All is not well in the United Kingdom, writes Tony Stafford. No, not the fact that racing in the Midlands and South today and tomorrow has been called off because of the expectation of heatwave conditions. Everything seems to be grinding to a halt, apart from Covid which is enjoying an unexpected out-of-season revival.
We used to talk about “First World problems” when the wealthy had some of their expected enjoyment interrupted. Now we’re more like a Third World country, maybe not quite at the stage where, according to one much-used definition, “A country which struggles to meet basic human needs”, but one where daily frustrations are occurring more frequently wherever you look.
Covid of course has much to answer for, not least in the breakdown of international air travel. Contagion decimated (yes, I know it means reduced to a tenth! – so used advisedly) passenger travel and even as demand and eligibility to fly have begun to return to normal, staffing still has not.
On two days last week, Heathrow and Stansted, two of the three biggest airports in the UK, had problems for two of our leading stables. Much was made of Emily Upjohn’s being stranded at Stansted prior to her planned departure for Dublin and the Irish Oaks on Saturday. She might not have beaten Jessica Harrington’s Magical Lagoon, following on from her Ribblesdale Stakes victory, but she would have started favourite.
Incidentally, the Ribblesdale was also mentioned for the Gosden filly as a likely consolation after her narrow defeat by Tuesday in the Oaks at Epsom. For a few strides on Saturday, another Ballydoyle distaff dredged up from the never-ending (until two years’ time anyway) supply of Galileo fillies, in the shape of Toy, loomed; but Magical Lagoon, also a daughter of the great sire, saw off her late challenge in determined style.
The other sufferer was a human one. Hughie Morrison had enjoyed a nice trip to Paris for the Bastille Day card at Longchamp on Thursday and, after a leisurely evening celebrating Quickthorn’s smooth victory in the £62k to the winner Group 2 Prix Maurice De Nieuil, he set off for Heathrow on Friday.
I needed to call him that morning and received a text instead saying, “Plane unable to land at Heathrow as it is too busy so have just landed back in Paris.” I haven’t had need to call Hughie since but trust he has managed to get back to base somehow in the interim.
Quickthorn, who was runner-up in last year’s Ebor to subsequent Irish St Leger winner Sonnyboyliston, is one of 84 horses nominated to next month’s renewal and contenders will be flexing their muscles aiming at the £300,000 first prize. Yes, don’t worry Gary Coffey, I am aware both Desert Crown and Quickthorn are by Nathaniel, and Westover by his Galileo contemporary, Frankel.
Meanwhile Emily Upjohn, denied a shot at the £240k available for Saturday’s Irish Classic, could be nominated this morning for a race worth three times as much as early as this weekend. According to the bookmakers, the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes has three potential leading contenders, the respective Derby and Irish Derby winners, Desert Crown and Westover, and Emily Upjohn.
The guaranteed starter is Westover and it is a great shame that Sir Michael Stoute has confirmed Desert Crown will miss the race with a “foot niggle”.
No doubt Chris Stickels will be throwing the water on in a valiant attempt to provide a tolerable surface for all who show up. Fast ground versus a £700k prize: a truly First World problem!
The obvious drawback to an Emily Upjohn challenge is Mishriff, also trained by the Gosdens. His fast finish at Sandown after David Egan found trouble in running in that small field was highly creditable. By the way, that was by no means the only time young Master Egan got there too late in recent rides.
The main race every year on the evening Bastille Day card is the Grand Prix de Paris, effectively the French counterpart to the Derby since the shortening of the distance of the Prix du Jockey Club to 10.5 furlongs (2100 metres).
While the Jockey Club winner, Vadeni, went on to win the Eclipse Stakes from the aforementioned never nearer Mishriff at Sandown earlier this month, five-length runner-up El Bodegon was one of three international challengers for the six-horse Grand Prix prize.
James Ferguson’s runner was preferred in the market by Roger Varian’s unbeaten young stayer Eldar Eldarov, who had won the Queen’s Vase at Royal Ascot. Ferguson’s colt, a Group 1 winner as a juvenile in France, won their domestic argument but the Jockey Club form was turned over. Onesto, trained by Frank Chappet, had been fifth at Chantilly but came through to win here from another French colt, Simca Mille, the neck runner-up, with the Newmarket pair well behind in third and fourth.
Some of the weekend’s most exciting sport came at Newbury when the Weatherbys Super Sprint was, as ever, a highlight. It provided an all-the-way win for Eddie’s Boy, a throwback flying juvenile winner for Archie Watson who appeared to have gone away from his initial style of training, but with Hollie Doyle’s assistance reverted to type. Eddie’s Boy went off like the proverbial substance off a shovel and never looked likely to be troubled by any of the other 19 speedsters in the field.
The win came 90 minutes after a similarly facile victory by Little Big Bear in the Anglesey Stakes at The Curragh. The 2-5 shot, one of a bumper weekend of O’Brien/Moore juvenile winners, had previously won the Windsor Castle Stakes when Eddie’s Boy was third.
The Ascot second, George Scott’s Rocket Rodney, had gone on to win the Listed Dragon Stakes at Sandown and on Friday, Chateau, fourth at Ascot for Andrew Balding, won Newbury’s Listed Rose Bowl Stakes with a strong finish. Some race the Windsor Castle, normally the weakest of the Ascot juvenile contests, is turning out to have been.
The most compelling performance of the lot though was undoubtedly the first appearance in the UK of the now William Haggas-trained German import, Grocer Jack, who was bought for 700,000gns at last year’s Tattersalls Autumn Horses In Training sale having only recently clocked up his second career victory on his 14th start.
Admittedly, he had compiled a good record in Group 3 company in France last summer, winning once, and the year before was third over the line to In Swoop and the following year’s Arc winner, Torquator Tasso, in the German Derby before being disqualified when a banned substance was found in his post-race sample.
After the purchase, the now Saudi-owned five-year-old raced once in his owner’s country, finishing fifth in a Group 3 on the under-card of the Saudi Cup, in which Mishriff finished last having won the race 12 months previously.
Then Grocer Jack had a run-out in early June in France, finishing fourth, so hardly a performance that prepared us for what was to come at Newbury. Sent off by Tom Marquand in front in the Listed bet365 Stakes, the Grocer appeared to be taking matters into his own hands by racing very freely. The conventional thought was to expect Grocer Jack to come back to his field. He didn’t, and instead stretched the lead out to nine lengths by the finish, a margin that could probably have been more likely extended to 15 had Marquand wished.
The only reason I sat up and took notice of the horse is the memory of a song, called An Excerpt From a Teenage Opera from 1967 by an artist called Keith West – I know it’s a while ago. The subject of the song is Grocer Jack and it relates how he disappeared from the corner shop he ran for many years
Near the end, there’s the line, repeated more than once which says “Grocer Jack, Grocer Jack, he won’t come back!” He didn’t!