Just when we thought 2017 was going to go down in Raymond Tooth racing history as a total disaster, four days in mid-December illustrated just how quickly fortunes and therefore spirits can change, writes Tony Stafford. Two first-time starters from the Hughie Morrison stable saw to that.
Highlights had been few and far between with only the recently-sold Stanhope’s win on the July Course at Newmarket brightening a season when a handful of late-developing home-bred two-year-olds never offered much encouragement for early success.
Sod’s Law, you might suggest? Well last Wednesday at Kempton Park, the gelded two-year-old of that name carried so little stable confidence that the trainer’s considered advice was: “Tell Raymond not to watch!” The market offered similar pessimism, Sod’s Law going off at 50-1.
After breaking adequately from his unfavourably-wide 12 of 14 draw, Sod’s Law moved up well in the first couple of furlongs of the mile test – “He’s never shown speed like that!”, said Hughie at that stage - and turned for home in seventh. P J McDonald switched him from the outside to nearer the far rail and in the last furlong, Dutch Law’s half-brother showed more than a hint of his sibling’s acceleration, getting within a short head of previous winner Rusper and Dougie Costello.
Three years and three months earlier, Dutch Law had been a promising eighth over seven furlongs of the same track but Sod’s Law was relatively less forward because Morrison had prescribed gelding him in the summer to ease the potential pressure on the limbs of a big colt.
Hence he’d been back to Kinsale stud for the operation and recuperation and even a few weeks ago it appeared that he would struggle to get on the track in 2017. Expectations were, as indicated above, modest in the extreme, but his performance was full of promise, and further indication of the merit of his dam, Lawyer’s Choice, whose 2017 colt foal by Garswood sold for 42,000gns at Tattersalls only a fortnight earlier.
If we thought Sod’s Law was a decent size, the next instalment at Hereford on Saturday involved another gelding, the year-older Apres Le Deluge, a neatly-named French-bred son of Stormy River which had the hallmark of Raymond’s former French trainer Nicolas Clement all over him.
Stormy River has become a capable dual-purpose stallion in France where he won the Group 1 Prix Jean Prat, one of Clement’s favourite targets. Apres Le Deluge’s dam was Ms Cordelia, acquired on Ray’s behalf after I asked Nicolas whether he had “anything that might make a jumper?” He suggested this US-bred dual winner from five starts including on debut at Chantilly in early May of her three-year-old season six years ago.
Transferred to David Pipe, she looked likely to prove that opinion right when even money for her jumps debut at Catterick the following March, but finished runner-up. Then, after a serious blunder two from home at Fontwell on her only subsequent start, she faded into fifth and was sent back to France to be mated.
The acquisition of the daughter of Anabaa came at the end of the 2011 season in which Clement had guided Ray’s colt French Fifteen to five wins, culminating in last-to-first victory in the one-mile Group 1 Criterium International at Saint-Cloud. French Fifteen was sold soon after and the following spring finished a neck second to Camelot in the 2,000 Guineas. A couple of injuries later in his career preceded his entering stud in 2013.
After foaling Apres Le Deluge in France, Ms Cordelia was mated with French Fifteen in his first season before coming across to Shropshire. Her third and what was to prove final foal was a daughter by Pour Moi, the Derby-winning stallion chosen because as a son of Montjeu he would provide a similar cross to that which produced Treve, who is by fellow Montjeu son and Derby winner Motivator and also out of an Anabaa mare.
Struggles with her feet always plagued Ms Cordelia at stud, and only strenuous efforts by Rachael Kempster and her staff enabled her to survive long enough to produce her daughter, who had a tiny, but milk-rich Welsh cob foster mare to thank for staying alive. She is now a yearling and will shortly go into training with Mick Channon.
When Hughie first took charge of Apres Le Deluge he described him as “a gentle giant” but reckoned it would still be worthwhile to introduce him to stable routine as a juvenile. There was never any chance of running him, and it took another stint back in Shropshire before the plan was cooked to aim at the same Exeter October bumper in which the trainer had successfully launched the careers of Cousin Khee, who won so many races for Raymond, and before that Royal Ascot winner, Cill Rialaig.
Concerns about his size meant that even that target proved out of reach, so much so that when Hereford last Saturday was tentatively-mooted as his launch-pad, it was something of a surprise. Then, a few days before, came news of a hold-up causing him to miss a fair amount of work and prompted Hughie to say on Saturday morning: “I’ll be delighted if he finishes fourth, he’ll definitely need it”.
Andrew Tinkler was selected as a suitable partner and so it proved as he took the strapping three-year-old around the inside all the way round, saying afterwards how athletic he was for such a big horse. Allowing the market principals to lead him until the short straight, Tinkler moved him up to challenge on the bend, and even though the run-in at Hereford is barely a furlong and a half, drove him clear. Despite Apres’ showing obvious signs of greenness, Andrew already had him back on the bridle before the line where he was almost four lengths ahead of the Twiston-Davies-owned and -trained favourite, Topofthecotswolds.
Considering this was the only junior bumper of the year to be run over a full two miles, he got the trip without any fuss and despite the soft ground and eleven stone impost, his obvious superiority suggested Apres Le Deluge could have gone round again. It certainly took the jockey a while to stop him on reaching the far side. Such events proved a very happy return to the recently-reopened track for me. I calculated it was at least 35 years since I’d been there and it is nowadays a very well presented small country course.
So Ray has two excellent prospects from his home-breeding operation, and has four, we think, nice yearlings to go into training in the coming days. We’ve had a pretty drastic re-structuring over the past months, but the slimmed-down team looks to be in better shape than for some time.
Among the departures has been the French Fifteen gelding, named French Kiss, who ran three times in hot maiden company for Morrison in the autumn and starts 2018 with a tempting handicap mark of 60. He was recently gelded and is one of six horses earmarked for the forthcoming Wilf Storey Racing Club, which will aim to have 30 shareholders after its launch in the New Year. Wilf’s grand-daughter Siobhan Doolan, an experienced winning amateur rider on the Flat and over jumps, and now working in the horseracing insurance branch of MS Amlin, has agreed to be syndicate manager.
All six horses started out with Ray either as home-breds or sales purchases and will be trained in Co. Durham, where Wilf has completed his best-ever Flat season with 11 wins.
As to Apres Le Deluge, his trainer will be scouring the new 2018 Programme Book, out last week, for possible targets. One I’d like him to look at is the Listed bumper at Newbury on Feb 10, Betfair (formerly Schweppes) Hurdle day. The four-year-olds get 11lb from their elders and penalties only apply for Class 1 wins. I can just picture that dark grey beast with his enormous stride coming up the long Newbury straight. That’s a bit of a pipe-dream, I know, but at least, Raymond does now have something to dream about. And maybe 2017 was not quite a case of Sod’s Law after all!