Monday Musings: Joy and Pain in the Rain

One of the clichés of modern sport is No Pain No Gain, writes Tony Stafford. At Longchamp on Sunday, because of a batch of contaminated Gain horse feeds with the non-permitted ingredient Zilpaterol, there was plenty of pain (and rain) for the Ballydoyle contingent and all ante-post supporters.

First it was Love, sensibly withdrawn when the ground went from good to soft to truly heavy, in the first couple of days after last week’s offering in this place was rendered non-sensible by the Parisian deluges. Around the same time, Serpentine was supplemented into the race and I recall telling my pal Scott Ellis that it was a master-stroke – he’d be the only pace in the race and would have a similar solo from the front as he had at Epsom.

After all, had he not had the one atypical – in other words running in midfield – dress rehearsal in his course and distance comeback in stablemate Mogul’s Prix Niel after a 71-day gap following his all-the-way Derby victory?

That possible tactic would have probably altered the eventual time of 2 minutes, 39.30 seconds, which apart from Ivanjica, 0.10 sec slower in 1977, was the third slowest since 1941. Puissant Chef with a funereal 2min 44.00 in 1960 holds that dubious honour.

In the event Sottsass followed last year’s third to Waldgeist and Enable by winning the race for Jean-Claude Rouget. In Swoop in second, and the miler Persian King, who was allowed to set a slow pace, filled the places.  Enable, on what will likely be her final valiant try, was sixth of the 11, just ahead of fellow six-year-old and stable-companion Stradivarius in seventh. Meanwhile Japan, Mogul, Sovereign and Serpentine were left kicking their hooves while alternative feed supplies were organised and important autumn and winter schedules were urgently addressed.

Sottsass, a son of the crack French-based stallion Siyouni, is out of a Galileo mare who has also bred the top-class US racemare Sistercharlie, a seven-time Grade 1 winner, including at the Breeders’ Cup, for owner Peter Brant and trainer Chad Brown. Sottsass also runs in the colours of Brant’s White Birch Farm, and given the closeness of the New Yorker to the Coolmore partners, it is hardly a shock to find they negotiated a half-share at the beginning of the year with a future stud career in mind.

Friend Scott was initially tempted by the 14-1, but whether he got round to striking a bet I’m unsure as the 14’s proved elusive. Plenty will have got on however and I’m wondering whether any bookmaker will be kind enough to grant an amnesty over non-runners, especially those caused by what the horses had eaten rather than their ground preferences.

Love lives to fight another day, although with the amount of rain that fell on Ascot before Saturday – more than enough to wash out the important fixture on Arc eve at Her Majesty’s racecourse – whether they’ll want to go to the Champions Day card is another matter. The Breeders’ Cup seems the obvious choice.

I know the Editor dislikes my gravitating into areas of sport, but the almost overlapping 2019-20 and 2020-21 Premier League seasons have already shown enormous effects of Covid-19. For No Pain No Gain – replace it with No Cheer, No Fear. How else would Manchester United (third in the late-finishing previous season) be allowed to keep shipping goals to Tottenham at Old Trafford to the extent of a 6-1 record home loss? Or Liverpool allow a series of defensive mistakes to translate into a 7-2 loss to Aston Villa, one of two 100% teams along with Everton.

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As recently as July 11, during the re-convened season interrupted after the weekend before Cheltenham, Aston Villa had 27 points and were 19th of the 20 teams. Bournemouth had 28 and Watford 31. Eight points from their final four matches to the end of July brought them to 35, ending a point above their two rivals who were relegated.

Meanwhile Liverpool ended the season on 99 points, clear of Manchester City and Manchester United. The three elite teams conceded a very similar total of respectively 33, 35 and 36 goals in their 38 matches. Already this season, Liverpool in four games have given away 11 goals, a third of last year’s tally; Man C, seven (so one-fifth of last time) in three and Man U 11, so just under a third of a season’s total, in three games!

Something’s up, be it the short gap between the two seasons, or be it psychological – none of the usual hero-worship but a magnification of the social media attention by fans unable to attend matches, is grinding players down. Three internationals for the elite players over the next two weeks could only magnify the weirdness.

Footballers are being shown to be only human and I marvel at the fact that clubs can routinely consider paying by all accounts up to £100 million to secure the transfer of a single player as Manchester United have been trying all through this latest transfer window.

To pay those sums for players while allowing lower league clubs to go out of business for less than a single player’s weekly salary exposes the immorality of the sport and its television paymasters. Of course, I and probably many of you who read these words are complicit just by paying the monthly subscription.

Xxxx

I had intended leaving mention of the Arc to others this week, but several attempts to track down my intended featured subject came to naught. Nobody answered the phone at Tony Mullins’ stables near Gowran yesterday and I have to suspect that his two-week isolation might have started with him and the owners being slightly tired and emotional.

The reason for his probably delicate condition was easy to understand. In a training career dating back 33 years, Tony Mullins has operated rather in the shadows of his brother Willie, but his skills as a trainer and identifier of a good horse are widely appreciated.

He was a brilliant jockey in his day, and a frequent partner of Dawn Run. The great mare was trained by his father Paddy and, while Tony enjoyed many winning days, the two biggest of her career in the Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup were shared by Jonjo O’Neill.

Tony Mullins has never had massive strings, but knew how to develop a young horse, win a race with him and then pass him on. As the years went by the totals dropped but he still has the knack as his handling of the four-year-old hurdler Scalino this year shows. Scalino had run in six maiden hurdles without getting into the first three before turning up at Punchestown early last month in an 18-runner handicap.

Starting 20-1 he was closing up to the leaders when hampered by a loose horse, but soon challenged. He went to the front before two out, soon went clear and was eased on the run-in but still won by 13 lengths at 20-1.

Earlier in the year Mullins took charge of a German mare, a five-year-old who had raced regularly in the two previous seasons earning two wins and eight places from 15 appearances. Mullins had her ready for her Irish debut late in June and obviously thought her capable of a big run off the 64 handicap mark allotted by the Irish handicapper in collaboration with his German counterparts.

Backed to 4-1, she got within a length of the winner in a 16-runner handicap over 1m5f at Navan. That reverse was put right the following month when she won the 15-runner Ladies’ Derby at the Curragh off 70 by five easy lengths.

Three wins followed at Galway. The first two came at the big summer meeting, initially over 2m1f in a Premier handicap off 83 then comfortably a few days later with a 7lb penalty under claiming rider Joey Sheridan. The 18-year-old was again in the saddle when the mare, a daughter of Alan Spence’s tough horse Jukebox Jury, now a successful stallion in Germany, won the Listed Oyster Stakes. That day, back at 1m4f, she beat the mare Barrington Court and Oaks runner-up, Ennistymon.

Mullins didn’t hesitate, aiming at the Group 1 Prix du Cadran on the first day of the Arc meeting. After her run of success, she started the second favourite behind Call The Wind, winner of the race in 2018 and runner-up last year. Joey Sheridan, naturally unable to claim, sat in mid-field in the nine-horse marathon, while prolific winning stayer Alkuin was allowed a long lead. Coming to the straight Sheridan went in pursuit of the leader who still held a big advantage.

In the last furlong, though, the relentless mare cut into the deficit and caught the leader a few yards from the line with Call The Wind toiling 15 lengths back in third and the rest needing a telescope to find them.

Afterwards a jubilant Mullins said he would not hesitate to run Princess Zoe at a mile and a half and cheekily suggested next year’s Arc as a possible target. I wouldn’t put it past this modern-day alchemist to go where Enable couldn’t (not this year anyway!).

Tony Mullins has crossed my path a few times over the decades, usually to my rather than his benefit. There was the time I suggested he might want to land a gamble in the UK, and he earmarked Carla Adams, a mare who had been initially with Ginger McCain, to fit the bill. She had a couple of runs in low-grade hurdles for Wilf Storey, finishing third in the second of them. The day was set for Hexham but she disappointed. Wilf said he couldn’t work out why she never seemed to get any fitter and a few months later when the foal came, we had our answer.

It was more than a decade after that, crossing towards the conveniences at Cheltenham, when Tony stopped me, interrupting his own call saying, ”Wait, I need to talk to you.” As I’ve recorded here more than once he said I shouldn’t miss his one in the last.

I was with Raymond Tooth that day, watching Punjabi finish fourth in the Triumph Hurdle a few weeks after I’d first met him when the horse won at Kempton. Before Raymond left the track, I passed on Tony’s advice on Pedrobob, and the horse duly won the County Hurdle from 27 others under Paul Carberry at 12-1. On the Monday morning Raymond called and offered me the job as his racing advisor.

Until Saturday, Pedrobob was probably Tony’s most valued winner, but the £87k prize for the owners, a Group 1 win, and what more might be to come with Princess Zoe must be the supreme moment for this lovely man. I couldn’t have been happier. For Tony, over the years there’s been plenty of pain, so at last some real joy in the rain.

2 replies
  1. robert whitby
    robert whitby says:

    Once again ,another extremely interesting read Tony and it is stories about gambles such as these that take the reader on to the inside of racing and begs the question, which is the best approach, hours of form book study or genuine inside information!

    Reply
    • Matt Bisogno
      Matt Bisogno says:

      Inside information is always about one horse, Robert; the form book contains clues for the entire field. – Ed.

      Reply

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