Call it what you like, but I’ve been meandering through the past decade or rather the nine years since I’ve known the boss, writes Tony Stafford. I won’t go into the tortured path that first led me to meet Raymond Tooth on the day that Punjabi won the Adonis Hurdle at Kempton by 19 lengths for Mick Fitzgerald and Nicky Henderson. I think I’ve told it here before, but even if I have, you wouldn’t believe the full story.
Nine years on I wasn’t at Kempton at all for one of my favourite meetings but 300 miles away at Newcastle where Ray’s April Dusk put up a great show, reverting to hurdles and beaten only by the so far five-for-five Tomngerry in a hot novice contest.
April Dusk will be back over fences at Uttoxeter on Midlands Grand National, the day after what’s left of the seven-strong Adonis field tests the water in the JCB Triumph Hurdle. All seven that ran in this year’s renewal of an always informative event have the Triumph entry and the way that jumps debutant Zubayr, trained by Paul Nicholls for P J Vogt, shaped suggests he’ll be hard to beat.
I love the way commentators spoof such phrases as “proved he was worth the money” or even “that looks a bargain”. I can tell you of one or two proper bargains – fancy a filly for £50? no, not that type - but it would still be hard to brag that you’d been instrumental in buying something ‘senza tackle’ for Euro 380,000 without a tinge of embarrassment.
Good luck P J Vogt, and also good luck to Tom Malone in finding someone willing to stump up the thick end of 300k in real money for a maiden, albeit one bred by the Aga Khan, who must find it slightly amusing that so many of his choicely-bred animals end up jumping. Why doesn’t he have a crack at winning the Champion Hurdle? Sheikh Mohammed did many years ago, but now that he is winding up the Ferguson/Bloomfields project, he’ll be hard pushed to get another Festival win.
In Punjabi’s year there were two French-bred’s in the eight-runner Adonis and five from that country were in the 23-strong Triumph where fourth-placed Punjabi (ex-Geraldine Rees) followed some way behind Alan King-trained Katchit, sourced from Mick Channon.
On Saturday only two of the seven runners were not either French-bred or nurtured there as was fifth-placed Wolfcatcher, trained by Fergie, but a dual Flat winner for Andre Fabre until his transfer to Suffolk.
All seven from Saturday have the JCB entry – see I’m giving the [non-bookmaking, Ed.] sponsors a plug, maybe I’ll get a buckshee digger? – and probably five will run.
I’ve used the extra day to research so well that it was only 5 a.m. Monday – give a writer an extended deadline and he’ll give himself an extended time for non-preparation – that I knew what my subject would be. But intense scrutiny of the remaining 38 in the Triumph revealed that 27 were either French-bred or in one case raced there in their formative days.
I found a new reader last week. He wanted me to call this column the Monday Addendum – too many d-sounds probably – but I’ve landed on Meander, which accurately catches the halting momentum of my life. Steve Gilbey would probably prefer “Mooch”, but he should be content enough with Spurs’ prospects to expect anything more.
Philip, the itinerant chef – hopefully just about returned from a weekend assignment at what Google reveals as the somewhat decadent Osea Island in the Blackwater River in Essex – might not be delighted to be termed “pedantic”. I’m sure though he will note I’ve not slipped into the “as many as”, “no less than (sic)” or more correctly but still unacceptable “no fewer than” traps, all Daily Telegraph style book no-no’s and still firmly implanted in this consciousness.
But 27 it is, and the declaration of the Euro 380k is a rarity, in terms of dealers and trainers recruiting from France. Of those I can find, the Nicky Henderson-trained filly Omessa Has, who is yet to run, but won one of eight in France, cost 150,000 Euro for the Simon Munir/Isaac Souede team. Pilansberg, who was last of seven behind Zubayr, went through Tatts’ ring in October from the Juddmonte string. He had smart form in stayers’ races in France, but a final well-beaten effort in a Grade 1 probably helped reduce his price to 100,000gns.
Pilansberg showed little promise here, but he was the choice - or maybe the selection was made for him - of stable jockey Sam Twiston-Davies.
Tom Malone can buy a “cheapie”, too. He was the agent concerned when the Dan Skelton stable acquired Kasakh Noir for Tim Radford, whose Timico sponsor the Gold Cup. They paid 26,000 Euro for a winner from two runs in France and he has gained two victories and a second here. That’s what you’d call a bargain, Tom.
A quick analysis shows a few constants. The first is that Willie Mullins, who has five of 130-plus Festival entries in this race, likes a filly. Three of his five are fillies and there are only six females in total in the field. His skill with such as Annie Power suggests that already-successful Apple’s Jade and the so-far unraced in Ireland Ria d’Elel, respectively owned by Gigginstown and Munir/Souede will be worth watching if we live that long.
I’ve been without binoculars for a while – the last pair fell off the flat bit at the bottom of the banister and broke open – inoperable as the rather iffy on-course binocular man told me. I left them with him, presumably for a decent burial – he assured me there was nothing that could be done with the parts of the rather nice pair of Zeiss. I say iffy because about eight years ago I had an earlier pair that he took for repair, and for all the time in between I was given a cock-and-bull story about “the man who had them to repair has disappeared”. The last time I saw Iffy, there remained no sign of that scurrilous repairer, and then with little ceremony, the binocular man himself was no more at Cheltenham, Ascot, Newmarket or anywhere.
Well on Friday, the delightful wife came back from ordering the birthday cake for a year ending in “0” in advance of this Friday and announced “Do you mind if I give you your present now as you’re racing tomorrow?”
Thanks, darkling, and there I was with my 12 x 50 new Nikkons, feeling as though I was a proper, old-style racecourse regular. For a while through the lovely lenses it looked like April Dusk would win, but it’s only delayed three weeks. Who knows, he could even win a future Grand National for Raymond? He’s lucky enough!