ABSURDE (Frankie Dettori) wins The Sky Bet Ebor York 26 Aug 2023 - Pic Steven Cargill / Racingfotos.com

Monday Musings: Ebor Wrap (and a word on a late friend)

The fashion had been highly acceptable for the first three days of York’s Ebor Festival, but I hadn’t been prepared for what was to confront me on Saturday, writes Tony Stafford. I arrived early as usual, and it was only when I ventured from the box after an early cup of coffee, that ranged before me was a sea of colour.

Looking closer, the wearers of those extravagant dresses were rarely past mid-teens, some even as young as eight or nine. It was Travellers’ rather than Ebor day, and by no means for the first time, but I had generally gone home before the final day of the meeting, so it was totally unexpected for me.

But regulars were fully aware of the make-up of the day and watching more closely, you could also discern the young men, again many in early teens. Both sexes were immaculately turned out, suits and ties for the boys, fulfilling the old-time posh enclosure style requirements (largely relaxed nowadays) and the girls, beautifully coiffed and their dresses looking fit for a catwalk at Paris Fashion week.

As I made my way out of the stand aiming at the paddock, those 70 yards were a minefield – no hint of trouble, just difficult to navigate through the throng which swayed back and forth all day.

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I learnt that the travellers come from all over the UK for this day, swelling the crowd on Ebor Day on which inevitably Frankie Dettori, now operating without his long-time business manager Peter Burrell, took the riding honours.

He conveniently collected the big race (£300k) on Absurde and the other half-million Group 2 City Of York Stakes on Kinross to end a most astonishing fortnight of achievement.

Referring to the Burrell issue – Pete was the man who set up the book deal when I ghosted Frankie’s Year in the Life book. Frankie said the other day: “That must have been 25 years ago! <27 in fact> and added, “Pete didn’t like that I was retiring – it was as if he was the one retiring.”

You would have thought that the rider/manager bond would have been able to withstand this after 35 years together but apparently not. The way Frankie is riding though, you wonder whether he might go through his enjoyable winter spell in California with Bob Baffert and think, maybe, “just one more year?”  - the punters will love it if he does.

A little admin followed by a catch up: I failed to deliver an article last week – I was almost halfway through an Ebor preview when we were forced to take our 15-year-old lovely little Yorkie Josephina to the emergency vet. She had suffered a sudden seizure and they said there was no alternative but to euthanise her. Here we are, on a happier day not long ago...

Tony Stafford and his beloved pooch, Josephina

Tony Stafford and his beloved pooch, Josephina


The week before, I suggested Frankie had probably picked up around £40k for his percentage of the half-million first prize for the Jacques Le Marois at Deauville. He took a few days off after that and from that point, he had ten more rides, mainly at York.

Five wins from the 11, with two second places both in valuable contests and one third place, his total tally of prize money amounts to £1,882,000. His percentage – bearing in mind the place earns a jockey considerably less – will still be the best part of £150k. Nice work.

Before he changed out of his civvies, a smart light-blue suit as befitted the general air of sartorial elegance on the day, Frankie spotted Brian Meehan in the paddock. “What a winner, 16/1, why didn’t you tell me?” “Why would a jockey want to know?”, asked Meehan before Isaac Shelby’s run - he finished a slightly disappointing fourth to Kinross.

Frankie had time for his lightning change into the Kinross livery while I spoke to Sam Sangster about his ever accelerating career as a buyer of yearlings. The 16/1 shot Frankie referred to was Friday’s Newmarket debut scorer Jayarebe, who had tracked and then outpaced 4/11 shot Broadway Act, a Charlie Appleby/ Godolphin colt who had already had a good debut.

Sangster had bought him for €180k at Arqana’s October Yearling sale and the colt was passed on to the returning Iraj Parvizi, owner of Meehan’s 2010 Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Dangerous Midge at Churchill Downs 13 years ago. Parvizi had been out of racing for some time and Meehan’s predictable comment was, “It’s great to have him back.”

Jayarebe could be in line for some big-race action and the decision seems to be the Royal Lodge Stakes over a mile rather than the Dewhurst at seven. That would seem sensible for the son of Zoffany who is a half-brother to a true two-mile mare and decent staying hurdler, Ian Williams’ Malakahna.

Sam Sangster said that the 180k he paid for Jayarebe was comfortably the most he’d ever paid for a yearling; Isaac Shelby cost €92k to his bid two years earlier. The Greenham winner, and runner-up in the French 2,000 Guineas and the Lennox at Goodwood has picked up £340,000 on the track but realised a good few times more than that (Sam remains coy about just how many times) to Wathnan Racing before the French Classic.

He says he has bought 12 Group performers, ten of which have been trained by Meehan – the other two by Nicolas Clement in France. Four of them have been Group 1 performers, although he has yet to supply a Group 1 winner. The average price paid for those smart performers has been a very modest £51,000, given the amazing prices paid at the sales these days. He truly is Robert Sangster’s son.

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When I spoke to Brian Meehan on Friday morning, he was very measured in his analysis of Jayarebe. “He’s very, very nice.” On Saturday I tasked him with, “You put me away. You said he was very, very nice. He’s very, very, very nice!”

In performance terms, on debut he beat a field chock-full of potential and almost all with big-race entries this autumn. He put up the fastest time of the day, rare enough for a two-year-old. You could imagine Derby thoughts going through the minds of trainer, owner and talent spotter. It’s early days but if he did win the Royal Lodge, it could be within the realms of possibility.

Deauville’s month of excitement came to a climax with a big win for Paul and Oliver Cole, their Jack Darcy winning the Group 2 Grand Prix de Deauville at 11/1. A winner of his first two races, Jack Darcy’s best run since had been a second place to the smart William Haggas seven-year-old Hamish, who would have been top-weight for Saturday’s Ebor if he had taken up the entry. But 10st9lb (including a penalty) would have been too much, requiring a 9lb higher weight-carrying achievement than Sea Pigeon’s 44 years earlier, in 1979, to win.

It was great last week to see Sea Pigeon’s winning Ebor rider, Jonjo O’Neill, still looking in his prime. He reported his team at Jackdaws Castle is ready to go as the jumps season gathers pace. One jumps trainer, though, whose horses are always primed obviously is Willie Mullins.

When I bumped into him, asking if it was right that he was expected in the same place that had been my base all week, he said: “Sorry no, I’m off to do the day job. Maybe later.” You could say it was day job done after Absurde had won with a peach of a ride from Dettori. Later I saw him leaving the track and said, “You might be okay at the day job, but you aren’t much good at coming up for a drink.” He laughed and said: “Next time.”

- TS

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