MOKTASAAB (Callum Shepherd) wins The Dubai Duty Free Millennium Millionaire Handicap Newbury 16 Apr 2022 - Pic Steven Cargill /

Monday Musings: Racing Chess via Knight, Queen’s and a Check mate

I have a friend who, whenever he sees the name Fast Company against a runner in a race on soft ground or worse, thinks it’s going to win, writes Tony Stafford. More often than not, his inability to back anything much beyond 5-2 prevents his turning intuition to action, thereby preventing his backing a nice long-priced winner.

The fact Fast Company horses do win in extreme conditions exercised my curiosity yesterday morning and I thought I’d better look at the facts. Actually there is little difference between the late stallion’s stats - he died two years ago at a time when his fee at Kildangan Stud was €12,000, the highest of his ten-year career.

From good to firm through all readings to heavy, his winning ratio moved little away from the 23% achieved on heavy ground. What he hasn’t got so far though is a top-class three-year-old colt. Jet Setting, trained by Adrian Keatley, did break the mould with an unexpected defeat of the brilliant Minding in the 2016 Irish 1,000 Guineas, a run that was out of kilter for much of her form. Twice well behind Minding either side of that, she did win a Group 3 easily as an older filly.

Now, though, Fast Company has a Classic contender, and from an unexpected source. In Friday’s opening Listed race on Newcastle’s All-Weather finals day, Checkandchallenge thrust himself into the consciousness with a smooth defeat of a trio of 100-plus rated colts.

Winner of his only previous start at two, when he got up to beat a Karl Burke horse (rated 80 before Friday) he had only inches to spare, but that was after having at least six lengths to make up inside the last furlong.

I was at William’s stable coincidentally last Tuesday when we saw Checkandchallenge quite by luck in the distance. “There’s my Guineas horse”, said William with a laugh, adding that Newcastle on Friday would tell him whether the idea was fatuous or had legs.

Legs it certainly has. With Danny Tudhope at his unobtrusive, business-like best, Checkandchallenge sat at the back of a six-runner field leavened with a couple of three-year-olds who had followed Godolphin’s number two for Saturday week over the line at Newmarket last October.

Coroebus, preferred in some quarters last year to the number one and European champion 2021 juvenile, Noble Trail, won the Autumn Stakes by two lengths from Imperial Fighter with Dubai Poet third. At Newcastle, Checkandchallenge had that pair behind him but in reverse order when the winning margin was slightly less, although Tudhope hardly had to exercise his arm muscles to achieve the result.

Obviously now, after his 4-1 on cakewalk in the Craven Stakes last week, Noble Trail is shorter than ever as the 5-4 market leader, but Coroebus is still next in line at 7-2 ahead of the leading Coolmore / Aidan O’Brien contender Luxembourg, who is a 9-2 chance.

As one very long-tested punter always used to tell me: “you can’t eat value”, but there seems to be a wider disparity in the prices of said Coroebus and Checkandchallenge than the collateral form merits. Ladbrokes and Coral, who work in concert (same firm) for the most part these days, both offer 40-1 about the Rathmoy Stables horse, whereas he is more like 16-1 elsewhere.

Incidentally, when with my Editor I ventured up the steps to meet the trainer in the luxuriously-appointed owners’ room, among the guests enjoying the facilities and watching the day’s racing was Karl Burke.

On Friday morning, when discussing Checkandchallenge with his trainer, Knight ventured: “Karl really likes Aasser <the horse Checkandchallenge beat at Wolverhampton> and thinks he’s much better than 80. That’s why he runs in the handicap at Lingfield today!” He won it comfortably if narrowly at 7-2!

By then Checkandchallenge had already endorsed the previous form and the wonder of it was how little the Lingfield market was affected in the last moments before the race. He’ll go up a few pounds tomorrow while Checkandchallenge, having won both his races, will be eligible for a mark and it won’t be anywhere in the 80’s!

Imperial Fighter, about whom the Sky Sports Racing team laboured to find an excuse to explain the reversal of his form with Dubai Poet, ended 2021 rated 110 and Dubai Poet was 104. Coroebus was 115 and Noble Trail 122. I reckon Checkandchallenge deserves 114 but the officials might go with the “favourite didn’t get a run at a crucial time” get-out and mark Knight’s horse down accordingly.

William Knight spent much of his early career assisting Ed Dunlop at Newmarket before moving to Sussex for ten years, training with success at the late Anne, Lady Herries’, Angmering Park.

When the chance unexpectedly came around two years ago to take over a vacancy left by David Lanigan at Neville Callaghan’s former Rathmoy Stables in the Hamilton Road, he jumped at the opportunity. No wonder! The yard had been totally rebuilt – apart from the trainer’s house – by its new absentee owner.

Last year, his first full season, brought an equal best number of winners and a clear best in terms of prize money. Sir Busker, a large part of the success in recent years, collected $150,000 for finishing fifth in one of the Dubai World Cup feature races last month and the signs already are that better is to come for this upwardly-mobile trainer.

New owners are the life-blood of established trainers and at Newbury on Saturday, Moktasaab, a Shadwell discard picked up for 110,000 guineas last autumn, adorned Harry Redknapp’s colours and won most impressively first time out from a big field.

Moktasaab is due for a big hike and looks a natural for the valuable summer handicaps around ten furlongs, and another of Saturday’s winners is in line for even more drastic attention by the officials.

Last autumn, Ian Williams took the opportunity to strengthen his stable with a few judicious purchases from Arqana and the most dramatic result from the new intake came at Musselburgh in the £100k, better than half of which to the winner, Betway Queen’s Cup over one mile, six furlongs. Ridden chilly at the back, again by Tudhope, Enemy came through in the last two furlongs, eased clear and, while winning by four-and-a-half lengths, ten would be a closer estimate of his superiority.

Williams is one of the more innovative of trainers and Enemy, before he’d broken sweat in the UK was sent as part of the team to Dubai earlier in the year. Originally with John Gosden but transferred midway through his three-year-old season, he joined the Graffard stable which now houses the bulk of the Aga Khan horses.

A consistent strong finisher in his French races, he had been running at just short of ten furlongs there but after Williams secured him for €92k for Tracey Bell and Caroline Lyons, he made the team for Meydan.

Non-country-owning proprietors have the chance to have their horses’ travel paid if they can get two runs on the board during the Carnival and Williams is an ace at contriving that for his inmates. East Asia, Dubai-owned and a money-spinner from nowhere in the UK last year, was lined up for a Group 3 where Godolphin’s Manobo was the stand-out in February, but Williams added Enemy to the field to secure the reimbursement, having given him a warm-up run on arrival.

After East Asia finished well, vastly exceeding anything he’d achieved before to take a lucrative second place behind the favourite, Enemy came through in his wake for a closing fourth. Unfortunately, whereas it is possible to find films of pretty much every horse race around the world, it proved beyond the wit of me to do so.

I just had the trainer’s assurance that if he had not been baulked on the home turn, Enemy would have come out on top in the domestic battle of the 66-1 shots. That resulted in a rise in his mark from 94 to 99, matching East Asia’s new rating.

When I sat down in the buffet at Park Paddocks on Tuesday for the first stage of the Craven Breeze-Up sales, Williams and his shrewd assistant Ben Brookhouse told me they had got 8-1 with four places about Enemy, by which time he had shortened generally to 4-1.

I resolved then to make him my nap for Saturday in the ongoing quest for the William Hill Radio Naps Table prize but deserted him on the morning, idiotically noting a “suspicious drift” back out to 8’s. Ian tried to reassure me. “It won’t start that price!” he asserted. It didn’t, the SP was a ridiculous 11-1.

I guessed the Chester Cup might be the target but yesterday Ian said that he’s always wanted a proper Melbourne Cup challenger and this very sound animal fitted the bill, as he surely does class-wise. With the ability to quicken at the end of a 14-furlong handicap here, the racing requirements of Flemington look assured.

“We had Magic Circle a few years back.  He won the Henry II and the Chester Cup but he didn’t have the soundness you need for the race. Hopefully this horse has the full armoury”, said the trainer. You wouldn’t put it past him.

- TS

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