Thirty weeks is a long time in journalism, but my, does it fly by nowadays, writes Tony Stafford. It was that long ago when I began one of these wanderings with: “Have you heard of Arrogate? No neither had I, not until 5 a.m. yesterday morning, but he might well be the best racehorse in the world.”
The fact that he was a 1-3 shot for last Saturday’s Dubai World Cup suggests that pretty much everyone in the international horseracing firmament is now in agreement on that premise, not just because of the August Travers romp at Saratoga, but also two defeats of the admirable California Chrome since then.
First Arrogate overcame relative inexperience when beating the then five-year-old in the Breeders’ Cup Classic as the pair went 11 lengths clear of the rest at Santa Anita, before confirming his status in the “pay a million and you’re in” Pegasus Invitational at Gulfstream in late January when California Chrome seemed not to fancy a second bash at his new nemesis and trailed home with stud duties in mind.
Three’s-on shots are not meant to have to do much to bring home the bacon, or in this case the best part of £5 million converted to sterling. Maybe interestingly, especially if, like me, you have an odd perspective on things, his earnings for Saturday were equivalent to 300,000 pork bellies, one of the more enduring of stock market commodities based on the part (13lb) of the pig that produces bacon.
In Arrogate’s case, and again like his Travers win, you need to see it to believe it. At Saratoga, he was an 11-1 shot after three small wins and a debut defeat and was more than double the price of his stable-companion American Freedom, who had been runner-up to Exaggerator in the Haskell at Monmouth Park. Yet he won by more than 13 lengths in the only 10-furlong Travers ever to be run below two minutes.
Here at Meydan, he missed the break and got into a tangle so that after a furlong he was the best part of 20 lengths behind the leaders. Among these, Travers and previously Kentucky Derby third Gun Runner, the second favourite, was looking to build on a flawless winning comeback at Oaklawn Park last month.
Jockey Mike Smith, now 51, could well have panicked and set off after them in a frenzy, but as he revealed afterwards, he had the experience of riding the great mare Zenyatta and got used to coming through late for unlikely victories.
So he allowed Arrogate to make stealthy progress, but they were still a fair way back turning in. By this time Gun Runner was in front, and the fact that he finished five lengths clear of another decent American colt in second cements Arrogate’s class. The champ got level a furlong out and drove clear in a few strides with remarkably little energy needed on his rider’s part.
In that August 29 story, I anticipated that because Arrogate is almost free of Northern Dancer blood, his mares will make ideal partners to Frankel, like the Bob Baffert colt, owned by Prince Khalid Abdullah. In the week leading up to the race, Baffert called his four-year-old, “the dirt Frankel” and that looks about right. Already rated the best in the world on official figures, he showed here he has the wonderful attribute of being able to overcome adversity in his races.
I might guess correctly now and then about the relative abilities of horses that win by 13 lengths in record time, but I’m not too clever at holding onto my own possessions. During Cheltenham, my phone disappeared into thin air between car and hotel room, but an even more mysterious occurrence ruined an otherwise serene weekend in the Stafford household.
A quintet of pre-2005 suits were reassessed as wardrobe space was deemed inadequate by the mistress of such matters. The trousers were found to be routinely too small, so the garments, apart from three of the jackets which by some peculiarity sort of fitted, were jettisoned.
As you will guess, I’m no expert, even though my late father was a tailor, but it seems for me to have got into said jackets, it required over-wide shoulders for my frame, to compensate for the mid-section. This area, too substantial for the trousers, owes more than a little to pork belly consumption over the years.
Not to worry, I still had the light grey costume which graced all four days of Cheltenham and the nearly black one, the newest and smartest of the lot. But hang on, where was it? Not in the wardrobe and after some initial telephone communication with the two dry cleaners I occasionally use, not there either.
Mrs Stafford sort of forgot – don’t think so, Ed! – that inexplicable loss of the phone she described as expensive when purchased in Russia, but as she also bought that suit, the bonhomie is wearing thin. How can you lose a suit? I’m the wrong man to ask.
Presumably, among the thirty or more one-time colleagues at last week’s Raceform reunion in a pub in Battersea around the corner from the old office in York Road, there would be some old gibbers prone to such accidents. But considering most were a few years either side of me in vintage, they are all wearing particularly well.
We had some celebrity guests like Jilly Cooper, Bob Champion and Derek Thompson on hand. The longer you know Tommo, he of the third-person alter-ego, the more you have to admire his qualities. Race reading, programme presenting and even the sometimes cringe-making public contacts on a meeting-long microphone-armed sweep of a racecourse are all done with total honesty. You don’t know what you had until it’s gone, as they say. The reunion’s organiser, Will Lefebve, who started at the PA a week before I did back in the late 1960’s, could have proved another Tommo had he got onto the telly instead of running a hotel in York in his prime years.
It was great that Prince Pippy could get there and contrary to my expectations, the Racehorse’s former Paris-based correspondent, who reported to me one spring morning 41 years ago that Lester Piggott would ride Empery in the Derby, stayed for the duration. Lester had ridden the Nelson Bunker Hunt, Maurice Zilber colt into third in the Prix Lupin, then the principal French Derby trial, the previous day behind stablemate Youth, on whom Yves Saint-Martin would resume his winning association in the French Derby.
I think we got 33-1 that Monday morning, and watched a few weeks later his becoming one of the easiest Derby winners of that era, even though in historical terms he was an ordinary victor of the Classic. If that had been the only benefit of my working a seven-day week, with double shifts on Monday and Tuesday as editor of the Racehorse and my main job at the Daily Telegraph, it would still have been acceptable, but last Wednesday proved otherwise.
There was of course the odd absentee, notably Howard Wright, my old Telegraph Deputy, signed up because of his immaculately-researched and framed weekly Racehorse articles. He was in Dubai, but at least for once he made the Bedfordshire Racing Club Cheltenham preview the previous week.
It might be a little early to put Arrogate-like possibilities on Aidan O’Brien’s opening day Naas mile maiden winner Orderofthegarter, but the Barronstown-bred colt drew 11 and then eight lengths clear of a 20-horse line-up which also contained two other apparently well-fancied Ballydoyle horses.
Orderofthegarter was building on two second places last year behind smart stable-companions, and the way in which he strode clear under Ana O’Brien, and in faster time than both the Group 3 fillies’ race and the 17-runner Irish Lincolnshire suggests a big one will come his way. By the way, he’s by Galileo. So’s Frankel!
- Tony Stafford