Wilf Storey, left, shares a joke with long-time owner, Pete Williams

Monday Musings: The Magician of Muggleswick

How easy is it to buy a winner? More specifically, how easy is it to go to a yearling sale, outbid all the other potential owners and their agents and have the satisfaction of winning a race with that horse long before most of the others in that sale have made the track?, asks Tony Stafford.

Maybe you need to prioritise? There’s Tattersall’s with its four volumes of the October sale; there’s Goff’s in Ireland and Doncaster, there’s Arqana and many more. Like finding if not a needle in a haystack, a gem in a bucket full of plain glass.

So let’s say we’re quite busy, we have a few quid to spend but as everyone will tell you, the cost of bloodstock especially in the UK, considering the low level of prize money - about to go even lower – is astronomical.

One owner who did choose to specialise last year was a certain A D Spence, still reasonably flush after the deal which took his top sprinter Profitable to Godolphin a few years ago. Alan restricted his yearling buying to the first two books of the Tatts October. Before the inevitable erosion in the build-up to last year’s sale, 517 yearlings were listed in Book 1 and 804 in Book 2. Alan, having as ever done his own sleuthing, ended up with a perfectly-symmetrical result, a colt and a filly each from both auctions.

The quartet was entrusted with his three principal Flat-race trainers; two with Profitable’s handler Clive Cox, and one each with Mark Johnston and Roger Varian. He retained 100% of two and is joined in the other pair by son Michael.

In a year when the average price for any of 392 eventually sold from Book 1 was just over 270,000gns, Alan went to 78,000gns for a son of first crop stallion and former sprint champion Muhaarar and then possibly “stole” an Australia colt from the family of Alexandra Goldrun for 37,000gns, which considering Coolmore’s fee for a cover this year is Euro 35k suggests value in extreme.

From Book 2, where the average for the eventual 631 sales was just under 77k, Alan’s two buys, a Dutch Art colt for 55k and a filly from the first crop of Golden Horn (95k) meant he spent roughly on par for that sale, averaging out the two.

In no way, though, were purchase prices on a par with the stallion averages. More than 20 of the Golden Horn’s realised more than 100k with a maximum half a million plus.

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What stands out, though, is that when West End Girl, trained by Johnston and owned in partnership by father and son, went to Haydock last week, she became her sire’s first winner. That workmanlike display, suggesting elements of Golden Horn’s own style of racing, immediately upgraded the stallion. The ability to get winning two-year-olds will increase his appeal at the next round of sales in the autumn.

Dutch Art has long been a horse capable of siring winners, but Cheveley Park Stud was having problems with his fertility earlier in the year. In Positive, though, the stallion has a young horse which could go to the top, if his debut run and trainer’s opinion have any relevance.

Touted before his Salisbury debut last month, Positive got messed about in his race, being carted almost the width of the track by a hanging rival before extricating himself. Once clear of trouble he galloped to a five-length win after which Cox suggested he was up there with the best of his.

The two Book 1 buys have yet to win: indeed Establish, by Australia, will not appear before August according to Roger Varian. Star In The Making, though, could be just that. The Muhaarar filly was an eye-catching second to a Godolphin newcomer at Windsor, in a race where a King Power runner who cost 600k as a yearling finished third.

It’s not as though Alan Spence got them for nothing, but for an investment of less than half the cost of King Power’s Kodiac filly, he could easily have acquired at least one horse capable of keeping him in competition at the top level.

Who’d have thought when I bought my first horse, Charlie Kilgour, from him 37 years ago – cost £1,000 and won and was sold two runs later! - he would have still been around. Clever man, is A D Spence and a very nice one.

Talking of nice men, I’ve yet to meet a better one than Wilf Storey, who I first encountered a year or two after the Charlie Kilgour episode.
I’ve related in this feature a time or two about his and my frustrations that the Racing Club we planned never got off the ground. Despite the help of this website’s owner, the aim to sell 20 shares in six horses at what even now looks a ridiculously cheap price proved impossible.

Two of the six were quickly passed on to Tony Carroll, who won three races (two hurdles) and collected a Triumph Hurdle fourth with Nelson River, while French Kiss also showed promise. Adrakhan was sold and Climax has had to be put down because of injury, but in deepest Durham something stirred.

Betty Grable, always thought to be decent by Stella Storey, has clicked this year with three wins and two second places, the last of them at Carlisle on Saturday night when Rhona Pindar told Wilf she didn’t enjoy the fast ground.

Down and out with owners near-enough impossible to attract – he even tried giving away half shares in Betty for FREE after her first win this year with no response – the gallop either washed away or under inches of snow, Wilf feared for the worst, especially when Stella, his right hand, needed hospital treatment.

It was a long slow road back. We’d advertised the sextet in the wake of Wilf’s best ever year after 40 years with a licence in terms of wins (11) and prize money. Last year it was down to two and half the money, seemingly a terminal decline.
But then came a mild winter, unlike last year when he and his older daughter Fiona were having daily to collect dead lambs with the ewes unable to cope with the extreme conditions. The gallop was still intermittently unusable, but by dancing delicately around it, and Stella restored to full health, the winners have started again.
Betty set the pace and then geegeez.co.uk deservedly enjoyed a nice win with the still-developing Nearly There, not one of the Racing Club team. Maybe the most significant upturn of all came also at Carlisle on Saturday, in the shape of one of the most spectacular wins I’ve seen this year. If you don’t believe me look at the film.

Of course the Racing Post had to preface its comments with the observation this “very modest handicap” even though some of the also-rans had marks in the high 60’s. There are plenty of 0-55’s you can point to, Racing Post.

What was remarkable was that Tarnhelm, forced, with two other out-of-training fillies to vegetate in a snow-bound paddock for the first few months of last year, finally got her act together more than two years after running a highly-promising second at Goodwood in Ray Tooth’s colours for Mark Johnston.

On Saturday, with injury problems finally behind her and dropping back to six furlongs, she was very slowly away. Tarnhelm was still last inside the final two furlongs from which point she and Ms Pindar sluiced through the field, winning by more than two lengths at 20/1.
Now Wilf has five for the season, can hope for another with Tarnhelm back unpenalised at Carlisle on Thursday, and has a number of others in his seven-horse team primed to win. Who says he won’t beat his best? Nice guys can come out on top, it’s just never easy!

- TS

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