By Tony Stafford
Have you enjoyed the summer? After all, we (the Lions) have beaten the Aussies at rugby, their cricketers in the Ashes (without playing that well), Andy won Wimbledon, Chris Froome the Tour de France and Mo won everything, except his team’s opener at the Emirates, and the days are getting shorter. The last bit sums it up for me.
Once you’ve accepted every year that we’re getting close to six months of relatively little daylight, September can be nice, and for those of us for whom horseracing of the Flat variety is a way of life, there’s still plenty to get your teeth into.
The last couple of days have been hectic for me, fitting in a Saturday morning on the gallops in Wiltshire between duty at Newcastle (fast train) on Friday and car to Ripon on Saturday. Neither track can claim to be one of my favourites and with well-supported (happily not by me) losers each day, the forays north were irritating.
Car radio can be fun, but as the Saturday trip included commentaries on Liverpool – last-minute penalty save meant three points- and Arsenal (two penalties conceded, possibly one incorrectly), therefore two more than Man Utd’s visitors routinely get awarded in a season, I was left content that I don’t have the facility for watching BT sport.
It was a clever ploy for the telecommunications giant to marry their internet business with the Premier League coverage. Well, sorry boys, I won’t be biting. Seven or eight years ago I called BT for at least a week trying to get them to get me started on the Internet and they simply didn’t answer. Thus Sky got the gig, and it’s probably much slower, but anyway, the devil you know and all that.
Needless to say, the Sky- (and therefore Liverpool/Manchester) –biased media will be after the opposition, and already viewing new pundit Michael Owen is being likened to watching paint dry. Well what a shock. He was always a little tortuous on the box, but he’s a nice bloke who likes his racing, so he’ll do for me, especially as I won’t be watching.
Next weekend, I think I’m going to be in for another Newcastle (Friday night this time) – Manton (Saturday a.m.) and Yorkshire ordeal, this time switching York for Ripon. York is one of my favourites and I can’t wait for Raymond Tooth’s Great Hall to take his chance in the Melrose on the final day of York’s Ebor meeting.
After his wins at Newmarket and Haydock he’s up to 98, seemingly a fair way short of St Leger consideration, but the form of especially the Haydock win, with the next three home all advertising his merit, suggests the gap might not be so great. Argent Knight, as noted here last week, had been fourth almost four lengths behind when receiving 14lb. He’s now up to 89 after a big win over older handicappers at Newmarket.
I expect William Jarvis’s likeable stayer, the runner-up Debdebdeb and third home Hawk High will all take their chance again, with £46k up for grabs, there’s few options worth so much, but compared with Haydock albeit now 10lb higher Great Hall’s still pretty well in with that trio.
Visiting Brian Meehan’s stable each week gives me the chance to watch his obvious (even to my less than trained eye) physical development and marvel at his beauty and apparent bombproof nature (Great Hall’s not Brian’s). He’s filled out since the spring when those who knew him best always maintained he would continue to progress from the narrow-looking individual of his early days.
For years I’ve always hankered after the traditional racing dates. York was always three days, Tuesday to Thursday, before an interim addition of Friday and then a fourth day and a final Wednesday- Saturday format took away much of the lustre of Goodwood and Newmarket’s weekend fixtures.
York themselves had Newmarket move into an area of their historic pre-eminence when the July meeting at HQ spread to the weekend, the July Cup encroaching into the space that the John Smith’s (formerly Magnet) Cup had made its own over half a century.
You just have to grin and bear the clashes. For trainers and owners, the nightmare is to be able to get the jockey you want for your horse. I’m pretty sure Kieren Fallon will do everything he can to be there to continue his own love affair with Great Hall, forged on the gallops and secured when he rode him at Haydock.
As to anything else worth noting for York, I’ll be content with a word for the unbeaten filly J Wonder in the Lowther. Impressive both on debut at Newbury and in a valuable nursery at Newmarket, Chachamaidee’s full sister is definitely on the upgrade and I expect her to beat Lucky Kristale and Sandiva on Thursday.