As Storm Ciara wipes out racing in the British Isles, I thought a leisurely mid-morning Sunday rather than a 4 a.m. Monday start would make for a nice change, writes Tony Stafford. It’s windy here too, and I keep thinking the front door’s about to blow in. I’ll let you know if it does.
A standing start and the inevitable criss-cross of half a dozen of Not Too Sleepy’s opponents, three from either side, in front of him was enough to decide the Hughie Morrison hurdler’s fate in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury. That left the way clear for a trio of five-year-old French imports to clean up in first, second and close fifth for the big-spending Nicholls (Johnny De La Haye, first and fifth) and Willie Mullins/ J P McManus teams. Pic d’Orhy, 33-1, won from the 13-2 favourite, Ciel De Neige, with the Nicholls second string Tamaroc Du Mathan a close fifth at 50-1.
Every February I know David Dickinson, the two-mile hurdles handicapper, steels himself for the identity of which of the Ditcheat (funny that the word ends as it does!) UK debutants is the one to fear in the Fred Winter (now Boodles) Juvenile handicap. Dave has to assess them on French form and by the time they come over there’s already plenty to go on, unlike with the domestic bunch.
For example, Waterproof, a winner second time for Ray Tooth at Fakenham, getting 127, might just squeeze in at the bottom on ratings, but needs a third run to qualify, hopefully in the Victor Ludorum at Haydock on Saturday before next Tuesday’s closing date.
Meanwhile the 2020 French Cheltenham Festival juvenile candidates will have racked up plenty of experience. Ciel De Neige ran in last year’s Boodles, finishing a creditable third of 21 on debut for Mullins after three seemingly undistinguished runs, 445, for Guy Cherel. They were enough to earn a figure of 132 and his position just over three lengths behind Band Of Outlaws seemed to guarantee imminent success. Amazingly after Saturday, he remains a maiden, beaten twice more in Ireland this winter before yesterday’s near miss.
The second of those “undistinguished” runs came on April 28th 2018 at Auteuil when he was fourth, eight and a half lengths behind the odds-on Pic D’Orhy, the Francois Nicolle trainee having already won on debut. More significantly, runner-up at three lengths on debut and seven lengths in this race was Goliath Du Berlais.
A non-winner in four hurdles, Goliath Du Berlais switched to fences following another run behind Pic D’Orhy in June and won seven of eight races before May last year since when he has disappeared from the circuit. The France Galop site not only lists form for all horses but also all entries and Goliath remains un-entered since May 19, the day after his last win.
The race I just referred to on June 9 2018 was won by Porto Pollo, who had been 13th, then pulled up and a faller in three runs on different provincial tracks. No wonder he started almost 13-1 for the seven-runner Grade 3 juvenile hurdle for which Pic D’Orhy was a 1-2 shot. But he prevailed by a length and a half. It is only when you see what was behind the pair that you realise the merit of the run, especially for the winner who incidentally has never replicated it since despite a couple more wins.
Third, a head back, was Beaumac De Huelle. That son of the great and recently-deceased Martaline only ran as a three-year-old and this was his sole defeat in six starts. He twice subsequently got the better of Pic D’Orhy in valuable races, first by a short neck in a €66k event in October then by a length and a quarter the following month, this time in a €101k contest. Second places in those two races earned a combined €80k for the son of Turgeon before his switch to Nicholls. Beaumac De Huelle has now joined the stallion team at Haras de Montaigu, in part replacing Martaline. Aliette and Guy Forien, the stud’s owners, also bred the Nicolas Clement-trained French Fifteen and they joined me on the winner’s podium after he won his Group 1 at Saint-Cloud for Ray.
The also-rans in that June 2018 race also bear repeating. Flumicino (fourth) has won three times; Goliath was fifth as I said earlier and then came two horses destined for Joseph O’Brien. Sixth home was the 29/1 shot Fakir D’Oudairies, now a 149-rated hurdler and 156 chaser for the young master, while Konitho, who trailed the field as a 56-1 shot that day, was good enough to beat 23 others by five lengths and more at Naas a year ago today in the colours of his sister Sarah. They soon were switched to the green and gold hoops.
So what of Pic D’Orhy since his departure from Nicolle? He started his UK career in the Triumph Hurdle, finishing tenth of 14 behind Pentland Hills. That race came almost four months after his French finale and you could excuse ring-rustiness. Less forgivable was his fall when returning to Auteuil after another break, on November 10 last year. Then on his only subsequent run before the Betfair, Pic D’Orhy, running over almost two and a half miles, pulled hard, raced round the outside and faded, finishing sixth more than 14 lengths behind Thomas Darby.
So now we can fast forward to Newbury, back to two miles and in a field where he could be covered up in midfield. Harry Cobden achieved this requirement comfortably and they came through to outdo Ceil De Neige, just as he had 22 months previously in Paris.
The number 33 is doubly significant for Pic D’Orhy. Not only was that his starting price, remarkable given his outstanding French juvenile form, but it was also the perhaps even more astonishing age at which his sire Turgeon, in his racing days winner of the Irish St Leger, died last year.
That means Pic D’Orhy was conceived when his sire was 28 years old. Turgeon’s amazing fertility can be judged by the fact that his 2015 crop including the Betfair Hurdle hero comprised 42 foals, his biggest of recent times. It only dropped below 30 with 20 in his penultimate crop of 2018, and in the year of his death, a final group of five remained as a legacy to his longevity.
I love the statistics in France Galop. They tell me that Turgeon, who still commanded a fee of €4k in his final year, 2018, had 853 foals. They have run in 6,901 races winning 748. Total earnings from that little group amount to more than €25 million. The way Pic D’Orhy won the Betfair Hurdle, he will probably go on and win the County Hurdle next month with plenty more victories to come.
Apologies to all who sail in her, but I’m afraid the geegeez.co.uk filly Coquelicot is only a footnote rather than the week’s top news. She looked pretty good at Huntingdon under a penalty in a bumper where they were strung out all along the straight. “Poppy” has the prestigious fillies’ bumper at Sandown as her target. One day she might win a Queen Alexandra on the Flat, or more lucratively emulate her older brother Heartbreak City by winning the Ebor and then improve on his record to win rather than be second in the Melbourne Cup! Matt, you have to dream in this game. There are enough nightmares to endure when you own horses.