Rhododendron heads off Hydrangea at The Curragh on Sunday.

Monday Musings: Flying Fillies and French Fancies

The vegetation is getting that tired lived-in look all around, writes Tony Stafford. The days are drawing in to the extent that natural-light evening race meetings need to kick-off at around five p.m. to get the races in. Already, just ten weeks on from Royal Ascot – was it that long ago? – memories of the rhododendrons along the Swinley Road past Berkshire Golf Club on the way to the track or the thrusting blooms of the same species bordering either side of the narrow path from the Gosforth Park Hotel down to see the Plate the following week, are becoming elusive.

We never had rhododendrons in the big garden where the kids grew up, but there were mauve hydrangeas. Even in the little space behind the house where the “new” we are now, there’s a lovely hydrangea, still hanging on to decent deep red explosions but not a patch on her earlier incarnation back in early summer.

My wife always reminds me of “your favourite flower” when it starts to arrive. Trust me to have gone for the plant that just failed to get up when the two Coolmore-owned Galileo fillies of that name fought out the finish of the Breast Cancer Research Debutante Stakes at The Curragh yesterday.

Rhododendron had collected her first victory at Glorious Goodwood; Hydrangea stayed at home where she gained a first success before the pair gave a pretty serious joint audition for the Moyglare early next month, aiming to be the next Minding or Seventh Heaven from the latest batch of distaffers. The pair drew well clear of their opponents at the finish.

The pre-eminent Aidan O’Brien 2016 juvenile colt has been Caravaggio, but increasingly you get the impression talking to a few of the insiders that he might be all about speed. While hardly a snail, Churchill, who maintained an unbeaten record with another workmanlike effort on the same card, could conceivably become the Guineas/Derby principal for 2017.

I’ve probably mentioned it before. Over the years I’ve been a ravenous consumer of books, novels principally, and if it took me a week to devour one, that was an oddity. Contrastingly, there has been a single volume by my bedside lamp probably since the Derby, and I’m up to page 715 (about 200 to go) of former Labour and then Social Democrat leading light Roy Jenkins’ biography of Winston Churchill.

We’ve reached the crucial period of World War 2 when the energy has turned in favour of the Allies, but it would have been inconceivable to have got to that position without Churchill’s almost singular opposition to Nazism. I’ll say no more, but suggest if you’ve got a few months to spare, try to find it. It actually found me and I’m grateful to the unknown donor.

It was females all the way last weekend with Mecca’s Angel putting in a devastating performance to win the Coolmore Nunthorpe at York. Owner David Metcalfe and trainer Michael Dods apparently were unsure whether to let her take her chance until the rains come. They must be wishing now that the last few drops had stayed away as she was only 0.08sec outside York’s flying track record.

Mr Metcalfe, whom I do not know, wisely plans to sell her at the end of her racing career. From almost first-hand experience I can say it’s the only thing for a small-time owner to do, unless you want to pay nomination and insurance fees for covers to such as Galileo or Frankel.

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The Frankel fillies were out for the Lowther on the same afternoon, but it was Queen Kindly, the result of the union between the great unbeaten one and also Lowther-winning Lady of the Desert that won rather than highly-rated Fair Eva who was third. She is now being presented as a possible 1,000 Guineas candidate for Richard Fahey and owner Jaber Abdullah, but Aidan’s pair of exotic blooms (and probably a good few more from that source) lie in wait.

Jeremy Noseda has not had too much luck at the top end recently, but he’s always had a high opinion of the US-bred Nemoralia, who beat the boys and her elders for an emphatic victory in the Group 3 City of York Stakes. I didn’t see his post-race interview, but I’m told Noseda looked a little underwhelmed, suggesting: “A Group 1 filly ought to win a Group 3!” She’ll be back up to the top level sooner or later, probably in the land of her birth, where she showed ability and aptitude as a juvenile.

Lady Aurelia was the sensation of Royal Ascot and yesterday she travelled over from the states once again to win the Darley Prix Morny at Deauville having led from the start in the six-furlong group 1.

Only four took her on; the Aidan O’Brien-trained Peace Envoy – rather like the politician of that description, whose job is to test out the strengths of opponents – and Clive Cox’s Tis Marvellous. She never looked in trouble, but it seems the others are catching her up. The margin was far less extravagant this time.

Only two locals took part, second-placed Alramha trained by Freddy Head and Al Johrah, fourth, previously runner-up to Tis Marvellous in the Prix Robert Papin, four weeks earlier. Both the home hopes are fillies, so no French-trained colt participated in this most important midsummer juvenile Group 1, and neither was there a single French-trained colt in the Robert Papin.

We’ve just got through another Arqana Yearling sale in Deauville when demand was strong and many domestic trainers and also international owners were successful bidders. They seem happy enough to have their acquisitions trained in Chantilly or (if by runaway leading trainer Jean-Claude Rouget) in the south-west in Pau, but might be a little disturbed to learn that statistic if they didn’t know it already.

Deauville was also a happy hunting ground yesterday for two much-respected English trainers. James Fanshawe found the perfect opportunity for the progressive Speedy Boarding, carrying the celebrated Helena Springfield colours, in the Group 1 Jean Romanet Stakes. She found this company a little more agreeable than tackling Minding, as she had last time in Ireland after a Group 2 win at Sandown.

Then Hughie Morrison, ever adept at squeezing progress from his horses, sent Nearly Caught back to the scene of a recent Listed win at Deauville, and master-minded a repeat all-way-way effort in the Prix Kergorlay (Group 2) worth £50k-plus. Nearly Caught was third in the Northumberland Plate and looks sure to try to go a few places nearer than last year’s Cesarewitch fifth. The trainer will be eagerly awaiting the weights.

That victory was great news for owner Tony Solomons, former head honcho at the Singer & Friedlander merchant bank, once lavish sponsors of a major handicap chase at the late Stan Clarke’s Uttoxeter. By the way did you know that back in the early 1960’s before his building empire took off, Stan trained horses from home in Staffordshire and I think sent out eight winners?

There was always a lavish lunch at the bank before their race each year and Andy Stewart of Big Buck’s fame was an ever-present in the days immediately before he went to market with his highly-successful Cenkos financial group.

I never forget Tony Solomons’ birthday, other than the actual date in late January (26th?). It also happens to be the same day as three friends, David Loder, Wilf Storey and my Lexington pal Dean Grimm, whose mother Virginia Kraft-Payson owned and bred the 12-length Irish Derby and six-length King George winner St Jovite. Three of them make the Racing Post on that day; Dean doesn’t need to.

Finally, I’d like to be the last to congratulate Nick Skelton on his wonderful Olympics triumph. I was with him before one of either Adrakhan or Notnowsam’s runs for his son Dan last season and we got on to show jumping. He said he was waiting for his horse Big Star to come back after being injured. If you didn’t know, he came!

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