ROYAL ASCOT 22-6-18. The Albany Stakes. MAIN EDITION and James Doyle (near) beats LA PELOSA for trainer Mark Johnston. Photo Healy Racing / Racingfotos.com

Monday Musings: Strange Conditions

I’ve always liked the idea of a series of races with a valuable final as a decent way of promoting a commercial organisation, writes Tony Stafford. Many years ago I was asked by a man called Roger Broomhall – sadly no longer with us, like I fear many of the guests of the 20 days of qualifiers – to devise such an event.

The company which wanted to support the event was Harcros Building Services, also no longer around. They had branches and clients all around the country and we settled on stayers’ races of varying classes, all at different tracks. The Final was run during the St Leger meeting at Doncaster and based on the still-thriving Mallard Handicap over the full Classic distance.

As far as we could tell it was a great success, the guests, who in the main were the firm’s most valued clients lapping it up and around half of the races gaining television coverage. Unfortunately, they discontinued it after a year, but the Final was a smart occasion and I remember sitting next to Gladstone Small and telling him I fancied facing him in the nets. The look he gave me was probably fully deserved.

Before Harcros, Crown Decorators – still very active – had their Apprentice Series, beginning with the then season’s opening race, also at Doncaster, which meant for half an hour the winning rider led Eddery, Carson and the rest with publicity to match.

That tortured intro to this week’s main theme is to outline what I believe to be the absurd framing of conditions of an existing series – Kempton Park’s London Mile. This has eight qualifying races and culminates in a £70,000 Final (£43k to the winner) with no handicap parameters on Saturday September 8, a date which competes as often is the case, with Ascot maybe half an hour down the M3.

So far three qualifiers have been staged, one each in April, May and early June, all with identical conditions, 0-85 handicaps for four-year-olds and upwards. On Wednesday, for the first time three-year-olds are eligible, this time in a 0-80. With opportunities few enough to find for the younger generation at this distance as the summer gets going, it was to be expected that as many as 20 three-year-olds would be entered.

They are supplemented by 19 of their elders, making a 39-horse entry. Kempton race on Wednesday evening and unfortunately, no race can be divided so a maximum of only 14 can run.

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I’m not sure whether this situation was envisaged by the BHA’s Race Planning department, but not one of the 20 three-year-olds is guaranteed a run if all 39 are declared. At this stage of the season the weight-for-age scale determines that the younger generation runners receive 10lb from their elders, so an 80-rated 3yo carries the same weight as a 70-rated elder. Even more irritatingly, Seyasah, a four-year-old trained by Chris Wall and rated 70, does not get a ballot figure while three 80-rated 3yo’s all do.

You’ve probably guessed that there is a personal element to this moan, and there is. With few suitable opportunities in this time of ubiquitous fast ground, Hughie Morrison has settled on Kempton, with its forgiving surface, for Ray Tooth’s thrice-raced maiden Sod’s Law.

He was well named. After three runs he has been rated 78. Three years ago his half-brother Dutch Law was originally rated 74, but after a good first handicap effort at Haydock, he was on 75 and ran in and won a mile handicap with that ceiling at Newmarket’s July meeting.

Nowadays, 0-75 races can be competed in by horses rated 1lb or 2lb higher, but not 3! So we’re stuck at 0-80 unless we have another go against novice-race-eligible Group horses. To get a run on Wednesday we need nine to come out. When Dutch Law was running in his last season two years ago he was consistently the last in the ballot when horses were on the same handicap mark and it cost him his chance (by one horse if I recall correctly) of going for the £150,000 Balmoral Handicap at Ascot where he’d previously won a fifty-grand pot. On Wednesday five horses have 9st 2lb, his weight. The other four have higher ballot numbers than us.

The following Wednesday, the fifth race in the series is also run as a three-year-old plus 0-80 and a week later again, the first of two heats restricted to the younger generation, is staged, not as a 0-80, but a 0-70, so that’s out! The final two are on August 21, a 0-90 three-year-old plus and on August 29, just over a week before the Final and belatedly, a 0-80 for three-year-olds only.

Last year’s decider, which accommodated 16 horses, included five three-year-olds, none of which made much of an impact. The race conditions reveal that any horse declared at the 48-hour stage, as Sod’s Law will be, is qualified to be entered for the Final. As to whether he has a chance to run in any of them save possibly the last, is highly doubtful and hoping to make the Final is probably fanciful.

**

A couple of weeks ago I suggested that Main Edition’s second career win at Goodwood, when she recorded a time almost two seconds faster than a fellow juvenile six-length winner of a later race on the card, gave her a great chance in last week’s Albany Stakes at the Royal meeting.

The Mark Johnston-trained filly duly obliged in a tight finish, but many of the most high-profile juveniles were blown away through the week. Archie Watson got his first Royal Ascot win in the Windsor Castle on Saturday, but Soldier’s Call was possibly a little fortunate that runner-up Sabre had so much to do at halfway.

Sabre, the National Stakes runner-up is by Mayson, one of my favourite young stallions, now producing better-quality juveniles in his third crop. The only flash entry so far for Sabre is Redcar’s Two-Year-Old Trophy in October and I wouldn’t mind betting that Richard Fahey is leaving a space in his trophy cabinet for that valuable prize.

Sprinkled through the week were some memorable performances, but none to rival Alpha Centauri, who matched Ray’s Indian Ink’s six-length winning margin 11 years earlier in the Coronation Stakes. She’ll be a joy to train for the versatile Jessie Harrington for as long as owners, the Niarchos family, want to delay her entry into the breeding shed.

A day earlier Magic Wand won the Ribblesdale in the manner in which many of us had expected her to take the Oaks after her Chester romp; and Stradivarius stayed on to win a very competitive Gold Cup from Vazirabad, Torcello (Mrs Harrington) and Order of St George for owner Bjorn Nielsen. I’ve probably told the tale before but many years ago I used to call him regularly about his horses to his office in Wall Street, New York.

His secretary always greeted me with: “You sound so much like Robin Leach” – the man who presented the cheesy show: Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. While in New York one autumn, I arranged to see Bjorn and when I got to reception, I started to say: “I’m… and the secretary said. “Hi Mr Stafford, you do sound just like Robin Leach, even before you say anything!”

I’m delighted that Bjorn has managed to breed a horse of the quality of Stradivarius. Although US-based, he has always been a purist, preferring to produce staying stock to sharp horses, although he did own the top sprinter Tante Rose.

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