Alpinista took her winning run to six in the Grand Prix de Saint Cloud and has her trainer, Sir Mark Prescott, dreaming of Arc glory in October. Photo: PA

Monday Musings: Sir Mark Dreaming of the Arc

The first weekend in July was always considered the pivotal moment in the flat-race season, writes Tony Stafford. It was the time when the best of the present Classic crop could meet their elders in the time-honoured Coral-Eclipse Stakes. That is certainly one sponsorship name that always deserves linking with its race.

Receiving a 10lb weight-for-age concession from the older generation over ten furlongs, I believe the stars of the three-year-old crop ought to beat more mature rivals, as second-favourite Vadeni duly did. But I reckon that, for all the talent the Prix du Jockey Club winner exhibits, the select six-horse Eclipse on Saturday was not won by the best horse on the day, more of which later.

They say patience is a virtue. Every year the remarkable Sir Mark Prescott lines up his team in the spring and we in the game await the flurry of winners from June onwards. It didn’t happen this year and at start of play yesterday morning, Sir Mark had sent out only six winners from the 19 horses to run from his Heath House yard at the bottom of the Bury Side gallops in Newmarket.

That means another 44 of the 63 horses listed in the 2022 edition of my favourite publication, Horses In Training, have yet to see a racecourse unless Sir Mark has twisted some arms to enable his star mare to have a jog up the Rowley Mile or July Course.

The six to have appeared had collected £54k in win and place earnings, £24,000 of which was courtesy of the five-year-old Revolver’s second place in a valuable handicap at the Guineas meeting. Off the track from September 2020, Revolver has yet to appear again. He won his first six races of that season, all handicaps, starting from a mark of 57.

By the time he finally ran in his first race outside handicaps he had gone up by a full three stone and was not disgraced when fourth in the Doncaster Cup, his final outing before Newmarket this spring.

Yesterday, Sir Mark took what must be his favourite active racehorse across to Saint-Cloud for her seasonal reappearance and the grey Frankel five-year-old, Alpinista, was untroubled to pick up the Group 1 Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud.

The £192k prize will have cheered the trainer as well as owner-breeder Kirsten Rausing, stable jockey Luke Morris, and the uncomplaining Heath House team who will belatedly see a welcome injection into the stable pool.

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Alpinista was emulating the example of Revolver by winning six races in a row, in her case all from the start of last season. First it was a fillies’ Listed race at Goodwood; then she moved on to Haydock in the corresponding weekend to this a year ago and gained a first Group 2 victory in the Lancashire Oaks.

The following month Sir Mark embarked on a tour of Germany’s top racecourses and most important races available to older horses with her. First, at Hoppegarten in Berlin, she beat the subsequent Arc winner, Torquator Tasso, in easy fashion.

Next it was Cologne and finally Munich, the last three all at the top level, as was yesterday. Now they are getting closer to home, but it seems after her comfortable victory in Paris yesterday, she will be returning to that city for two Longchamp dates in the autumn, with the Prix Vermeille and then the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe firmly on her agenda.

If she does get safely through the Vermeille leg of her itinerary, she will be going into Europe’s premier race with a fully-tested resume. She has won eight of her 13 career races, seven of them in stakes, and it will be interesting to see how she figures in any re-match with Torquator Tasso if he reappears in the race in which he shocked the racing world nine months ago.

His form had been largely discounted before his success, the one grudging element being German horses’ punching-above-their-weight record in big races in France.

Despite form such as that with Alpinista – multiple group winner Walton Street was third - many felt it a fluke. That opinion was reinforced when he reappeared in late May and ran very moderately. However, on Saturday in Hamburg, Torquator Tasso ran away from his rivals, and his jockey Rene Piechulek was already pulling him up long before they reached the post.

That was also the situation before the corresponding race there in 2021 when, after a modest warm-up, he comfortably collected that Group 2 contest. His only subsequent loss that year was in Alpinista’s race at Hoppegarten.

I would love to see Alpinista win the Arc for Sir Mark. It has a ring to it and it would be a richly-deserved achievement for Kirsten Rausing whose home-bred horses do so well in major races. I know Richard Frisby, her advisor, will take a great amount of pleasure from Alpinista’s continued excellence.

I mentioned the Coral-Eclipse at the top of the article, and it wasn’t until I weighed what I said that I had to wonder whether John and Thady might have gone into one again, this time with Mishriff’s rider David Egan.

It was an excellent training performance from the boys (old and new) to have Mishriff right after the disappointment of his second shot at the Saudi Cup, won so lucratively the previous year. He finished a tailed-off last that day and it was quite an anti-climax as a repeat victory would have catapulted Prince Abdul Rahman Abdullah Faisal’s world traveller past Winx, Arrogate and Gun Runner to the top of the world racehorse earnings chart.

Not seen out since, and turning up at Sandown as a 7-1 shot encountering two 2022 Classic winners in Vadeni and Native Trail, the latter who followed his 2,000 Guineas second to Coroebus with victory in the Irish “2,000”.

After Alenquer made the running from, to my mind, the surprise favourite Bay Bridge, the race became one of those Sandown scrums. Horses and their riders seem to find trouble there even in small fields as they cluster near the far rail in the straight.

As in the Gold Cup at Ascot, the trick was to be out in the clear. As Alenquer faded, Bay Bridge got enveloped in the traffic. Native Trail came on a furlong out and as he went for home it looked as though the Gosden second string, Lord North (33/1), could pinch it on the rail. But then, as David Egan searched in vain for room through the middle of the pack, Christophe Soumillon sailed past on the wide outside aboard Vadeni.

Extricating his mount too late, Egan took Mishriff into an impressive and fast closing second, beaten a neck, passing Native Trail by a head close home with Lord North only half a length back in fourth.

When Vadeni won at Chantilly I reflected on what a massive result that Classic win had been for his sire, Churchill, coming as it did from his first crop. The Coolmore team had always been hoping that the dual Guineas winner would become one of the most important successors to his own sire, the recently deceased Galileo.

Such was the importance of Vadeni’s win to Ireland’s premier stud farm that Aidan O’Brien and the Coolmore partners chose not to challenge for the Eclipse last weekend. That cannot have happened very often over the past 20 years – please excuse me for not checking! [2012, Nathaniel’s year, the only time since at least 2004 – Ed.]

There are sales going on at Newmarket this week, just as they were in Deauville over the past few days. One trainer came back with an Aga Khan maiden three-year-old for €95,000, saying it was almost impossible to buy there.

I love the July sale, which is a great counter-point to the wonderful three days of the July meeting on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Of course, many old-stagers still feel the last day is an unnecessary and unfair extra competition to Ascot and York and, to a lesser extent, Chester.

I will be interested to see what Year Of The Dragon makes on Friday. Slightly unlucky when a close third at Kempton last week, his Timeform p (for Polytrack) 93 rating should compute to a nice price. For purely biased reasons I hope he makes plenty for his owner.

His trainer William Knight had reason to smile at Sandown when Checkandchallenge redeemed his reputation after his luckless 2,000 Guineas run with a fast-finishing second off 108 in a hot mile handicap. Native Trail had got in his way in the Classic and it would not be a shock if his trainer takes “Check” straight back into Group 1 level for his next start.

- TS

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1 reply
  1. 10 Things You Didn't Know about Geegeez Racecards
  2. Paul Romain
    Paul Romain says:

    Totally agree the plaudits for the winner ignore Mishriff first missing the break then finding trouble before flying home. Clearly best horse in race imo.

    Backed Checkandchallenge too and thought, as often seems to happen with extravagantly held up horses, was just given far too much to do.


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