By Tony Stafford
As I tried to edge out of slumber early this morning to frame the path of this week’s offering, the phrase “bring me your tired, your weak, your huddled masses”, came into mind. As you all know – if like me you’ve just checked where you knew it from on Google– it is part of a poem by the American writer Emma Lazarus and adorns the Statue of Liberty in New York harbour.
As the tired, weak and huddled masses gather in Calais trying new ways to get into the UK, maybe they should invoke that sentiment, not that they’ll get much of a response. As ever I’m beginning to mire myself in inconsequential thoughts. All I wanted to say was: “What can an owner do when his horses are tired from a hard season, poor (at least showing the effects of that hard season in a physical way) and ready for a break?”
Trainers often say after a less than expected performance, that the horse could do with a break. In the case of Raymond Tooth’s ‘huddled masses’, step forward Rachael and Richard Kempster of Kinsale stud in Shropshire.
Their 300-plus acres of choice, former dairy farmland near Oswestry, offers solitude and nutrition for the mares, young stock and resting out-of-training thoroughbreds, quite a number of which belong to Mr T. Any trainer can tell you the trick is to be able to move from field to field as they get shorn of quality grass, but as Rachael said the other day: “After the nice weather of the past couple of weeks, the grass is still growing!”
Good news indeed for Dutch Law as he came back after two straight years with Hughie Morrison, where he developed into a lightly-raced 85-ish performer, winning a nice handicap at Newmarket, then second at Ascot before a slight down-turn in form persuaded Hughie that maybe a break was what he wanted.
So there he was in midweek, a little wired after the long box ride north with a fellow traveller, but happy to be back at the place where he spent the first 18 months of his life. He was led to his stall, checked where he knew the food was supposed to be, and shouted for it. When that dissatisfaction was put right, he duly cleaned up and promptly went to sleep!
Until you have such decisions to make, in conjunction with a trainer, you probably do not think of the possible consequences of getting it wrong. Just chucking them in a field with minimal supervision is much worse an idea than just keeping them in a quiet regime within the trainer’s ambit.
But given the right balance, as we know they have at Kinsale, and of course many other excellent farms around the country, a horse can come back refreshed, bigger and stronger giving the trainer plenty to work on. And if additionally it’s back to a place he knows and trusts, like Dutch Law, he can get straight on with the relaxation.
In the summer so stealthily but emphatically taken away from us by the sudden change in temperatures over the past week, I remember going out to see three holidaying jumpers enjoying their time at grass.
Promising stayer and Irish point winner, April Dusk, had just been gelded since taking his break from his first session with Warren Greatrex, while the Dan Skelton pair, Notnowsam and Adrakhan, were also refuelling, the former after a win over hurdles for Noel Quinlan before he handed in his licence over Easter, and a chase for Skelton at Warwick. Adrakhan came in a while before his stablemate after three runs, including a nice second to Chatez at Warwick.
All three thrived and got a universal thumbs-up from their trainers on their return. April Dusk will probably be off and running next month, but the other pair were in action for the first time over the past five days and they both showed the benefits of that interruption of their training with impressive returns.
First, Notnowsam, off 122 for that chase debut win, tackled Class 3 company at Wetherby and jumping superbly for such a young horse, only gave best to a more experienced and hard-fit rival in the last 150 yards.
Then yesterday, Adrakhan, bought by Ray’s shrewd French trainer Nicolas Clement – he handled French Fifteen for us – as a yearling, paid back Nicolas’ original patient handling of a big, raw horse. He ran out a promising winner at Market Rasen, with your correspondent showing a dereliction of duty by watching the stars of Flat racing at Ascot the best part of 180 miles away.
They’d already run three of the six races there, including the sprint won so convincingly by Muhaarar, trained by the admirable Charlie Hills, when Adrakhan stepped out with the trainer telling us to expect a good run, but that there would be more to come.
The way he and Harry Skelton got to work after the last to hold on to their advantage was a happy augury of what might be to come for both of them. If there’s a more improved jumps jockey riding than Harry I’ve yet to see him.
Both horses had returned to Lodge Hill brimming with health and without too much flab to have to work off before getting going. That’s the benefit of an establishment like Kinsale, which is run basically like a training yard except they are not in training, save the odd go on the walker.
The Kempsters are readying three of Ray’s homebred yearlings, colts by Stormy River and Equiano and a Mount Nelson filly to go into training, a trio supplemented by fillies by Acclamation (for Mark Johnston), Delegator (Hugo Palmer) and Foxwedge (the great Micky Quinn). That will be our biggest team of juveniles since the Hannon, Elsworth, Meehan et al days.
The six foals, though, are what particularly make Richard smile every morning, and his eyes keep going back to I Say and her colt foal by Mount Nelson. Mum was runner-up on debut in a big field of Newbury maidens behind Secret Gesture, and look what happened to her. If the foal is eventually a decent runner, we won’t be able to contain expectations of the next one – she’s in foal to Nathanial.
The early finish at Ascot which was absolutely mobbed by a very happy, albeit mostly non-racing crowd, meant I could keep abreast of events at Vicarage Road, which turned out fine. What’s not quite so fine is the situation with vendors at the yearling sale. Tattersall’s last half of Book 3 on Friday, had at least three – we hope – pearls, but for the most part, yearlings bringing generally loss-making situations for their breeders.
One of them, Julian Wilson, who with his wife runs a small, but successful in terms of on-course results, operation near Newmarket revealed he had taken home two of three horses he’d consigned. He told me: “Julian Richmond-Watson <Chairman TBS> says we need 1,000 more horses to go into training. Fair enough, but where are the owners to pay for them to be trained?” Keep plugging away, Julians both.