Monday Musings: Irish Domination

Where once there was meaningful rivalry, now there is renewed omnipotence. A picture spread through social media early this year of a grinning trainer talking on a mobile phone atop a dead horse has had even more effect than its horrified recipients throughout the horse world could have imagined, writes Tony Stafford.

Up until Cheltenham, the remnants of the Gordon Elliott stables, which had run 321 horses from the time jump racing resumed after the initial stopping through Covid19, was still punching most of its weight under the name if not the supreme control of Mrs Denise Foster.

Traditionally though, every late April/early May the Punchestown Festival has ended any wistful hope that the brash Elliott with his legion of major owners, most notably the O’Leary family’s Gigginstown House Stud, might finally gain a first Irish NH trainers’ championship.

Last week, respectable second place seemed a long way off, that eminence supplanted by the exploits of Henry De Bromhead, he of the surreal Champion Hurdle, Gold Cup and Grand National hat-trick over the previous six weeks.

But now we were in Willie Mullins territory and the week was just perfectly situated to welcome back the trainer’s previously stricken stable jockey. Paul Townend had seen his advantage over the challenging and seemingly unstoppable Rachael Blackmore slip to less than a handful of winners with seven days to go.

Mullins doesn’t do Cross-Country races, of which there are four over the five days of Punchestown, but he does do everything else. And how!

Eight races are staged each day, leaving 36 to go for. Mullins, with five on the opening day and never fewer than three on the four succeeding instalments, put together the unbelievable tally of 19 wins from the available 36 – so more than 50%. He did have 87 runners, very often multiple chances, then, and another 21 of his horses made the first four, that’s 40 win or placed. Place money at the meeting goes down to sixth and he had another ten of those, so altogether 50 in the money.

In all, Mullins’ runners brought back a total haul over the week of €1,470,950. For the season his 182 winners brought almost €5.5 million.

Elliott’s monetary reward for his 155 wins was €2,863,875 at the time of his suspension. Add to that Mrs Foster’s 16 victories in 205 runs from 135 of the Elliott horses was another €412,860.

But the magic which initially lingered after the paper – if not actual – change of control all but died last week. Mrs Foster’s 36 runners at Punchestown brought no wins, three second places, two thirds and a single fourth and a mere total of €52k. Nineteen of her runners either finished outside the first ten or failed to finish.

You would think that everyone associated with the Closutton steamroller would have been delighted, but what was probably the most spectacular of his victories, in terms of style of performance and the circumstances behind it, was a cause of regret for that horse’s connections.

When Mark Smith first moved to his present house in Essex 40 years ago the one-time Foreign Exchange trader met a neighbour who was soon to become his best friend. Mark owned Balasani, a horse that won the Stayers’ Hurdle for Martin Pipe at the Cheltenham Festival, and soon he and his friend, John Coleman, regularly went racing together.

Then a few years back John became gravely ill with cancer by which time he had bought Klassical Dream. Sadly he was never able to see the horse on the track – it raced in the name of his widow Joanne but was a family horse with his two sons and a nephew taking shares. They insisted that Mark should also accept a share.

It was bitter-sweet for the team when Klassical Dream won his maiden hurdle first time up at Leopardstown’s St Stephen’s Day fixture in 2018 and he duly went on to take three Grade 1 prizes, at Leopardstown in February, Cheltenham’s Supreme Novice, and Punchestown’s Champion Novice Hurdle.

The 2019/20 season proved a massive anti-climax, the ante-post Champion Hurdle favourite racing only twice and beaten at odds-on behind less talented stable companions. Cheltenham 2021 was originally on the agenda but that came and went without him, after which the plan was laid for Thursday’s big stayers’ hurdle over three miles. Klassical Dream had never raced over much further than two miles and would have a 487-day absence to overcome.

Mark spoke to Willie a few days before the race and on Thursday morning before leaving home for a funeral of another good friend he tried unsuccessfully to reach the trainer. Mullins left a recorded message when he could and Mark says it was very similar to the previous one.

I’ve heard it and in it Willie says he would be happy if the horse finished in the first six but above all the priority is that he comes home sound. Mark interpreted this to mean the trainer wasn’t sure he would make the first six.

Mark relayed the news to the other owners, and before leaving had what he calls a “suicide throwaway 50 quid” at around 17-1 when he first noticed the price was dropping. He had expected to be home in time to watch the race, but was still at the reception at the off, so watched it on his phone.

In what was described as the biggest gamble of the week, 20-1 down to 5-1, Klassical Dream under Patrick Mullins, and one of four stable-mates in the race, cantered into the lead going to the last hurdle and drew easily clear of Mullins’ James Du Berlais for a nine-length victory.

There was more than a degree of consolation that the horse had come back with such a bang, and not least for winning the €147,500 winner’s prize, but also some irritation that the message might have been a little more accurate.

These words will be written before Mark and the trainer have their next conversation. “I knew I shouldn’t talk to Willie, who has always been so helpful in all our dealings, as I would probably have lost my temper. None of the other owners are racing people in the way John was and of course I am, and their delight at their horse coming back in such a dramatic manner easily outweighs for them any irritation that they might have had a bigger bet if they knew a bit more beforehand”.

The Irish dominated Cheltenham and Aintree and it was the Flat trainers from that side of the wet divide who collected the first two Classics of the season at Newmarket.

First Jim Bolger, 79, and jockey and son-in-law Kevin Manning, 54, took the 2,000 Guineas with brave home-bred Poetic Flare, 16-1 and a son of Dawn Approach, also a Bolger home-bred and winner of the same Classic.

Then yesterday, Aidan O’Brien, a pupil and amateur rider for Bolger before embarking on his own stellar training career, made it seven wins in the 1,000 Guineas. His second string 10-1 shot Mother Earth, ridden by 50-year-old Frankie Dettori, made use of her greater experience to run past long-time race favourite and stable-companion Santa Barbara.

Like Love last year, who came to the “1,000” with three wins from seven juvenile appearances, Mother Earth put in plenty of creditable runs at two but in her case for just one win, although second at the Breeders’ Cup was hardly a negligible effort.

Unlike Love, though, who went on to Epsom and then York for two more emphatic wide-margin Group 1 victories, Mother Earth is being pencilled in for the Irish 1,000. Santa Barbara, who understandably showed signs of greenness - she raced only in one maiden as a two-year-old – goes straight to Epsom.

It was quite a weekend for big numbers and veterans. Bob Baffert, now 68 years old, made it a seventh Kentucky Derby when Medina Spirit, at just over 12-1, made all under John Velazquez, who is in his 50th year. The colt had won only once previously too, so it was stretching credibility after three defeats that he could win the most important three-year-old race of the year in the USA.

But it was even more amazing given that two runs back, in the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita, Medina Spirit had been crushed by eight lengths by another Baffert colt, Life Is Good, who was unable through injury to get to Churchill Downs.

The old prototype for winning the “Run For The Roses” was plenty of race-conditioning as a two-year-old, but Medina Spirit didn’t appear until January this year. That was also the starting-point for Life Is Good. That day, Medina Spirit came up short by only three-quarters of a length and he must have been energised when he noticed that his nemesis was not in the field.

Still pictures of the race finish show the Churchill Downs grandstands were packed. I just can’t wait for that to happen here - sooner rather than later I trust!

Classic success still a sweet feeling for veteran Manning

Veteran jockey Kevin Manning was thrilled to secure his fourth British Classic success as Poetic Flare came out on top in a pulsating renewal of the Qipco 2000 Guineas at Newmarket.

At the age of 54, Manning is the oldest jockey to win the Rowley Mile showpiece since Lester Piggott steered Rodrigo De Triano to success in 1992, aged 56.

It is 13 years since Manning broke his British Classic duck aboard Finsceal Beo in the 1000 Guineas, since when he had added to his tally with New Approach in the 2008 Derby and Dawn Approach in the 2000 Guineas in 2013.

Even at this late stage of his career, Manning insists big-race success tastes as sweet as ever.

“Any time you can win any of these Classics, it’s an amazing moment,” he said.

Kevin Manning with Jim Bolger
Kevin Manning with Jim Bolger (Barry Cronin/PA)

“They’re so hard to win and don’t come along every day of the week.

“It feels the same as it did at the start (of my career). Classics are Classics and you’re just very hungry for those type of races – that’s what everybody works for and strives for.”

Like Finsceal Beo, New Approach and Dawn Approach, Poetic Flare is trained by Manning’s father-in-law and long-time employer Jim Bolger, 79.

This particular colt – a son of Dawn Approach – made a winning debut in the March of his juvenile year, but did not run again until finishing down the field in the Dewhurst at Newmarket in October.

However, having rounded off his campaign with victory in the Killavullan Stakes – and made a successful reappearance in the 2,000 Guineas Trial at Leopardstown three weeks ago – Manning insists confidence was high in the camp ahead of his bid for Guineas glory.

He added: “When Jim has a horse with the ability to win one (a Classic), he doesn’t leave it behind.

“This horse won his maiden in March, and then we had Covid and the lockdown and everything that went with it.

“When racing did start back up he was turning into a big horse and was growing and one thing and another, so Jim left him be, and then there wasn’t anything for him.

Finsceal Beo was Kevin Manning's first British Classic winner
Finsceal Beo was Kevin Manning’s first British Classic winner (Chris Radburn/PA)

“He ended up going to the Dewhurst and even that was a very good run – beaten less than nine lengths – on his first run since March. He then won the Killavullan and came out this spring and won his Guineas trial very well.

“I always felt he was a very smart horse and I’d have been disappointed if he wasn’t in the shake-up today.”

Poetic Flare was one of two Guineas candidates from Bolger’s yard along with Vertem Futurity Trophy winner Mac Swiney.

Manning – who insists he has not given any thought to retirement – feels there is little to choose between the pair in terms of talent, but hinted Mac Swiney’s long-term future could lie over further than a mile.

He said: “He (Poetic Flare) is a horse that would catch your eye and is a great stamp of a horse. He’s got everything, to be quite honest – he’s a great walker and a great temperament and he’s a looker.

Mac Swiney could be a Derby contender for Kevin Manning and Jim Bolger
Mac Swiney could be a Derby contender for Kevin Manning and Jim Bolger (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“Mac Swiney is at home. Whether he goes for the Irish Guineas or the two of them go, I’m not sure – that’s all down to the boss.

“I actually rode the two of them on the grass in separate bits of work maybe three weeks ago.

“Jim actually asked me the question ‘if the two of them turn up (at Newmarket), which one would you ride?’ And I said ‘I don’t know’.

“The two of them have been working very well. Mac Swiney is very relaxed. He isn’t slow, but he could be more of a Derby horse.”

Poetic Flare claims Classic glory after pulsating battle with Master Of The Seas

Jim Bolger once again proved himself to be a master of his craft as Poetic Flare edged out Master Of The Seas in the Qipco 2000 Guineas at Newmarket.

Bolger won the race in 2013 with Dawn Approach – the sire of Poetic Flare – but this success will mean even more coming as it did in his wife Jackie’s silks.

As ever, Bolger employed his son-in-law Kevin Manning in the saddle, so the Classic success was a real family affair.

Handy throughout as Naval Crown set a very stiff gallop, the winner found himself right in the firing line with a furlong to run.

Master Of The Seas had made eyecatching progress for William Buick and the pair of them set down to battle it out, with Lucky Vega just behind in third.

It came down to a matter of who had their head down right on the line as they flashed by together, with the Irish raider getting the verdict by a short head and a neck.

None of Aidan O’Brien’s trio were ever involved, while Thunder Moon was among the first beaten.

Manning said: “He’s usually a very switched off horse who takes everything in his stride, but he left the gates very quick and on the wrong note and it just took a furlong and a half or two furlongs to reorganise and get into a rhythm.

It was a tight finish to the 2000 Guineas
It was a tight finish to the 2000 Guineas (David Davies/Jockey Club)

“He’s very smart and has done it very well. He travelled well and picked up well.

“He just caught me off guard coming out of the gates and I had to sit and suffer, but I didn’t feel he was taking as much out of himself as it might have looked.

“Going down into the dip, when he quickened up I thought he’d put it to bed. In the last five or six strides he was just idling a little bit and coming back underneath me.

“It’s great to get to the other side of it (line, in front).”

Speaking from his County Carlow base, Bolger, 79, who also bred the winner: said: “I thought he was beaten! It’s a big day for us, right up there with the best we’ve had.

“He wasn’t ready for the Dewhurst last year. I thought he was a little bit fitter than he was and I was hoping he’d run a big race and get the experience of running at that level. He ran out of wind about a furlong and a half down, but we were very pleased in the run and didn’t lose faith in him.

“I’m not too concerned about him getting further in time. Kevin did say in the interview on TV that he thought he’d stay 10 furlongs, but at the moment I’m not thinking about going anywhere except the mile.

“He has buckets of speed and I even entered him in the Commonwealth Cup in the unlikely event that he didn’t stay, as he’s that quick and you always have some doubts about whether the very quick ones will stay or not. The St James’s Palace would definitely be on the cards.”

He added: “It’s a wonderful day. In our case it’s fairly necessary with the way I do things! It very much carries on that Dawn Approach line, and I have two half-sisters of Poetic Flare as well.”

Charlie Appleby was proud of Master Of The Seas in defeat

He said: “When they went past the line I thought we’d got beat and someone said ‘no, you’ve won’, so I thought I better sit tight.

“He’s run a great race and backed up his performance in the Craven.

“He travelled lovely through the race and two furlongs down I thought ‘we’re in with a real shout here’.

“He’s picked up well up the hill, but so has Jim Bolger’s horse and well done to him and his team.

“Ascot (St James’s Palace) will be the most likely target for him, but I’ll speak to connections.”

Poetic Flare (fifth right) and Master Of The Seas (left) battle it out
Poetic Flare (fifth right) and Master Of The Seas (left) battle it out (John Walton/PA)

Appleby also saddled the fourth in Naval Crown and the sixth One Ruler.

He added: “Naval Crown ran a hell of a race. I was always confident he’d run a big race, stepping back up to the mile.

“James (Doyle) said One Ruler wants a trip and a bit easier ground, so we may look at putting him on the Derby squad.”

Jessica Harrington was equally pleased with Lucky Vega.

She said: “I’m delighted with him. He ran a great race and proved he stays.

“He’s a relaxed horse and just a little bit fresh. Shane (Foley) said he didn’t come down the hill very well, but he stayed well and he said he was coming back at them with every stride.

“He’s in the Irish Guineas and the St James’s Palace, so they are nice options to have.

“I’ve also got Cadillac, who is meant to be going to the Irish Guineas.

“It’s fantastic to have the two of them. We might have to run them against each other later in the year, although Cadillac might get further – he’s from more of a staying family.”

Wembley heads O’Brien trio chasing Guineas glory

Aidan O’Brien is triple-handed in his bid for an 11th victory in the Qipco 2000 Guineas at Newmarket on Saturday.

It is 23 years since the Ballydoyle maestro first landed the Rowley Mile Classic with King Of Kings, since when he has added to his tally with the likes of Rock of Gibraltar (2002), George Washington (2006), Camelot (2012) and, most recently, Magna Grecia (2019).

Each of the trainer’s three candidates this year boast strong credentials, with Ryan Moore preferring Wembley over stablemates Battleground and Van Gogh.

Wembley makes his first appearance since being narrowly beaten by another O’Brien-trained colt, St Mark’s Basilica, in the Dewhurst at Newmarket in October.

“The plan with Wembley was always to come back here after the Dewhurst last year,” said the trainer.

“Everything went well with him during the winter and through the spring. Ryan knows him well and we’re very happy with him really.

“He got caught in bad ground in a few races last season and really progressed as he went on. Our horses were a little bit slow to hand last year, with the season being a bit messy, and it all happened a little bit too quick for some of them.”

As a son of his Arc heroine Found, O’Brien has always had a soft spot for Battleground, who will be ridden by Frankie Dettori.

Battleground winning the Vintage Stakes at Goodwood
Battleground winning the Vintage Stakes at Goodwood (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Winner of the Chesham at Royal Ascot and the Vintage Stakes at Goodwood last summer, the War Front colt rounded off his juvenile campaign by finishing second at the Breeders’ Cup.

O’Brien said: “Battleground is a big, long-striding horse who ran very well in America. He just got caught in a little bit of traffic early and was maybe a bit further back than Ryan would have liked, but he ran home very well.

“He’s by War Front, so he should like the ground. He seems in good form and we think he’s ready to start off.

“Found was a big mare and very genuine. Battleground is a big horse, too – he’s a very high cruiser, which she was as well.

“Frankie is a great rider and we’re delighted to have him.”

Van Gogh, the mount of Seamie Heffernan, is the only one of the trio to have already struck Group One gold, having landed the Criterium International in testing conditions at Saint-Cloud last autumn.

O’Brien does not expect the forecast fast ground at Newmarket to be an issue, adding: “Van Gogh ran on fastish ground early on and finished at Saint-Cloud on very soft to heavy ground. I think it’s just the way the season worked out and the way the ground was.

“He’s a good-moving horse and we always thought he’d get further than a mile. We’re hoping that he’ll be OK (on the ground).

“You can make very strong cases for them all – they all have their pluses and minuses.

“I’d say it would be a very hard one to split.”

Thunder Moon after winning the National Stakes
Thunder Moon after winning the National Stakes (PA)

Aidan O’Brien’s son Joseph, who won the 2000 Guineas as a rider aboard Camelot, has high hopes of breaking his duck as a trainer in the first Classic of the season with Thunder Moon.

The son of Zoffany had Wembley behind him when winning last season’s National Stakes at the Curragh, but that form was reversed in the Dewhurst, with Thunder Moon having to settle for third place.

O’Brien junior feels the prevailing soft ground contributed to that defeat and is delighted with how his charge has progressed since.

He said: “Thunder Moon is really good, wintered very well and had a really good season last year. He ran a really good race in the Dewhurst when the ground was as slow as he would have liked.

“This race has been the plan, he’s going in good shape, we’re happy with the draw (stall 10) and we’re looking forward to the race.

Trainer Joseph O’Brien
Trainer Joseph O’Brien (PA)

“In the Dewhurst, we would have preferred better ground and a better draw. He travelled well and quickened up well, but just got run out of it. We thought better ground and a better draw would have helped us get closer and we’re hoping that might happen at the weekend.

“He’s always shown a lot of pace, he has a big turn of foot, which he showed on the track last year, and he’s working satisfactorily at home. Please god, he can prove himself a high-class colt this season.

“We’re excited, we think he’s the right type for the race – he’s a mature, pacey type and we think a mile is a good trip for him.

“Wembley is probably the obvious danger as he was very consistent last season.”

Appleby happy with strong hand in Guineas

Charlie Appleby is finding it tough to split Master Of The Seas and One Ruler in their respective bids for Qipco 2000 Guineas glory.

The Newmarket handler would love to win the Rowley Mile Classic for the first time on Saturday – and feels his two leading contenders give him a strong chance of doing so.

William Buick has sided with Master Of The Seas following his course-and-distance triumph in the Craven Stakes little over a fortnight ago, leaving James Doyle to pick up the ride on One Ruler on his seasonal reappearance.

“I’m delighted with the way Master Of The Seas has come out of the Craven. He’s shown us his wellness during the week – William sat on him on Wednesday and was pleased with him,” said Appleby.

“He ticks a lot of the boxes going into the weekend. I couldn’t be any happier with him and I’m looking forward to seeing him run.

“We’re taking on the same conditions as in the Craven in terms of it’s going to be quick ground again. We know he handles that and handles the track, and he saw the trip out well, so I always felt it was going to be hard for William to get off him.”

One Ruler has not been seen in competitive action since filling the runner-up spot in the Vertem Futurity Trophy at Doncaster in October, but is reported to be in rude health by his trainer.

Appleby added: “I’m pleased with One Ruler’s preparation. He looks great and he’s ready.

One Ruler winning the Autumn Stakes at Newmarket
One Ruler winning the Autumn Stakes at Newmarket (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“James is excited to be riding him. He was in a good position, waiting on William’s decision, and he was always going to be happy to jump on either horse.

“They’re two different types of horses. Master Of The Seas is a very honest traveller on the bridle, whereas One Ruler is a horse who warms into his race.

“I’m excited to see One Ruler have his first start as a three-year-old. The two horses have got different run styles, but in respect of the calibre of each horse, I think they’re hard to split.”

Appleby has a third string to his bow in outsider Naval Crown.

The son of Dubawi inflicted a shock defeat on Master Of The Seas in Dubai earlier in the year, before being beaten a neck by the Queen’s Tactical on his return to Newmarket in the Free Handicap.

Appleby feels Naval Crown could outrun his odds, saying: “We left him in the Guineas for a reason. Master Of The Seas was entitled to come forward from the run at Meydan and did come forward, but Naval Crown beat him fair and square.

“He’s been a rock solid little performer who brings an abundance of experience to the table, and I think the step back up to a mile is going to suit him.”

The Charlie Hills-trained Mutasaabeq was mightily impressive when winning a conditions race at the Craven meeting, which ultimately led to connections supplementing for the Guineas earlier this week.

“He seems to have come out of his Newmarket race really well. Jim (Crowley) came and sat on him on Wednesday and said he felt very relaxed and in good shape,” said Hills.

“We were trying to nurse him through his career, but his ability has got him where he is now. He’s only had two runs, but they’ve both been at Newmarket – so he’s got more experience than most on a course like that.

“It’s always encouraging to see horses win the way he did, but he’d done nothing wrong at all in his homework. He was working with the very nice horses at home and worked well with them. Winning by six lengths is nice to see – but did it surprise me? Possibly not.

“It goes without saying he becomes a very valuable proposition should he win a Guineas, being out of a Guineas winner.”

Richard Hannon is keen on the chances of Chindit, whose only defeat in five starts came when disappointing in the Dewhurst over seven furlongs here in October.

Chindit (left) was a narrow winner of the Greenham Stakes at Newbury
Chindit (left) was a narrow winner of the Greenham Stakes at Newbury (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

The Wootton Bassett colt got back on the winning trail on his return in the Greenham Stakes at Newbury a fortnight ago.

“I think he’s a Group One horse now – if he wins the Guineas or not – and they are hard to find,” said Hannon.

“I feel he’s quite intelligent, he knows when he’s done enough. What pleased me in the Greenham was it looked like he was only getting going when he crossed the line. He looks like he wants a mile, which is great.

“He’s done all his winning on flat tracks like Ascot, Newbury and Doncaster – and this is vastly different. I don’t know if he enjoyed the Dewhurst, but I’m fairly sure that was down to the ground.

“The race will have turned him on, I think, just got him going. He travels a lot easier now at home.”

Ballydoyle trio set for 2000 Guineas

Aidan O’Brien’s trio of Battleground, Van Gogh and Wembley are among 15 colts declared for the Qipco 2000 Guineas at Newmarket.

The Ballydoyle handler has saddled a record 10 winners of the Rowley Mile Classic and launches another formidable assault on Saturday.

Wembley is officially the highest-rated of his three runners on what will be his first appearance since being touched off by stable companion St Mark’s Basilica in the Dewhurst at Newmarket in October.

Battleground was last seen filling the runner-up spot at the Breeders’ Cup, while Van Gogh has been off the track since landing Group One honours in the Criterium International at Saint-Cloud.

St Mark’s Basilica does not head to Newmarket, with O’Brien confirming on Thursday he is instead being aimed at the French equivalent.

Speaking on a Qipco British Champions Series Zoom call, the trainer said: “We’re just splitting them up. The plan is to train St Mark’s Basilica for the French Guineas, with a view to maybe going to the French Derby after that.”

Assessing the chances of his three 2000 Guineas runners, O’Brien added: “Battleground had very good form last year and finished off with a very good run in America.

“Van Gogh’s form progressed as the season went on and he finished off with a lovely run in France.

Battleground winning the Vintage Stakes at Goodwood
Battleground winning the Vintage Stakes at Goodwood (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“Wembley’s last run was in the Dewhurst, which we were delighted with really.

“They all seem to be in good form. It’s only their first run of the year and it’s a great place to start.

“It’s lovely to be getting good ground and we felt they all deserved to take their chance.”

Joseph O’Brien, Aidan’s son, has a leading contender in Thunder Moon. The son of Zoffany beat Wembley when winning last season’s National Stakes at the Curragh, but was behind the same rival when third in the Dewhurst.

Thunder Moon represents Joseph O'Brien
Thunder Moon represents Joseph O’Brien (PA)

Jessica Harrington’s Lucky Vega and Poetic Flare, from Jim Bolger’s yard, complete the Irish contingent.

Bolger did not, however, declare Vertem Futurity Trophy winner Mac Swiney.

“They are both very well. It was a tight question as to which would go as I only want to run one, in which case Mac Swiney will go to either the French Guineas or the Derrinstown at Leopardstown,” Bolger told Nick Luck’s Daily Podcast.

“It was nothing to do with the ground, but having said that I always favour good ground because it’s safe for horse and rider.

“Poetic Flare always looked very smart and won the first two-year-old race of the year, but then he decided he wasn’t big enough and he began to grow, which didn’t stop until July.

“I didn’t have him cherry-ripe for the Dewhurst and it transpired he needed the race.

“I wouldn’t be that good a trainer that I could tell you how fit he was first time out, but what I can tell you is he has improved massively since then. A mile will be no problem.

“Dawn Approach winning (in 2013) was very satisfying and I have the same confidence in this horse.”

The home team includes three Charlie Appleby-trained hopefuls in One Ruler, Master Of The Seas and Naval Crown.

Master Of The Seas winning the Craven Stakes
Master Of The Seas winning the Craven Stakes (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Naval Crown inflicted a shock defeat on Master Of The Seas in Dubai earlier in the year, but the latter bounced back to winning ways in the Craven Stakes over the Guineas course and distance a couple of weeks ago.

With William Buick deciding to stick with Master Of The Seas this weekend, James Doyle partners One Ruler, who rounded off his two-year-old campaign by finishing second in the Vertem Futurity Trophy at Doncaster.

The Charlie Hills-trained Mutasaabeq was mightily impressive when winning a conditions race at the Craven meeting, which ultimately led to connections supplementing for the Guineas earlier this week.

Richard Hannon’s Greenham Stakes winner Chindit, Ralph Beckett’s Devilwala, the Roger Varian-trained Legion Of Honour, Mystery Smiles from Andrew Balding’s yard and Jane Chapple-Hyam’s rank outsider Albadri are the other hopefuls.

Guineas hope Chindit has ‘gears’

Richard Hannon believes Chindit has the required gears to provide him with another victory in the Qipco 2000 Guineas.

Hannon was previously successful in the opening Classic of the season with Night Of Thunder in 2014, and Chindit tuned up for Newmarket on Saturday by winning the Greenham at Newbury a fortnight ago.

In what looks a good crop of three-year-olds this season and, with Godolphin and Coolmore well represented as well as the likes of Thunder Moon and the supplemented Mutasaabeq holding claims, Chindit will need to be at the peak of his powers.

“He took a long time to win the race at Newbury – which says to me he needed that, and it will have sharpened him up,” said Hannon.

“Our Guineas horses tend to really need their first race. Night Of Thunder got beaten in his trial and won the Guineas; Sky Lantern (winner of the 1000 Guineas in 2013) was beaten in her trial too, so they need it.

“Once they’ve had that, it’s just a case of ticking along. He did a bit on Tuesday morning, (Pat ) Dobbsy rode him and he was happy. I couldn’t be happier with him – but it does look quite a smart race, certainly hotter than the trial was.

“A trial is not a Derby, it’s not their focus. Generally we start working horses at Christmas, but just routine work. This year we couldn’t get on the grass for a month or six weeks – and that probably made a big difference, because he’s been on the all-weather the whole spring.”

Many smart juveniles show up well in their very first gallop, but Hannon says that was not the case with Chindit, winner of four of his five races. His sole defeat did come at Newmarket in the Dewhurst, but the Wiltshire trainer felt that was due to the soft ground.

“He was one of those horses who didn’t show too much before his debut but won nicely,” Hannon added.

“It was when he won the Listed race at Ascot we began to think we had a nice one. The Champagne Stakes was a very good race, and he did the same thing. He likes passing horses.

“The times the day at Newmarket suggested the ground was heavy. It didn’t suit him or (stablemate) Etonian. I am concerned about the track, though, and I hope Newmarket misses the heavy showers.

“He’s done all his winning on flat tracks like Ascot, Newbury and Doncaster – and this is vastly different. I don’t know if he enjoyed the Dewhurst, but I’m fairly sure that was down to the ground.

Richard Hannon and Pat Dobbs go back a long way
Richard Hannon and Pat Dobbs go back a long way (Bill Selwyn/PA)

“He’s a neat little horse – but he’s got gears, he’s very tough and he’s quite lightly-raced. There is more to come.

“All our Guineas winners were different in their own way, but they were all immensely talented. To win a Guineas is a huge thing. Whether Chindit is one of those or not? I’d like to think so, but we won’t know until they are a furlong and a half down.”

Assessing the dangers, despite Ireland holding a strong hand, Hannon feels the biggest may be closer to home.

He added: “I think Charlie Hills’ horse (Mutasaabeq) is one of the main dangers – he’s got a very good pedigree, and it would probably be right if this year Sheikh Hamdan had a Guineas winner. I for one would love to see that.

“That looked a warm race, but he handled the track no problem. He’s a danger. He looked quite a big horse – there might be more to come and he might be improving. He would be a very fitting winner.”

Despite being attached to the yard for most of his career, Dobbs has just one Group One to his name on Pether’s Moon in the Coronation Cup – so Hannon would love to present a key cog in the wheel with a Guineas win.

“We call him ‘Mr Grumpy’. I’d love to provide him with a Classic as he’s one of our guys – but I still don’t think you’d see him smile!” joked Hannon.

“Pat has been here for years – he’s a lovely bloke to work with and has seen it all. Sometimes he might win on a horse and then someone might not want him next time out, but it doesn’t ruffle his feathers. Nothing flusters him.

“He’s an extremely good jockey – and yes, he’s unsung. He’s very popular among the other jockeys, which is a very good sign. He’s one of the best riders I know and he’s a good bloke.”

Appleby and O’Brien big guns lined up for 2000 Guineas showdown

Coolmore and Godolphin dominate the 18 confirmations for Saturday’s Qipco 2000 Guineas at Newmarket on Saturday.

Aidan O’Brien is chasing an 11th victory in the first Classic of the season and already holds the record as the most successful trainer in the race.

The Ballydoyle handler has an exceptionally strong hand, led by St Mark’s Basilica and Wembley – the first two home in the Dewhurst at the end of last season.

St Mark’s Basilica leads home Wembley in the Dewhurst
St Mark’s Basilica leads home Wembley in the Dewhurst (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Vintage Stakes winner Battleground, who missed the a large part of the summer before finishing second at the Breeders’ Cup, stands his ground, while O’Brien could also run Criterium International winner Van Gogh and Military Style.

Godolphin and Charlie Appleby look the chief threat to Ballydoyle, with two major chances.

He fields Craven Stakes winner Master Of The Seas and One Ruler, who will be making his seasonal debut but impressed in a recent workout on the Rowley Mile.

One Ruler beat Van Gogh in the Autumn Stakes before chasing home Jim Bolger’s Mac Swiney in the Futurity Trophy at Doncaster. Appleby could also run Naval Crown.

Master Of The Seas is a leading contender for Godolphin after his Craven win
Master Of The Seas is a leading contender for Godolphin after his Craven win (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Following his Craven win William Buick has sided with Master Of The Seas, with James Doyle set to partner One Ruler.

“Five days out from the Guineas, I couldn’t be happier with them. One Ruler has been progressing nicely at home, while Master Of The Seas has gone to the races and put the score on the board,” Appleby told

“It wasn’t an easy call for William, who rode Master Of The Seas in the Craven and then sat on One Ruler in a routine gallop at Moulton Paddocks last week.

“William asked some serious questions of Master Of The Seas in his race, and he was pleased with the response. I believed that’s what clinched it in the end. Of course, the final call comes at declaration time on Thursday.

“Master Of The Seas had three runs as a two-year-old. He suffered a setback after the National Stakes at the Curragh last September. We then took him to Dubai (second in the Meydan Classic), all the while with an eye on Europe in the spring. We did the same with Masar.”

One Ruler was impressive in the Autumn Stakes last year
One Ruler was impressive in the Autumn Stakes last year (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

He went on: “Master Of The Seas has taken a proven path to the Guineas, and has kept progressing, but the biggest change in him came after he ran at Meydan. He strengthened noticeably.”

As for One Ruler, he has been getting a helping hand from someone who knows exactly how to win the race.

“Things have also gone well with One Ruler. He is well in himself, and his work has been pleasing,” said Appleby.

“Kieren Fallon, who has been riding him all winter, took him for a routine gallop at Moulton Paddocks on Saturday, and he was pleased.

“Kieren won the Guineas five times, so it’s great to have a rider with that experience on the team.

“We took One Ruler for a gallop at Chelmsford four weeks ago, and he also had a racecourse gallop at the Craven Meeting earlier this month. His prep has gone well, and this is the perfect starting point for his Classic season.”

Mac Swiney adds to the Irish challenge along with stablemate Poetic Flare, as does Jessica Harrington’s Lucky Vega, a Group One-winning juvenile, with similar comments applying to Joseph O’Brien’s Thunder Moon, who only has two lengths to make up on St Mark’s Basilica from the Dewhurst.

Adding further spice to the mix is Charlie Hills’ Mutasaabeq, who has been supplemented following his taking reappearance win at Newmarket.

Richard Hannon’s Greenham winner Chindit, Jane Chapple-Hyam’s Albadri, Ralph Beckett’s Devilwala, Roger Varian’s Legion Of Honour and the Andrew Balding-trained Mystery Smiles complete the field.

Mutasaabeq set to be added to 2000 Guineas field

Mutasaabeq is set to be supplemented for the Qipco 2000 Guineas at Newmarket on Saturday.

The son of Invincible Spirit, trained by Charlie Hills, is out of Ghanaati, who carried the colours of the late Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum to victory in the 1000 Guineas in 2009.

Mutasaabeq, who is now owned by Sheikh Hamdan’s family under the Shadwell Racing banner, has won both his starts over seven furlongs at Newmarket, with his latest victory coming earlier this month.

“As long as all is well with the horse tomorrow morning, we will supplement him,” said Angus Gold, Shadwell’s racing manager.

“We’ve been thinking about it. We didn’t put him in at the first stage because we thought it might come a bit quick for him.

“Mentally he was always a fizzy horse, but the team did a great job to keep a lid on him. Then he won first time out at Newmarket late in the season.

“Obviously he was impressive when he won there the other day. It’s impossible to say what he beat, but the way he did it was visually impressive and he ran right to the top of the hill and Jim (Crowley) said he would have no problems going a mile.

“I saw the horse a few days later and he seems to have take that race particularly well. He seems very relaxed at home.

“Dane O’Neill rode him a little half-speed (gallop) yesterday and said he felt in great form. I spoke to Sheikh Hamdan’s family to discuss the options and they said they would like to supplement him.”

Setback puts Albasheer Guineas run in doubt

Owen Burrows admits he is “going to be struggling” to have Albasheer ready for the Qipco 2000 Guineas after the colt suffered a setback.

The injury is currently under investigation, but Burrows feels the colts’ Classic at Newmarket on May 1 will come too soon.

“Unfortunately he’s had a little bit of a niggle. We’re just in the process of investigating exactly what is bothering him,” said the Lambourn handler.

“There are no immediate plans for him at the moment.

“He certainly won’t be making a Guineas trial – and I’d say it would be highly unlikely, depending on what we find, that he’d make the Guineas. We’re getting pretty close.

“It’s very recent, and we’re still in the investigating stages.”

Albasheer looked a potentially classy three-year-old, having made a winning racecourse debut at Doncaster in July before going on to finish second in the Champagne Stakes and sixth in the Dewhurst.

Burrows had also been happy with his progress over the winter.

“I had been very pleased with him, so it’s very disappointing and frustrating,” he said.

“Fingers crossed it’s nothing too serious – but with the timing of it, we’re going to be struggling.

“Ideally, the plan was to try for the Craven or the Greenham. He won’t be making them, and I won’t be rushing him just to make a Guineas.

“He’s a proper nice horse, (and) he’s going to want a bit of time. How much time, we don’t know yet.”

St Mark’s Basilica and Wembley head Aidan O’Brien’s Guineas squad

Dewhurst one-two St Mark’s Basilica and Wembley are among a dozen entries for Aidan O’Brien in this year’s Qipco 2000 Guineas at Newmarket.

The master of Ballydoyle has saddled a record 10 previous winners of the first Classic of the British Flat season – and looks set to be well represented once again on the Rowley Mile.

St Mark’s Basilica saw off stablemate Wembley by just under a length in the Dewhurst in October and the pair could renew rivalry on May 1.

The horse priced up as favourite with several bookmakers is the O’Brien-trained Battleground, who won the Chesham at Royal Ascot and the Vintage Stakes at Goodwood last season, before finishing second at the Breeders’ Cup.

However, O’Brien in January raised the possibility of the son of the yard’s Arc heroine Found sidestepping Newmarket and instead being trained with a return to the Royal meeting for the St James’s Palace Stakes as his chief objective.

The trainer’s squad also features unbeaten Derby favourite High Definition and Van Gogh, who won a Group One prize in France at the end of his juvenile campaign.

Other leading hopes among 72 entries for the 2000 Guineas include Joseph O’Brien’s Thunder Moon – not far behind his father’s pair in the Dewhurst – and the Richard Hannon-trained Chindit, who disappointed in the same race having won each of his three previous starts.

The fillies get their chance to shine in the following afternoon’s Qipco 1000 Guineas, for which 63 have been entered.

Ante-post lists are topped by Joseph O’Brien’s Pretty Gorgeous, who won the Fillies’ Mile over the course and distance when last seen.

Shale, who took on Pretty Gorgeous on several occasions last term, is trained by O’Brien’s brother Donnacha, while his father Aidan has nine contenders, with Curragh maiden winner Santa Barbara perhaps the most interesting.

The home team features John Gosden’s Fillies’ Mile runner-up Indigo Girl, the unbeaten Love Is You from Roger Charlton’s yard, Jane Chapple-Hyam’s Saffron Beach and the Andrew Balding-trained Alcohol Free.

Monday Musings: Rapid Start Far From Flat

The two unbeaten favourites didn’t collect the first two Classics of the UK racing season as many, including the bookmakers, were expecting, writes Tony Stafford. Pinatubo was a slightly one-paced third as Kameko gave Andrew Balding a second UK Classic in the 2,000 Guineas, 17 years after Casual Look was his first in the Oaks. Yesterday, Love made it six 1,000 Guineas triumphs for Aidan O’Brien, four in the last six years, as the Roger Charlton filly Quadrilateral also had to be content with third place.

For quite a while in Saturday’s big event, staged behind closed doors of course, it looked as though O’Brien would be celebrating an 11th “2,000” – from back home in Ireland as he left on-course matters to be attended to by his accomplished satellite team. Wichita, turning around last October’s Dewhurst form both with Pinatubo and his lesser-fancied-on-the-day stable companion Arizona, went into what had looked a winning advantage under super-sub Frankie Dettori until close home when the Balding colt was produced fast, late and wide by Oisin Murphy.

The young Irishman might already be the champion jockey, but the first week of the new season, begun eight months after that initial coronation last autumn, suggests he has a new confidence and maturity built no doubt of his great winter success in Japan and elsewhere. A wide range of differing winning rides were showcased over the past few days and Messrs Dettori and Moore, Buick, Doyle and De Sousa clearly have an equal to contend with.

It was Dettori rather than Moore who rode Wichita, possibly because of the relative form in that Dewhurst when Wichita under Ryan got going too late. This time Arizona got his lines wrong and he had already been seen off when he seemed to get unbalanced in the last quarter-mile. Kameko will almost certainly turn up at Epsom now. Balding was keen to run Bangkok in the race last year despite that colt’s possible stamina deficiency. The way Kameko saw out the last uphill stages, he could indeed get the trip around Epsom a month from now.

The 2020 Guineas weekend follows closely the example of its immediate predecessor. Last year there was also a big team of O’Brien colts, including the winner Magna Grecia, and none was by their perennial Classic producer, Galileo. The following afternoon, the 14-1 winner Hermosa, was Galileo’s only representative in their quartet in the fillies’ race. This weekend, again there were four Ballydoyle colts in their race, and none by Galileo. Two, including Wichita, are sons of No Nay Never. As last year, there was a single daughter of Galileo in yesterday’s race, the winner Love. Her four and a quarter length margin must make it pretty much a formality that she will pitch up at Epsom next month.

Love was unusually O’Brien’s only representative yesterday which rather simplified Ryan Moore’s choice. It will surely be hard to prise her from him at Epsom whatever the other Coolmore-owned fillies show at The Curragh and elsewhere in the interim.

With Irish racing resuming at Naas this afternoon, attention will be switching immediately to the Irish Classics next weekend. What with those races, which Ryan will sit out under the 14-day regulations, the Coolmore owners and their trainer will have a clear course to formulate their Derby team and Oaks back-up squad. It would appear that the good weather enjoyed in the UK after which so many big stables, notably Messrs Johnston, Gosden and Balding, have made a flying start on the resumption, has also been kind to Irish trainers.

I know that sometimes in the spring the grass gallops at Ballydoyle have barely been usable by the time of the first month of action. The delayed and truncated first phase should continue to be to the benefit of the more powerful yards and maiden races, just as those in the UK, are already looking like virtual group races, especially on the big tracks.

Aidan O’Brien has 11 runners on today’s opening card, including four in the second event for juveniles, where Lippizaner, who managed a run in one of the Irish Flat meetings squeezed in before the shutdown, is sure to be well fancied. A son of Uncle Mo, he was beaten half a length first time out and the experience, which is his alone in the field, should not be lost on him.

The shutdown has been a contributor to a denial of one of my annual pleasures, a leisurely look at the Horses in Training book which I normally buy during the Cheltenham Festival but forgot to search for at this year’s meeting. The usual fall-back option of Tindalls bookshop in Newmarket High Street has also been ruled out, and inexplicably I waited until last week before thinking to order it on-line.

There are some notable absentees from the book and it has become a growing practice for some of the bigger trainers to follow the example of Richard Fahey who for some years has left out his two-year-olds. John Gosden has joined him in that regard otherwise they both would have revealed teams comfortably beyond 250.

Charlie Appleby, William Haggas, Mark Johnston, Richard Hannon and Andrew Balding all have strings of more than 200 and all five have been quick off the mark, each taking advantage of a one-off new rule instigated by the BHA. In late May trainers wishing to nominate two-year-olds they believed might be suitable to run at Royal Ascot, which begins a week tomorrow, could nominate them and thereby get priority status to avoid elimination with the inevitable over-subscription in the early fixtures.

In all, 163 horses were nominated with Johnston leading the way with 11; Charlie Appleby and Fahey had eight each; Hannon and Archie Watson seven and Haggas five. All those teams have been fast away in all regards but notably with juveniles. The plan, aimed at giving Ascot candidates racecourse experience in the limited time available, has clearly achieved its objective.

Among the trainers with a single nominated juvenile, Hughie Morrison took the chance to run his colt Rooster at Newmarket. Beforehand he was regretting that he hadn’t realised he could have taken him to a track when lockdown rules could apparently have been “legally bent” if not actually transgressed. Rooster should improve on his close seventh behind a clutch of other Ascot-bound youngsters when he reappears.

When I spoke to Hughie before the 1,000 Guineas he was adamant that the 200-1 shot Romsey “would outrun those odds”. In the event Romsey was the only other “finisher” in the 15-horse field apart from Love and, in getting to the line a rapidly-closing fifth, she was only a length and a half behind Quadrilateral. So fast was she moving at that stage, she would surely have passed the favourite in another half furlong. The Racing Post “analysis” which said she “lacked the pace of some but kept on for a good showing” was indeed damning with faint praise. Hughie also could be pleased yesterday with a promising revival for Telecaster, a close third behind Lord North and Elarqam in the Brigadier Gerard Stakes at Haydock despite getting very warm beforehand.

No doubt I’ll be returning to Horses in Training quite a lot in the coming weeks, but just as the long list of Galileo colts and fillies was dominant among the Ballydoyle juveniles for many years, the numerical power of Dubawi among Charlie Appleby’s team is now rivalling it. Last year, when I admit I didn’t really notice it, there were 40 Dubawi juveniles: this year the number has grown to an eye-opening 55. At the same time the yard has gone well past 200, reflecting his upward trajectory ever since taking over the main Godolphin job ten years ago. I’m sure Pinatubo has some more big wins in his locker.

I always look forward to seeing the team of Nicolas Clement, French Fifteen’s trainer, in the book, and he is there as usual with his middling-strength team. Nowadays much of what used to pass for free time for this greatly-admired man is taken up with his role as the head of the French trainers. He confessed that carrying out his duties over the weeks in lockdown and then the changes in the areas in France where racing could be allowed had been very demanding.

This weekend, Nicolas along with everyone in racing had a dreadful shock when his younger brother Christophe, who has been training with great success in the US for many years, suffered a terrible tragedy. On Saturday a Sallee company horsebox, transporting ten Clement horses from Florida to race in New York burst into flames on the New Jersey Turnpike, killing all ten animals. One report suggested that the horsebox had collided with a concrete stanchion. It added that the two drivers attempted to free the horses but were unable to do so.

At the top level, where both Clement brothers have been accustomed to operating on their respective sides of the pond, the rewards can be great. But as this incident graphically and starkly shows, there is often a downside for trainers and owners, though rarely one of quite this horrific finality.

- TS