By Tony Stafford
Sorry I’m a little late, one week and one hour to be precise, although last week’s absence was due entirely to the fact that I had nothing to say, not even to laugh at the Aussie cricket team or relief at England’s unlikely draw in New Zealand. No football, who cares about golf and above all no proper racing. What a weekend!
But now, a week older, with the clocks forward and the sap (sic!) rising and beautiful spring weather (sun and 2 degrees today) it’s off this week to the Grand National and some seasonal watering.
Spring always makes me feel young again, so it is probably with a little surprise that I’m turning ageist. The Dubai World Cup and the Meydan carnival in general get great coverage in the Racing Post and slavishly complimentary commentary on Racing UK, especially from James Willoughby, but I have encountered few people (outside those who get the free trips to the warmth of the Gulf) who reckon too much to it nowadays. It’s got to be a little old hat, for all the money on offer.
Mike de Kock likes it and his two winners on Saturday night as usual included one for Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum. Godolphin got two (Saeed bin Suroor this time and nothing for Mahmood Al Zarooni), while that tally from 23 joint runners was matched, wait for it, by Aidan O’Brien.
That’s right, the man who trains for Coolmore, for years arch enemies to the Maktoums, so much so that the Dubai family will not even touch progeny of Coolmore stallions – unless re-cycled through Jim Bolger.
O’Brien had a brace, too, leaving only two to go round the rest of the world. Happily, one of those was collected by the English-born, but US-based trainer Graham Motion, via Animal Kingdom, meritorious hero of the Dubai World Cup and $6 million. The remaining race went to locally-based veteran Satish Seemar with the seven-year-old Reynaldthewizard in one of the sprints.
It is impossible to under-state the money on offer. For instance in running second to Animal Kingdom, the 2011 Kentucky Derby winner, Ed Dunlop’s Red Cadeaux collected more than £1.2million. A worthy and above all durable stayer, he typified the type of horse that rolls around Meydan at the beginning of each year and especially on the big day.
All the eight races on the Derby Day card – apart from the UAE Derby which is exclusively for the Classic generation – are open to three-year-olds and upwards, but unsurprisingly none of that age actually competed against their elders.
Even four-year-olds are in a great minority, the only winner being the precocious South African-bred Soft Falling Rain, effectively a three-and-a-half year old in our Hemisphere, who won the Godolphin Mile under Paul Hanagan for de Kock.
That generation got second and third in both the 2m race (Azheemah and Verema) and in the Sheema Classic (Gentildonna and Very Nice Name) behind St Nicholas Abbey, now officially O’Brien’s career biggest earner approaching the £5 million mark. Particularly creditable was the effort of the Japanese filly Gentildonna, winner previously of the Japan Cup, whose dam Donna Blini was bought cheaply as a yearling by and raced successfully for Brian Meehan.
Looking at the rest of the results, at six, St Nicholas Abbey is a bit of a baby, and with Coolmore (represented on the day by Derrick Smith’s son Paul, if not any of the three patriarchal members of the triumvirate), now happy to pinch the Maktoum money, he should be back next year to swell the coffers further.
Aged six, he shared the distinction of victory on the night with fellow 6yo’s, 5f winner Shea Shea and Dubai Duty Free victor Sajjhaa, but was more youthful than two others on the card, much-travelled Cavalryman (2m race) and Reynaldothewizard. Second and third places, apart from those already mentioned were earned by horses aged five (four), six (four), seven and the ten-year-old sprinter Joy and Fun behind Shea Shea in the sprint.
I don’t know about you, but I reckon there was rather more youthful talent on show at Cheltenham recently than on the sands. Three days at Aintree should rekindle our faith in the more normal application of age to a horse’s development, and with watering almost certain, our undying faith in the absurd English weather can regain its place in our consciousness.
If a ten-year-old can get placed in a Dubai seven-figure race then I believe one as talented as our friend Punjabi, down to a very kind 135 (thanks David Dickinson, BHA hurdles handicapper) after his exertions in the Cheltenham gluepot, can enjoy a late hurrah at Aintree in the two-and-a-half miler on Friday.
I have missed only one of his races since joining Raymond Tooth – needless to say a detached retina ruled out my attending the Champion Hurdle he won – so it may not be too troublesome that a pressing family engagement the same afternoon means I’ll not be there. Good luck, if he should be one of around ten Nicky Henderson entries turning out.
Now though, it’s full steam ahead on the Flat. Kempton was nice yesterday and the shrewd Noel Quinlan showed once again what a fine trainer he is given the right material, when Khawatim won his third race in four with a devastating burst from the back under Adam Kirby.
We’ve got quite a few in various stages of preparedness, including a home-bred juvenile with Mr Q, whose progress we will gauge with more accuracy when he works under A. Kirby on Tuesday morning. That's the wonderful thing about this game – there’s always something to look forward to.