By Tony Stafford
If there was a prize for the person who spends most time with a smile, indeed a full-on laugh, on his features there is only one possible winner, certainly among the crowd who spend time on the racecourse.
Step forward Sam Sangster, son of the late Robert and boss of Sirecam, which will soon enter its busiest period as the major yearling sales get underway in Britain, Ireland, France and also Germany where it has had a significant presence for a number of years.
Sirecam’s cameramen and women travel around the studs in the weeks leading up to the sales producing videos which the sales companies can put on their on-line catalogues. Potential buyers can get at least a flavour of the colts and fillies in which they might be interested, from a pedigree point of view before making a more thorough inspection on site at each sale. Vendors of the horses are charged a modest fee for the service, which like everything in life, has taken time to get to its present prominence.
Sam, with his innate flair for promotion, coupled with the optimism of youth – he’s still in his 20’s - timed the development of Sirecam with a couple of stable sponsorships, the first with long-time family friend Tim Pitt, who is taking stock before hopefully going back to that occupation in the future. He also joined forces with Hugo Palmer, whose ever-growing string in Newmarket go back and forth from Kremlin Cottage stables to the gallops adorned with striking blue and gold Sirecam saddlecloths.
Palmer has been a training star waiting to wax for a couple of years. The first Group 3 win arrived last year along with a Breeders’ Cup challenge, thwarted when the horse in question - Aktabantay - went lame before his Santa Anita objective.
I remember mentioning him as someone to watch earlier in the year to someone who replied that he was “not convinced”. The trainer probably went a long way towards addressing that doubter as his Azamour filly, Covert Love, strode clear to win yesterday’s Darley Irish Oaks at the Curragh, not only beating all the local opposition, but also out-performing a couple of fellow Newmarket travellers.
Palmer paid Euro 26,000 (which translates to around about 20 grand in real money) when Covert Love came up for sale and he ran her just once as a juvenile in a back-end maiden race. This year she has clocked up four wins in a row, starting with a Chelmsford 10-furlong maiden race early in May.
Her sequence developed with two more 10-furlong triumphs, off 83 in a York handicap later in that month and then, when raised to 92, a Listed race at Newcastle four weeks ago. The fact that she was then elevated to 109 will not have any relevance as she is now a Group 1 winner and emphatically so, with the world her oyster.
Sam Sangster also did some product testing of his own, starting Decadent Racing, generally finding younger owners, but with some older exceptions and members of both age groups were in the paddock at Newbury on Saturday with Princess Kodia, running in the ownership name of Racing Jersey, in the Weatherbys Super Sprint.
The filly is trained by Brian Meehan at Manton, the beautiful estate which until last year was owned by the Sangster family. Princess Kodia was a vendor buy-back at the sales. She went through for Euro 20,000 and already has a minor win on her record, so has decent sell-on value. She could not cope with yesterday’s strong opposition and finished in the ruck behind Lathom in the red and white colours now owned by the Armstrongs, but which still adorn my office wall. Indeed they are seen regularly in Scotland even now on one flapping superstar.
Decadent Racing has been going for five years and Sam was at Haydock on Friday night to welcome back the Meehan-trained winner Senrima as trainer’s representative. He said that the High Chaparral gelding, winning for the second time in three starts, could go on to better things, but that he has some knee action and would prefer some cut in the ground.
In a way his progress mirrors that of the Palmer-trained Knife Point, originally a Euro 16,000 buy in his native Germany – at the sale where Sam does his networking every year – but bought by Gay Waterhouse for 200,000gns to race in Australia after a solid three-year-old campaign.
Another Decadent star is Faithful Creek, this time a 35,000gns yearling buy but good enough to finish third to John F Kennedy in Ireland before running fifth to Hootenanny, beaten only two and a half lengths in the same Santa Anita race that Aktabantay had to miss.
Palmer’s progress almost exactly mirrors that of Decadent Racing. His first runners came in 2011 when he won seven races. Horses-in-Training records him as starting the following year with a 24-horse stable. This rose to 29, 44 and 66 this year when his 21 domestic victories put him just three behind last year’s full season’s tally.
It’s very timely for Hugo to get a Group 1 as he is about to be married back home in Scotland next weekend. A descendant of the Huntley & Palmer biscuit makers, this grand statement of intent might almost be said to match that of one of his forebears, who as an attempt to impress a potential father-in-law, erected a solid silver staircase at the family home, to echo the golden one at Versailles. That worked, too.
Coming full circle, I noticed that Sirecam now appears on the Brian Meehan saddlecloths at the races. Over the past couple of years, Brian has been in the throes of upheaval, but if events on the track are to be believed, he is well and truly on the up. That revitalisation was exemplified by the emphatic return win for Windfast in Robert’s famed colours in a quite valuable Newbury handicap. As Meehan said : “He’s a four-year-old gelding who can go anywhere.” A bit like Sam really, (apart from the gelding bit) no wonder he (Sam) laughs all the time.
I was all smiles after the Cardiff test, but less so watching events at Lord’s, though there was a look of silverware too about Arsenal’s Singapore demolition of Everton. The papers try to make Wenger buy more players, but he’s still got two or three good ones for every position, so I’m sure he won’t. This is our year.
I love the Tour de France and just cannot believe the all-round ability of Chris Froome, who can cope with everything thrown at him, yes even that Frenchman’s urine – was it his own? – on yesterday’s stage. How amazing that Froome, Sir Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish were and are all around at the same time, not to mention yesterday’s British stage win for Stephen Cummings. He was recording a first Tour win for an African team, and on Nelson Mandela Day too. They say these things go in cycles.