Never say never. I had lunch last week with a good friend, who also happens to be the owner of this website and editor of these weekly offerings, writes Tony Stafford. Analysing the state of play with his various syndicated horses, he said: ”Over the next few months we will be cutting back and moving on most of the horses. Recently one was put down and another retired. One thing I can tell you, I won’t be buying any more stores.”
Project forward a few days and at Taunton on Saturday, the four-year-old filly Coquelicot (French translation “Poppy”) started 1-2 for the concluding bumper and romped away from 13 opponents to win by five and a half lengths. The daughter of Soldier of Fortune, bought by his trainer Anthony Honeyball with Matt Bisogno (Italian translation “need”), as well as Ron Huggins and Ryan Mahon on the inspection committee, as a yearling at Arqana in November 2017 for €26k has probably caused some re-evaluation after this spectacular win.
I say spectacular advisedly. The runner-up was a Paul Nicholls debutant, a year older than Coquelicot and almost three times (68k) as costly. The extended distances back to the fifth in a field of 14 were 4.75, 7 and 5.5 lengths.
The form of her first two runs, second places at Warwick to a stable-companion and then Newbury in fillies-only Junior bumpers, has not been endorsed by either winner on their next starts; but, in fairness, in each case running with promise stepping up to Listed class. But the third horse from Newbury, Hughie Morrison’s Maridadi, five lengths behind the Honeyball horse over a mile and a half, won by that margin at Wetherby last weekend.
Maridadi’s victory was one bright note in Matt’s gloomy mood when we met in time for the special breakfast menu in the Well Street Kitchen, London E9, just before the 11 a.m. cut-off point. (I note McDonalds have now altered their Breakfast times to 11 a.m. to fall in line with the Kitchen).
When Matt first told me about that purchase and the fact he was syndicating her among some of his usual adherents, he was particularly excited about her pedigree and the fact that she would have a residual stud value even if she proved to be of limited ability.
She is a daughter of the dual purpose, Ireland-based Coolmore National Hunt stallion, Soldier of Fortune, himself Irish Derby winner and Arc third for Coolmore and Aidan O’Brien. His best two Flat-race products are both owned by Alan Spence. Fire Fighting and Soldier In Action were (and in the case of the former, still is) trained by Mark Johnston. Soldier In Action also took high rank as a young hurdler with Nicky Henderson.
The real gem in Coquelicot’s pedigree is the fact that she is half-sister to Heartbreak City, the four-length winner for Tony Martin of the 2016 Tote-Ebor and then next time out runner-up by a head to Almandin in the Melbourne Cup in which Big Orange and Wicklow Brave finished miles behind.
There are plenty of jumping performers close up in her pedigree and I’m sure Matt and his cohorts, not least the trainer who does so well with bumper horses, will have ambitions of bigger and better things. The way she strode on up the home straight at Taunton suggests, when she goes hurdling, two and a half miles will not trouble her, but she looks to have the speed to cope with shorter. Who knows, maybe she could even switch over to the Flat later in her career. I’m sure Matt wouldn’t mind winning a million-pound Ebor in a couple of years.
As I said earlier, Matt, never say never. As Mr Bisogno hovered over the counter while generously settling the bill on our departure from the Kitchen last week, he confided that while bisogno means “need” in Italian, it is more colloquially the term used when a person is desperate for the toilet. Matt seemed desperate for a change of luck with his horses. He got it. Poppy was certainly a friend in need.
As is often the case with my peregrinations, I happened totally accidentally on Coquelicot and her race and wouldn’t have noticed it (didn’t see it live) if I hadn’t been on an early-morning quest to get translations for some of the more obscure French names, usually for the AQPS-bred animals that are so liberally sprinkled in UK and Irish jump racing.
It was sparked by the clash between Defi Du Seuil (Challenge of (or on?) the threshold) and Un De Sceaux (One of the seals, no not the mammal) in the Clarence House Stakes. I agree with most received wisdom that even if Altior can be brought back from his mid-season misfortunes, I’d expect Defi Du Seuil to beat him in the Queen Mother Champion Chase. We also had Domaine De L’Isle (self-explanatory) winning at Ascot for the underrated Sean Curran while the disappointing Pic D’Orhy (snow-covered peaks of Mount Orhy in the Pyrenees) flopped behind Thomas Darby.
Over at Haydock, Le Ligerien (person from the Loire basin in France) won the opener from Flamboyant Joyaux (we can all work that one out) with Vengeur (avenger) De Guye (who knows who that is?) a well-beaten fourth.
Then yesterday at Thurles, perhaps my favourite of the weekend’s Frenchies, La Lavandiere (the washer-woman) was unplaced.
It’s one thing to have French horses running. It’s another to pronounce the names through a two-mile race with any degree of accuracy. Simon Holt, as one would expect, was spot on with Sceaux and Seuil, but others on the BHA commentating strength are less secure. No names, as Mr Bolger might have observed.
One name I will put forward for special admiration is Sky Sports Racing’s French expert Laurent Barbarin, whose knowledge of the sport in his native country is exceptional. He is the biggest plus – apart from the wonderful Alex Hammond – of the deal which prised Irish racing away from At The Races (now Sky) forcing them to put major emphasis on France. He is clearly vastly experienced in all facets of the sport and his initial hesitancy in his use of English is now much more assured, at the same time highly enjoyable with his semi-Inspector Clouseau delivery.
This morning I was recapping an event of January last year when the horse that according to Barbarin was “France’s best four-year-old hurdler of 2018” came to Plumpton and won in a canter. Unfortunately Master Dino, sportingly aiming at Cheltenham after a stellar two seasons’ racing in France – 18 races and nine wins exclusively at Auteuil – suffered an injury during the race and has not been sighted since. Can you imagine, running a top-class horse 18 times over jumps in 20 months? Still it was shocking luck for Guillaume Macaire and Messrs Munir/Souede that one run outside his comfort zone would have such repercussions.
Next Saturday all roads as the clichés always used to say, lead to Cheltenham and the Trials Meeting. This is my time for the annual homage to Tangognat’s win in the race which is now all of 34 years ago. Sadly he never reached his full potential, but I noticed that Terry Ramsden, who bought into the horse with me before the race, had his 68th birthday yesterday so hopefully is still going strong though no longer participating in ownership.
Did I hear you say: “That’s nothing?” Well, amazingly, nowadays it isn’t. Two Kentucky stud owners of my acquaintance, Alice Chandler of Mill Ridge Farm (at whose pre-Keeneland sales party I first met Virginia Kraft Payson, owner of St Jovite) and Josephine Abercrombie of Pin Oak Stud, both celebrated their 94th birthdays on the same day last week.
Without my meeting Alice, Jim Bolger would never have trained Virginia’s 12-length Irish Derby and six-length King George hero. Ms Amercrombie had success with some classy horses trained by Sir Mark Prescott. Earlier in her varied life she had been a highly-successful boxing promoter in the United Stakes. Two (or if you add their younger counterpart Virginia) three formidable women and all breeders of top horses. Long may they enjoy their later years and they certainly give hope to those of us coming up in the fast lane towards that time of life!