Ian Williams with leading Melbourne Cup contender Magic Circle at his stables in Alvechurch. 20/9/2018 Pic Steve Davies/Racingfotos.com

Monday Musings: Williams truly a man for all seasons

The Dubai Carnival 2022 has crept up on me, but I had a quiet day at home on Friday and had a good look as William Buick and Charlie Appleby dominated their home meeting with a hat-trick in the last three of six at Meydan, writes Tony Stafford. They cleaned up with Lazuli, 8-11 in a Group 2 sprint; Manobo, 4-9 in a Group 3 over 14 furlongs; and a “handicap” where Valiant Prince bolted home at 13-8 with stones seemingly to spare in completing the set.

The Racing UK coverage for Dubai has never been over-critical of the hosts but the way Angus McNee and Rishi Persad over-gushed after Manobo’s undoubtedly impressive performance in the 89k to the winner Nad Al Sheba Trophy, at the exclusion of all others in the 15-horse field, was an exercise in stating the obvious.

Here was a horse unbeaten in four runs in Europe, starting when a 5-1 scorer under Adam Kirby at Newbury in May – from Mojo Star whose next outing was when runner-up to Charlie’s Adayar in the Derby. He followed up the next month with Buick in the saddle, emphatically by six lengths at 4-11 at Kempton.

Charlie then gave him a break before moving him up in grade, collecting a Listed race at Saint-Cloud at 7-10 by ten lengths with James Doyle riding in September. Doyle again had the mount, and 7-10 was also the price when he out-pointed fellow Appleby three-year-old Kemari, the Queen’s Vase winner from Royal Ascot, in the Group 2 Prix Chaudenay at Longchamp’s Arc meeting.

Over-qualified to a degree then for a ballast-filled race nominally a notch lower, actually rather more so. Thus it was hardly unexpected when he drew away easily to make it five from five given his rating of 114. The winning margin was almost six lengths. A second Godolphin runner, Global Heat ridden by Frankie Dettori for Saeed Bin Suroor, was third. He was just bettered for second favouritism by the regular Group performer Rodrigo Diaz, trained by David Simcock, who finished a modest sixth.

Totally unnoticed, or if he was, never mentioned in all the time I waited for it, were the identities of the other money-earners.  Even after they came back from the domestic action for the next Meydan race, Rishi was revealing: “We’ve been talking about Manobo the whole time!” I’ve no doubt they were.

Anyway I’d like to keep you in suspense for a little while longer. On the day of Manobo’s Newbury debut, a six-year-old gelding fresh from the UAE where he had been trained for all of his 14 career starts, none successful, lined up in one of the handicaps at Newbury with an opening UK rating of 70.

I remember looking on the morning of the race thinking that was stern enough especially when taking it in the context of a £6k (30k AED) sale price out of Doug Watson’s stable more than two years earlier.

The horse was called East Asia, the new trainer Ian Williams and his owner Sayed Hashish, a businessman in Dubai, wanted to give him a chance in the UK. Partnered by Richard Kingscote, the 16-1 chance shot clear two from home in the mile-and-a-half mile handicap and won by almost five lengths.

Stepped up in trip for his next two races at Goodwood, Williams turned to William Buick and, riding him with great confidence, he won twice more, comfortably each time as his turf rating rose.

Buick was not employed in the immediate aftermath with the obvious difficulty of timing the races with his Godolphin commitments and East Asia had a relatively quiet spell. Then, coming to the last rites of the turf season, Buick became available for a race at Nottingham and normal service resumed. All that remained was a tilt at the November Handicap where Buick was otherwise engaged riding a double at the Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar; so Kingscote stepped back in.

This time there was no happy ending: East Asia, held up a long way back, hated the cloying mud of Town Moor and finished just below halfway. That left him with a mark of 90 and anyone who has ever sent a horse out to the Carnival with a rating as low as that will know how difficult it can be to get into a race.

But Sayed Hashish is an optimistic chap and fuelled by the four wins from nine starts his UK trainer had supplied him from the previous non-winner in 14, he decided to take the risk. Balloted out in the early weeks, Williams found the answer with Friday’s Group 3, in which East Asia had the lowest rating of all.

He also gave the same entry to a second stable runner, Enemy, there on his second run since being bought in November in France for €92k out of the stable of Francis Graffard, the Aga Khan’s new principal trainer.  Enemy had been running over a mile and a furlong or less in France and started at that trip a week earlier. He finished unplaced, albeit barely five lengths behind Lord Glitters.

Williams told me he thought he would stay and that the much-increased trip would suit but he too was among the lowest-rated in the line-up. The pair, understandably both 66-1 shots, turned for home in the last trio with Enemy right at the back. They both took a rails course coming home and if East Asia had not been slightly blocking his stablemate at a crucial stage, according to Williams: “They might have finished the other way around.”

Anyway East Asia stayed on for second under Richard Mullen, greatly out-running his rating (24lb less than the winner) with Enemy and Andrea Atzeni an eye-catchingly closing fourth. In case you hadn’t noticed, Racing TV – and, don’t worry, I still prefer your coverage to ITV, except of course when they show Ascot or Doncaster on a Saturday – this was a monumental training performance.

Ian tells me he thinks East Asia, who collected almost 30k for those efforts might now be getting an invitation to the Gold Cup on Dubai World Cup Day. No wonder Mr Hashish is telling his friends what to do with their old handicappers. Meanwhile, Enemy’s new owners, Tracey Bell and Caroline Lyons, have the prospect of an exciting season ahead with their five-year-old.

It might seem much longer ago, but it was as recently as the autumn of 2017 that Williams encouraged Dr Marwan Koukash to buy the apparently fully-exposed Magic Circle from Ralph Beckett towards the end of his five-year-old season. Few trainers would expect to induce much improvement from that trainer’s skilled handling but, for 70,000gns, Williams had a project.

First up, six months later, it was the doctor’s Holy Grail, the Chester Cup, and with Fran Berry in the saddle Magic Circle ran out a six-length winner from Hughie Morrison’s Fun Mac. The Group 2 Henry II Stakes at Sandown came next and it was another six-length romp for the six-year-old, this time excellent yardstick Red Verdon took second for Ed Dunlop.

Immediately after (or probably knowing the connections, sometime before) the plan was hatched to go for the Melbourne Cup.

Nine years previously, a much cheaper buy, Munsef, led out unsold at £11k from Dandy Nicholls, was then bought privately as a seven-year-old on May 20th 2009 and, by late summer, within weeks he had won three and finished second twice including in a Swedish Group 3. That resulted in a Melbourne Cup qualifying mark and so, that November as a 50-1 chance, he carried the Koukash silks to a close up 11th of 23.

Contrastingly, for most of the summer of 2018, Magic Circle was the favourite for Australia’s most coveted race, but on the day at Flemington he started a point longer at 6-1 to Aidan O’Brien’s 5-1 market leader Yukatan.

The winner this time was the Appleby-trained Cross Counter, a top-class three-year-old who just held off Hughie ‘s Marmelo, now a stallion, and Charlie Fellowes’ Melbourne Cup regular – until last year – Prince Of Arran.  Magic Circle finished in the back third having faded over the last two furlongs, but the dream, as with East Asia for his owner, had been more than fulfilled.

As he returns to his yard near Birmingham, this trainer for all seasons and all types of horses, faces one of his biggest ever challenges. Tomorrow he sends out Glen Again for his hurdles debut at Market Rasen in Raymond Tooth’s colours. I’ll be there, so let’s give it a good show!

Williams had a good second with his promising novice chaser Tide Times at Wincanton on Saturday but the highlight for me was the great attempt of Kim Bailey’s 25-1 shot Two For Gold in the Betfair Ascot Chase. If Joseph O’Brien had forgotten to enter J P McManus’ Fakir d’Oudairies, Two For Gold would have won. Only one Irish runner all day and inevitably the best prize of the afternoon goes west!

Kim will have been more than delighted with second especially as the novice Does He Know had already spread-eagled the opposition in the Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase. Pre-Irish domination, that was the race I always liked to see my three-mile Cheltenham novice chase fancies win, but nowadays pretty much all the contenders lurk over there.

Before you look round, Cheltenham will have come and gone, but one possible entry that I am looking forward to is Poetic Music who might tackle the big Irish boys in the bumper. We know she can fly up the hill so getting a hefty 17lb from the hot Mullins favourite and the rest, anything may be possible for the apple of Sally Randell’s eye!

- TS

Other Recent Posts by This Author:

Your first 30 days for just £1
0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.