Monday Musings: Too Darn Confusing

The Temple Stakes at Haydock, like all the races on next Saturday’s card sponsored by Armstrong Aggregates and Amix Concrete, the Bolton-based businesses run by David and Emma Armstrong, is building up to being a very warm affair, writes Tony Stafford.

Yesterday Charlie Hills revealed that last year’s winner Battaash will begin his 2019 campaign, aimed in the short-term to the King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot, in the Haydock race. Last year he shrugged off a 5lb penalty, earned with his four-length demolition of Martha in the Prix de l’Abbaye de Longchamp the previous October at its temporary home of Chantilly while Longchamp was gaining some new stands and an extra two syllables turning it as if by magic to Parislongchamp. Do even the French bother to call it that?

Penalties, 3lb for a Group2, 5lb for a Group 1, only kick in from August 31 last year. Battaash escapes the extra burden this time as his final win as a four-year-old came in the King George Qatar Stakes at Goodwood on August 3 where Take Cover respectfully followed him home, four lengths back.

His later odds-on fourth in the Nunthorpe to Alpha Delphini (40-1) and Mabs Cross and then fourth again as an 11-10 shot behind Mabs Cross in a bunched finish to the Abbaye, betrayed recurring hints of temperament issues which Charlie seems to believe he has overcome.

Apart from Blue Point, freshening up after dominating the massive sprint pots during Dubai’s Carnival over the winter, and also the conqueror of Battaash and Mabs Cross in last year’s King’s Stand, we can expect a field chock-full of potential King’s Stand contenders.

Mabs Cross, winner of half her 14 races in the Armstrong red and white colours which mimic the livery of their lorries and concrete mixers travelling around the country, particularly in the north-west, will be there as a standard-bearer once again.

Last year carrying 9st 1lb she stayed on strongly into fourth behind Battaash (9st 9lb), Washington DC (9st 4lb) and now a stallion with Terry Holdcraft, and Kachy (9st 4lb), a minor co-star in the Haydock race for the past three years but once again this winter the star of all-weather sprinting.

In 14 starts, Mabs Cross has won seven times and not since her debut has she ever been beaten more than two lengths in any of her other six appearances. She was two lengths back, as ever finishing fast in the 2018 King’s Stand and was a paper-thin second in the Nunthorpe, actually looking for all-the-world on the play-back that she’d won.

Earlier this month she repeated her 2018 Palace House Stakes victory, defying a 7lb penalty for the Longchamp win. This suggested, on her return, that she is continuing to improve as a five-year-old. What is not in question is that finishing burst, exhibited in every race. Whether she will be up to conceding 2lb to Battaash rather than, as last year, receiving 8lb and not being quite good enough that time will be the issue for the Michael Dods-trained filly.

Saturday’s Haydock card is the third sponsored by the Armstrongs Group. Up to 2016, when Profitable won the race for Alan Spence from another Dods-trained superstar filly in Mecca’s Angel, the Temple Stakes was the feature on the first of two Haydock late-May cards on successive Saturdays.

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Now there is only a single May Saturday with the latter date moving to early June and run this year the week after the Derby on June 8. The Pinnacle Stakes and John O’Gaunt, both Group 3, are now part of the June date, but the Group 2 Sandy Lane Stakes for three-year-olds over six furlongs has been added to this weekend’s card which also features the £80,000 added Amix Silver Bowl.

The Group 2 sprint has been a wonderful race for Spence. In Profitable’s year, it was the middle leg of a Palace House/Temple/King’s Stand hat-trick which brought a multi-million pound deal with Godolphin. Profitable is now a stallion with Darley Stud.

The following May, Alan’s filly Priceless, like Profitable trained by Clive Cox, beat off very strong opposition to win the Temple Stakes. Previous Palace House/King’s Stand winner Goldream, trained by Robert Cowell, was second ahead of Alpha Delphini, Final Venture (second at Naas yesterday), Kachy, Washington DC and Take Cover.

I saw Alan at Newbury on Saturday. He tells me he recently went to see his filly foal by Dubawi out of Priceless and is looking forward to the imminent arrival of a full-sibling. Profitable, Priceless – but Alan even YOU don’t always get what you wish for. He may even have to accept second best for Chelsea against Arsenal (in the Mabs Cross red) in the Europa Cup Final.

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The wait for a decision on whether Sir Dragonet or Telecaster or both will be supplemented for the Investec Derby seems certain to be drawn out until next Monday, the date when the requisite £85,000 must be paid, five days before the great race.

On Sunday at Naas Aidan O’Brien, in between winning four races, put forward the possibility of instead supplementing the unbeaten colt to the Prix du Jockey Club at Chantilly. He has the significantly-backed pair of Broome and Anthony van Dyck to call on as well as Japan and Circus Maximus (and maybe others) at Epsom, so Sir Dragonet might not be needed.

Hughie Morrison and the Weinfeld family have no other colt to challenge for the Derby if the temptation to run Telecaster is resisted, although they do have the six-length Lingfield Oaks Trial winner Anapurna as a strong possibility for next week’s fillies’ Classic.

On my way to York on Thursday with Harry and Alan, the car featured a stream of calls to the former stressing that the Dante “was Too Darn Hot’s Derby” and that “Frankie says he’s unbeatable”, coming in from different people, but possibly, in the way of racing, emanating, via Chinese Whispers, from a single original source.

Again in the way of racing, the reaction to a first-ever defeat of the champion 2018 juvenile, was that “he didn’t stay” or “he wasn’t ready”. Maybe it was just a case of “he didn’t win”.

John Gosden reckoned he had been “too free” in the early part of the race, while various observers referred to a “muddling pace”. From my vantage point, I thought that the pace set by Too Darn Hot’s stable-companion Turgenev was anything but “muddling” and that while it was only Telecaster that went with him, the rest following five lengths or so behind, that horse as his trainer asserts “raced even more freely than Too Darn Hot”.

The favourite wasn’t ridden as though he was too under-cooked for the comeback, for all the fact that he’d missed important work in the build up to the 2,000 Guineas, Frankie being at least if not more vigorous than Oisin Murphy on the winner.

After looking sure to prevail, he was seen off late by Telecaster. What might be worth remembering is that this was the first time the Morrison colt had been asked to win in a contested finish. On debut behind Bangkok at Doncaster, he was looked after in the last furlong by Charlie Bennett but still put impressive distance between himself and the rest.

At Windsor, Murphy sent him into an immediate lead and he trounced 15 other maidens without coming off the bridle. York was his first proper examination. He obviously had a race-fitness edge over Too Darn Hot, but nothing like the experience drawn on from an unbeaten two-year-old campaign.

Further evidence that maybe Too Darn Hot was not too darn exhausted but simply bettered on the day by a superior animal came as the cameras stayed on the front two as they went away from the winning line.

Both Murphy and Dettori initially allowed their mounts to continue to roll along, but round the bend they both began to ask them to ease down. The camera stayed on Telecaster the entire time, briefly leaving Too Darn Hot. A few seconds later he came back into the frame, with the sight of Dettori having almost to strangle him to stop him, at which point the coverage returned to a recording of the finish.

At the time of the departure from the pulling-up coverage, I noted a 36-second interval after they had passed the post. I cannot believe that a horse that lost because of not staying, would take that long to pull up. Usually they would be all too happy to obey instructions and get a much-needed rest.

My conclusion is that Too Darn Hot was beaten by a bit of a freak. The rest of the field was four lengths and more behind. If Telecaster hadn’t been there, Too Darn Hot would have beaten Surfman by four lengths and been odds-on for the Derby. I doubt he’d have been going back to a mile in the St James’s Palace in that case!

Talk of a muddling pace would suggest horses were falling all over each other. Here soon after the turn for home all the rest after the front two were being ridden with various degrees of energy. Telecaster was still on the bridle until being asked to pass the pacesetter. In fact he took a while to realise what to do by which time the favourite was on his inside having quickly cut back the deficit.

He saw him off too and my belief is wherever he runs, be it Epsom or The Curragh, he’ll do some more seeing off. It certainly won’t hurt if Sir Dragonet is not in the line-up wherever he goes.  We probably won’t know any more about either of them until after this periodical appears next week.

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