Monday Musings: A Euro Garden Party on the Lawn

Last week I concluded my offering with a suggestion that nowadays “fewer and fewer Europeans make the trip over to the Breeders’ Cup”, a statement gently modified by the Editor who said simply that this was not the case, writes Tony Stafford. In the event 31 horses represented four European nations – the French sent only two to Keeneland, Kentucky on Friday and Saturday, and the Germans one. Fifteen came from Ireland and between them they collected two winners, nine places up to fifth, and four unplaced.

The UK had ten runners and provided one winner, but it was the newly- and fiercely-independent nation of North Yorkshire which had the best proportional return from its three raiders with a win, a third and one unplaced. It wasn‘t the usual suspects either. There was no sight of a Mark Johnston, Richard Fahey, Tim Easterby or David O’Meara challenger. Instead, it was left to Nigel Tinkler and the two Irish-born imports Kevin Ryan and John Quinn to fly the flag for Malton and nearby Hambleton where Ryan trains with such success particularly with his sprinters.

The caricature of the Yorkshireman, perhaps best exemplified by Mick Easterby or even Geoffrey Boycott, is of a bluff, self-made man who likes what he likes and knows more than you. When it comes to training they certainly know their stuff. It was only a few years ago that the North in general couldn’t attract owners. Now there’s no such built-in inferiority complex.

The first three Yorkshire-based trainers mentioned – Johnston, Fahey and Tim Easterby – all train upwards of 200 horses, while O’Meara has well past 100 in his care. Ryan also handles more than 100, but the versatile Quinn operates on a smaller scale. Tinkler has run 67 horses this year – non-runner in Horses in Training! - for 28 domestic wins, and he has done extremely well with the progressive two-year-old Ubettabelieveit. In Friday’s Juvenile Turf Sprint , the Kodiac colt finished only a staying-on length and three-quarters behind the Wesley Ward flying machine Golden Pal.

To put that in perspective he was a similar distance in front of fourth-home Lipizzaner, the first of the Aidan O’Brien team which in general ran very much to form.

The UK runners could be put in three geographical training regions. Newmarket provided six; three from John Gosden and one each from James Fanshawe, Michael Bell and Roger Varian. Fanshawe in a 30-year training career had never previously ventured to the Breeders’ Cup, but he chose the right horse and indeed the perfect race. His three-year-old filly Audarya took the Filly and Mare Turf with a strong finish and a masterful ride by Pierre-Charles Boudot, standing in for Covid-19 side-lined Ioritz Mendizabal who’d ridden her in two previous runs in France, including when third to Tarnawa in the Prix de l’Opera on Arc Day.

Lambourn and environs, including the Hampshire borders, provided four runners. Andrew Balding sent 2,000 Guineas winner Kameko but he faded on the rail after looking a possible winner in the Mile; Ralph Beckett had two unplaced runners in the Juvenile Turf while Archie Watson and Hollie Doyle’s venture in the Juvenile Turf Sprint was destined for disappointment when Mighty Gurkha missed the break and finished 11th.

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If Ubettabelievit exceeded expectations, that’s nothing to what Kevin Ryan needed to overcome in the Turf Sprint. Glass Slippers had already won and then finished runner-up in the Prix de l’Abbaye, so she had strong form credentials, but no European horse had ever previously won this race.  As the trainer explained, Glass Slippers always runs best in the second half of the season. As a juvenile, she won for the first time on August 16 third time out. It needed five runs last year as she clicked into gear on August 4 before going on to beat So Perfect by three lengths in a soft-ground Abbaye.

This year she started by twice taking on Battaash at Ascot and Goodwood, finishing fifth and then second to the Charlie Hills speedster. It was not until September 13 in this truncated season that she won again. Ryan took her to the Curragh for the Group 1 Flying Five and she collected the £113,000 prize which also provided a free ticket to the Breeders’ Cup.

Next came the second venture at Longchamp and this time, on officially heavy ground, she beat all bar Wooded, who prevailed by a neck under Pierre-Charles interestingly with two John Quinn sprinters just behind in third and fifth. Tom Eaves was in the saddle that day as he has been in all bar one of her 17 starts which have produced seven wins. After Saturday’s race, Eaves, who had 26 UK victories in the past season at barely five per cent, paid tribute to Ryan and the filly’s connections for staying loyal as this was his first visit to ride in the US and also to Ryan Moore for advising him on how to ride the track.

Any amount of advice couldn’t have produced a more instinctive and opportunistic seizing of the opportunity to find a gap while others more versed with Kenneland’s characteristics found trouble. Once given the office Glass Slippers scooted through and showed just as much an affinity with fast Kentucky turf as she had Parisian bogs.

This first preceded an even more surprising example when Aidan O’Brien not only got his initial success in the Mile but he provided another of his characteristic 1-2-3 trifectas with Order Of Australia, Circus Maximus and Lope Y Fernandez. The bookmaker prices were big enough, but nowhere near as outlandish as the US tote which sent off Order Of Australia at 73-1. I know a friend of a friend who had the Trifecta and collected almost £1,200 for a 15p perm (90p total stake).

Boudot was also in the saddle here and again he was a Covid beneficiary as this time Christophe Soumillon would have ridden. The good fortune was even more amazing as if a 73-1 shot could ever happen – it hadn’t previously in the history of the race. Without the scratching of William Haggas’s One Master, Order Of Australia wouldn’t have made the field as his saddlecloth number 15 implied: he was first on the ‘Also Eligible’ list and was drafted in only by the Haggas mare’s absence. It also meant he had to start from the outside draw but after another virtuoso performance from France’s champion jockey he got first run on fast-finishing Circus Maximus.

The Mile was a strange race. While Circus Maximus is an established top-class performer and winner at the trip, Order Of Australia had run fourth to stablemate Santiago in the Irish Derby and opened his winning account also over the Classic distance in a maiden only two outings before Saturday. Third-placed Lope Y Fernandez’s last two runs before Keeneland were in Group 1 races at six furlongs!

There were more second places for the Ballydoyle team and late runs for them were the order of the day. That was true of Battleground’s excellent second in Friday’s Juvenile Turf on Friday. Magical ran with her usual courage in the Turf race to see off the two John Gosden hopes Lord North (fourth) and seventh-placed filly Mehdaayih as well as her own teammate Mogul (fifth). She was her usual admirable self but could not quite cope with the younger Tarnawa, a first Breeders’ Cup winner with his only runner at the meeting for Dermot Weld.

Tarnawa reappeared as late as August at Cork where she won a Group 3 fillies’ race with a strong finish. She added the Prix Vermeille the following month at Longchamp beating the highly-regarded French filly Raabihah before seeing off Alpine Star and Audarya in the Prix de l’Opera on Arc day.

On both those French ventures, Tarnawa was ridden by Soumillon but, with the Belgian maestro unavailable, Weld turned to the recently-crowned Irish champion, Colin Keane, who produced a ride worthy of his title to get her home in front of Magical. Missing out for the second time following her epic brave runner-up finish to Enable two years ago, Magical was denied getting past £5 million in total prizemoney from 12 wins and eight second places in 27 career runs. The £500k-odd she got for this latest silver medal brings her haul to £4.6 million but the pleasure she has given her owners and also the racing public can hardly be measured in those terms.

Talking of extravagant prizemoney, the three-year-old Authentic has only raced this year but Bob Baffert’s three-year-old has totted up five wins and two second places. These have been enough to edge him past Magical’s monetary haul by more than £25k with the three Grade 1 victories coming in the Haskell – he missed the truncated Belmont which was the first leg of this year’s topsy-turvy Triple Crown – the Kentucky Derby, and now Saturday’s Classic and its £2.3 million first prize.

He won with authority beating better-fancied stable-companion Improbable and, among others, the four-year-old Maximum Security, a disappointing fifth in the Gary and Mary West colours (in spite of having been acquired by Coolmore). It was Maximum Security who was disqualified after finishing first past the post in last year’s Kentucky Derby, the first horse ever to suffer that penalty.

Then early this year he travelled to Riyadh for the inaugural Saudi Cup, which he won, but the £7.5million first prize has still not been handed over as his then trainer Jason Servis has since been banned for multiple drug offences with a number of his horses. Maximum Security was moved to Baffert for whom he won the Pacific Classic at Del Mar in the summer before being beaten by Improbable in the Awesome Again at Santa Anita in September.

Baffert’s joy on Saturday, no doubt even more marked when he discovered Authentic broke two minutes for the ten furlongs, setting a track record, has to be taken in the context of his own troubled season. Three post-race tests have found banned substances present in two of his horses, including Gamine (twice) who was the runaway winner of Saturday’s Filly and Mare sprint. Both horses were disqualified.

Also apparently in line for disqualification is Justify, fortuitously perhaps not for any of his three Triple Crown victories in 2018, but for his test after the Santa Anita Derby which preceded the Classic trifecta. The ramifications of any disqualification are obvious. Ashford Stud’s advertising proudly calls Justify the only unbeaten Triple Crown winner ever. A different form of words might be needed if the disqualification goes ahead. Meanwhile, Coolmore Europe was able to celebrate another big triumph for their recently-acquired stallion Wootton Bassett, as the sire of Audarya.

Finally, congratulations to Joseph O’Brien whose Twilight Payment made all in last week’s Melbourne Cup holding off his father Aidan’s Tiger Moth. Here, sadly, there was a tragic end to a great career when the 2019 Derby winner Anthony Van Dyck had to be put down after going wrong two furlongs from home.

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