I suppose I could mention the Bryony Frost issue and her triumphant return to race riding with a big win in the Tingle Creek on Saturday at Sandown Park, writes Tony Stafford. Certain writers thought that victory was vindication of her situation vis a vis Robbie Dunne and his alleged bullying, swearing and whatever else from last week’s enquiry.
The situation, though, was rather like a jury of 12 men and women true having not agreed a trial verdict on a Friday night then going off to watch together private videos of everything the accused had done throughout his life over the weekend before reconvening on Monday morning. Not exactly the best example of natural justice maybe but, like Hollie and Rachael, Bryony is one of the racing public’s favourites and understandably and rightly so.
Equally, I could refer to Protektorat’s arrogant dismissal of former Gold Cup winner Native River in the Many Clouds Chase at Aintree the same day, and again a woman rider, Bridget Andrews, doing the steering and presenting at the fences of brother-in-law Dan Skelton’s much-improved chaser. He now faces the prospect of challenging the Irish heavyweights in the Gold Cup next March.
You have to love the way Dan never, except in the most unavoidable situations, like multiple runners at different tracks, goes outside the family. Brother and Bridget’s husband Harry might not win the title again this year – with Brian Hughes taking it so seriously he is operating twice as fast as last season’s champion. He is however playing the sensible card and helping ensure his own longevity in the saddle by keeping it in the family.
I also loved the effort of the grey mare and proud mum of a two-year-old – “I was courted by a Derby winner don’t you know!”, says Snow Leopardess as she goes on the gallops every day. “I would show you a picture but I don’t have one on me. He’s a handsome chap, by Sir Percy, and it’s his birthday soon”.
I believe the youngster is rising three but could be corrected on that. The bold-jumping grey mare conceived and foaled during the 26 months between her successful trip over to France from Charlie Longsdon’s stable in 2017 and first run back at Newbury in late 2019.
On Saturday at Aintree she treated the Grand National fences with respect but total efficiency. It would have been an awful shame if the front-running performance clear of the field for much of the three miles and two furlongs would have resulted in defeat by a nose rather than victory by that margin over Hill Sixteen.
Lots to talk about, then, but instead I’m going to harp on about the sitting duck syndrome, brought upon domestic owners and trainers by the people whose mandate is to make handicap races a level playing field.
These well-paid officials continually err in several regards. Number one, letting Irish trainers take the mickey. Take the case of a horse who had previously raced in seven maiden and novice races and a single handicap before his owner-trainer, Ronan McNally, a notorious “touch” merchant, lined him up, cherry picking a Huntingdon 0-110 yesterday against ten unsuspecting locals.
The horse, a six-year-old, to tabulate his entire Rules career, had been successively 17th of 20 beaten 53 lengths (25/1); 10th of 20 beaten 64 lengths (50/1); 8th of 15 beaten 74 lengths (150/1); 11th of 20 beaten 63 lengths (200/1); 11th of 13, beaten 19 lengths (200/1); 16th of 18, beaten 33 lengths (50/1); and 10th of 13, beaten 19 lengths (150/1).
Just to make the job look right he was sixth of 20 in his first handicap hurdle at Down Royal, starting at 8/1. You could say that the money was down and he didn’t have a great run but if it was half down then, they went the whole hog on Vee Dancer yesterday.
Choosing a conditional jockeys’ handicap hurdle and therefore able to book leading claiming rider Kevin Brogan, such was the weight of money he started an improbable 2 to 1 on. It would not be accurate to say he was always going to win as he was on and off the bridle all the way, but he won comfortably by three lengths in the end.
My complaint is that horses like that coming from another racing authority should not be allowed to run in any handicap without achieving a minimum placing: getting at least in the first four let’s say. Watch out for another three or four wins in rapid fire fashion.
He had run off 90 in that Down Royal race and our hurdles handicapper probably thought he was safe letting in him on 10lb more, but these horses have stones not pounds in hand once the hand-brake is let off.
One of the cleverest UK trainers is undoubtedly Gary Moore and I think he has even outsmarted anything he’s done previously in handicaps with his training of ex-French six-year-old Naturally High. This gelding is not only the same age as Vee Dancer but was running in a Sandown handicap hurdle on Saturday off the identical mark of 100.
He duly bolted in, dismantling some progressive young hurdlers having shot the pre-race market to pieces too. He still started odds against but when you examine his life story and the part the UK handicappers played in it, I’m sure you will see my amazement is justified.
Runner-up at Sandown was another ex-Frenchman, the Roger Teal-trained Kamaxos who was conceding him 15lb. His French Flat race mark had been 32, which equates to 70, meaning a pretty routine 45lb difference.
I mentioned Naturally High had also been trained in France, and his last four runs there in 2018 had been two victories in April in a Chantilly conditions event and a Longchamp Listed. He went up in class for his next run but finished 15th of 16 as a 16/1 shot in the Prix Du Jockey Club (French Derby), starting at much shorter odds than three of the four Aidan O’Brien candidates.
After his last run, fifth of six in a Group 2, he was allotted a mark of 47, which he still holds and which translates to 103. That makes him 33lb superior to Kamaxos from whom he was receiving 15lb on Saturday. He arrived at 100 having strolled home in his first handicap at Lingfield running off 88.
How that 88 mark was arrived at beggars belief. Normally horses are required to complete the course three times to be allotted a mark, but first time Naturally High unseated Jamie Moore before running twice more a long way out of the money. He was allowed in on that sketchy evidence but then having won the first time off a gift rating, allowing him in again off 100 was naïve in the extreme. Basically he started 15lb lower over jumps than the French figure when it should be nearer 45 or 50lb the other way!
I’ve no gripe at all with Gary Moore who had a big job to bring back to life a horse that had been bought for €120,000 at the end of 2018. Those two big wins might have started to get certain people somewhere near level with that investment because there is no doubt the money has been well and truly down both times.
It’s hard to see what can stop the hat-trick, save some overdue retaliation by the two-mile hurdles handicapper. Does he have the bottle or will he treat Naturally High (France) and (UK) as two entirely different horses?
I’m feeling a little bereft with the breeding stock sales’ conclusion last week and over the weekend in France. High-class racehorses and well-bred mares have rarely been in such demand and for a while on Tuesday any female with the requisite number of limbs and the ability to conceive was almost guaranteed to go to at least six figures.
I do not intend identifying the young lady who relates to this little tale save to say her putative trips to the sales have been mentioned here recently. She had her eye on a Shadwell filly – there were 90 in the catalogue last week – in Wednesday’s sale and hoped to get it for a song as it hadn’t run.
I had suggested going on Thursday when all the big buyers had gone home and she could pick up something very cheaply but at the same time be prepared for its being modest enough. She persisted and when I checked that evening whether she had any luck, she said, “No, it went for 70 grand!”
Now I know people in her situation that might have claimed to have been the under-bidder, like the Irish trainer who made very public that distinction in regard to the sale of triple Champion Hurdle winner Istabraq.
I was changing planes one day in the US coming back from Keeneland sales when Timmy Hyde caught up with me and said: “You were the under-bidder for Istabraq weren’t you? I know you were, I was standing right behind you.
“Well that fe..ing D…. M…..is telling everyone he was!” Saudi Arabia’s loss was Ireland’s gain, although when I asked how much short my 36k bid had been, Timmy said: “J P told me to go to 100 grand!”