Not So Sleepy and Oisin Murphy win the Dubai Duty Free Autumn Cup Handicap from Salt Bay at Newbury. 23/9/2023 Pic Steve Davies/

Monday Musings: Still Not Sleepy

They raced for a lot of money in Ireland yesterday, the Friends of Curragh Irish Cesarewitch carrying a £292k first prize, for which 30 horses turned up, writes Tony Stafford. You would have won a lot of money, too, if you had found the Joseph O’Brien-trained winner, the potential heir to the Ballydoyle job one might suggest, sending out 150/1 shot Magellan Strait for a victory which prompted a quiz from the stewards.

The magical Joseph might well have been a little more confident of his shortest-priced horse of four, third home Dawn Rising, who had won Ascot’s Queen Alexandra Stakes as the 2/1 favourite under Ryan Moore at Royal Ascot back in June.

The two O’Brien stayers were split by another veteran of big-race success in the UK, Dermot Weld’s Falcon Eight, successful in the 2021 Chester Cup under Frankie Dettori.

The winner and second do not have the much less well-endowed but still probably more prestigious Newmarket version in three weekends time on their agenda, but 13 from yesterday’s race do, and I’ve managed to find another 11 from various races over the past couple of days even including an unplaced runner in the Preis von Europa in Cologne, Germany, yesterday.

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That was the Saeed bin Suroor-trained Live Your Dream, who is very high up in the weights. This 14 was bolstered by Saturday’s Turners Cesarewitch Trial at Newmarket, won nicely by Andrew Balding’s Grand Providence, clearly enjoying the extended trip. Eight of the nine that followed him over the line have the big-race entry.

Ryan Moore, amazingly, was back after riding in Sydney the day before, but his mount, Aidan’s Tower Of London, understandably favourite after his creditable fourth behind stablemate Continuous in the St Leger only eight days earlier at Doncaster, could not make his lenient mark tell.

In all, Willie Mullins had six runners in the big race. The ease with which Ireland’s champion jumps trainer knocks off our big flat long-distance races, matched only really by his main Cheltenham protagonist Nicky Henderson, is well chronicled, but here he was well and truly on the back foot.

Of course, all his sextet, plus one in a consolation race for those missing out on the big one, have Newmarket entries, where he will be aiming to add to his hat-trick from 2018-20. One of those, Stratum, was in the field but Brighton and Hove Albion FC’s chairman Tony Bloom was probably far too engaged watching his team beat Bournemouth (boo! – Ed.) than to take more than a passing notice of his veteran’s 25th place.

Expect an upgrade if he turns up at HQ, and the same probably goes for Jackfinbar (8th), Lot Of Joy (11th), Echoes In Rain (13th), Mt Leinster (22nd) and M C Muldoon (27th after making the running for David Manasseh and partners).

Echoes in Rain had finished second in the inaugural big-money Irish Ces last year, behind the then Aidan -trained Mr Waterville, who is now with Chris Waller in Australia. Ryan rode him into fourth place at Rosehill on Saturday and no doubt he has the Melbourne Cup as his main objective as had Tower Of London. Maybe the latter raid may be under review.

But the one trial that caught most of us out – yet it shouldn’t have if we had examined the very extensive history of his career – was the all-the-way gutsy win of 11-year-old Not So Sleepy in a quite valuable (by UK standards) 1m5½f handicap at Newbury.

Since making a winning debut over a mile as a juvenile at Nottingham almost nine years ago, the home-bred Not So Sleepy has now won ten races for Hughie Morrison, five each on the flat and over jumps. Not So Sleepy has raced 63 times (46 on the flat) with six second and five third places along with ten fourth’s, including in the Cesarewitch’s of 2019 and 2020. Under both codes he has won around a quarter of a million and nudged over a combined £500k on Saturday.

When he won his third-ever race in the Group 3 Dee Stakes his rating jumped up to 107 after that Derby trial. It has never dropped below 94 despite two long losing sequences – 13 in succession after Chester over the next 18 months, then another 15 following his Epsom Derby Day handicap win as a five-year-old.

Running well enough with places in tough races not to get much respite from the BHA officials, Not So Sleepy got a late and in many circles highly questionable switch to hurdling as a seven-year-old. The cynics were preening themselves after he was far too free on debut at Kempton, but he then bolted up at Wincanton which earned a 125 rating. One more pulled up run ended that mixed campaign.

So now it was back to the flat, for another six winless runs, but a portent of what might be in the future was a fourth in his first try at the Cesarewitch behind Stratum. Now it was back to hurdling, winning two Ascot handicaps by making all in devastating fashion, his mark already up to 144 by the time he turned out for the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury the following February.

That year, the big field produced two false starts and after being in a great position to jump first time round, Not So Sleepy found himself hampered at the eventual departure and the then eight-year-old was never in contention. Hughie and his owners Lord and Lady Blyth still had the ambition to run in the Champion Hurdle, but he was pulled up.

A break followed until the autumn, when under Graham Lee he won a Pontefract handicap off that career lowest 94 before his fourth place to Mullins’ Great White Shark at Newmarket in Cesarewitch number two. He then resumed over hurdles, jinking and unseating at the first flight in the 2020 Fighting Fifth won by Epatante, before gaining a second win in the Betfair Exchange Hurdle at Ascot.

This gave Morrison great satisfaction as he beat a former stable-companion, Buzz, whom the owners had moved to Henderson after Morrison had successfully managed physical issues in his early days on the flat.

He then ran a much improved race, fifth in Honeysuckle’s first Champion Hurdle, before taking in the Chester Cup, finishing a close seventh. He still got his lengthy summer break, but instead of a third run at Newmarket, a close second in a Doncaster handicap was the prelude to a dead-heat with Epatante in the 20201 Fighting Fifth before a fifth place behind the same J P McManus mare in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton and the same position, a little closer than the previous year, behind Honeysuckle in her repeat championship.

He continued with two relatively disappointing runs in summer 2022 but was back in top form with a third after taking up the running a mile out in last year’s Cesarewitch.

Three hurdles runs, two behind the new star Constitution Hill, including once more in his fourth Champion Hurdle, preceded the usual summer break. And you can guess the rest.

He returned at Newbury on Saturday, his trainer joking before the race, having heard the news that Constitution Hill was to continue hurdling, with a wry: “Whatever happens today, I can categorically state that Not So Sleepy will NOT be going chasing this winter.”

So next month, he will be trying to match another of his rival Henderson’s achievements. Nicky won the 2008 Cesarewitch with the 11-year-old Caracciola who proceeded to win the Queen Alexandra at age 12. Morrison has a Group 1 win on his record with 10-year-old Alcazar, but if Not So Sleepy does the deed at the fourth time of asking, that would be a bigger achievement to my mind.

Both the Cesarewitch and Cambridgeshire began life in 1839 and they are two of my favourite races. I was hoping to write a piece today outlining why I thought Dylan Cunha’s Silver Sword was a good thing to win the race next Saturday, but the trainer is unwilling to run him back so soon after his eye-catching run last week in Listed company at Sandown. He prefers to wait for a race he has in mind at Santa Anita in November. If only!

In his absence, I would love to see William Knight make up for last year’s unlucky defeat of Dual Identity, who won most impressively recently at Sandown. All we can hope is that Knight, who has had no luck this year, might have it turn his way this weekend for a change.

- TS

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