No wonder they stayed in town. After the disappointment of Masar’s missing the previous weekend’s Coral-Eclipse Stakes – parlayed into a season-long absence late last week – the full Sheikh Mohammed entourage was on view for the whole of the Newmarket July meeting’s three days, writes Tony Stafford.
The boys in blue were rewarded with seven victories, commencing with long-term standby Saeed bin Suroor’s annexing of the Princess of Wales’s Stakes on the opening day with Best Solution. After a halting and highly frustrating start to the season, bin Suroor has reached an acceptable 33 from 155 for the year, with nine from only 27 coming in the past fortnight, admittedly most of these at minor levels.
Not so with Charlie Appleby whose eight wins (from 24) in the same period included six during the July Meeting. Quorto, in the Superlative Stakes, set 2019 Classic ambitions into overdrive while the only other disappointment apart from the Masar news was Blue Point’s July Cup seventh place behind US Navy Flag.
Blue Point, so impressive in the King’s Stand Stakes at the Royal meeting, ran too freely on Saturday but should be back in his element in the Nunthorpe at York next month, especially as his Newmarket conqueror will be missing. Unlike Mozart, the previous Aidan O’Brien three-year-old July Cup winner to come back from mile racing – he was runner-up in the 2001 Irish 2,000 Guineas – US Navy Flag is unlikely to go on to York, as he is to be prepared for the Everest, Australia’s vastly-valuable sprint in the autumn.
Rather like Scat Daddy, who died prematurely after having his stud fee raised to $100,000 before the 2016 breeding season, Mozart’s stallion career was very much one of what might have been. Having won the Jersey, July Cup and Nunthorpe, the son of Danehill ended his racing days with an unplaced effort at the Breeders’ Cup. He sired plenty of winners including the high-class Amadeus Wolf, and top sprinter and now promising sire, Dandy Man, from his only crop but died as a four-year-old.
Godolphin’s livery featured in an astonishing 28 winners worldwide from 123 runners over the past fortnight, Australia and Japan joining the party, while the French-style Godolphin SNC added four more from 22.
Appleby’s 2018 is rapidly becoming a stellar campaign. So far from only 200 runners he has 60 wins to his credit at the sort of strike-rate (30%) that Sir Mark Prescott, William Haggas and the rest of the top trainers with a mind to such statistics would die for. William Buick and James Doyle, who get to ride most of them, are fully justifying the decision to rely on their burgeoning talents from an early stage in their development.
Until the weekend, the Coolmore fortunes had been frankly in and out, but the victories of US Navy Flag and later in the evening, Kew Gardens (Galileo) in the Grand Prix de Paris on Longchamp’s Bastille Day card, put Aidan O’Brien on six Group 1 wins for 2018.
Kew Gardens will now aim to follow up in the Qipco-sponsored King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes on Saturday week, when Ascot will have the usual fight for horses and jockeys against the same triumvirate of competing fixtures in York, Newmarket and Chester, with Salisbury once more operating in the evening.
The crowds invariably roll up for York and Chester, as they did again on Saturday, but finding suitable jockeys is a perennial problem for trainers. The Tooth, Siddiqui, Sharma partnership was happy that Brian Meehan could secure Martin Harley for their promising filly Laxmi and Dilip Sharma was equally pleased to meet his racing hero Aidan O’Brien in the paddock before the July Cup.
Laxmi, as I’ve mentioned before, has US Navy Flag in her dam’s pedigree, and Aidan told Dilip that with the first-season sire War Command, like US Navy Flag a son of War Front and a Dewhurst winner, his filly has a terrific page.
For much of Saturday’s seven furlongs she looked a possible winner, but she weakened up the hill and finished seventh to strong-running Antonia De Vega. Harley reported her as “still weak” but a “lovely filly” and that when he asked her he really thought she would win.
Meehan will give her a little time to strengthen, but that could still give her time to contest the £300,000 guaranteed Goffs UK Premier Sales race for graduates of last year’s Doncaster auction where she was acquired for £42,000 by the shrewd Sam Sangster. Harley reckoned a drop back to that race’s distance of six furlongs and a flat track would be very much to her liking.
That race concluded a busy few days for the Tooth colours. On Wednesday at Lingfield, Telltale was a one-paced fourth of five, but showed enough to suggest that a combination of distance, better ground and time to develop could still make this gentle giant into a winner, probably over jumps.
My Law, like Laxmi, in the Meehan team, travelled up to Carlisle for a 10 plus fillies’ race that looked pretty good and didn’t really get going until the last furlong when Paul Mulrennan took her wide and she stayed on into a closing fifth. Maybe a mile is what this good-looking home-bred needs.
Then on Friday night it was Ffos Las and Starcrossed and it was no help to this accurate jumper when just as they arrived at the start, the two hurdles in the straight for the £21,000-added prize were dolled off due to the low sun. The race was over two and a half miles, so after jumping the first they had at least a seven-furlong run past the stands to the second flight at the start of the back straight.
Three more hurdles followed on that far side before another long Flat-race section to the winning post. Starcrossed, always in the leading group under Harry Skelton, and the least experienced in the field, stayed competitive all the way home, eventually finishing fourth. Dan reckoned he needs the hurdles to keep him interested, but to his credit, he was the only one of the leading group in a hot contest for the grade, to stay competitive, the others filling the last three places at the finish.
I had cause to complain to the official handicappers on behalf of my friend, Wilf Storey, when his 10-year-old Jan Smuts, was raised 8lb after winning what had proved an uncompetitive two-mile race at Musselburgh recently. Matthew Tester, freed a couple of years back from his concentration on the two-year-old division, took responsibility for his actions against the veteran of 106 Flat races, arguing Jan Smuts could well have suddenly rediscovered earlier abilities – his last win had been 25 races earlier. Wilf’s parting shot of “It’s a waste of time talking to them” is what many trainers believe.
There were handicapping elements to the hurdles race, too. Starcrossed had been raised 3lb for finishing second to well-treated (and 10lb claimer-ridden) Rebel Yates at Fontwell, which looked tough enough. Meanwhile the eventual winner of Friday’s near £13k first prize was Voodoo Doll, who was completing a hat-trick for Evan Williams.
Voodoo Doll, a five-year-old son of Getaway, had opened his account at the seventh time of asking with an easy success in a £4k handicap at Bangor in June, for which he was raised 7lb. He followed up three weeks ago narrowly in a Worcester race which carried a similar prize to Friday’s – more than £12,000 to the winner. For that he went up another 2lb. Williams will probably expect him to be dropped a few pounds after this!