Mawj (blue of Godolphin, trained by Saeed bin Suroor and ridden by Oisin Murphy) just bests Tahiyra (Dermot Weld, Chris Hayes) in the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket

Monday Musings: You Say Potayto

You say tomayto, I say tomahto. You say potayto, I say potahto, as the George and Ira Gershwin 1937 song Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off goes, illustrating the spoken differences in the American and British versions of the English language, writes Tony Stafford.

You say Mage, I say Mawj. Two very similar four-letter words, beginning with MA that identify respectively the surprise winners of the Kentucky Derby on Saturday night and the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket yesterday on a Coronation weekend of great significance for the United Kingdom.

There were 20 horses in the Run for the Roses and 18 for the fillies’ mile classic and each time the winner was the only one with four letters in its name. In the entire history of the ten furlongs around the Louisville circuit, since its inception in 1875, only once, in 1892 when Azra won, has such an economically framed name adorned the winner. In that context, the win of Zeb, the only winner with three letters to his name exactly 100 years ago is a statistical disappointment, for someone who bothers with such trifles anyway.

We only need go back three years to Love’s winning the fillies’ race on the way to a sublime year of achievement for Aidan and the Coolmore boys to find another four-letter name. In the Classic’s early years, the more demanding breeders’ young horses were never given names until they won, simply regarded as the something colt or the something else filly. Many four-letter and mostly mundane names adorn the dusty pages of the 1000 Guineas winner register during the 19th Century.

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At Churchill Downs on Saturday, it took a decision on the morning of the race by the veterinary examining committee to bar the Todd Pletcher trained Forte. The morning line favourite, winner of his last five, including a strong-running victory at 3/5 in the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park, was ruled out on a soundness issue.

He was clearly the one to beat, so it was music to the ears of connections of Mage, twice behind Forte in his last two runs, but getting nearer and only overtaken in the last 100 yards at Gulfstream.

Now as a 15/1 shot and with veteran Javier Castellano on board, he came through to win the first leg of the 2023 Triple Crown at the 16th time of asking for the jockey. The colt came down the outside beating Two Phil’s by a length with Angel of Empire, who inherited favouritism, third. Trainer Gustavo Delgado would not have been one of the more likely handlers of a Derby winner in the line-up. His previous best win was in the G1 Test Stakes at Saratoga seven years ago, though he did also saddles the 2020 winner of the G1 Clark Handicap on this track.

What Mage did over there, Mawj did here and when I saw the blue Godolphin number one colours fighting it out with the favourite Tahiyra from some way out and then going well clear with her into the Dip and up to the finish, instinctively I briefly thought, another for Charlie Appleby.

Then the double realisation hit home. No, it’s Saeed and Oisin and then instantly, “and she’s going to win”.

The first conclusion was these are two very high-class fillies. Dermot Weld had only ever previously run one filly in the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket, some statistic considering he’s been at the forefront of international training for half a century.

But then Saeed bin Suroor, the most modest, polite and uncomplaining man you will ever encounter, has been at it a while too, associated firmly with Godolphin from its inception. The native of Dubai, where his first career was as a policeman, has never shown any resentment at being now the undoubted second trainer behind Charlie Appleby for Sheikh Mohammed’s team.

He said that Appleby worked under him for a long time and while conceding the big-race wins may not be so plentiful nowadays, this was his third 1000 Guineas, 20 years on from the second. It was also unique in that no filly campaigned in the winter in Dubai before running in this Classic had ever won it.

She had been a good second at Royal Ascot last year to yesterday’s second favourite Meditate but that filly disappointed in much the same way as the two Aidan O’Brien/Coolmore colts, first and third favourites Auguste Rodin and Little Big Bear, had on Saturday.

Before the race, Dermot Weld was ruing the fact that he probably needed another two weeks to have Tahiyra to his entire satisfaction. She will have the opportunity to take her revenge on Mawj – who may also improve in the interim, of course – at the Curragh and it’s hard to see anything else from this race at least, troubling either.

For Oisin Murphy, who missed the whole of last season in the aftermath of his various breaches of the rules in relation to Covid and alcohol, this was a joyous moment. Nobody doubts his talent. Now it’s up to him to steer clear of temptation. Non-riders might think that nothing could be more addictive for a jockey than winning big races. Maybe it’s not always that straightforward, such are the pressures.

This was his 52nd success of the year in the UK and 24 different trainers have contributed to the score which is running at more than 20% wins to rides. The Guineas win also took him past the £1 million prizemoney mark. If Murphy can stay focused, William Buick will indeed have a rival to fear as the former three-time winner will have designs on wresting the crown back from last year’s debut champion.

Strangely, this was Oisin’s first ride of the season in the UK for Saeed, although in the years 2019 to 2021 he rode 70 first past the winning line for bin Suroor. Saeed said in his post-race interview on TV that he has now won 192 Group 1 races. (Hope I heard correctly!). Few can match that.

Of course, on the day of the Coronation, racing’s enduring monarch of the saddle, Senor L Dettori chose one of the most exciting days I can remember on the Rowley Mile for years, for all that it rained all day, to steal another show.

The flood of racegoers and their cars arriving from early on the day was reminiscent of the 70’s and 80’s. Three of the mile colts’ Classics in the 30-odd years since Frankie came across from Sardinia had fallen to him. Two of those – Mark Of Esteem and Island Sands – of course were for bin Suroor while he was the undisputed number one rider for Godolphin for so many years.

Having announced this to be his final year in the saddle, with Chaldean earmarked for his final 2000 Guineas mount, it was a complete shock when he was jettisoned from the colt’s saddle on exiting the stalls as they set off as an odds-on shot for the Greenham Stakes two weeks earlier. That the colt came through unscathed, having accompanied Isaac Shelby and the rest up the straight mile without a rider, was a cause for relief for the Andrew Balding team, and his preparation for last Saturday clearly hadn’t been affected.

With the well-fancied Auguste Rodin and Little Big Bear not performing to expectations on the other side of the track – their normal transport routine, flying in on the morning of the race having been ruled out, was Aidan’s suggestion – here was Chaldean on the far side, fulfilling all that Dewhurst-winning promise with a smooth success in the Juddmonte colours.

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I was delighted to be there for all the frustration of an awful day of drenching rain and with the race being run on such un-Newmarket like ground. Dettori, remarkably, but obviously, is as good a jockey as he ever was.

It’s a long time since, with many of his achievements in his future, I was asked to ghost-write a mini autobiography entitled A Year in the Life by Frankie. I’ve told before how the book was already in print in the days when computerisation didn’t exist. The pages were set if not in stone, in hot metal.

So, what does Dettori do with weeks to come before publication and publicity? Just ride seven out of seven at Ascot! An extra chapter was hurriedly added and placed at the front of the book– I can’t remember if he contributed anything to it – I think he was far too busy celebrating. No doubt he was in similar euphoria after Saturday.

When you write about someone in that way, taking such a long time gathering the material, inevitably you never lose that proprietary interest. I know that every big win in the 27 years since from Frankie has brought if not a warm glow exactly, certainly a little smile.

The book was written all those years ago when Frankie was still engaged to Catherine. Now with six children, and with three jockeys’ championships and 22 English Classics behind him, he’s still the same engaging, garrulous chap he always has been. Basically, a Peter Pan figure, the 52-year-old apprentice! How many more big ones await him? That he can still be around with Buick, Oisin and Ryan Moore all in their prime makes the prospect of the 2023 flat-race season, his last round-up, a vintage one.

- TS

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1 reply
  1. RomJim
    RomJim says:

    Lovely article.

    I was waiting for the other take on potatoes which is of course when a horse was due to be named potatoes but the stable lad wrote Potoooooooo on the stable door.

    Further details here
    Good stuff and terrific races over the weekend.

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