Monday Musings: Never Mind The (Gender) Gap

Watch out Oisin, and for that matter Tom, Hollie’s on the prowl! The estimable Master Murphy might be a 6-1 on shot to retain his title in the 2020 Flat Jockeys’ Championship, but in the world of sport (yes Sky it’s sport not sports!) momentum is everything, writes Tony Stafford.

The 23-year-old pocket battleship already had one record on her growing honours board – I bet Mr Marquand has to look at it every day in their shared home in Hungerford – that of the 116 best-for-a-female wins in 2019. At Windsor on Saturday, while Tom was an hour and a half away at Newmarket drawing a blank from his five mounts (two favourites), Hollie had five memorable winners at Windsor. While the cat’s away, one might say.

Needless to say, this was the first time a female rider had ever ridden a five-timer on a single UK card. No doubt Julie Krone, the American who retired from professional race riding in 1999 when Hollie was barely two years old, will be aware that in this unassuming young lady, there are many similarities with herself.

In July 1992, the Daily Telegraph sports editor, in his wisdom, despatched me off to Redcar for a Wednesday night meeting that really did attract attention. The first race was the Julie Krone Maiden Stakes and, fittingly, the then 28-year-old Michigan-born sensation was duly set up with a winner. Al Karnack, an 11-2 on shot trained for Ecurie Fustok, major owners at the time, by Mohammed Mubarak, won by 20 lengths.

Four more rides followed, with two wins. I spoke to Ms Krone a few times during the event and, thinking back, like Hollie today, you were immediately struck by her small stature but most obviously the strength in her powerful broad shoulders. Picture Ms Doyle in five years’ time after many more hours in the gym and on the Equisizer and you will have Julie Krone mark 2.

Krone at that time was really about quantity, just as Hollie had been until the recent flurry of Listed and Group wins following her initial Royal Ascot success two months ago on the Alan King-trained Scarlet Dragon. At Windsor she collected two more stakes victories, a Listed on Hughie Morrison's Le Don De Vie and the Group 3 Gallagher Group Winter Hill Stakes on the Roger Charlton-trained Extra Elusive for her new retained boss, owner Imad Sagar. The following summer from that Redcar evening, in June 1993, Krone won her only Triple Crown race, the Belmont Stakes on Colonial Affair, highlight of her 3,704 career wins.

Both Hollie’s big winners and the other three that comprised her epic achievement owed as much to her ability to find a clear course on her mounts and the determination with which she sometimes contrives such a position through sheer willpower. On to Yarmouth yesterday, where three more victories followed and only bar narrow reverses by a short head and then, irritatingly, a nose, was a second five-timer within 24 hours foiled.

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I noticed one race at Beverley on Thursday where the Archie Watson–trained Harrison Point looked in danger of being reeled in by Tony Hamilton on fast-finishing Zip. But as he came alongside, Hollie allowed her mount to edge slightly left, making her own mount’s mind up and possibly persuading the eventually runner-up to think again.

Watson of course, one of racing’s young innovators, was first to give more than a passing acknowledgement of the young rider’s potential – although Wilf Storey says he beat Archie to it! -, putting her on the majority of his flying juveniles painstakingly-schooled at home and often in barrier trials to show their form first time.  She repaid that confidence by almost invariably getting them quickly away from the gate – a vital skill in sprints that many other riders find elusive. No names, as Mr Bolger might say.

At Windsor, on the rain-softened ground, Hollie identified the need to get to the favoured far rail, tailoring her tactics with that in mind. Every time she was first onto the far side, she stayed there until the finish. At Yarmouth, she made it to the front four times, and while it looked as though each of her mounts was vulnerable to a challenge from behind, it was only in the last stride that Jamie Spencer, on a typical last-to-first flourish on Ilalliqa could get to her on the Crisfords’ Late Arrival.

Her other near miss, Little Brown Trout, would have needed only another couple of strides to catch the Tom Queally-ridden Spirited Guest. Ten winners in two days surely would have been too much, for the racing world generally and especially for the boys at the top of the table.

Momentum in the Jockeys’ Championship race can be vital. Oisin Murphy, at 6-1 on might seem uncatchable on 94 wins, bolstered by the first three at Goodwood yesterday, but he has an eight-day suspension to serve out which means he misses the St Leger meeting this week. Ben Curtis, more annoyingly for another of the go-to men for big southern stables when their horses head north for minor meetings, has an automatic  14-day exclusion for his ill-judged foray into the nowadays-sacrosanct owners’ area at Newmarket last week, breaching the strict - but of which many may now say - outdated Coronavirus rules.

Those rules, though, were the basis that racing was allowed to start and remain the cornerstone of its license to persist. Curtis’ mistake was that he chose to talk to the owner of the one horse he was going to ride at HQ, annoyingly a late switch because Hamilton was abandoned through waterlogging. As one trainer who uses Curtis’ talents said to me, “He could have arranged to meet him in the garage half an hour earlier, sat down and had a coffee, no problem.”

So, after a momentous weekend, after Murphy there’s a massive gap to William Buick (7-1) and Marquand (9-2) both on 70. Curtis is next on 63 with Doyle up to 60. She is almost certain to narrow the gap in the coming week given her present rate of progress and while talk of a championship this year might well be so much pie-in-the-sky, second place at the main expense of her partner Marquand looks entirely possible.

Tony Nerses, someone I’ve known for almost 40 years since the time he looked after the racing affairs of Prince Yazid Bin Saud, has been the power behind the upward mobility of Imad Sagar who, with Saleh Al Homaizi, owned Derby winner, Authorized. In recent years, Al Homeizi withdrew from their Blue Mountain stud operation, leaving Sagar to go it alone. Nerses was a constant factor throughout that time and the public face of the operation. I love his ads in the Racing Post when one of the Sagar horses wins a race, which say, purchase Authorized by Tony Nerses.

I’m sure he had more than a minor part in securing Hollie’s services. So far from only seven rides, she has recorded four wins including Group race success in the Rose of Lancaster at Haydock and Saturday’s big race both on Extra Elusive, yet another example of Roger Charlton’s skill in improving horses, along with the beneficial effect a gelding operation can bring.

The main issue here was that while Extra Elusive likes to go from the front, it was almost inevitable that he would be challenged for that position by the Mark Johnston candidate, Sky Defender. But instead of going head-to-head, Ms Doyle allowed Franny Norton to have the lead, tracking him a length behind before moving up on his outside to get the rail position she wanted after the point where the figure-of-eight crosses over. From there she was never going to be denied.

Earlier, on Hughie Morrison’s Le Don De Vie, she engineered a similar position at a crucial stage and the Australia-bound four-year-old won with some authority starting off what was to be a memorable weekend for the trainer.

Yesterday at Goodwood, his five-year-old mare Urban Artist, running for the first time in a handicap after winning her novice race at Windsor second time on the Flat, signalled a profitable future with an emphatic all-the-way win against some highly-regarded younger fillies. A couple of hours later Telecaster, continuing his French love affair with Christophe Soumillon, replicated the mare’s front-running exploits with a six-and-a-half length demolition of his Grand Prix de Deauville (Group 2) opponents.

Both horses are home-bred, Telecaster by the Weinfeld family’s Meon Valley stud and Urban Artist by the late Tim Billington. Morrison was very subdued when I spoke to him yesterday morning in advance of the Goodwood race. He said that Tim had died unexpectedly three weeks earlier. In all the debate about racing and its place in the world he said that Billington had paid £2,000 for yesterday’s winner’s fourth dam and she over time had been responsible for at least 30 winners and Tim, via his syndicates – “he couldn’t afford to own them outright himself” – had brought at least 50 people who would never have thought of owning a horse into the sport.

“That’s what it’s all about – or should be” said the trainer, who at the time could not have envisaged a better afternoon than the one he was to experience. Both yesterday’s winners are excellent examples of the value of continuity in racing and breeding. Telecaster is something like a sixth generation product of one of the two main Egon Weinfeld foundation mares, and the way he has progressed from somewhat flighty and disappointing Derby candidate last year to a potential Group 1 middle-distance winner as a four-year-old is testimony to his trainer’s patience and skill.

When Urban Artist was unsuccessfully tried last winter in a Newbury novice hurdle following two bumper wins (one Listed at Cheltenham) she was stepping outside her mother’s comfort zone. Urban Artist is only the second foal to race of Cill Rialaig. She too won two bumpers, one a Listed also at Cheltenham, but never raced over hurdles. Instead she went Flat racing and got into the 100’s while winning races among them at Royal Ascot. I remember her well, but I doubt she had quite the power of this talented mare who sluiced through the ground to complete the Oisin Murphy hat-trick with complete authority to suggest a big hike from her initial 80 is inevitable.

It was Hollie’s weekend though, so I make no excuse for returning briefly to Julie Krone, about whom it is sad to relate that she never rode again in the UK during her professional career. But to get an estimate of how talented she was, she did ride in two consecutive Legends’ races at the St Leger meeting. In 2011, a full 12 years after retiring, and at the age of 48 she came to Town Moor for the mount on Declan Carroll’s Invincible Hero who started 4-1 favourite in a field of 16. He won with ease. Third that day was George Duffield who had been the runner-up to Krone 19 years earlier when on Richard Whitaker’s Gant Bleu, a 9-1 shot, she rode her second winner. “Led on bit two out and stayed on well” was the close-up comment.

As I said at the start, for me Hollie Doyle is the new Julie Krone. It’s amazing to think that now with Hayley Turner, Josephine Gordon and Hollie, all in turn riders with 100-plus wins in a season on their record, and with a host of French female riders benefiting from their continued (if in the case of the UK trio, unnecessary) weight allowance, the first female champion is not far away. I think we know who that will be!

- TS

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