Epsom 1-June-2024 Betfred Derby (Group 1) Connections celebrate at the presentation ceremony after City Of Troy and Ryan Moore won for owners Coolmore and giving trainer Aidan O'Brien his 10th Epsom Derby. Photo Healy Racing / Racingfotos.com

Monday Musings: Of God and the Alchemist!

Who is Celia? What is she? Or rather where is she? The one-time lady amateur rider and walk-on or pub-customer extra in Eastenders (and other TV series) played a massive part in my life, writes Tony Stafford. I’m sure she had/has no idea and even the Internet didn’t help me track her down. But Saturday relegated her to the second half of this two-in-one article. You’ll see why shortly.

Having made almost fanatically-extravagant judgment based on his two-year-old performances – the best two-year-old I’ve ever seen, I suggested – the abject failure of City Of Troy in the 2000 Guineas five weeks ago could surely only bring an early hasty rush off to stud. That would have been the normal obvious course of action.

But then his trainer is Aidan O’Brien. Never did he – outwardly, at least – question his horse, just himself for not putting in the required amount of tough work into a potential Classic winner in the weeks leading up to Newmarket.

So, they gathered at Epsom, for some reason suggesting the draw in stall one was a big disadvantage. Why? Didn’t Oath win from there in 1999, causing your correspondent and the Henry Cecil/ Thoroughbred Corporation horse’s groom to dance around in delight. We’d watched his win on the tiny TV screen on the jockeys’ room glass wall just behind the unsaddling circle that has been home to the greats: Nijinsky, Shergar and Galileo himself in 2001, the first of ten winners for Aidan and the Coolmore partners.

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Only two of those came before Camelot in 2012, a ten-year gap for O’Brien from High Chaparral in the year after Galileo, but eight of the next 13 giving testimony, if any was needed, of the trainer’s uniqueness.

Two of the Coolmore ownership group also had a bonus win with Pour Moi in 2011, trained by Andre Fabre, putting Sue Magnier (the great Vincent’s daughter) and Michael Tabor ahead of the trainer as the winning-most pair in the race’s 240-year history.

By the time Aidan has finished, he will have set records never to be broken - of that I am sure - as by the time it could be possible, racing will be staged on AI tracks with AI horses - with no trainer or jockey in sight.

First the race. Ryan Moore on the only lightly-backed favourite (3/1 about a horse that was odds-on for the Guineas, “unbelievable”) as Jonno Mills of the Rabbah (Godolphin-lite) operation reflected afterwards, though not before – was allowed to start slowly.

In all his races – the three as a juvenile and the Guineas, he raced towards or at the front. Now, tackling another half-mile, he had to learn on the job, coming from behind as his stablemates Euphoric and the previously unbeaten Los Angeles set a strong pace.

He came down the hill nicely, switched inside early in the straight and had the speed to stride through gaps where an ordinary staying horse might have been less malleable.

Passing Los Angeles between the two and one-furlong poles, he was quickly clear and just needed to be kept going by Ryan (Derby number four for him) to remain almost three lengths ahead of the Bill Gredley/James Fanshawe Lingfield Derby Trial winner Ambiente Friendly.

Third was Los Angeles, six lengths in the end behind his stable-mate and then the two Ahmad Al Sheikh horses, one each for Andrew Balding and Owen Burrows. Sixth, having come from miles back but then looking like he didn't quite get home, was Roger Teal’s Dancing Gemini who must be a banker for a big prize in a Group 1 over ten furlongs.

Bill Gredley, at 91, had to have been hopeful as his colt came there cantering, but Ryan on his inside was always finding that little more speed. Still, it was great that Rab Havlin, parachuted in to replace his Lingfield rider Callum Shepherd, enjoyed such a wonderful ride in a Derby.

Havlin, so often the back-up to Frankie Dettori – did we miss him as he won a couple of races across the Atlantic? I think not - gave his mount an impeccable ride through. Rider was as flawless as his always flamboyant owner had looked resplendent in the paddock in the only bright red trousers on view. You’d probably have had to scour the well-patronised funfair areas on the inside of the track to find a pair to match them!

As I’ve mentioned before, Bill Gredley started life in Poplar, East London, not far from Michael Tabor’s birthplace in Forest Gate – Stratford coming in between. Joining Michael as ever, were his racecourse pals, all of whom he has known since the 1980’s at least, including Maurice Manasseh, even with him for the Florida Derby that Thunder Gulch achieved under 'Money' Mike Smith for D. Wayne Lukas in 1995, before adding the Kentucky Derby, Belmont and Travers later in the year.

Just two years later, having been (as ever, shrewdly as it turns out) identified by John Magnier as a potential partner as the old Robert Sangster/ Vincent O’Brien era at Ballydoyle/Coolmore was starting to unravel, the two-man ownership team won successive 2000 Guineas with Entrepreneur and King Of Kings. I’ll never forget the former as my eldest grandson was born at 3 a.m. the next morning less than an hour’s drive away.

The succession at Coolmore seems firmly in place. MV Magnier does most of the recruiting and brother JP also has plenty to say behind the scenes. John and Sue’s son-in-law David Wachman, a highly successful trainer before retiring as a younger man, is also in the back-up team. David’s young family are all outstanding in the field of equestrianism, so much so that Grandpa John prefers watching their exploits than some of even the biggest race days his horses contest.

Derrick Smith, delighted to be in attendance on Saturday, as he had been in Louisville when Sierra Leone gave the partners a close second on the same evening as the Guineas debacle, has son Paul and enthusiastic grandsons – all there on Saturday - to pass on the baton when the time comes, as it inevitably will.

Meanwhile, also on Saturday, I detected a new element to the possible Tabor succession.

Over the many years I’ve known him, I hasten to say, no more than to chat for the few minutes our paths would have crossed in various winner’s enclosures, Ashley Tabor-King has been almost distracted, enjoying his father’s success but more involved in developing his interest in the music industry. His mother Doreen is a noted supporter of emerging classical musicians, and while Ashley has been largely into pop music, the influence is clear.

Having successfully turned the Global Group, of which he is boss, into the biggest in commercial radio in the UK he has also overseen its many charitable contributions especially to younger disadvantaged people. Now, though, he seems to be taking rather more interest in the sport.

On Saturday, before the Dash, he was looking over the balcony through binoculars aiming to get the focus right, asking where was the start? I pointed back up the track and said: “You’re looking the true professional, can you give me a commentary?”

Then, around an hour later, when the owners were called to the podium to accept the most-desired trophy in UK - some may say, world  - racing, for all its modest value compared with many races elsewhere, Ashley and husband George took their places to the left of the group.

It’s been a joke between us that he might have considered himself a Jonah on the rare times he went to the big events. “You’re not a jinx, you’re a lucky mascot,” to which he replied, “I always thought I was a lucky omen. It was just MV and JP who joked otherwise!”

As he is such a great friend with all the people in the next generation, I’m predicting that this truly engaging man will find that learning about the game his father knows inside out might well appeal as a new challenge for him.

Now the form from last year with Haatem - City Of Troy twice beat him easily - is looking better after the places by Haatem in the 2000 and Irish 2000 Guineas. Rosellion, second at Newmarket, first in Ireland, and Notable Speech, unraced since his win in Newmarket for Charlie Appleby and Godolphin, will be contesting the big mile races. Neither Appleby nor Hannon stopped smiling as they called in on the Coolmore box after the big race – as with almost everyone around the winer’s circle as he came back in.

City of Troy in the Winners' Enclosure at Epsom after winning the 2024 Derby, attended by Ryan Moore and Tony Stafford (right)

City of Troy in the Winners' Enclosure at Epsom after winning the 2024 Derby, attended by Ryan Moore and Tony Stafford (right)

I watched the race just by the winning line – my friend and former Daily Telegraph colleague George Hill reminded me that was where we saw Reference Point’s big win for Henry Cecil – and it gave me plenty of time to get first into that famed circle.

Eventually, everyone crowded in, but somehow, I managed to get close to City Of Troy. Remembering when I went to Coolmore and met Galileo with Harry Taylor and Alan Newman a few years back, I’d stood with my hand on his near-side flank. Here I was able to do a similar thing with City of Troy. While Ryan was cuddling his neck, I pressed my hand gently on the other side. After the horse’s exertions, you might have expected an agitated animal - he was anything but. Whenever I’ve touched one of the horses I’d been involved with as a racing manager or owner in the past straight after a race I’d always come away with a wet hand.

Not on Saturday – it was bone dry, his body warm, but he stayed motionless as the photographers assailed him from the front. Racing finally is back page and television news for the right reasons. As for me, I will never forget that full minute when I touched greatness!


Back in the mid-80’s I somehow inveigled a horse for a cup of tea – and an equine replacement of him. He had been designed to be a riding horse, but thankfully, the intervention freed him from that dull fate, allowing him to resume his proper job as a racehorse.

Sent to Rod Simpson, he won a couple of races in the same week, at Folkestone and then Lingfield on a Saturday evening, before finishing fourth in the Lady Riders’ race at Ascot on King George Day. He hadn’t a prayer against some smart, developing three-year-olds from the likes of Barry Hills and Michael Stoute. Fourth then and a spot on the edge of the old Ascot winner’s enclosure was an achievement in the days the race wasn’t a handicap.

I’d been willing to sell before the winning spell started, and the fact that he might still be for sale persuaded Celia Radband to tell a couple of her lady rider friends – in those days quite a small community - about him

I was in the DT office one day when a call came in. "Mr Stafford?", asked Wilf Storey, "I understand you might want to sell Fiefdom", by now a five-year-old, who had been talented enough to finish fifth in the Cambridgeshire for Bruce Hobbs two years before.

He was just about the most polite person I’d ever heard, certainly in the hubbub of a sports room of a national newspaper in those days. He told me his daughters Fiona and Stella had been told by Ms Radband that he would make a lovely jumper. I hadn’t thought of that – his form when he initially started jumping was awful, but anyway.

I had to say, sorry no, adding if I changed my mind he would be my first call. Fiefdom ran well again at Ascot that autumn, after which I decided to call Wilf, offering him at 5k rather than the original 6k.

In the meantime, he’d taken another two of Rodney’s horses after one morning when they played up. I should have them shot, said a furious Rodney. I thought maybe Wilf, primarily a sheep farmer, would take them and the arrangement was duly done.

Within a couple of days, one of the two had indeed been moved on, having almost killed Chris Grant first day on the gallops; but the other one, Santopadre, was fine. These were two of a ten-horse deal I’d done with Malcolm Parrish, whom I first met at the Cashel Palace Hotel, close to Ballydoyle where he was with David O’Brien, who I’d arranged to visit.

David had recently won the Derby with Secreto, beating his father’s El Gran Senor in a massive upset which briefly threatened the stud deal that Sangster/O’Brien had already negotiated. Secreto missed the Irish Derby, El Gran Senor duly won, and the world moved on as imagined.

Also in that Parrish bunch was Brunico, later 2nd in that season’s Triumph Hurdle having been sent to Rod. Two runs later he won the Group 3 Ormonde Stakes at Chester for Terry Ramsden, beating top-class Shahrastani. Santopadre was offered around. I asked Wilf if he had anyone with two grand to buy him. Answer: “no!”

Oliver Grey rode him first time on his last day’s riding in the UK at Musselburgh before going to India. We thought him moderate, but Oliver gave him a tap around the home bend. “He flew,” he said, “so I put the stick down.”

So, the plan had to be three runs, achieved so his rating was a lowly 26 or so – they went down a lot further in those days!

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Then, having told me, “Never mind the flat, I’ve never had a novice jump so well", I said there’s a weak race at Hexham coming up. He replied, “I’ve done nothing with him – you told me not to.” Despite his misgivings he won.

He won again in a fair claimer at Newcastle soon afterwards. Now, going from that company into an open juvenile novice with a 10lb penalty might have seemed a step too far, but he gave 15lb and a 15-length beating to Buck Up, a Peter Easterby filly that eventually finished runner-up in the Schweppes Gold Trophy.

Santopadre was fifth in the Triumph for Wilf, three places behind Brunico. His reward? To have him taken away to Simpson. Not by me, but Ramsden had paid many times the initial fee for him and did as he wished.

So to Fiefdom, with Santopadre already in the team. He arrived off the wagon and Wilf’s fears were unfounded. "He’s a great big beauty." He bolted up – well backed – first time at Sedgefield, running off a much lower jumps mark than his 71 on turf. In all he won three Ekbalco Hurdles at Newcastle for Wilf and ended his working days as a rider.

They were the start. In between, with younger daughter Stella doing most of the riding on the Muggleswick gallops, the winners kept flowing, the most important Great Easeby, a £2k purchase unraced from Robert Sangster. He won races all over the place, including the Pertemps Final at Cheltenham.

Another to come from Manton more recently was Card High. I’d watched him being completely outpaced as a juvenile in all his gallops for Brian Meehan and the decision was made between Ben and Guy Sangster, Robert’s sons, to get rid. I made sure I was standing nearby and when I heard the magic words, I was there. “I know someone!” – he won six and only retired last year.
Stella had to withdraw a year or so ago from the action after suffering many bad falls, but fortunately her sister Fiona’s daughter, Siobhan Doolan, was able to step in. I was watching the HIT sale last year and noticed that an Ollie Sangster two-year-old was unsold at 1,000 gns.

I checked with Ollie whether he had left the sale – he hadn’t, “but be quick!”

I was nowhere near, but old sales pal Richard Frisby came to the rescue and did the deal. The horse was called Edgewater Drive, a son of of Dandy Man. At first, the gelding, who had injured a foot before the sale, "could hardly walk up the gallop, never mind run", says Siobhan. Gradually, after several weeks’ careful handling, he was able to break out of a trot.

All that part was unknown to me as I tried to get ten shares sold at £100 each. With good friend Keven Howard trawling the pubs of mid-Essex, between us we must have asked 30 people and managed to sell not one share.

Siobhan got going. She had managed to syndicate the mare Shifter to the same people that had owned Card High – oil rig workers offshore in Scotland - and that mare won twice last year. Many of them eventually joined up as Edgewater Drive gradually came right.

Eighth in a decent mile race at Wetherby on his first run where not quite getting home, everyone was enthused when Shifter won another twice recently as Edgewater Drive had worked nicely behind her up the late Denys Smith’s gallop.

Expectations were bright, then, on Friday at Carlisle and, under a lovely ride from the underrated Paula Muir, Edgewater Drive sailed through a gap and won by almost two lengths. No City Of Troy, but at £100 a pop, pretty good value. If Aidan O’Brien can turn water into wine, Wilf Storey might not be able to do that, but the old alchemist almost turns base metal into gold! And none of it would have happened without Celia Radband.

Come on in Celia and watch Edgewater Drive win again next time out at Redcar of June 21, unless of course you are at Royal Ascot!

- TS

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