After last week’s eulogy about the continuing success and imagination of the Coolmore operation, I got a gentle nudge from my editor, saying “other stud farms are available”, writes Tony Stafford. At Lingfield on Saturday, one such stud, Abergwaun Farms, took centre stage with its home-bred colt Knight to Behold, impressive winner of the Derby Trial for the Harry Dunlop stable.
It was the second win in the race, now only Listed, but a Group 3 back in 2005 when Kong won for Abergwaun and Neil King. Trained by John Dunlop, Harry’s father, Kong beat the Michael Tabor-owned Walk in the Park for his only career success from 21 starts. After 14 runs from Dunlop’s stable he was sold for 65,000gns, proving a severe disappointment for Sublimity’s trainer Rob Hennessy in Ireland.
Walk in the Park didn’t do much better on the track. His only success in 15 races was as a juvenile, trained by John Hammond in France, in a one mile minor event. A week later he was third in the Criterium International at Saint-Cloud.
After Lingfield, the pair went on to the Derby, Kong finishing a remote last of 14 under Richard Hughes, but Walk in the Park far outstripping any other performance when a five-length runner-up to Motivator. Two years after Epsom, he even tried hurdling for Hammond, finishing fifth of eight in a newcomers event at Auteuil, an experiment which was never repeated.
Of course, as a stallion he has produced umpteen good jumpers, and in the case of Douvan and Min, two Willie Mullins-trained champions. John Hammond was at Newmarket for the Guineas meeting, and I had a quick chat with him about Walk in the Park, a son of the brilliant Montjeu, whom memorably he also trained for Michael Tabor.
John said: “The problem with Walk in the Park was that he could never quicken, and that’s true of his progeny, even Douvan and Min. Obviously they are very good but they just do not have instant acceleration.”
It is odd to think that when Walk in the Park finished second at Epsom, he was three lengths ahead of Dubawi, racing at a trip longer than a mile for the only time and palpably failing to stay. Dubawi won five of his other seven starts before becoming the international stallion Godolphin and the Maktoum family needed to go head to head with Galileo over the past decade.
Sadler’s Wells was the sire of Galileo and is also the maternal grandsire of Knight to Behold, a son of Sea The Stars, another of the supreme racehorses of the modern era and a half-brother to Galileo to boot.
Neil Jones has had his greatest success to date with Millenary, the 2000 St Leger winner for John Dunlop. Such was his durability, Millenary gained his 12th and final win from 35 starts as an eight-year-old in the 2005 Doncaster Cup. As a late-starting stallion Millenary has been a decent producer of staying jumpers, Last Goodbye winning a €50k pot at Leopardstown in February. In the UK, Brother Brian has done well over jumps for Hughie Morrison.
Harry Dunlop might have been destined for training greatness, not only because of his parentage and as brother of Ed, trainer of Ouija Board and Snow Fairy, but also as a godson of Sir Henry Cecil. Warren Place was one of a number of learning locations, and Harry was a well-liked pupil assistant there when the Thoroughbred Corporation had horses of the order of Royal Anthem, Oath and Dr Fong in the stable around the turn of the century.
He continued his education elsewhere, but made his best career move when marrying Christina. In his web site he relates that one of his greatest triumphs was when he showed his wife’s pig to earn a third prize in the local show. The graduate of Cirencester Agricultural College confesses his alternative career would probably have been horticulture.
As many well-connected young aspiring trainers have discovered, you need luck to succeed and the day that Dunlop, via Anthony Stroud Bloodstock, paid €47k for the Con Marnane pin-hook Robin of Navan, he was provided with the impetus he needed.
The first trick was to get him sold, and he could hardly have done better in that the four-man partnership included Peter Deal, a long-standing owner who won the 1997 Champion Hurdle with the Martin Pipe-trained Make A Stand.
Robin of Navan, as a French-bred, was immediately targeted at races in his country of origin, where ordinary events carry significantly better prizemoney than in the UK and also generous premiums for owners. To date, his five wins have all come in France, with the Group 1 10-furlong Criterium de Saint-Cloud providing a decent percentage of the half a million he has won so far - without the premiums!
I made a silly decision at Chester last week, offering my Horses in Training 2018 book for what I thought would be a brief look by Harry Taylor. Bet he fell asleep once he got past Jeremy Noseda. Of course he didn’t return it yet, so I’ve no idea if the 40-odd horses Harry Dunlop raced in 2017 is matched or even exceeded this year.
What I do find slightly odd, is that Pirate King, to my mind one of Lionel Holliday’s home-bred stallions around the 1960’s and Roman Warrior, a champion sprinter for Nigel Angus at the end of that decade, now reside in the Dunlop yard. Both are owned by Daniel Macauliffe & Anoj Don. One assumes they are racing history nuts like me.
Also in the yard, once home to Nicky Henderson and Peter Walwyn, is the Dutch Art filly, Laura Kenny, named after the multiple Olympic champion cyclist, formerly Laura Trott and owned by Velocity Racing.
When a couple of weeks ago I suggested to George Hill that maybe he would authorise a small portion of the mounting pile in his coffers to buy into a certain racing partnership, he responded: “Too late, Liz <wife> has been persuaded by James Fry <International Racing Bureau> to go into a two-year-old filly with Harry Dunlop”. Later, after her debut at Kempton, he said, “Everyone loves Harry!”
Well if Knight to Behold can produce a performance to match his runaway Lingfield win when the heavily-backed and strongly-fancied Kew Gardens could never get in a blow, everyone truly would love Harry. At any event, he will provide an interesting sidebar to what has become the province of the big guns. Whether he can trouble Saxon Warrior, now down to odds on, might be beyond him, but where there is a possible question mark on the favourite’s stamina, with the Lambourn horse there’s absolutely none. Good luck Harry, Neil Jones and Richard Kingscote, who gave him such a fine, opportunist ride last week.