By Tony Stafford
These are exciting days for Sam Sangster. Born with a famous racing name – son of the late Robert – he shares with elder brothers Guy, Ben and Adam and sister Kate, as well as younger sibling Max, a DNA-inevitable love of horse racing.
Robert Sangster won 27 European Classic races and 100 Group 1’s during his time as an owner-breeder with his Swettenham stud, initially in Cheshire and then the Isle of Man. Brother Adam owns and runs the Australian farm of the same name, and with the imminent sale of the family’s Manton estate, Ben is set to re-establish the Swettenham name in Wiltshire. He has negotiated a deal to retain 150 acres and the main house, from the locally-based buyer Paul Clarke, who made his money growing bulbs.
As with Robert Sangster, Mr Clarke sees the estate as an investment for the future of his family. For many years, Sangster’s acquisition of the 2,000 or so acres for £6 million 35 years ago was seen as a white elephant. The latest deal, reportedly for a figure not far short of the asking price of £26 million, proves Sangster right a decade after his death.
Heir to the Vernons football pools empire, Sangster had been even more prescient back in the late 1980’s, when he was Chairman of the company. Aware that the impending National Lottery would be a severe drain on the out-of-date pools firms, he sold the business to Ladbrokes for £90 million. A few years later, Vernons appeared in Ladbrokes accounts with a valuation of “nil”.
In many ways, Sam Sangster, still in his middish-20’s, has much of the flamboyance of his late father. He is now spreading his wings as a syndicate manager with Decadent Racing as well as developing the influence of Sirecam, his company which videos yearlings and older horses before they are presented at major sales.
Decadent Racing has had a quiet year in terms of wins, but the partners in two of their four horses to run this year, Faithful Creek and Knife Point have certainly had their moments. Knife Point, a progressive three-year-old withdrawn from his engagement at Doncaster the other day, goes under the hammer at Tattersall’s Autumn Horses in Training sale on Tuesday. If you are at a loose end and happen to go along there on Sunday or Monday, you can enjoy Sam’s hospitality in the yard on the left as you enter the sale by the valet parking.
The change from BST to GMT might have given you an extra hour in bed. As usual I got it wrong waking up at 4.30 (but thinking it was 6.30, as the clock showed 5.30!). So I had more time than I thought as I planned to accept the offer of a spot of lunch with Sam and Brian Meehan.
They’ll both be off after Monday, when Meehan’s Manton House contingent sells, to Santa Anita where Decadent’s Faithful Creek, a 35,000gns yearling buy by Bushranger, has the Breeders’ Cup Turf Juvenile on his radar. Placed both in France and then in a Curragh Group 3 behind John F Kennedy, he stands 16th with at least one guaranteed absentee for Saturday’s big race, which can accommodate 14.
The Breeders’ Cup officials have made optimistic noises to Sam about the chance of one further defector, but in the way of such things, Sam has warned the syndicate members to accept that they might have to do with a run on Santa Anita’s downhill six and a half furlong turf track in a consolation race on Friday.
Ahead of him on the list are Charlie Hills, Charlie Fellowes and Hugo Palmer, whose Aktabantay looks to hold the best chance of the four English contenders. Sirecam was an early sponsor of the Palmer team, and the young trainer soon showed himself as a future big name, now coming over as a highly-impressive professional.
With so much going on with Sangster, it was sod’s law that he would also be in the middle of a new project, called Manton Thoroughbreds, which involves the syndication of six yearlings, bought either from Book 1 or Book 2 of the recent Yearling sale at Tattersall’s.
With prices spiralling once again seemingly out of control, though still nowhere near the 1980’s boom when Robert Sangster, during a bidding war with Sheikh Mohammed, went up to $13.1 million for a colt in Keeneland, nowadays spreading the cost looks a good option.
As with Sir Alex Ferguson, a Highclere partner who is expected to be in Santa Anita for Telescope’s attempt to justify favouritism in the Breeders’ Cup Turf race on Saturday, long-established owners are finding shared ownership more attractive than ever. Sam believes his concept of six horses, in ten shares of £50,000 with training fees for 2015 accounted for, is a goer. Sorry, no, not me, but there will be people out there that will fancy future trips across the Atlantic. After all, Meehan, who will train the sextet, has won two Breeders’ Cup Turf races with Red Rocks (from Galileo’s first crop) and Dangerous Midge.
It was all of four years ago that Martin Dwyer had to sit out Midge’s great win, watching with gritted teeth and a banged-up shoulder courtesy of a fall from Ray Tooth’s Red Lite at Leicester, as Frankie Dettori stepped in for the win. In all honesty it wasn’t really until the last few months that he has seemed to have got his confidence fully back. In recent weeks I reckon he’s been riding back at his best and he was always in control on his father-in-law Willie Muir’s highly-promising colt Code Red at Doncaster yesterday. Victory in that Listed race brought Dwyer to his first 50 tally for three years.
Yesterday’s big race, the Racing Post Trophy will also have had more than a passing interest for Dwyer as the easy winner Elm Park is a son of the under-used stallion Phoenix Reach on whom he won four races including the Dubai Sheema Classic as a five-year-old.
Andrew Balding, who trained the sire, has already notched up four wins with the colt, who initially raced in the Mill Reef colours of the breeders Kingsclere Racing Club, before joining the ever-swelling Qatar Racing team (though Kingsclere Racing retain a share). He stands a good chance of emulating last year’s Racing Post Trophy hero, Kingston Hill, by winning a Classic. The most likely prospect is the St Leger, but wouldn’t it be nice to imagine another Derby for the Baldings even if the black, and gold cross will not be worn?
Phoenix Reach won almost £2 million in his racing days, but for years it was only Balding and Gay Kelleway with home-breds from the horse’s owners Winterbeck Manor stud in Nottinghamshire, who even considered taking a chance with him. Balding has been responsible for all three of the 100-plus rated horses by him, Elm Park, Whiplash Willie and Rawaki. Some other trainers have enjoyed success on a lower level, though, and hard-working Shaun Harris’s Roy’s Legacy has won ten races.
Since 2012 he has stood at my pal Richard Kent’s Mickley stud in Shropshire – I once shared the stallion Contract Law with him – and his advertised fee for 2014 was £1,500 – down from an original £3,500 for his first of his five seasons at the National Stud. Knowing Richard, he’ll have a new figure in mind and owner, Mr Christou deserves the reward for his belief in what was always a talented animal.