of last week’s pronouncements, namely that Waterproof should get in his race at Kempton last Wednesday. He didn’t, by one. It was equally frustrating to miss out by two at Wolverhampton on Saturday night but thanks to the authority’s decision to divide his race at Chelmsford tomorrow night, I can go there after day one of book one of Tattersalls October Yearling Sales. It will be nice to catch up again with some of those who did get to France.

I don’t suppose many of them will join me at Chelmsford later but with the fourth, fifth and sixth horses from the race at Kempton where Waterproof finished second all having won next time out, they won’t be there to witness the victory celebration. I never move a muscle when Ray Tooth has a winner but maybe after such a wait for one I might stretch to a small cheer for Josie Gordon and trainer Shaun Keightley.

Mention of Josephine reminds me that when Catapult won over the same track last week he was benefiting from one of the rides of the season. While Dave Nevison on Racing TV bemoaned the fact that the beaten favourite Broughton Excels probably was disadvantaged by racing in the clear on the rail, the winner got barely a mention. Yet he had once been three lengths behind Dave’s fancy going to the turn at which point he had to be switched instantly when his ground was taken. Josie had to navigate him behind and then outside four other horses before launching a challenge down the middle of the track.

The skill and alacrity she showed when changing her stick from left hand to right and then smoothly back to the left when the horse hung slightly right was masterful. Then the rhythmic way she kept him going in her left hand to catch the favourite on the line was perfection. George Baker conceded she would have been an unlucky loser had Catapult not got up, but so fixated they all were on the favourite that one of the rides of the season was dismissed as nothing out of the ordinary. Shame on you, Mr Nevison!

  • TS

So far the 2019 Flat-race season has been a re-affirmation that John Gosden knows how to keep his top horses going season after season, writes Tony Stafford. Stradivarius has proved to be invincible once more among the stayers, collecting a second £1 million bonus for owner-breeder Bjorn Neilsen and now Enable is on the brink of a third successive Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe for Prince Khalid Abdullah. By the way, Lord North on Saturday confirmed that whichever three-year-old turns up from Clarehaven in the Cambridgeshire, it is likely to win. The amazing thing about Lord North’s smooth success on Saturday was that he was available at 10-1 in the morning – backed down to 9-2 favouritism on the day.

But one unexpected sidebar to the Gosden pre-eminence, as that is what it has become at the top level for older horses at any rate – Too Darn Hot, until his injury-prompted mid-season retirement to stud and the unbeaten St Leger winner Logician adding to the legend – is that his two-year-olds have been less involved than in previous years.

Obviously there have been successes, 21 wins from 78 runs this year and those 21 victories were provided by 17 of the 37 juveniles sent to the track by Gosden. It was interesting to note, though, that he was unrepresented either in last weekend’s Mill Reef at Newbury or any of the two-year-old Group races run at Newmarket on Saturday. Furthermore, from an entry of 37 for the Dewhurst Stakes, won last year by Too Darn Hot, he has only one possible representative, the unbeaten Palace Pier, twice a winner around Sandown and each time offering promise for the future.

It would not be a total shock if the Kingman colt were to flex his muscles next week, but as he is in the ownership of Sheikh Hamdan, the Maktoum family will probably be anxious for him to avoid the outstanding Pinatubo in that championship-defining contest.

Godolphin now have a second Group 1-winning and unbeaten juvenile on their hands in the Andre Fabre-trained Earthlight, who made it five in a row when confirming earlier Deauville superiority over Golden Horde  in the Juddmonte Middle Park Stakes, one of three juvenile Group races on the Newmarket Saturday card sponsored by Enable’s owners. The solidity of that heavy ground Prix Morny form had been temporarily questioned when Raffle Prize, who had split the two colts in France, succumbed half an hour earlier to a strong late run from the Irish filly Millisle in the Cheveley Park Stakes, but Earthlight’s workmanlike victory restored the lustre.

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Earthlight, like Pinatubo, is a son of the Darley stallion Shamardal who has been making strides as a solid back-up act to Dubawi for some time. Hugh Anderson, Godolphin’s managing director, was suggesting after the race that having restricted him to “private” with 75 family mares only having access to him in recent years, his services may be thrown open to the wider bloodstock industry.

Shamardal’s exploits, especially in producing two such outstanding juveniles so far into his stud career – he was foaled in 2002 – as well as the outstanding sprinter Blue Point, retired to stud after his Royal Ascot double this June, reflect well on Darley’s handling of him at Kildangan Stud in Ireland.

A son of ‘the Iron Horse’, Giant’s Causeway, he was unbeaten at two for Mark Johnston when his all-the-way Dewhurst success over Oratorio brought championship honours for 2004. Transferred to Godolphin and Saeed bin Suroor, his stock briefly slipped when an unplaced favourite finishing far behind a 33-1 stable-companion in the UAE Derby the following spring. That was soon forgotten though when, returned to Newmarket under the stewardship of bin Suroor, he took both the French 2,000 Guineas and Derby before ending his racecourse career with a win in the St James’s Palace Stakes, transferred to York while Ascot was under re-construction. Thus his career ended with a single loss in seven starts.

As with Galileo, whose original two crops were spread around the upper-to-middle echelons of trainers before Coolmore stepped in to take a near-monopoly after his merit became unquestionable, Shamardal similarly provided winners for many stables around Europe from his early crops. It took a good deal longer than was the case with Galileo and Dubawi before his stock became more difficult to secure. I reckon Gleneagles, possibly Galileo’s fastest son and, like Shamardal a champion juvenile and a 2,000 Guineas winner, in his case at Newmarket, will very quickly become a protected species by his Coolmore owners.

His first crop have already produced a couple of Group winners, Royal Dornoch in Saturday’s Royal Lodge at Newmarket (still sounds wrong to me) outbattling favourite Kameko to follow Royal Lytham (July Stakes). The fact that Royal Dornoch’s win came over a mile and in track record time fuels optimism that at three some of his colts and fillies could stretch to a mile and a half with chances of winning a Derby or an Oaks. Whatever the outcome of that always-intriguing question with new stallions, there is no question that the Gleneagles’ are showing similar battling qualities to progeny of their paternal grandfather.

Having so far missed the pleasures of the new Parislongchamp, I’m optimistic I might get a late invitation for next Sunday. It would be great to see Enable one last time – maybe I should have gone to the Newmarket open day to see her cantering up the hill last weekend as many others did.

One of the anomalies of the great mare’s career is that unlike her sire, Nathaniel, and Frankel, his paternal half-brother whom he ran close on their respective debuts on the July Course, she has never raced on either track in the town where she has been trained throughout her career. In that regard therefore, her appearance on the Rowley Mile last week for a gallop in advance of next Sunday’s swan-song was a notable coup for Michael Prosser, Newmarket’s Director of Racing. A top priced 5-4 on chance with the bookmakers for the Arc, she faces strong opposition with the two three-year-old colts, Sottsass for France and Japan for Ballydoyle, the Coolmore team in particular likely to pose very serious examinations for her. If she comes through this test she will be garlanding her amazing story with an appropriate conclusion.


Thoughts are not quite turning to jumping yet but it was in some ways ironic that the McCoys awards dinner in London last week had to go on without Sir Anthony. The great man, fresh from showing his enduring horsemanship when winning the Legends race at the St Leger meeting, was instead indulging in his other great autumn obligation. Every year he competes alongside but in opposition to his old boss J P McManus at the prestigious Dunhill Links Pro-Am golf event in Scotland. While I’m hardly a golf devotee, I had a quick check on Sunday morning to see how the boys had been going with their respective pro partners. Sadly neither was in contention and matters did not improve for either yesterday.

But Jamie Redknapp certainly was. Partnered with Luke Donald, who went round in 64, eight under par, on Saturday, Redknapp contributed another seven points in their better-ball score, taking his handicap into account. That made for an almost surreal 15 under par 57. He must have been an even bigger blot on that handicap than Lord North in the Cambridgeshire! Unlike Gosden winners of that race who tend to end up winning Group races for fun next time out, Redknapp junior and Donald could not sustain the form and faded away out of contention yesterday at St Andrews.

The Raymond Tooth team, still struggling for runners, will be hoping that the requisite five of the 19 horses at present endangering the participation of Waterproof at Kempton on Wednesday will have the decency to vacate their places. He was raised only 2lb for a good second there two weeks ago and Shaun Keightley was due to school him over hurdles this morning. He had his first “look” at the small ones before that last run at Kempton and showed promise. Hopefully he’ll get a run and win this week and then we’ll be looking for somewhere like Huntingdon for a jumps debut. It would be nice for Ray to have another decent hurdler, although it’s hard to imagine he’ll ever be another Punjabi. Then again, there’s always hope. Then again, it’s the hope that kills you…

I’ve always had a soft spot for Brendan Duke, writes Tony Stafford. In the days that he trained in Lambourn he always had quite an entourage at the races, usually but not exclusively of a certain type of middle-aged, hard-punting Irishman who clearly enjoyed his company. In those days I well remember the time at Punchestown when before the Grade I Juvenile Hurdle that Ray Tooth won with Punjabi, Brendan took to the stage to offer the reasons why his horse Katies Tuitor, already a dual winner over jumps in England, would collect the prize.

In the event the company, and especially Punjabi, proved too good but Katies Tuitor had plenty of success with Brendan and later with Charlie Mann, for whom he reached a 152 rating over jumps. Brendan always enjoyed switching the right article from Flat to jumps and back again, so it will not have surprised him from his present base in Ireland that his former inmate Chica Buena has made such a splash in the UK.

Three times unplaced late in 2017 for Duke, Chica Buena, a daughter of Thewayyouare had cost €5k as a yearling and raced three times in his ownership as a juvenile. A 49 rating ensued. Switched to hurdles, the filly showed much more promise, on her third start finishing second at 50-1 to the smart Cheveley Park-owned Gordon Elliott-trained Chief Justice at Listowel, four lengths clear of the one-time Tim Easterby-trained Lever Du Soleil.

The pair met again on what was to be Chica Buena’s final run in Ireland at Ballinrobe, Duke’s filly stretching her advantage to six lengths this time. Now re-housed with Keith Dalgleish and in the ownership of Straightline Bloodstock – hope Brendan got a nice touch, he probably needed one as Chica Buena was his only hurdles winner since 2016 - she won her next three at Sedgefield, Musselburgh and Aintree in the autumn before two places in better company. Those runs took her into her summer break rated 136.

Meanwhile, Lever Du Soleil also kept busy. Previously rated 54 after his early career with Easterby, the gelding was confined to hurdling by Cromwell after those two meetings with Chica Buena, running another eight times and ending with a rating of 125. I like to pitch the differential between hurdles and Flat ratings to around 50lb, so it was hardly surprising that in July this year, reverting to the level for Cromwell, that 54 rating proved more than vulnerable.

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The summer of 2019 was one of unprecedented success for the Irish trainer, apart obviously from the misfortune to lose J P McManus’s Champion Hurdle winner Espoir D’Allen to injury in the close season. During that golden spell Cromwell planned and duly executed a 15-day romp around Scotland, with one foray into England at Catterick, for four odds-on handicap wins. The last was off 68 and now he has 83 to contend with if he wants to come back again!

Meanwhile Dalgleish waited until yesterday, more than seven months after her last jumps outing for Chica Buena’s return to the level. Like her two-time hurdling victim, she was targeted on a low-level Scottish handicap – in her case over a mile and a half at Hamilton Park. A big field lined up but, predictably from a mark of 49, a mammoth 77lb lower than her jumps rating, she coasted home under Graham Lee after briefly looking as though she might struggle.

Dave Nevison, on yet another of his trips to Scotland, and Gordon Brown, who lives up there, both speculated on Racing TV that the handicappers are pretty much lumbered with working from the handicap mark she started with. They suggested the officials could really only react to how she won under that rating even though everyone, including the public that forced her to 1-2 knows that figure was a total fiction based on her hurdling ability.
If I were a handicapper I would, as Nevison said he would, raise her 20lb without messing about leaving Straightline Racing to take the bones out of 70, which probably would still be lenient enough.

There are two chances at Newcastle this week to exploit the rating and no doubt Dalgleish will take up at least one of them. Any new mark will not kick in until Saturday week, with amendments coming out on Tuesday morning next week. I can’t wait.

The whole issue of handicaps came to mind after a pre-race chat at Newmarket with William Butler, long-standing assistant to Sir Mark Prescott, whose Land Of Oz was about to win the Cesarewitch trial over the full distance of next month’s big stamina test.

Land Of Oz was bottom-weight on Saturday by virtue of the weight-for-age scale which still allows three-year-olds to receive 10lb from their elders at the race distance of two and a quarter miles in the first half of October. Even after Saturday’s win, his fifth in his last six starts, he is only 72nd in the list and most unlikely to make the final cut of 34 plus two reserves. If he did, a rating of 91 (87, plus a 4lb penalty) would look comfortable enough given the ease of Saturday’s win. He started the run in typical Prescott style off 58!

While talking to William Butler, we asked him whether we should have a bet and Peter Ashmore totally ignored his advice of not to – too short - by having a few bob on, triumphantly brandishing the voucher after the race. When I suggested he’d be finished for the season after Saturday; be left off until next August; have one winning run in time for the weights and win next year’s race, Butler said: “I hope there’ll be something better than that!” They obviously think the son of Australia is pretty good!

Looking back at a list of previous Cesarewitch winners – still not believing Prescott’s lament that: “I don’t win the Cesarewitch”, it is scarcely credible that it was as long as 45 years ago that Ocean King won the race. Writing almost my first front-page piece as part-time Editor of The Racehorse, I tipped the 25-1 winner of one of my favourite races. That renewal was forever branded on my memory when a few days later <Sir> Peter O’Sullevan, generous as ever to his younger journalistic colleagues, wrote a letter to Roger Jackson, then Editor of The Winner, the other paper in Raceform’s stable at the time, congratulating him on the success and wishing him good fortune in his career! Roger did ok.

If Sir Mark is finally going to win the race this year it will have to be either with Distant Chimes, four wins in a row before a Chepstow last of three on his most recent start, or more probably Timoshenko. That gelding, unbeaten in five races as a three-year-old, was primed to win the two and a half mile handicap at Glorious Goodwood on his only start so far in 2019 and is nicely placed off his mark of 86 if he makes the cut from 53. I’m confident he will and with his stamina proven beyond the Cesarewitch distance, he must be on any short list.

The type of horse I particularly favour for this race is the unexposed three-year-old which shows improved form after the weights come out. Ten years ago talking to David Simcock, I suggested his Darley Sun was a certainty for the race. He’d won by ten lengths off 83 at Ascot before running second, beaten a neck, in the Doncaster Cup when his rating had been increased to 93. Starting 9-2 favourite he won by five lengths in the big race and was instantly carted off to Godolphin. I hate to think how many times Simcock has mentally rebuked the owners for what was probably one of their more ill-conceived ideas. With Simcock I’m certain he would have become champion stayer the following year.

Anyone who has read more than a few of the 300-plus weekly offerings, either Sunday Supplements or Monday Musings in this space will know that I used to tip horses for a living, writes Tony Stafford. For all my working life until I left the Daily Telegraph at the end of 2002, I was obsessed with solving the problem of every race. More often than not I had an opinion on them all too.

So you can imagine the sort of bother I could get myself into. Being regarded in some quarters as knowing something about the game didn’t square with the reality of thousands of frustrating afternoons in betting shops and on racecourses.

Then it all stopped. The analysis of races was really only brought into play in my racing manager days, from 2007, trying to derive optimism about the chances of Ray Tooth’s 30-or-so horses which were soon to feature Coronation Stakes winner Indian Ink and Champion Hurdler Punjabi.

Then Ray’s numbers steadily dropped and by early this year, apart from a few mares and young stock, was down to a trickle. As January arrived I was almost in despair at the turn of events, and then the Editor /owner of was asked by friends if he could recommend someone to run a new project they had just bought.

Laurence Squire and Frank Crook are co-directors of Trainers’ Quotes, which as it says on the tin, relays the opinions of a number of highly-respected handlers’ runners every day to members. Over the winter the owner of a rival concern in the same sphere of activity, namely From The Stables, offered them his service for sale as he wanted to concentrate on his main activity, a kitchen-fitting business.

I visited Laurence at his place down the road from Venetia Williams in Herefordshire and also had an hour or two’s inadequate tutorial with its former owner and, by Cheltenham time, six weeks in, I still didn’t really have a clue what I was doing. Slowly the technical side worked itself out, disproving the maxim: “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”.

Anyway, as with these articles, I’ve never missed a day since and having lost our biggest trainer to a new bookmaker sponsorship on Derby Day eve, I had the good fortune to sign Hughie Morrison, Brian Meehan, Shaun Keightley and lastly Ian Williams to cover what would otherwise have been a fairly barren flat season while our top jumping trainers were enjoying their summer breaks.

In those far-off days in Fleet Street, I was obsessed with the naps tables, with near misses a few times in the Sporting Chronicle, three wins in the Sporting Life – I’m looking at the trophies now - and a handful of monthly awards in the Racing Post.

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Now I’ve reverted to type. Whenever I was in contention I used to have the table in front of me and put a line triumphantly though other tipsters’ losers and grudgingly mark any winners. It didn’t work, in all honesty, especially the time when Teddy Davis of the Chester Chronicle had a 66-1 winning nap that wiped out my 40 points lead one February.

About six weeks ago it was brought to my attention that From the Stables was doing quite well in the William Hill Radio naps table. I hadn’t known we were even in a tipping competition until Laurence called and told me: “You’re not far behind. Try to beat Sam Turner”.

At the start of this month, I was around £4 behind Sam who in turn was a few pence adrift of Dave Lowe. I met Dave for the first time at Doncaster on Saturday. He was on duty for William Hill, for whom he works in promotions, for their sponsorship of St Leger week.

A mutual friend introduced us and I asked Dave if he knew anything about the naps table. “I do,” he said: “I’m lying third in it, why do you want to know?” “I’m leading it,” I replied and he added: “So YOU’RE From the Stables.”

In the intervening few weeks, the old habit of making a list and crossing through the losers has become almost my major activity. It hasn’t been helped as over the past nine racing days I’ve had a run the like of which I cannot ever remember when it was a major focus of my employment.

It started on Saturday a week ago at Haydock, when the Ian Williams-trained Time to Study won at 7-1; then Oliver Sherwood’s Archimento won at Fontwell, starting 7-4. Monday’s winner was Morrison’s Escape the City, 4-1 at Brighton, followed by Byron Flyer, Williams 11-8 at Worcester, and Shaun Keightley’s Trouble Shooter, 7-1 at Kempton.

Two losers followed but then Meehan slipped in a 13-8 winner, Top Buck at Bath on Saturday, and Williams completed a memorable nine days when Blue Laureate stormed home by seven lengths at Ffos Las at 15-2 yesterday.

As a result almost embarrassingly I have to report that From the Stables is almost 30 points clear at the top of the table. Many of William Hill’s staff contributors to its radio commentary service and their betting shop studio programming are among the 24 fellow tipsters. My role, apart from ensuring that the trainers’ comments are faithfully recorded, is trying to evaluate which of “our” runners have the best chance.

That itself is not always easy. Top Buck was one of 16 contenders on Saturday and he was actually the only winner. The process of ending up on the right nap does I think stay with the died-in-the-wool tipster. In my case it’s taken a long time for me to get back to looking at the races in the way I used to and I have to thank all the trainers, those I inherited and the new boys, for being so helpful in guiding our readers in the right direction.

As I understand it, it costs £30 a month to receive the service. No doubt as a result of the good performance we might get some new members. It would be typical for them to catch us on the way down. What is most satisfying is that our present profit of more than £38 would give us a £7 lead if we were competitors in the Racing Post naps table.

So it’s thanks to my friend Matt Bisogno for the suggestion and as a result giving me the chance to rekindle my love for finding winners. The downside is that I’m going to be as insufferable as I always used to be, and no longer the mellow old man I believed I’d become.


Important matters again have to find room at the bottom of these thoughts but I’m sure they will be given more than justice elsewhere in this publication. Pinatubo, so impressive in the National Stakes at The Curragh yesterday, must be one of the best juveniles to have been seen out for a long time. I think it’s fitting that the always-approachable and ever-modest Charlie Appleby has such an outstanding 2,000 Guineas contender in his care.

Messrs Gosden and O’Brien were both efficient in hoovering up the majority of the other big Group 1 prizes in the UK (nice St Leger winner, Logician), Ireland and France and I enjoyed Magical very much on Saturday in the Irish Champion Stakes. Could she possibly beat Enable in the Arc this time?

Joseph O’Brien’s Group 1 winner Iridessa was a big moment for Chantal Regalado-Gonzalez and husband John Murrell, incorrectly-spelt recently in the Shaun Keightley article with an “a” for “u”. As long as they keep winning Group 1 races with fillies destined for the December Sales, John I’m sure wouldn’t mind if we called him John Gosden!

- TS

Two young people, their promising careers as jockeys abruptly ended by injury after near-calamitous race-riding accidents, have joined forces in a bold and visually spectacular training project, writes Tony Stafford. Well Close Farm is on the A19, ten miles north of York racecourse and a couple of miles to the south of the picturesque market town of Easingwold, population 4,627 (and 51 Grade 2 Listed buildings).

Whoever spotted the potential of the 44-acre farm previously occupied by E Drury & Sons, self-promoted as “Europe’s leading distributor of industrial motors, gearboxes and drives”, and additionally of clear float laminated glass – nice diversity there! – take a bow.

His or her foresight led to the “sale by private treaty” being withdrawn last year and by November 30, PJM Racing was incorporated with two directors, Phillip Makin (incorrectly listed with one “l” on the article of incorporation), racehorse trainer, and Samantha Joanne Bell (Sammy Jo to me and you), assistant trainer.

Now the life and business partners are reconciled to their new dual roles: Makin was age 34 and presumably with at least a decade to go as a jockey when on August 25 last year, riding the Mrs Doreen Tabor-owned Eyecatcher for Simon Crisford, he appeared likely to win when the gelding fell and was fatally injured. Makin broke a bone in his neck in that incident and has not ridden since. His final tally of UK wins stands on 951.

Sammy Jo had already called time. The Northern Ireland native is one of many to have started out from Jim Bolger’s stables, more than a few of them - A P McCoy comes to mind – from the six counties. Her ten victories in Ireland were supplemented by 72 more in Britain, 51 of them for Richard Fahey. The two winners she rode in the 2015 Shergar Cup when still an apprentice illuminated her career, but a pelvic injury in the following season led to ten months’ absence.

There was a brief revival in 2017 but after a final winning ride on All My Love for Pam Sly in October of that year at Catterick, she finally retired. On Sunday morning in the kitchen of their refurbished stone farmhouse she said: “But I hope I will get a ride for Richard Fahey in the Legends’ race on Wednesday at Doncaster”. We’ll know later today when the declarations are finalised.

Neither Makin nor Bell, particularly the ever-active Bell, seems any larger than jockey size. Makin said: “When you ride horses for a living, you think you are busy enough. When you train it’s altogether different, always something to do and it takes over your life.”

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The development of this impressive training centre, totally private, is going on apace. There is a four-furlong all-weather (waxed sand) circuit and a seven and a half furlong gallop that joins the circuit and is visible from the trainer’s office on the upper floor of a converted barn. “But when the indoor ride is completed that view will be obscured, so we’ll need to build a new viewing platform to watch the work”, he says.

There are 50 boxes already in place in large converted barns with another ten to come. A feature of the farm while operating as an industrial business was the quality of the grassland and there are around 25 small turn-out paddocks designed to keep the horses fresh.

Makin and Bell have the support of a number of local businessmen and the 30 horses in training have recently been bolstered by the arrival of seven yearlings. No doubt Ascot sales tomorrow, the next spot on the talent-seeking treadmill will provide one or two more. “We’ve a potential owner who’s looking for a ‘cheapie’ and I told him we might find one there,” said Makin.

It was not until early this year that Makin announced his plans to train and the first winner came just over a month into the new season when Galloway Hills won at Redcar. The tally is up to seven now and when we went to York races later in the afternoon, Fennaan, once with John Gosden, was fancied to run a big race. Unfortunately it seems that his questionable wind continues to hamper his progress.

There are two planned runners at Doncaster on Wednesday, but the trainer is looking further ahead to Ayr. His candidate is Lahore, originally with Roger Varian, when racing in the colours of Invincible Spirit’s owner-breeder Prince Faisal. The five-year-old was a 99-rated horse when acquired for just 11k at the autumn sales last year, a price that suggested some problems. Makin’s team has clearly sorted them out and Lahore has been running well all year. A Ripon win early last month was followed by a short-head second of 16 to Bielsa at Thirsk, a run which led to his rating going back up from 93 to 97.

Makin’s hope that Lahore might squeeze into the Gold Cup’s top 25 seems destined to disappointment as he’s number 61 in the list, but that should easily ensure his place in the Silver Cup. “He loves soft ground and we’ll be running 4lb well in so I have to like his chance.”

Whatever happens, the young man who made something of a habit of riding Raymond Tooth winners at Carlisle, “I remember Rainbow Zest for Wilf Storey and I Say for William Haggas”, he says – so do I – has all the cards in place to make a big splash.

It doesn’t hurt that he has recently added Lee Enstone to the team. Lee rode 140 winners in the UK, 47 of them for the late Patrick Haslam, but it’s amazingly ten years since he last rode in public. The Chester native had been working at Michael Owen’s stables for Tom Dascombe, but as he told Rachel, queen of the owners’ badges at the top northern tracks for the past 23 years, “I’m back!”

Enstone was given a fair compliment a little earlier as Fennaan toured around the pre-parade ring, by David Easterby, son and assistant to the venerable Michael. Easterby junior, presumably fully refuelled by the excellent owners’ room roast beef lunch – no I didn’t have one! – told Makin: “Lee came along at the same time as Paul <Mulrennan, who was riding Fennaan> and probably had more talent.”

A little research showed both careers started in 2000, Mulrennan with no wins and Enstone four.  “But Paul”, he added, “was much more determined”. Speaking to Enstone later, it was clear he is taking his new job as a major opportunity. “There are some nice horses, including later-developing two-year-olds and a great work atmosphere. I can’t wait to get going,” he said.

The small team of stable staff will no doubt need to grow but with Well Close Farm’s facilities and several local owners prepared to spend money to buy success, PJM Racing should have a bright future.


One week I’ll have the space to write up properly the continuing success story of the Alan Spence horses. Last week Revolutionise won a little handicap at Kempton to follow Positive’s Solario Stakes at Sandown. This Saturday it was Salute The Soldier, owned in partnership with Mr and Mrs Hargreaves, that made all, showing great resolution, under a big weight in the valuable seven-furlong Cunard Handicap at Ascot – which Ray Tooth won with Dutch Art three years ago.

Salute The Soldier, bred by Spence and the Hargreaves’, was running off 101, so even a small rise, maybe 3lb, will concentrate the attention of talent-seekers for Hong Kong or the Middle East. When I asked Alan whether the offers had been flying in, his “not yet” was delivered in the quizzical sort of way that suggested: “but they will!”

Thence to Doncaster and his Golden Horn filly, West End Girl, who goes for Group 2 honours in the May Hill Stakes. Airport duties – Mrs home from hols in Mexico – might hamper my trip north that day but, as Alan says: “What will she be worth, a first crop Group 2 winner by Golden Horn?” He’s always known the value of a pound note has Spencie!

A former jockey who according to the meticulous Derek Thompson was the “first man to ride on every racecourse Flat and jumps in England, Wales and Scotland” 20 years on from his final ride during a four-year stint in Australia, is now making waves as a trainer at Exning in Newmarket, writes Tony Stafford.

I first knew Shaun Keightley ten years before that when, on one memorable – and more than a little frustrating – Oaks day in the late 1980’s, he rode one of three winners in a four-horse raid on Catterick (afternoon), Carlisle and Leicester (both evening) of a Peter Hudson-trained quartet owned by Sheikh Mohamed Al Sabah from Kuwait.

The Sheikh, a larger-than-life character who was prone to through-the-night four-hour telephone conversations with interminable pauses and ancient English idioms – “er…and so on and so forth” was perhaps the favourite – was also prone to excess in most other areas.

He had a 50-horse stable, Linkslade, in Lambourn, where Willie Muir has trained for many years now, originally under the care of Stan Mellor and then briefly Fred Ffitch, Stan’s assistant. The Sheikh was looking for a permanent replacement and soon after my friend George Hill had interviewed Hudson following his first winner on an outside reporting day for the Daily Telegraph, the appointment was made.

Hudson, previously assistant trainer to Barry Hills at Manton where he was also estate manager, had only recently gone out on his own. The old Etonian instantly got on well with George, an old Edith Cavellian - Haggerston (alma mater of Rodney Marsh) and the appointment soon ensued.

The Sheikh had some nice horses and after a quiet spell told me he was intent on landing a gamble. Money duly collected from the United Bank of Kuwait, various friends, family (well Dad anyway), Telegraph employees and Dad’s dog trainer Paul Philpott were despatched around East and South London, Kent and Hertfordshire placing multiples on the quartet, with a total of 300 establishments being targeted.

It needed the first, Absolutely Perfect at Catterick, to set the bet in motion. Carrying the deep red and white colours of Al Deera Bloodstock, the Sheikh’s ownership name, he duly obliged at 11-2 under George Duffield. Thirty minutes later a rather more significant moment in British and European racing came in the Oaks on that June 10 day when Aliysa, after passing the post first under Walter Swinburn for the Aga Khan and Michael Stoute, was disqualified in favour of Henry Cecil’s Snow Bride and Steve Cauthen.

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That would prove to be a road with no turning as the Aga Khan almost immediately decided to take all his horses from England, basically his strong representation in the Stoute and Luca Cumani yards. They were moved to France and Ireland and the same status quo persists to this day. It even extends to his sales policy, using Arqana in France and Goff’s in Ireland to the exclusion of Tattersalls.

Even before those two races, it had been a red-letter day for Shaun Keightley. With most of the big riding guns down at Epsom, he was enlisted by Ben Hanbury for the mount on Weldnaas, a 20-1 shot, in the Listed John of Gaunt Stakes at Haydock. Despite putting up 1lb overweight (8st7lb, really Shaun?) he made the most of his first ride on the horse to gain his own sole Listed winner on the Flat. Weldnaas never ran again.

That was five minutes before Absolutely Perfect and half an hour before the Oaks. Then it was a two –hour gap until the first of two Leicester runners, Careful Lad, under Steve Dawson in the seller. The odds of 11-8 were not easily landed. In a 13-runner field, he got up by only a head.

Keightley by that time had completed the ride north to Carlisle up the M6 with Peter Hudson. His mount Radish’N Lemon was a 3-1 shot in the maiden, and strolled home by six lengths with never a moment’s doubt. In view of what happened to the last leg, there now is a feeling of “swings and roundabouts” for me as Radish’N Lemon later had the race taken away on technical grounds.

That left Pharaoh’s Delight, a 100-30 second-favourite on debut behind Bright Flower, an odds-on shot ridden by Frankie Dettori for Cumani – that’s right 30 years ago and Frankie was already winning! She was the one we reckoned to be the banker. Ask Dave Dineley?

But Eddery could finish no nearer than sixth after easing her when beaten and came in to tell George Hill: “Bad luck, she’ll win at Royal Ascot”. She did, by six lengths in the Windsor Castle, and followed up, first in the Princess Margaret at Ascot on King George day. Then soon after came her crowning glory in the Group 1 Heinz 57 Phoenix Stakes at now-defunct Phoenix Park while family Stafford was returning from New York on the QEII. He knew what he was talking about Mr Eddery!

Pity she was wasn’t ready first time. I recall having more than £50k in cash on my living-room floor after the boys managed finally to bring it all home, usually needing three or four goes to get the money. If the filly had won it would have been more like £250k, but had she done so, the cry of “foul” would have come from the bookies and the team would have had even more bother in getting the cash. Anyway that’s all conjecture.

So let’s fast forward at least a couple of decades. Shaun Keightley, following an initial spell between 2002 and 2006, reappeared after a gap of 12 years in his late 50’s as one of the oldest “new” boys in the game. He set up in Darryl Holland’s yard in Exning, next door to Gay Kelleway, but it was when building contractor Simon Lockyer sent him Rail Dancer to train in the spring of 2018 that the success story really began.

For many years his main mentor had been John Morrell, owner of the La Manga resort in Spain, with Shaun often taking care of his pre-training horses. Morrell’s family horses are run in the name of John’s wife Chantal Redalago-Gonzalez, best known for the 2015 Oaks winner Qualify, trained by Aidan O’Brien.

Morrell, true to character, supported Keightley’s latest training venture and in San Carlos they have a nice three-year-old who is sure to continue to pay his way. After taking some time to come right, Rail Dancer produced a quick-fire winning double within five days in May, setting in motion a memorable first full year as a trainer.

Working largely with low-grade animals, and following on from two wins in 2018, Shaun has now hit the impressive figure of 15 this year. Simon Lockyer, who is now comfortably his principal owner says: “It’s amazing. He had seven winners in August alone, four of them in the last fortnight from only nine runners.”  Three of the four winners had won their previous race and defied either a penalty or a rise in their rating.  “The owners are all delighted with how it’s going,” added Lockyer.

A man who partnered almost exactly 200 winners (150 jumps, 50 Flat) in his 20-year riding career might not be expected to remember everything about them all, but when I told my friend Peter Ashmore that Raymond Tooth was sending Keightley a horse, he said: “I remember him”.

Back in the late 1970’s Peter had a share in Captian <correct spelling> Cheeko, a hurdler with Philip Allingham at Lilley, near Luton. He said it had finished second in a three-horse seller with Keightley, then a 7lb claimer, riding. “Yes, he was a flashy chestnut with a white blaze and four white socks,” Keightley recalled.

Another equally impressive feat of memory was when he met another friend, Shaun Ellery, a great pal of the late David Wintle, at Chepstow when Trouble Shooter won there a couple of weeks ago. Keightley said:  “Are you Shaun Ellery? I came to your night club, The Bank, in Cardiff back in the 1980’s.” Right on all counts, says the man known universally (as long as you’re old enough!) as Sonic.

As a last word I’d like to congratulate Alan Spence on the Solario Stakes win of his Positive at Sandown on Saturday. Not as clear-cut maybe as the betting had predicted but the way he battled and Adam Kirby’s glowing endorsement makes a 2000 Guineas aim realistic.