By Tony Stafford
Another Royal Ascot is over, the countdown to winter began with the Summer Solstice overnight and racing has had one truism thrust in its face. Zoffany, a brilliant two-year-old for Ballydoyle and Coolmore five years ago, when his only defeat in his first six starts came when he was a disappointing sixth in the Coventry Stakes behind Strong Suit, has made it as a stallion.
One minute it seems they were whispering about his colts and fillies from his first crop. Now they are shouting his name from the rooftops. No matter the son of Dansili out of a Machiavellian mare – hardly Coolmore breeding lines – never won again, Royal Ascot 2015 was almost as much his week as Ryan Moore’s.
In a way it’s fitting, for as we wait impatiently for the first Frankels to hit the track next year, it’s Zoffany who has stolen a march on his old rival. The pair met in the St James’s Palace Stakes at the 2011 Royal meeting and ridden for the first of only two occasions by Moore, he gave Frankel his closest call since his debut, getting within three-quarters of a length to the tiring champion.
Ryan was up again for the Prix Jean Prat the following month, the partnership going under by a narrow margin to an Andre Fabre inmate, before the pair drifted apart and Zoffany ended his career on a downslope.
So it’s nit-picking to call them old rivals unlike the true rivalry of Frankel and Nathaniel, two sons of Galileo who fought out a close finish to their respective debuts in a Newmarket maiden and then were basically phantom foes until they both bowed out, again at Ascot in first and third (split by Cirrus des Aigles) in the 2012 Champion Stakes.
Maybe they’ll be at it again next year when their first progeny hit the track, representing the might of Juddmonte and the ever upgrading Newsells Park operations.
Zoffany’s earliest supporters at the farm and at the sales rings have had the sort of instant gratification that happens so rarely in this game. One doyenne close to Coolmore rarely drops far below Galileo when matching up the farm’s mares but has taken a punt on Zoffany in the way that Jim Bolger did with Galileo and got Teofilo and New Approach in the early crops. Another delighted supporter reported five mares safely in foal – “that was my budget”” he said, “doubt if I’ll afford him next year!”
For the record, of the six two-year-old races at this week’s meeting, three went to Zoffanys, the Norfolk with Waterloo Bridge, the Windsor Castle with Washington DC and the Albany with Illuminate. The first two are in Coolmore ownership, the last-named with Richard Hannon for Prince Fasal Salman’s Denford Stud.
Zoffany already is sire of the winners of 12 races and more than £220,000. The title of first-season champion is his already and I’m delighted to say that one good friend, who paid very little for a nice Zoffany foal is beginning to think his luck – rubbish so far this year – may be turning.
I’ve no idea whether Jim Bolger, whose three fancied Ascot runners were all beaten, although Pleascach and Lucida both ran blinders in defeat, is supporting Zoffany, but by all accounts he’s taken a shine to Pour Moi, a stallion that boss Ray Tooth has patronised this year with two winning French-bred and French-raced mares. Both are in foal and the reports of nice juveniles around the place, and especially in the Bolger yard, are lapped up with anticipation in this quarter.
I’ve said here a few times that the Tooth Flat-race operation has been concentrating on home-breds and there was more than a little satisfaction all round when Dutch Law, a three-year-old trained by Hughie Morrison, won a 15-runner Newmarket 0-75 emphatically on Friday night under top-weight.
Martin Harley, who rode him on his previous start, put all the knowledge gained from Haydock into his plan, and he employed the gelding’s undoubted speed to shoot clear on the far rail to win by two lengths.
Initially I’d planned a fleeting visit to see the first couple of races at Ascot, but Friday night travel is often horrendous at the foot of the M11 and this Friday was no exception. Once sanity took over, I watched the first few at home, but couldn’t leave until 5 p.m. It took 30 minutes for the usual initial five-minute breeze onto the motorway from home, and when we hadn’t got to the Stansted turn until 6.30, I had visions of missing the race.
All the while Mrs S, chatting away on the phone to a friend in her native tongue, remained confident, indeed complacent as she recalled a previous trip seven years earlier on the occasion of our wedding. That night ten of us sat down to a spread in the press room and then watched Excape win in the Tooth silks.
It was probably a Newmarket Night, but we ate, won and then came back for some drinks. There was no doubt this time of the entertainment, with Kylie Minogue waiting to perform what was an exceptional set after racing. The nicest thing was that two of the wedding day guests joined me in the paddock while the camera was employed outside, warming up before Mrs S’s main motivation, to record bits of Kylie’s 90 minutes for posterity.
As we waited in the car park, I noticed the amazing Dave Butler running past, heading to the main exit. Dave’s worked at racecourse car parks – and Wembley stadium – for many years, and some time ago he bought the company. Yet there he was every day at Ascot working in the field and showing an example to his staff and customers alike.
As we neared the roundabout at the top of the High Street in Ascot on Wednesday, I pointed Dave out to Katy. “That man owns the company!” On Friday it was: “It’s that man again!” At Ascot all day and still at it full on at 11 p.m. at Newmarket. Heroic I’d call it.
As we waited Katy said, “Do you know, before we met I had two ambitions, to see Madonna live and then Kylie.” The first was achieved a couple of years back when she saw Madonna in Hyde Park accompanied by a friend who was over for a holiday.
Kylie was a different challenge. “I couldn’t see how I’d get to one of her shows,” she said. In the same press room where seven years ago, we’d been welcomed by the press boys, of which only two, Colin Roberts and David Milnes were there again on Friday, we had a coffee and then went outside to watch from the Press viewing area.
There were 22,000 there, a sea of faces, more men than women and many singing along. I must confess that apart from I Can’t Get you out of my Head, I’m stumped most times, but these guys with the adoring looks and full-on vocals had the time of their lives.
We did too from our perfect pitch a few feet above and never more than ten yards away from the action. “Never give up the press badge” might have been the spousal plea, if she ever thought about it. Don’t worry dear, I won’t!