Let me declare an interest. Much as I love it when May comes around, I consciously detest August, writes Tony Stafford. So you have York as a racing oasis in a domestic desert and in reality you need to cast your glance across the Channel to Deauville for any meaningful action leading up to the Knavesmire’s four epic days.
When you stay up for the week you have the novelty of nights newly drawing in after the excessively long days of May to July. Chillier evenings and God forbid wet weather, especially when it affects the ground, often turns anticipated championship clashes into hollow damp squibs.
Not that York’s management can be accused of not trying hard. I hope my arithmetic hasn’t imploded when adding the four days’ total prizemoney on offer, but I make it the grand sum of £5,275,000. There are two £1 milllion races, the Juddmonte International on Day 1 (Wednesday) and the Saturday climax, the Sky Bet Ebor Handicap for which available spaces, revealed later today, could even in time have a market place of their own, so urgently will owners wish to participate.
I am sure that Lew Day, owner of Raheen House, now a five-year-old and moved at the start of this year from Brian Meehan to William Haggas, would not swap his one-time St Leger hopeful for any of the other 21 horses guaranteed a run if connections decide to exercise that option.
With a single-mindedness that few trainers can boast, Haggas clearly set himself – of maybe Lew did the setting – a simple three-race strategy. The first two were a Listed and then a Group 3 over the Ebor distance of a mile and threequarters on the track, and each resulted in a satisfactory outcome, two placed efforts, one behind ex-Hong Kong trained Gold Mount in the Listed and then a close third behind Red Verdon and Gold Mount in the Group 3. Those were all the practice he was deemed to need for phase three, the Ebor itself.
Actually, rises in his mark from 106 to 108 and a final 111 might not seem ideal, but are still below his peak of 113 from last year with Meehan and at least there has been no anxiety that he would not make the cut. Had he remained on 106 he simply wouldn’t have got in.
Ground seems of no account to him, good to firm and then good to soft were the conditions in the two York reconnoitres, and his 12-1 price shows just how seriously the bookmakers view his (or probably Haggas’s) chance of pulling it off.
Refreshingly, for those of us destined never to get within a stone of 108-rated horses, the mark for the 23rd on the list – the stalls can accommodate 22 – there is no monopoly of access in the way of Gordon Elliott’s monopolising the top Irish staying chases. Or indeed ours: take the Grand National where as if having Tiger Roll wasn’t enough, Elliott had another ten denying runs to other owners.
No trainer will be able to run more than the three each by Messrs Johnston, Mullins and Gosden. That’s just how the run-down lines up. This afternoon’s acceptors will make interesting reading indeed.
The other £1 million pop, the Juddmonte on the opening day, seems likely to go ahead without its highest profile acceptor Enable who is waiting for the Yorkshire Oaks and a third joust with Magical, who has twice got within three-quarters of a length of the champion.
Oddly, as is the way with handicapping, Enable doesn’t have the highest rating among the acceptors – again the line-up will be revealed today – that distinction going to Crystal Ocean after his near miss against her in last month’s King George at Ascot when conceding 3lb, the allowance for females.
For a while after the Eclipse, Aidan O’Brien seemed to be disregarding York for Magical. There is no question though that when there is a champion around, he is always keen to unseat it. You only need to think back to Sea The Stars’ Classic year when, having been unable to match John Oxx’s colt in the 2,000 Guineas, in the Derby and henceforth he pitted variously Fame and Glory, Mastercraftsman and Rip Van Winkle in attempts to dent the star’s reputation, without ever quite managing it.
It was Magical that has provided the only serious opposition to Enable both in the Breeders’ Cup Turf race last year and the Eclipse. Japan is surely the most significant Ballydoyle challenger for the Juddmonte after his nice win in the Grand Prix de Paris, and Gosden has a feasible deputy for Enable. He relies on the St James’s Palace runner-up King Of Comedy, unraced since finishing a neck second to O’Brien’s Circus Maximus at the Royal meeting.
I think we saw some very decent animals in Deauville yesterday. The going was declared to be heavy, but times suggested maybe soft was closer to accurate. Pride of place has to go to the unbeaten Earthlight who recorded a rare home win in the Prix Morny for the Godolphin colours.
Andre Fabre trains the son of Shamardal, one of the star stallions of 2019 and this was the first French-trained Morny winner since Dabirsim eight years ago and only the second since Divine Proportions in 2004. That filly truly was a champion, the Morny being her fourth of five unbeaten runs at two for the Niarchos family and Pascal Bary. She won another five at three before losing her unbeaten record in her final race, the Jacques le Marois, when as an odds-on shot she was fourth to Dubawi. Heard of him?
It took Earthlight all his time to see off one of three Royal Ascot juvenile winners in the field. Frankie Dettori had jumped off one, A’Ali, the Norfolk and subsequent Robert Papin winner, trained by Simon Crisford in favour of Mark Johnston’s filly Raffle Prize who had followed her Queen Mary success with another emphatic victory in the Group 2 Duchess of Cambridge Stakes.
The leading pair came clear with Raffle Prize showing great resolution, only just failing to match the now four-time winning colt. A’Ali was only fifth, behind Richmond Stakes winner Golden Horde and Arizona who could not improve on his Coventry Stakes victory. Apart from doubts about the various beaten horses being suited by the ground, this was a race that probably took a fair bit of potential juice from the Gimcrack and Lowther later this week at York.
After spending much of her time acting almost as a lady-in-waiting to her more celebrated stable-companion Enable in various major races, Coronet is starting to earn her own headlines and it was a typically workmanlike effort that earned her a second Group 1 in the Prix Jean Romanet. She will be a priceless broodmare for Prince Faisal Salman’s Denford Stud.
Earlier in the summer Hughie Morrison seemed to be intent on forging a mile and a half career for his Melbourne Cup runner-up Marmelo, but that seems to have been if not abandoned, put to one side. After an agonising and even more irritating nose second last time at Longchamp a month ago when he should have been awarded the race, he was in France again for the Group 2 Prix Kergorlay yesterday and, under Christophe Soumillon, was back in his comfort zone.
That was Marmelo’s twelfth run in France and apart from a fifth to Coronet in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud over a mile and a half (her first Group 1) in late June, he has only once more finished out of the first two and that was a third three years ago.