Second marriages are definitely different, writes Tony Stafford. I would never have entertained putting on a gorilla mask to “scare” Halloween callers to the house in search of those Haribo scare sweets as happened (see picture) last Wednesday.
First time round, all Halloween meant to me was the top-class jumper who won the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day 1952 and 1954, ridden by the great Fred Winter and trained by Bill Wightman. We used to go to my great uncle George in Clapham every Christmas when watching racing and playing solo were the big attractions, apart from the turkey.
Obviously, going to the US for Keeneland November or, later, Breeders’ Cups, involved seeing houses decorated with massive orange pumpkins outside the door. As with so much American stuff – now Sky even wants us to start watching giants putting big balls through hoops – it will be impossible to stem the stealthy tide.
I bring up Halloween because I had to rush back to supervise sweet doling out after Sod’s Law failed to make 110,000gns at the sale (a good decision by Ray Tooth). Mrs S is still recovering from the broken leg and mashed up ankle she sustained in a skating accident, which has ruled her out of a competition in Slovenia and probably a few more next year.
Her interest, though, has given me a little more knowledge than in the old Alan Weekes days when it was always on the BBC. Thus I know that Zagitova is not just the Aidan O’Brien juvenile filly that largely under achieved this year. It is also the Russian skater who won the last Olympic ladies figure skating gold medal aged 16 and only last week we watched collect an easy triumph in a Grand Prix event in Helsinki.
I digress. Sod’s Law won a couple of nice races leading up to the unfulfilled sale, latterly at Pontefract. Whenever I drive down from off the A1 into the town I always notice the Haribo factory on the roundabout and look forward to the complimentary Pontefract cakes – little round black liquorice sweets – that are offered as you collect your badges at the owners’ gate.
From 5 pm the local kids start knocking, mums supervising, and among the first group, one little girl shrank at the sight of my mask. The rest – they tend to arrive in groups of six or even more – pushed forward but the little one was hesitant. “Go on Athena!” encouraged mum, and for a moment I wondered if the lady had known my late mother whose name it was, but no.
In the manner of such things, in a few days, the name came up three times, obviously with the filly Athena, who over-performed when fifth in her Breeders’ Cup race, and also in the name of a Ralph Beckett horse, yet to run, but part of an unbelievably successful venture by owners Waverley Racing.
A few years back Raymond was talking about trying to buy progeny of or send mares to Lope de Vega, but at €60k a pop this year at Ballylinch stud it was rather too rich for his budget.
He would have noticed on Friday night when Newspaperofrecord – wonder who named it, as the Tattersalls Book 1 sales buy at £200k was bred by one-time prominent owners, Times of Wigan Ltd – slaughtered the opposition in the Juvenile Fillies Turf at Churchill Downs.
In my favourite book, especially when the horses are named at time of publication, Horses in Training 2018, the Beckett stable has seven Lope De Vega fillies listed, all under the ownership of Jasros Racing. Instead of being in Kentucky I went to the very pleasant end of season meeting in Newmarket and one of the Lope de Vega’s, Feliciana de Vega, made a winning debut by six lengths in a fillies' novice contest.
I think Waverley Racing (more palatable than Jasros) might be happy with their £1 million total investment. The first of the seven to run was Antonia de Vega, in a race on the July Course at Newmarket where Ray’s partnership horse Laxmi looked the likely winner two from home. Then Antonia de Vega swooped late to race past her and comfortably held off, coincidentally, fellow debutant Zagitova.
She followed up at Goodwood in a Group 3 in August before losing her unbeaten record when finishing lame and last of eight in the Fillies Mile at Newmarket last month.
Amazingly, that excusable defeat has been the only reverse for the Waverley team. All four to run won first time, and as well as Feliciana, Dancing Vega won in a canter at Doncaster just over a week ago and Manuela de Vega has Salisbury and Pontefract (Listed) wins already to her credit.
Still to come are Lope Scholar, who cost £97k and the two most expensive of the septet, Teodora de Vega (250k) and Lope Athena (that name again), who cost 280,000gns. If that’s not the most brilliant bit of rewarded obsessive behaviour you’ve ever seen then let me know. Looking for a pattern, I see that all seven have different broodmare sires, so it’s all about the Vega. That Beckett’s a bit of a trainer!
Kevin Ryan’s not so bad either. The twice-raced East went into the Breeders’ Cup unbeaten. If you want to run a horse to get second to a certainty then get Jamie Spencer to sit last as he did on East while Newspaperofrecord did her stuff at the other end of the field. She came through very strongly to take runner-up prize of 125 grand. [She could have sat on the shoulder of the winner and would have still only finished second - Ed.]
I don’t know whether when agent Steve Hillen paid €315k for the daughter of Frankel at the Goresbridge Breeze Ups in late May that he intended having to keep her. Whoever didn’t come up with the cash will be seething now. Instead she runs in the name of Steve’s wife, Rebecca, and the cameras caught the couple after the race on Friday night with understandably huge smiles.
There should be no problem in passing her on in the US to some wealthy owners for a big mark-up. I was so happy for Becky, who I’ve known for more years than she would care to remember. She is the daughter of my great pal and brilliant trainer, Dave Wintle, who sadly died last year after a long struggle with cancer.
I was in not a small part to blame for a ban he once received after setting up a nice Terry Ramsden gamble around one of the West Country jumping tracks. But the best one we planned and successfully executed was with a horse called Topsoil, which we switched from Rod Simpson specifically for the purpose.
Wilf Storey, who at the time was providing big-punting Terry with some brilliant gambles with the likes of Santopadre and Fiefdom, was the key element to the touch. Wilf got hold of a useless animal, put Peter Scudamore on and had his first bet on the yoke with his brand-new £2,000 Ladbrokes account half an hour before the race, a seller which opened proceedings at Haydock Park.
Understandably the bookies would not push out his price, instead waiting for Terry’s massive wager they knew would come. It never did, Scud pulling up at halfway on the still prominent in the betting Darwina, while Topsoil got the better of a battle with the only other feasible runner, trained by John Jenkins, with 25 lengths back to the third.
Somehow for Ramsden the result was unsatisfactory, never mind he backed the winner and had the straight forecast for bundles. “What went wrong?”, he asked, unhappy with the three-quarters of a length margin. Everyone else was more than delighted. Of course in those days you only heard the races and maybe the commentary was panic-inducing?
David Wintle was the kindest man. I’d love to think that somehow he will know that his daughter – and her sister Alison who is married to Tom Morgan, the ex-jump jockey – continue to be doing so well. STOP PRESS: I understand the editor has been imbibing with the same Tom Morgan this very weekend. Small world, racing.
- Tony Stafford