Life is basically all about choices, writes Tony Stafford. Do you turn left or right? When I collected my laundered shirts by Snaresbrook station on Saturday morning, with an immediate destination of Loughton to pick up Harry Taylor en route to the 2,000 Guineas and Newmarket, option one was to turn right and go via the A12 and M11.
But almost of its own volition, my car instead turned left and travelled the urban way through South Woodford, Woodford and Buckhurst Hill, all stops along the Central underground line, but avoiding the bottleneck at Debden.
Halfway there, at Woodford Green, it was impossible to miss the statue of that location’s former Member of Parliament, Sir Winston Churchill, cast in familiar bulldog pose and dominating a piece of greenery on the southern tip of Epping Forest. A few hundred yards on, Churchills fish bar, destined to be an impulse stop around 30 hours later for a celebratory cod fillet – no chips – offered a second nudge to possible events at turf’s HQ.
Classic winners are supposed to have “good names” and there is little doubt that the octet of 2,000 Guineas heroes trained by Aidan O’Brien, all for various combinations of the Mrs Sue Magnier, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith team, have that distinction in common.
King of Kings (1998), Rock of Gibraltar (2002), Footstepsinthesand (2005), George Washington (2006), Henrythenavigator (2008), Camelot (2012), Gleneagles (2015) and now Churchill all, bar maybe Foostepsinthesand, fulfil the nomenclature requirement and offer testimony to the language skills of Mrs Magnier, daughter of Vincent O’Brien.
More pertinently, as the late, great Vincent’s successor at Ballydoyle, Aidan (no relation) O’Brien has set the record for 2,000 Guineas victories, beating that set in the mists of time by John Scott, when that stable manager had neither the might nor the money of the Maktoums and the Qataris to contend with.
You say something, like “a record eighth win” quickly and as bald fact it deflects the enormity of the statistic. Nineteen years on from his first 2,000 Guineas triumph, it means that Aidan has won 40% of the possible opportunities in that timeframe. When you look at the potential fire power of some of the 200-strong teams around the UK and the almost bottomless pockets of a number of their patrons, such monopoly is truly embarrassing for his rivals.
I took a minute before yesterday’s 1,000 Guineas to talk to Michael Prosser on just that point, and he trumped me with an even more unlikely one. I’d just taxed Aidan with the question: “Are you any good at maths?” hoping to confound him with the 40% thing, but in true character Aidan had first to apologise and then rush away to monitor one of his trio into the parade ring before the Classic.
Prosser said: “We have nine Group 1 races here and last year Aidan won six of them.” Add to that the weekend Guineas double of Churchill and Winter and that makes eight out of the last 11 and 73%!
One 2,000 Guineas which Aidan did not win was its 2011 version, dominated throughout by Frankel, named for a great horseman, New York-born Bobby Frankel, Prince Khalid Abdullah’s principal US trainer. Almost an equal part of the Frankel mystique, apart of course from the fact that he was never beaten in a three-year career, was that he was trained by Sir Henry Cecil in the closing phase of his own eventually life-ending illness.
Frankel, the racehorse, shares with Churchill and Winter, as well as Saturday’s impressive Jockey Club Stakes winner Seventh Heaven, a common factor in that all four are products of Galileo, the most potent of the stallions that have fuelled Coolmore Stud’s recent pre-eminence.
For some sections of the media – especially television – members of Frankel’s initial crop have been portrayed as embodiments and thus likely equals of their father, but in horse racing that sort of expectation can only be cemented on the racetrack, rather than in sentiment.
A number have already proved precocious, and four of his early stakes horses appeared with a fair degree of expectation in the two Classic races. Fair Eva and Queen Kindly both made good starts to their juvenile seasons, but were respectively only fifth and ninth in the 1,000, while Dream Castle and Eminent were fifth and sixth, close behind the principals the previous day. Two other sons of Galileo, shared the spotlight with dad on Saturday: Teofilo, the best of his first-crop sons, is the sire of Permian, runaway winner of the Listed Newmarket Stakes and Ronald R is by Frankel’s old racetrack rival, Nathaniel.
I cannot resist one statistical fact away from racing that further embellishes the amazing level of O’Brien’s achievements. Tottenham Hotspur, renowned as the true FA Cup team – “if there’s a “1” in the year, Spurs win the Cup” as the adage used to go, last won that competition in 1991 and the League Championship 30 years earlier! Not that you would think so with some of the coverage of that “sport” in recent months.
I’m sure there must have been a number of Churchills racing in the UK over the years and the Racing Post also lists a few reared and raced elsewhere. James Burridge, breeder and part owner of the great Desert Orchid, also probably held quite high expectations for the 1995-born son of Derby runner-up Carlingford Castle – behind Teenoso, Lester Piggott’s last winner of nine in 1983.
Lester was in the paddock before Saturday’s race, but I doubt he remembers the 1995 Churchill, sold for 700gns to Keith Brown Properties, Hull, and a four-time raced non-achiever with a 31-length seventh, 69-length 12th before an unseated and pulled up ended his unremarkable time in action.
Also in the house on Saturday was Andy Smith, owner and bloodstock agent, who might just have got the best of the Frankel euphoria. Andy was the original owner, apart from David and Diane Nagle, the breeders from Barronstown Stud, of the filly, Toulifaut.
She won three times for the Jean-Claude Rouget stable before going under the hammer at the Arc sale, less than 24 hours before her date in the Prix Marcel Boussac. She changed hands for 1.9 million Euro, becoming the property of the Yoshida family’s Shadai Farm but was only eighth in the Boussac behind Godolphin’s Wuheida and fourth of six in her comeback run this spring.
There were critics of Ryan Moore’s performance on Rhododendron after he was briefly denied a run on the filly, but the way Winter strode clear up the hill, makes it less of a certainly that the favourite would have beaten her even with a clear run.
I am less than overjoyed that two days after he took a little each-way 20-1 on what has proved inspired information, Mick Quinn only passed on the news when Winter was already down to less than half that price. He can begin to make amends by getting a good run tomorrow night with Circuit at Leicester. She’s in the last, under Jamie Spencer, after which it’s off to Chester for three days and a switch of emphasis to Derby and Oaks trials. Phew!
- Tony Stafford