I’ve often pointed out elements of why writing this piece on Monday morning differs from the column’s previous Sunday identity, writes Tony Stafford. By the time I arrive at my 5 a.m. starting point – you have to have some stability for such a discipline – I’m projecting forward into midweek.
Last Monday was all about Dutch Law and the estimable Pat Smullen at Ascot the previous Saturday and how he said he’d love to ride him again. It was never a project to try to get him over for the following – therefore last – Saturday rather than for the Irish champion fulfil engagements on a Classic weekend in Ireland.
So for Smullen read Oisin Murphy who had been provisionally engaged for an earlier ride on Dutch Law only for his agent to find more sustaining opportunities elsewhere. Luckily this time, Oisin was present and correct in the paddock in advance of the gelding’s rapid return, but he seemed a shade agitated as he waited for action.
“Why don’t they get on with it?” he asked. “They were late off for the previous race and I’ve got a helicopter waiting to take me to Lingfield!”
Not much you could say to that. In the absence of trainer Hughie Morrison, who understandably settled for home track Newbury rather than another slog around the M4/M25/M11 horror show, and owner Ray Tooth, watching at home in Central London, I asked whether he’d had his instructions from Mr Morrison.
He had, and for his added intelligence, I gave him the benefit of the great Smullen’s findings – “travels like a group horse in behind, but he’s a bit of a monkey”.
A top jockey takes it as he finds it and when from the start, Dutch Law moved more like a carthorse than a Group horse in behind, and then finished anything like a monkey, with a final swoop past two or three in the last 100 yards, the glorious uncertainty of racing once again struck me.
And even that wasn’t all. From my lucky July Course vantage point in the head-on stand, I saw three horses come to the line and without question, the horse in the middle, David Barron-trained Free Code, looked to be just ahead. It was the same when watching on telly.
It didn’t just fool me. The Racing UK cameraman – they never get it wrong! - followed Free Code in the immediate aftermath of yet another “near miss” by already six-time second Dutch Law. I’d got halfway round to the unsaddling enclosure when the welcome words, “result of the photo finish, first, number three, Dutch Law” resounded, to a big cheer from the favourite-backing 8,000-strong crowd.
Then came a vision, one I’d never seen in all my years watching racing at Newmarket. It was the grey and pink colours of Raymond actually cantering through the paddock on the way to unsaddle with an animated Oisin calling to the horse’s attendants “thank the owner, gotta run” whereupon he was off into the weighing room.
Pretty much to the jockey’s fears, they hadn’t gone off until 5 p.m., five minutes late. Then it was just over two minutes for the race and that sprint back and no doubt not even a face wash before setting off to Surrey. I have to report that not only amazingly did he make it in time for the 6.10, but Oisin also had the satisfaction of an easy winner on Rafe Beckett’s odds-on shot, Great Glen, in the all-aged maiden. He went solo to Lingfield. Happily Dutch Law’s percentage will have paid the transport for the day.
When I catch up with Mr Murphy, I’ll ask him if he remembers as far back as Saturday at Newmarket and what to us looked like an amazing ride. You never know with official handicappers, but it seems likely that when the next most important time of the week arrives just after 8 a.m. tomorrow, he’ll still be rated in the high 80’s rather than 90-plus and therefore eligible for similar events.
When animals get branded with the tag of “nearly-horse” it’s easy to characterise them as possibly quirky or ungenuine. Dutch Law, now two wins to go with six seconds, a third, two fourths and four fifth places in 15 starts is certainly a bit on the quirky side.
But apart from when eighth at Kempton on debut and when filling the same position in a nine furlong handicap which not only stretched his stamina but also featured a rapid mid-race move at York, he’s never been beaten more than five lengths. Additionally, since moving into handicaps 12 races ago, his individual RPR performances have never been outside the 78 – 91 bracket.
With 97 from Timeform for Ascot, where he has now finished second in all three competitive races he’s tried, and possibly a pound or two higher for Newmarket, where he has won twice and been mugged on the line in his only other race there back in June, he looks a possible contender for something a little better as he matures fully.
He has already outstripped the earnings of his year-older full brother, Dutch Art Dealer, who Ray sold for 42,000gns as a yearling. When Tattersalls sent their representatives around recently to see the three potentially most commercial of the Tooth yearlings to Kinsale Stud in Shropshire, they reacted to three well-grown, correct colts with a “Part Three and two Part Fours”.
As the first of the trio was a very sharp, strong Mayson half-brother to Dutch Law, Rachael and Richard Kempster were horrified at the disdain with which the trio and especially the Mayson were received and their thoughts were echoed by one well-known consigning husband and wife team, who upon seeing him, said: “It’s a joke!”.
Well, as with the trainer, who passed on recent Yarmouth debut runner-up Stanhope to Micky Quinn with the now-famous “He won’t make anyone famous!” comment, the joke could be on the other foot.
Ray’s keeping all three to race next year, along with a French Fifteen colt that’s going to Nicolas Clement, who trained the Group 1 juvenile scorer for Ray in his five wins juvenile season, and two more we didn’t let Tatts see.
Stanhope’s homework continues to please Mr Quinn and he has an engagement (along with Busted) for Newmarket on Friday night, when Harry Champion may also try to get his stuttering three-year-old season on track for Hugo Palmer.
We’ll be hoping for another winner on what has been a happy hunting ground over the years. Collecting Saturday’s winner’s trophy was a reminder that it’s always an event to win races at the big tracks. As well as a very attractive silver-necked decanter, Ray also got what at first sight looks like a DVD sleeve, but inside which is a start to finish reminder of the race, complete with camera afterwards focusing on number two rather than number three. He didn’t mind a bit.