When I reluctantly trudged into the office even earlier than usual this morning – clocks-back sleep lag – my idea of the lead topic was the victory first time out of the Sam Sangster-owned Giovanni Battistta (John the Baptist to you) at Newmarket on Friday.
The son of Clodovil – probably named after the Brazilian fashion designer, then television presenter and politician – showed great raw talent in outpointing a well-backed Godolphin newcomer with the rest five lengths and more away.
Where was Sam? He was admirably taking his mum to lunch in London and smiling away while he did, at the anticipation of all those bids from Hong Kong. He’s truly his father’s son.
But I’ll leave Sam with his picture of HK dollars, especially with a devalued pound, and reflect once again on the Cesarewitch, the form of which is working out amazingly well. Did you notice that Star Rider, eighth at Newmarket three weeks earlier, came back there on Friday and easily won the two-mile handicap by four lengths at 9-2 for Sweet Selection’s trainer Hughie Morrison?
On Saturday it was the turn of Tony Martin’s Golden Spear, a fast-finishing fifth at HQ who went on to win the ultra-competitive Leopardstown October Handicap, also two miles, at 7-1. The same day Ian Williams’ Blue Rambler, sixth in the Cesarewitch, easily won a handicap hurdle at Wetherby after being well backed into 11-8 favouritism to do so.
Martin will be supplying one of the best-fancied European challengers for tomorrow morning’s lavishly-endowed Emirates Melbourne Cup. His Heartbreak City, four-length winner of the Ebor back in August and, typically for the trainer, unraced since, receives 7lb from joint-top weight Big Orange and must be a big threat.
Among his closest victims that August afternoon were Shrewd, Martin stablemate Quick Jack (a big winner since at Leopardstown), Oriental Fox (won at Pontefract) and Godolphin’s Oceanographer, who was seventh.
Oceanographer is one of three Charlie Appleby stayers to win in Australia in recent weeks. He has made the cut, in part thanks to a 3lb penalty for his victory in the Lexus Stakes over a mile and a half of the Cup course at Flemington. That was only his second run since the Ebor and followed hard on his effort ten days earlier in the Geelong Cup, third behind stable-companion Qewy, whose 2lb extra for that win also secured his Melbourne Cup slot.
Francis of Assisi meanwhile was victorious in the Bendigo Cup, but does not appear in the final 24. Wicklow Brave, whose trainer Willie Mullins was second last year with Max Dynamite, is here fresh from his Irish St Leger defeat of Order of St George and the Godolphin hordes are further bolstered by the Saeed bin Suroor pair, Beautiful Romance and Secret Number, the latter winner of the Doonside Cup at Ayr on his only start of the season.
So there’s plenty for John Ferguson and his son James, who has been holding the fort Down Under in the build-up to the race, to enthuse about. Ferguson senior’s promise to shake up Godolphin in his new role brought as much sceptical amusement as conviction from this quarter, but when you consider carefully what he’s done over the past few years, you have to admire his energy, enthusiasm and above all professionalism.
A year ago he was well into the early part of his last – few knew at the time – season training jumpers for Bloomfields (Godolphin’s winter wear). While no Cheltenham Festival winner was forthcoming, many important wins were achieved and the objective of giving once decent stayers another career-stretching option was in large part fulfilled. Then, when Ferguson revealed early in the year a reverse strategy whereby some of the better jumpers would be sent to Charlie Appleby, the head-shaking resumed.
Yet those three Australian wins included two ex-Ferguson inmates, Qewy and Francis of Assisi and, while the latter cannot figure, victory for any of the five blue-clad runners would be a resounding triumph for Sheikh Mohammed’s right hand man.
Soon after the announcement of the change in direction, 46 Ferguson inmates were catalogued for the Tattersall’s Ireland sale at Cheltenham on April 24 and in a masterpiece of preparation, all 46 turned up at Cheltenham and every one found a new owner. No reserves; no fiddles and no complaints afterwards. They sold for sums between 95,000gns for the once-raced Wenyerreadyfreddie (bought by Fergie for 41,000 Euro two years earlier) and in a single case a paltry 800gns, but mostly in the 10,000-50,000 bracket.
Commissioned, bought by Nick Bradley for 65,000gns, won the Queen Alexandra Stakes for Gordon Elliott less than two months later, while most recently Ian Williams, who bought three from the dispersal, has won twice with London Prize, for whom he paid 70k, as well as Blue Rambler who cost 48,000gns.
Four days on from Melbourne, the ever-dwindling band of UK-trained runners at the Breeders’ Cup will be flexing their muscles against the home team. Naturally Aidan O’Brien is sending plenty and it is probable that Europe’s sole venture into the uneven playing field of the dirt track will be his Arc heroine Found, in a career-defining attempt at the Classic and its big prize. The also-engaged Highland Reel is the main Ballydoyle hope in the mile and a half Turf race.
Sir Michael Stoute’s excellent season gets a couple of late chances for further lustre, but outside the O’Brien challenge, bolstered by one for Joseph, and a couple of runners for David O’Meara, it’s slim pickings.
Trainers know that there’s no point in looking at the money on offer in preference to the likelihood of bringing any home. Simon Crisford and Ralph Beckett have one each in the Juvenile Turf, Hugo Palmer has two options, Turf Sprint and Turf Mile, for Home oOf The Brave while Charlie Hills and Henry Candy (Limato) also look to the Mile race.
Tattersall’s at Newmarket have concluded business on the autumn part of their sales season and there was excellent trade at last week’s Horses in Training auction over four days, despite the ever-irritating and seemingly ever-increasing number of withdrawals.
Much of the success of this sale is that it attracts so many overseas buyers. It always frustrates when a horse you want to buy is withdrawn. The list of withdrawals is kept meticulously up to date by Tatts, but many of these happen after a trip from afar has already been funded.
My boss Ray Tooth said goodbye to Dutch Law (150,000gns) and Harry Champion (31,000gns), nice money for two home-bred geldings who’d also each won races both last year and this. Hughie Morrison and Hugo Palmer both deserve hearty thanks for their excellent handling of their careers and we hope the horses will do well in the next phase of their active lives.
Ray also made an acquisition, going along with Steve Gilbey’s hunch about Eve Johnson Houghton’s Cape Cross four-year-old gelding, Starcrossed. We were pleased to get the 13 furlong Flat winner for just 10,000gns and he has joined Dan Skelton, who described him as: “a lovely, big sort who should enjoy jumping”. Hope he’s right.