The snag with writing anything with the following weekend in mind is that entries for most races are not revealed until after midday on Monday, writes Tony Stafford. This particular week, with Newmarket and Chantilly on Saturday and Arc Day in France on Sunday, the problem is particularly acute.
The decision whether or not to travel over to Chantilly on Sunday, with no obvious chance of scrounging a ride on a plane, was made for me when two potential colleagues on the early train from the Folkestone Eurotunnel terminal balked at the ungodly hour. I’m used to it, indeed I’m writing this at just such an hour.
Instead I’ll make do with ITV on Sunday for as long as it lasts, with the knowledge that it will be the first time I’ve watched the show since its arrival on the scene earlier this year. Until now I’ve been content with Racing UK and now I’ve got it on my phone – “Stafford lurches into 21st Century, exclusive”, Ed – it’s even more my Channel of Choice.
In a way it’s a relief, as I’ll be travelling to Beverley tomorrow, dropping down to Goodwood on Wednesday, thence to Newmarket Thursday, and depending on how the energy levels are being maintained, off up to Newcastle on Friday, all on Raymond Tooth business. Tarnhelm tomorrow is our best chance.
I’ve never bothered with the Saturday of Arc weekend and now Cambridgeshire Day is bolstered with three big two-year-old races, the Cheveley Park and Juddmonte Middle Park, both Group 1 over six furlongs, and the Juddmonte Royal Lodge over a mile, I wouldn’t dream of passing it by for the single Group 1 (Cadran, 20f) and quartet of Group 2 races that Chantilly for the second year is minding while Longchamp smartens itself up.
Sunday is different though, and I’d detected a train (with availability) that would have got us to Calais at 7.55 a.m. French time, so comfortably on schedule for an 11 a.m. arrival at the track, situated conveniently for road users 20 or so miles to the north of Paris. Return crossings were fully booked on Sunday night, but the one I did find (1.18 a.m. next Monday) would have allowed a few hours’ luxurious dining in Paris and a leisurely drive back north. The return fare for that package on Eurotunnel would have been £53 for the three of us. Wonder how they were going to get there, but I’m sure it will have cost them many times that.
Sunday’s card has six Group One races but all eyes with be on the Arc and Enable’s attempt to finish her stellar season with another procession. For a while earlier last week, Winter was being suggested as a possible late entry into the argument, but I hope Aidan O’Brien and the boys will be content with tackling the fillies and mares in the Prix de l’Opera. The temptation to find a filly to challenge Enable for one last time must be almost overwhelming, but there’s nothing wrong with adding the Opera to an escutcheon that already boasts the English and Irish 1,000 Guineas, Coronation Stakes and the Nassau.
I would have liked to advance possible winners of the many other Group races that will decorate our TV screens (and my phone!) this weekend and beyond, but instead I’m going to put forward two young trainers who could have a big say in the destination of the Betfred Cambridgeshire. As Fred Done might well be saying: “Enjoy us - and it - while you can”.
With the backdrop of Betfred’s imminent withdrawal from pretty much all its sponsorship commitments (Ascot and his own track Chelmsford City apart) loads of race names are about to change. Luckily the Cambridgeshire part of this great handicap’s title has never succumbed to the wishes of many sponsors over the years to “absorb” heritage titles within the commercial name.
This year David Menuisier and Henry Spiller are two emerging handlers with decent chances of winning the race. Menuisier, a Frenchman whose accent is not too far removed from the Rene of ‘Allo ‘Allo vintage, overcame a debilitating viral problem in his stable – he is housed at the Harwoods’ Pulborough estate in Sussex – to make a decent show from mid- to late-summer on.
His Thundering Blue romped to a three-timer at Epsom (off 76), Newmarket’s July Course (83) and Sandown (87) with such good effect that it enticed Tony Hind to engage Ryan Moore for the mount. This much-improved son of Exchange Rate will need quite a few to come out to get a run, and Menuisier was adamant when I spoke to him in the paddock as the St Leger runners were pre-parading, that he would not be running in the Silver Cambridgeshire on Friday if he gets the Saturday guillotine.
Spiller and his five-year-old entire Leader Writer need only one horse to defect to make the cut, and Hind has again been on the ball, with Fran Berry lined up to continue the winning association going on from Ascot a couple of weeks back when Leader Writer won for the first time in the UK.
Decent in France where he honourably contested any number of Group 3 and Listed races, Leader Writer followed an excellent third in a Shergar Cup race, second time out for Spiller with a fluent success back at Ascot. The 4lb extra he earned not only should not equate to the measure of his win (the handicapper has upped him 6lb) but virtually ensures his place in the line-up.
Spiller is the son of Charlie, a long-term Maktoum employee who specialises in pedigree analysis and matings planning, and Henry got the benefit of that connection by learning his trade all around the world with some of the top trainers. Some might say that ending up in the stables occupied for many years by the utterly-shrewd Willie Musson might seem an odd choice, but there he is (with Willie watching on) and a Cambridgeshire win would be a great boost. Leader Writer is my pick from Thundering Blue.
Last year, Spiller’s team was housed in one of the twin barns at Saffron House stables on the Hamilton Road in Newmarket. Alongside was another young man in a hurry. George Scott started and remains there for now, but on Saturday at Newbury he enjoyed his first Group race success with James Garfield, owned by new father-in-law, Bill Gredley.
With a move to a Gredley-owned renovated yard in the offing, this was a timely nudge to the new old man and there can be little doubt that young George is destined for great things, not least with James Garfield, a son of Exceed and Excel who always looked the winner of the Mill Reef Stakes.
The same afternoon, hot but sadly deceased stallion Scat Daddy recorded his 13th winner of 2017 in the UK. The sire of four Royal Ascot winners - Lady Aurelia, Caravaggio, Con Te Partiro and Sioux Nation - Scat Daddy has won races with ten different horses in this country this year, but only one has recorded more than a single victory.
Step forward Mr Sundowner, the Pride of Muggleswick. Shrewdly entered in a recent qualifying handicap at the track for Saturday’s Catterick 12 Furlong Series Final, thanks to the urgent ministrations of Stella Storey, assistant to trainer Wilf, Mr Sundowner overcame being 9lb wrong in the weights and carrying 1lb overweight to win at 16-1 under Sammy Jo Bell.
Travelling like a dream throughout, Sammy calmly brought him alongside hot favourite Je Suis Charlie and popped him in front close home. Regular readers will know Wilf has been inching towards his best Flat prizemoney tally in a four-decade career. The 12k winner’s prize put him a couple of grand past the four £50,000 plus yields in the years before the Millennium and his winner score of 11 easily eclipses his previous best of eight and with far fewer horses. What a year and what an operation!