Continuous and Ryan Moore win the Betfred St Leger for trainer Aidan O'Brien and Coolmore. 16/9/2023 Pic Steve Davies/

Monday Musings: Continuous Relentlessness

If you enjoy perfection, as I am certain it’s something for which the British Horseracing Authority’s handicappers strive for every day, then the St Leger was something of a disappointment, writes Tony Stafford. It will have been doubly so I’m sure for Mr Michael Harris, the gentleman responsible for flat races over 11 furlongs and above.

The ratings for the nine runners (four from the redoubtable O’Brien team) were, in finishing order, Conspicuous 115, Arrest 114, Desert Hero 110, Tower Of London 109, Gregory 111, Chesspiece 109, Middle Earth 102, pacemaker Denmark 102, and Alexandropolis 101.

What was wrong with him? On his rating, surely Gregory should have been third, but maybe a clue to why he wasn’t: John Gosden came over to Aidan before the race and told him he thought the Golden Horns do not like soft ground. It seemed Gregory didn’t.

Obviously, it was a major triumph for Mr Harris, who no doubt will push up the winner into the 120’s and therefore offer hope that he can go to the Arc in a fortnight’s time with a chance of emulating the trainer’s so far only two wins (Dylan Thomas 2007) and Found (2016) in the great French race at ParisLongchamp – see I remembered!

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That has been the immediate target for the last four Coolmore St Leger winners but to no avail. The best candidate in 2023 of course would probably have been Auguste Rodin, dual Derby and Irish Champion Stakes hero who, as Ryan reminded me emphatically after yesterday’s win, is firmly online for the Breeders’ Cup Turf.

O’Brien has won 16 races at that late autumn extravaganza, and he is sure to have another formidable team to represent himself and his owners who have kept him supplied with high-class material in the entirety of his career. But it’s what you do with raw material.

The numbers are even more mind-boggling for the five Classic races on either side of the Irish Sea. Saturday’s triumph put him on 43 Classic wins in the UK over the 26 seasons since King Of Kings, 1998 2000 Guineas and Shahtoush (Oaks) gave him a double right at the start of his time as master of Ballydoyle.

He got going a year earlier at home, where he has 50 domestic Classic wins so far with 15 in the Irish Derby leading the way. Here it’s seven in the 1000 Guineas, 10 in the 2000 Guineas, nine in the Derby, ten in the Oaks and seven in the St Leger. The relative home scores are 10, 12, 15, seven and six.

It seems O’Brien has more respect for the status of the Doncaster version, a race that has survived many questions as to three considerations; that it should remain the province of three-year-olds, that they should be only entire colts or fillies; and that it should remain at the one mile, six furlongs and 115 yards of yore. The Irish race has kept its trip of one mile six, but has long been open to geldings and older horses.

Continuous was an appropriate name for a Coolmore winner and there was also much delight, especially from Christy Grassick, in the immediate aftermath. He was doubly delighted, as he celebrated a second Japanese-bred winner this year after Auguste Rodin, while glorying in the identity of the maternal grand-sire, you guessed it, that late but unquestionably very great Galileo.

That champion’s victory in the 2001 Derby was Aidan’s first at Epsom and also marked the arrival on the Ballydoyle scene of Michael Tabor. Start as you intend to go on might well be his mantra. John Magnier and his formidable back-up team – son M V was busily shopping at Keeneland September last week with sire sensation Into Mischief the latest to attract his attention – have no mind to ease off.

Their perennial search is to identify and secure from the major racing and breeding establishments around the world suitable outcross stallions to prolong the potency of the Northern Dancer/ Sadler’s Wells/ Galileo legend. I don’t think they will go far wrong if history is anything to go by.

Continuous in a way exemplified the manner of O’Brien’s training, one of continuous improvement.  The son of Heart’s Cry (Sunday Silence) did win his only two races at two, including a Group 3, but when third to The Foxes in the Dante at York and eighth in the Prix du Jockey Club, his limitations seemed there for all to see.

Next though, in finishing a four-length Royal Ascot runner-up to Epsom Derby second King Of Speed he moved up a notch in the hierarchy in Tipperary. An easy success in that most informative of all St Leger trials, York’s Great Voltigeur, should have been enough to convince the sceptics, as it established him as an obvious candidate.

He needed to nudge ahead of the filly Savethelastdance, but when the Epsom runner-up and Irish Oaks winner was beaten into third behind emerging stable-companion Warm Heart in the Yorkshire Oaks on fast ground, her challenge lost some of its impetus. Warm Heart’s victory in the Prix Vermeille last weekend only solidified Savethelastdance’s credentials.

Ironically, had she turned up on Saturday, she would have had the ground to her liking and been worthy of her place in the field against the colts. With the chance of easy ground for her remaining potential targets, she should be fine and O’Brien should be able to find another big target for her before the end of the year.

Continuous had one ingredient that the other eight runners on Town Moor lacked, an instant turn of speed which should make him a threat at 12 furlongs in Paris. No doubt the major Japanese studs, especially Shadai Farm, will be having their eyes on at least a shared stallion deal if not an outright buy. It would take many, many millions of yen to secure him at 183 yen to the £.

It was nice to feel close to the action on Saturday. We had lunch in a room next door to the Royal Box, which unusually for Doncaster had two attendees (the King and Queen) giving veracity to its title. The snag was the corridors were thronged with security people at every turn.

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We left the room before they did, but without an escort, I got sidetracked, neither getting into the paddock until the horses had left for the start, and didn’t see them either, unlike most of the crowd who enjoyed their presence and the performance of his horse Desert Hero, trained by William Haggas for a creditable third behind Frankie Dettori on runner-up Arrest.

At least, going to watch by the winning line, it was easy to enjoy Ryan’s clockwork ride from ground level and then to be involved in the post-race photo upon Aidan’s “Come on Tony” exhortation.

So we were left to marvel at the skill of the man with 93 UK and Irish Classic winners to his credit and yet still only in his mid-50’s. To gauge what it means in modern terms, the late Sir Henry Cecil managed 25, saving the best for last with Galileo’s son Frankel in the 2000 Guineas. Sir Michael Stoute has 16 to his credit and John Gosden (with or without Thady) a round dozen. In statistical terms, of the 260 Classic races in that time, he has won getting on for 40% of them and of the UK, just about 35%.

All that was left was to wonder whether Howard Wright was there? My former colleague at the Daily Telegraph had indeed trekked up from Surrey to his birth town and while I neglected to poke my nose in the press room, he was in attendance.

“Yes, I missed the first three,” said Howard yesterday, “But this was my 75th anniversary, so I’ve seen the last 76.” As I said, I should have called in, but greed got the better of me. A few yards from the far end of the main car park is a fantastic fish and chip shop. I can’t manage chips yet, but as my neuralgia seems to be responding to treatment, the famed scampi was fine.

I always used to say that I could make a portion of this delicious concoction last me all the way down to Grantham. I called for the larger (ten) option, but it barely got me to Bawtry. On second thoughts, I must have been a double-ten portion man. Figures! I love the St Leger, almost as much as Aidan, Ryan and the Coolmore boys.

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