By Tony Stafford
It was an unusual King George day for me. It was always going to be, once the news came through that St Nicholas Abbey had been badly injured and would miss not only that race, but all other future events, save a possible stud career.
Even that was clouded in doubt, more so when he suffered a severe colic following the operation on his leg. Now his fate is in the hands of the gods, but more specifically with Coolmore’s brilliant vet - and Aidan O’Brien’s faithful sidekick - John Halley of the Fethard Veterinary Hospital.
How it must have felt for everyone associated with this wonderful horse to know that after all the ups and a few downs that this would be it. A King George seemingly his for the taking – although Novellist would have been hard to beat, such was his mastery of Trading Leather and for the second time, a listless Cirrus des Aigles – slipped away and Ballydoyle rarely was not represented at all on the big day.
But in the week of a new heir (number three) to the United Kingdom throne – funny, I thought there was already a Prince George of Cambridge – private joke for the eyes of one old friend and regular reader. The stock of the Queen has never been higher in the public consciousness and just a month after winning the Gold Cup and a year after her brilliant participation in the Olympic Games Opening ceremony, she came up with another masterful display.
The do-gooders might have imposed upon Her Majesty an altered rule for the succession to the throne whereby a first-born daughter would become the rightful successor to her father. By getting William and Kate’s baby’s sex right, she ensured a trio of Kings at least will follow her when her glorious time is finally over.
Can you believe it, it’s already Goodwood. The days are almost two hours shorter than during Ascot and winter awaits. Hope it rains soon, but at least there was a fair bit at Carlisle, so I Say makes her long-awaited reappearance there today. I’ll be on the first train out of Euston this morning and after her galloping companion Our Obsession’s fine win at York yesterday, there’s a good feeling that this once-raced daughter of Oratorio can win.
She at least got a run last year – second to Secret Gesture at Newbury in the Autumn. Another Raymond Tooth/ William Haggas filly Yarn has had plenty of problems, but she is set for a first run either at Redcar or Ffos Las this week. Whataver his ability with horses, Mr Haggas is a dab hand with the Road Map of the UK.
I know some of you don’t mind my self-indulgence, and I always assume maybe a few dozen people read these ramblings, so it was quite a shock when in the Ascot press box yesterday, munching on chicken breast and new potatoes that Jonathan Neesom told me he’d read my post Grand National column.
It took a while to cast back in the memory, and then I realised it was the one where I’d stayed home rather than travel up, and watched Racing UK and Lydia, Tom (glad you’re getting better), Steve and yes, Jonathan, and never strayed to Channel Four and Clare and the others. It was tremendous watching but how on earth did Mr Neesom see the words? I thank him and refer him to the many pearls available on the rest of this site.
I will make two exceptions to my loose no-betting status. One is to take the 10-1 Arsenal for the League. I love the way teams like Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Barcelona in particular have felt free to nick our best players over the years, but that neither those clubs nor Liverpool think it reasonable that now we’ve a little more cash, that we can do the same. The Suarez thing with Liverpool is a joke. They’ve offered £14m more than Man U paid for Van Persie, and reckon it’s an insult. At the same time, while Fabregas has a contract clause which says Arsenal can buy him back for £25m, Man U think he should go to Old Trafford.
The second is to take the 40-1 on offer for Raymond Tooth’s Great Hall in the Ladbrokes St Leger. Brian Meehan has handled this beautiful colt – ask anyone who’s seen him – with care and patience, and the form of his two wins got two more endorsements last week.
After a Sandown sighter last autumn and a Newmarket recce this spring, the Halling colt won a maiden with a fair degree of assurance and some wayward steering on the July Course, then defied 9st7lb top weight in a 14f Haydock handicap in similar style, earning Kieren Fallon’s admiration.
When Debdebdeb won stylishly after getting boxed in at Sandown on Thursday, she became the third of the trio following Great Hall over the line at Haydock to win next time out. She was 4lb up (the winner was raised 8lb) after Haydock and faces at least 6lb or even more following Sandown. She now goes to the Melrose Stakes at York, where she will almost certainly have a second shot at Great Hall, and probably on worse terms that at Haydock.
Racing UK’s form expert Andy Richmond was on duty at Newmarket on Friday night and before Asbaab landed the odds in a mile and a half maiden for the Meehan stable he talked up Great Hall’s form. Andy related that Asbaab had been fourth to his stablemate at Newmarket and that the second and third there had already won since. He then moved on to the Haydock form, specifically to Debdebdeb and described it as the best three-year-old staying handicap form at the moment.
As a one-time form student I’d have to agree with Andy. At the moment a mark of 96 implies at least 20lb is needed to get to the business end of a St Leger, but of the 40-odd entries for the final Classic, there are few of the potential principals guaranteed to get the trip on a track as severe as Doncaster.
We’re going to try to live the dream. So York, Doncaster and next year’s Melbourne Cup is the not-too-ambitious plan. See you at Goodwood (unless Redcar or Ffos Las say otherwise).