Virginia Kraft Payson, in happier times. Photo: Robert Holland

Monday Musings: News of old friends

Until yesterday I hadn’t been to Manton for four years, writes Tony Stafford, but a kind invitation from Brian Meehan to see a parade of yearlings for sale and then lunch at Rick Stein’s in Marlborough High Street, ended that largely self-imposed absence.

Inevitably there was a strange sensation as I negotiated the two-mile-long drive up to the Racing Office. There I was confronted by some new faces, notably James Ferguson, who takes over as assistant trainer this morning, along with some more expected ones.

Previously in a similar role with Charlie Appleby, Ferguson, through no fault of his own, was part of the collateral damage when his father John’s long tenure at the head of Godolphin ended this summer.

Meehan, soon to re-marry, looks fully revived, back to the big-race winning confidence of the first decade of the millennium – hardly surprising after £30,000 Sam Sangster purchase, Barraquero, won the Richmond Stakes at Goodwood in the summer.

Sam, now fully entrenched as the co-talent spotter with the trainer at the sales, was on hand with fleeting visits from elder brothers Guy and Ben, although the latter pair missed out on lunch, which I can reveal was highly palatable.

Guy was immaculate as usual. Ben, contrastingly, was a little hot and bothered, still showing the effects of a demanding run a little earlier. It was good to hear that he remains resident in Manton House despite the overall sale of the Estate by the family a few years back, and has a good proportion of his Swettenham Stud mares and young stock in the paddocks and in the old yard next to the house.

Brian, meanwhile, is close to buying the legendary Manton gallops, developed in the 1970’s by Michael Dickinson for the brothers’ late father Robert, along with Manton Lodge, in a further sign of confidence.

We talked about the previous day’s amazing Aidan O’Brien 1-2-3-4 in the Dewhurst headed by US Navy Flag, and Ben noted that the winner was the first juvenile since Diesis in 1982 to complete the Middle Park – Dewhurst double.

It was when I related the tale of myself and George Hill’s visiting Mill Ridge Farm in Lexington during one of the old Keeneland July sales to see newly-ensconced stallion Diesis and the ensuing train of events – one of more than several unlikely turns in my life – that I learned about the death of a good friend more than a year ago that had somehow escaped my notice.

When we went to Mill Ridge, Alice Chandler, from the famed Headley family, showed us the stallions and then invited us to a party she was holding at the farm that evening. There she introduced me to Virginia Kraft Payson: “You’ll get on, you are both writers,” she said. That chance meeting led to Virginia’s sending future Irish Derby and King George winner, St Jovite, to Ireland to be trained by Jim Bolger.

Ben said: “Wasn’t it terrible what happened to Virginia’s son Dean”. I’d seen a lot of Robert Dean Grimm, Jr., over the years, and he was always accompanied by imaginative original schemes which often ended being taken up and profited from by others.

Some people are lucky enough to be handsome. Dean was beyond that, and wonderful company and highly intelligent to boot. He attended the 1992 Derby – St Jovite was runner-up to Dr Devious - escorting the British Dynasty actress, Stephanie Beacham, and then relished the night of the King George win at San Lorenzo in Knightsbridge, only allowed the last-minute reservation: “As long as the trophy comes with you!”.

Anyway, in February of last year, as Ben told me, Dean had the misfortune to hear of the death of his only son Payson in a car accident on Lexington’s Paris Pike, the road where the family’s Payson Stud is located.  A few days later, an inconsolable Dean Grimm, 54, was found dead.

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I’ve found it hard to concentrate since hearing the belated news. I asked Harry Taylor if he’d met Dean and he said that I introduced them at the Breeders’ Cup one year. “Didn’t he have a project that he was telling us about?” I’m sure he did.

Dean shared a birthday in January with trainer David Loder and they got to know each other when St Jovite’s first-crop son, Indiscreet, was sent to Newmarket for David to train. He won the Convivial Maiden at York in great style, offering hopes for Classic success the following year, but sadly that was to be the high point of his career.

In the uncanny way of coincidence, I was looking at the pedigrees of the horses about to be paraded, and the first on the list was a filly by first-crop stallion, War Command. She is the first foal of Princess Patsky, a daughter of the smart US stallion, Mr Greeley.

War Command, like Diesis and US Navy Flag, won the Dewhurst, the last of four juvenile wins in five starts. Also like Diesis he failed to win at three, but Diesis was to go on to breed three outstanding Oaks winners – Diminuendo, Love Divine and Ramruma – and multiple Group 1 winner and successful stallion, Halling.

So there must be a fair chance that at £42,000 this filly, consigned by Bumble Mitchell, was cheaply bought – she certainly looks the part. Looking down the pedigree, the third dam was Mrs P’s Princess, an unraced daughter of the great Mr Prospector, bred from another unraced mare in Butterfly Cove.

She in turn is responsible for two champions on the track, multiple Group 1 heroine Misty For Me and Marcel Boussac winner, Ballydoyle. In the sales page, Misty For Me is credited as dam of Roly Poly and as it relates “four times placed US Navy Flag”. To show just how quickly the amazing Aidan can upgrade his horses, US Navy Flag has added four wins since publication, with the Middle Park and Dewhurst providing a two-week Newmarket Group 1 treble for the dam along with Roly Poly’s Sun Chariot triumph in between. Both of course are by War Command’s sire, War Front.

Ryan Moore likened the now 10-times-raced US Navy Flag to his full-sister, remarking that they seem to get better with each additional furlong they are asked to travel. US Navy Flag won emphatically, and his trainer is within one of the Bobby Frankel 25 Group 1 wins target.

But for a luckless run, September would have brought him level rather than go down by a nose to Karl Burke’s Laurens in the Fillies’ Mile and a similar near miss by Johannes Vermeer in the Ladbrokes at Caulfield in Australia early on Saturday helps keep him tantalisingly one behind.

Two disappointing runs, including a fourth for Idaho, at Woodbine over the weekend, made it a fruitless trip to Canada for Moore, but the big-race rides will keep on coming. As to Aidan, he’s well past the £7million mark here this year after that unique Dewhurst monopoly, and success in one of the two big ones on Saturday at Ascot will enable him to set an improved record, in the year of Enable, too!

A scheduling clash means that the Sangsters will miss Ascot in favour of the Ibiza wedding of their youngest brother Max, which brothers MV and JP Magnier will also attend. In the 1970’s and 1980’s it was the alliance of Vincent O’Brien, John Magnier and Robert Sangster that created Coolmore. The links (with the younger, non-related O’Brien) and the next generation of Magniers and Sangsters, remains just as solid. Best wishes to the newly-weds.

- TS

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