King Of Steel and Frankie Dettori win the Qipco Champions Stakes at Ascot for Amo Racing and Roger Varian. 21/10/2023 Pic Steve Davies/

Monday Musings: Farewell with a flourish

They were all at Ascot on Saturday for Frankie Day part two, 27 years after the seven out of seven, writes Tony Stafford. But in many ways his double there, including the Champion Stakes on King of Steel, was even more compelling, after his cumulative intervening effect on the sport of horse racing. It’s a business too, and these days the financial aspect has become even more crucial at all levels.

Later, in the evening, many of the highest in the land of horse racing had transferred the 30 miles east to London’s Mayfair and were in attendance as Frankie Dettori joined Ronan Keating on stage in a duet at Grosvenor House. According to one friend – my recurring ailment precluded me from either engagement – he didn’t do a bad job of it either.

Frankie certainly knows how to maximise his marketability. At £15k for a top table for ten and 10 grand for one of the remaining of 70-odd in the cheap (sic) seats, it was a high-profile and highly remunerative affair for the jockey, and the hotel; presumably also for Mr Keating and the band, and event organisers Esmond Wilson and James Wintle, son of my late, great friend Dave Wintle, who would have loved to have been there.

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There were some who had questioned his idea of a lucrative “retirement” extravaganza only days after the revelation that he would be riding on through the winter in Santa Anita for Bob Baffert, but I thought that was already well documented. Apparently not, and sometimes things you had heard as early as York in August to be fact, hadn’t filtered through to the general public.

My on-the-spot informant, Shaun Ellery, had also been a close friend of Dave Wintle’s and a fair few of the older attendees on Saturday evening might well have taken the trek west to visit Shaun’s Cardiff spot, The Bank Café Bar, in the 1990’s and 2000’s.

Frankie of course is from the next generation, but he’s now in his early 50’s with no sign of slowing down in his life or of being diminished in his ability in the saddle.

If his win in the Champion Stakes, when Man Of Steel came through late to catch Via Sistina on a day when all the other races were won from the front, seemed pre-ordained, it also probably owed a little to good fortune, a recurring theme through his career.

Just as Oisin Murphy sent the comfortably-travelling Via Sistina – also coming from the rear – into the lead on the outside at the furlong pole, he dropped his whip. From there the filly seemed to be in quicksand – it was testing ground anyway – hanging right. Frankie spotted the weakness and pounced.

It made a massive difference in prestige terms to owner Kia Joorabchian of Amo Racing, and trainer Rogar Varian, as well as the jockey and stable staff. The winner’s prize of £737,000 would probably not have been too far removed from the entire amount generated by the Grosvenor House bash, one way or another.

But here comes a supreme irony. If the whip episode hadn’t happened, then the first prize rather than £279k for second, might well have gone to Mrs R G Hillen, owner of Via Sistina. Coincidentally, Mrs Becky Hillen, wife of bloodstock agent Steve Hillen, is none other than James Wintle’s sister!

The first prize would have been nice, of course, but Via Sistina, bought originally for 5,000gns at the 2019 December yearling sales by Steve Hillen, must rank as one of the bargains of the century. The 279 grand for Saturday’s supreme effort – and a magnificent training achievement for George Boughey – has taken her career earnings to £674,000 from 13 races, with five wins and as many places.

Originally with Joe Tuite, who retired from training after the filly’s initial unsuccessful run last year, she won two of seven races for him – I wonder what Joe’s thinking now? Since switching to Boughey, she has never been out of the first three, winning the Pretty Polly at Leopardstown (Group1) and two more races, at Group 2 and Group 3 respectively.

She goes to the December sales and in these days of extravagant demand for hard-running fillies and mares, another massive payday can be anticipated.

I mentioned above the financial difficulties for owners in these days of inflation, high fuel costs for horse transportation and administration fees. Even a trainer at the top like William Haggas must be aware of costs. I recall him and Richard Hannon both being concerned early this year about not having full stables.

In William’s case it was because he didn’t have enough highly-skilled staff at the time to deal with more horses than he felt was viable. Now he tells me this week that when it came to deciding whether to sell at the Horses In Training sale, he needed to be aware of the potential costs for an owner balanced by whether the horse in question was worth retaining.

He said that if he was unsure about an unraced horse winning even a small race, balanced by the amount it would cost to achieve it, he would probably recommend taking up the sale option. Fortunately, for William’s owners, there is a demand for horses from his yard, both from smaller stables in the UK and overseas buyers.

The Horses in Training sale has always been one of my favourite weeks of the season and not least because of the days when I used to loiter on the final day for the drafts of Cheveley Park Stud and the Aga Khan’s lesser individuals to go through the ring.

Sometimes, I would pick up unsold lots privately for 500 quid from Cheveley Park - rather than the stud take them home – or even for nothing in the case of the Aga Khan “boucher” (butcher) horses, as the owner described them to me. He would hardly have wanted to send them back to France to end up on a meat counter.

I recall I did have to cough up £500 for Karaylar from the Aga Khan, but he proved a great buy, unlike most of the others! He became one of David Batey’s first 25 winners, all preserved for history in a video produced for the owner. All bar the last had been sourced by me and trained by Wilf Storey.

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Karaylar’s four winning siblings were all sprinters and never tried jumping. Karaylar wasn’t quick, but won twice at Sedgefield, including a John Wade sponsored selling handicap hurdle final over 2m5f and worth £7,000 to the winner, a nice pot in 1996. Wilf truly was (and still is!) a magician.

Group 1 winning trainer Dylan Cunha is hoping to achieve a similar level in the UK as at home in South Africa. When he settles down after Saturday’s dual ending of England’s hopes in two World Cups (cricket and rugby) he will continue moving his string of horses the few hundred yards down the road to his new base in William Jarvis’s yard, Phantom House’s long-time incumbent retiring at the end of the season.

In a year when Tattersalls October Yearling Book 1 sale averaged almost a quarter of a million pounds per horse, and the overall four books still averaged 100 grand despite a falloff in parts of Books 3 and 4, Cunha did some serious shopping.

“We just happened to be there when everyone seemed to have disappeared. We got a nice bunch, in terms of the individuals and the prices we paid that day. Overall, we managed to get 19 at the various sales, and I’m delighted with that.”

Here’s a trainer going places.

- TS

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