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Monday Musings: The Magician of Muggleswick

How easy is it to buy a winner? More specifically, how easy is it to go to a yearling sale, outbid all the other potential owners and their agents and have the satisfaction of winning a race with that horse long before most of the others in that sale have made the track?, asks Tony Stafford.

Maybe you need to prioritise? There’s Tattersall’s with its four volumes of the October sale; there’s Goff’s in Ireland and Doncaster, there’s Arqana and many more. Like finding if not a needle in a haystack, a gem in a bucket full of plain glass.

So let’s say we’re quite busy, we have a few quid to spend but as everyone will tell you, the cost of bloodstock especially in the UK, considering the low level of prize money - about to go even lower – is astronomical.

One owner who did choose to specialise last year was a certain A D Spence, still reasonably flush after the deal which took his top sprinter Profitable to Godolphin a few years ago. Alan restricted his yearling buying to the first two books of the Tatts October. Before the inevitable erosion in the build-up to last year’s sale, 517 yearlings were listed in Book 1 and 804 in Book 2. Alan, having as ever done his own sleuthing, ended up with a perfectly-symmetrical result, a colt and a filly each from both auctions.

The quartet was entrusted with his three principal Flat-race trainers; two with Profitable’s handler Clive Cox, and one each with Mark Johnston and Roger Varian. He retained 100% of two and is joined in the other pair by son Michael.

In a year when the average price for any of 392 eventually sold from Book 1 was just over 270,000gns, Alan went to 78,000gns for a son of first crop stallion and former sprint champion Muhaarar and then possibly “stole” an Australia colt from the family of Alexandra Goldrun for 37,000gns, which considering Coolmore’s fee for a cover this year is Euro 35k suggests value in extreme.

From Book 2, where the average for the eventual 631 sales was just under 77k, Alan’s two buys, a Dutch Art colt for 55k and a filly from the first crop of Golden Horn (95k) meant he spent roughly on par for that sale, averaging out the two.

In no way, though, were purchase prices on a par with the stallion averages. More than 20 of the Golden Horn’s realised more than 100k with a maximum half a million plus.

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What stands out, though, is that when West End Girl, trained by Johnston and owned in partnership by father and son, went to Haydock last week, she became her sire’s first winner. That workmanlike display, suggesting elements of Golden Horn’s own style of racing, immediately upgraded the stallion. The ability to get winning two-year-olds will increase his appeal at the next round of sales in the autumn.

Dutch Art has long been a horse capable of siring winners, but Cheveley Park Stud was having problems with his fertility earlier in the year. In Positive, though, the stallion has a young horse which could go to the top, if his debut run and trainer’s opinion have any relevance.

Touted before his Salisbury debut last month, Positive got messed about in his race, being carted almost the width of the track by a hanging rival before extricating himself. Once clear of trouble he galloped to a five-length win after which Cox suggested he was up there with the best of his.

The two Book 1 buys have yet to win: indeed Establish, by Australia, will not appear before August according to Roger Varian. Star In The Making, though, could be just that. The Muhaarar filly was an eye-catching second to a Godolphin newcomer at Windsor, in a race where a King Power runner who cost 600k as a yearling finished third.

It’s not as though Alan Spence got them for nothing, but for an investment of less than half the cost of King Power’s Kodiac filly, he could easily have acquired at least one horse capable of keeping him in competition at the top level.

Who’d have thought when I bought my first horse, Charlie Kilgour, from him 37 years ago – cost £1,000 and won and was sold two runs later! - he would have still been around. Clever man, is A D Spence and a very nice one.

Talking of nice men, I’ve yet to meet a better one than Wilf Storey, who I first encountered a year or two after the Charlie Kilgour episode.
I’ve related in this feature a time or two about his and my frustrations that the Racing Club we planned never got off the ground. Despite the help of this website’s owner, the aim to sell 20 shares in six horses at what even now looks a ridiculously cheap price proved impossible.

Two of the six were quickly passed on to Tony Carroll, who won three races (two hurdles) and collected a Triumph Hurdle fourth with Nelson River, while French Kiss also showed promise. Adrakhan was sold and Climax has had to be put down because of injury, but in deepest Durham something stirred.

Betty Grable, always thought to be decent by Stella Storey, has clicked this year with three wins and two second places, the last of them at Carlisle on Saturday night when Rhona Pindar told Wilf she didn’t enjoy the fast ground.

Down and out with owners near-enough impossible to attract – he even tried giving away half shares in Betty for FREE after her first win this year with no response – the gallop either washed away or under inches of snow, Wilf feared for the worst, especially when Stella, his right hand, needed hospital treatment.

It was a long slow road back. We’d advertised the sextet in the wake of Wilf’s best ever year after 40 years with a licence in terms of wins (11) and prize money. Last year it was down to two and half the money, seemingly a terminal decline.
But then came a mild winter, unlike last year when he and his older daughter Fiona were having daily to collect dead lambs with the ewes unable to cope with the extreme conditions. The gallop was still intermittently unusable, but by dancing delicately around it, and Stella restored to full health, the winners have started again.
Betty set the pace and then geegeez.co.uk deservedly enjoyed a nice win with the still-developing Nearly There, not one of the Racing Club team. Maybe the most significant upturn of all came also at Carlisle on Saturday, in the shape of one of the most spectacular wins I’ve seen this year. If you don’t believe me look at the film.

Of course the Racing Post had to preface its comments with the observation this “very modest handicap” even though some of the also-rans had marks in the high 60’s. There are plenty of 0-55’s you can point to, Racing Post.

What was remarkable was that Tarnhelm, forced, with two other out-of-training fillies to vegetate in a snow-bound paddock for the first few months of last year, finally got her act together more than two years after running a highly-promising second at Goodwood in Ray Tooth’s colours for Mark Johnston.

On Saturday, with injury problems finally behind her and dropping back to six furlongs, she was very slowly away. Tarnhelm was still last inside the final two furlongs from which point she and Ms Pindar sluiced through the field, winning by more than two lengths at 20/1.
Now Wilf has five for the season, can hope for another with Tarnhelm back unpenalised at Carlisle on Thursday, and has a number of others in his seven-horse team primed to win. Who says he won’t beat his best? Nice guys can come out on top, it’s just never easy!

- TS

Monday Musings: Too Darn Confusing

The Temple Stakes at Haydock, like all the races on next Saturday’s card sponsored by Armstrong Aggregates and Amix Concrete, the Bolton-based businesses run by David and Emma Armstrong, is building up to being a very warm affair, writes Tony Stafford.

Yesterday Charlie Hills revealed that last year’s winner Battaash will begin his 2019 campaign, aimed in the short-term to the King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot, in the Haydock race. Last year he shrugged off a 5lb penalty, earned with his four-length demolition of Martha in the Prix de l’Abbaye de Longchamp the previous October at its temporary home of Chantilly while Longchamp was gaining some new stands and an extra two syllables turning it as if by magic to Parislongchamp. Do even the French bother to call it that?

Penalties, 3lb for a Group2, 5lb for a Group 1, only kick in from August 31 last year. Battaash escapes the extra burden this time as his final win as a four-year-old came in the King George Qatar Stakes at Goodwood on August 3 where Take Cover respectfully followed him home, four lengths back.

His later odds-on fourth in the Nunthorpe to Alpha Delphini (40-1) and Mabs Cross and then fourth again as an 11-10 shot behind Mabs Cross in a bunched finish to the Abbaye, betrayed recurring hints of temperament issues which Charlie seems to believe he has overcome.

Apart from Blue Point, freshening up after dominating the massive sprint pots during Dubai’s Carnival over the winter, and also the conqueror of Battaash and Mabs Cross in last year’s King’s Stand, we can expect a field chock-full of potential King’s Stand contenders.

Mabs Cross, winner of half her 14 races in the Armstrong red and white colours which mimic the livery of their lorries and concrete mixers travelling around the country, particularly in the north-west, will be there as a standard-bearer once again.

Last year carrying 9st 1lb she stayed on strongly into fourth behind Battaash (9st 9lb), Washington DC (9st 4lb) and now a stallion with Terry Holdcraft, and Kachy (9st 4lb), a minor co-star in the Haydock race for the past three years but once again this winter the star of all-weather sprinting.

In 14 starts, Mabs Cross has won seven times and not since her debut has she ever been beaten more than two lengths in any of her other six appearances. She was two lengths back, as ever finishing fast in the 2018 King’s Stand and was a paper-thin second in the Nunthorpe, actually looking for all-the-world on the play-back that she’d won.

Earlier this month she repeated her 2018 Palace House Stakes victory, defying a 7lb penalty for the Longchamp win. This suggested, on her return, that she is continuing to improve as a five-year-old. What is not in question is that finishing burst, exhibited in every race. Whether she will be up to conceding 2lb to Battaash rather than, as last year, receiving 8lb and not being quite good enough that time will be the issue for the Michael Dods-trained filly.

Saturday’s Haydock card is the third sponsored by the Armstrongs Group. Up to 2016, when Profitable won the race for Alan Spence from another Dods-trained superstar filly in Mecca’s Angel, the Temple Stakes was the feature on the first of two Haydock late-May cards on successive Saturdays.

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Now there is only a single May Saturday with the latter date moving to early June and run this year the week after the Derby on June 8. The Pinnacle Stakes and John O’Gaunt, both Group 3, are now part of the June date, but the Group 2 Sandy Lane Stakes for three-year-olds over six furlongs has been added to this weekend’s card which also features the £80,000 added Amix Silver Bowl.

The Group 2 sprint has been a wonderful race for Spence. In Profitable’s year, it was the middle leg of a Palace House/Temple/King’s Stand hat-trick which brought a multi-million pound deal with Godolphin. Profitable is now a stallion with Darley Stud.

The following May, Alan’s filly Priceless, like Profitable trained by Clive Cox, beat off very strong opposition to win the Temple Stakes. Previous Palace House/King’s Stand winner Goldream, trained by Robert Cowell, was second ahead of Alpha Delphini, Final Venture (second at Naas yesterday), Kachy, Washington DC and Take Cover.

I saw Alan at Newbury on Saturday. He tells me he recently went to see his filly foal by Dubawi out of Priceless and is looking forward to the imminent arrival of a full-sibling. Profitable, Priceless – but Alan even YOU don’t always get what you wish for. He may even have to accept second best for Chelsea against Arsenal (in the Mabs Cross red) in the Europa Cup Final.

*

The wait for a decision on whether Sir Dragonet or Telecaster or both will be supplemented for the Investec Derby seems certain to be drawn out until next Monday, the date when the requisite £85,000 must be paid, five days before the great race.

On Sunday at Naas Aidan O’Brien, in between winning four races, put forward the possibility of instead supplementing the unbeaten colt to the Prix du Jockey Club at Chantilly. He has the significantly-backed pair of Broome and Anthony van Dyck to call on as well as Japan and Circus Maximus (and maybe others) at Epsom, so Sir Dragonet might not be needed.

Hughie Morrison and the Weinfeld family have no other colt to challenge for the Derby if the temptation to run Telecaster is resisted, although they do have the six-length Lingfield Oaks Trial winner Anapurna as a strong possibility for next week’s fillies’ Classic.

On my way to York on Thursday with Harry and Alan, the car featured a stream of calls to the former stressing that the Dante “was Too Darn Hot’s Derby” and that “Frankie says he’s unbeatable”, coming in from different people, but possibly, in the way of racing, emanating, via Chinese Whispers, from a single original source.

Again in the way of racing, the reaction to a first-ever defeat of the champion 2018 juvenile, was that “he didn’t stay” or “he wasn’t ready”. Maybe it was just a case of “he didn’t win”.

John Gosden reckoned he had been “too free” in the early part of the race, while various observers referred to a “muddling pace”. From my vantage point, I thought that the pace set by Too Darn Hot’s stable-companion Turgenev was anything but “muddling” and that while it was only Telecaster that went with him, the rest following five lengths or so behind, that horse as his trainer asserts “raced even more freely than Too Darn Hot”.

The favourite wasn’t ridden as though he was too under-cooked for the comeback, for all the fact that he’d missed important work in the build up to the 2,000 Guineas, Frankie being at least if not more vigorous than Oisin Murphy on the winner.

After looking sure to prevail, he was seen off late by Telecaster. What might be worth remembering is that this was the first time the Morrison colt had been asked to win in a contested finish. On debut behind Bangkok at Doncaster, he was looked after in the last furlong by Charlie Bennett but still put impressive distance between himself and the rest.

At Windsor, Murphy sent him into an immediate lead and he trounced 15 other maidens without coming off the bridle. York was his first proper examination. He obviously had a race-fitness edge over Too Darn Hot, but nothing like the experience drawn on from an unbeaten two-year-old campaign.

Further evidence that maybe Too Darn Hot was not too darn exhausted but simply bettered on the day by a superior animal came as the cameras stayed on the front two as they went away from the winning line.

Both Murphy and Dettori initially allowed their mounts to continue to roll along, but round the bend they both began to ask them to ease down. The camera stayed on Telecaster the entire time, briefly leaving Too Darn Hot. A few seconds later he came back into the frame, with the sight of Dettori having almost to strangle him to stop him, at which point the coverage returned to a recording of the finish.

At the time of the departure from the pulling-up coverage, I noted a 36-second interval after they had passed the post. I cannot believe that a horse that lost because of not staying, would take that long to pull up. Usually they would be all too happy to obey instructions and get a much-needed rest.

My conclusion is that Too Darn Hot was beaten by a bit of a freak. The rest of the field was four lengths and more behind. If Telecaster hadn’t been there, Too Darn Hot would have beaten Surfman by four lengths and been odds-on for the Derby. I doubt he’d have been going back to a mile in the St James’s Palace in that case!

Talk of a muddling pace would suggest horses were falling all over each other. Here soon after the turn for home all the rest after the front two were being ridden with various degrees of energy. Telecaster was still on the bridle until being asked to pass the pacesetter. In fact he took a while to realise what to do by which time the favourite was on his inside having quickly cut back the deficit.

He saw him off too and my belief is wherever he runs, be it Epsom or The Curragh, he’ll do some more seeing off. It certainly won’t hurt if Sir Dragonet is not in the line-up wherever he goes.  We probably won’t know any more about either of them until after this periodical appears next week.

Monday Musings: On Trainers…

How much bad luck can a man have? In the case of Ruby Walsh, at 38, surely at a stage when yet another serious injury, this time a broken leg, might potentially be career threatening, apparently any amount, writes Tony Stafford. Reassuringly, his surgeon seems to think that Ruby will be fit in time for the Cheltenham Festival.

Having waited almost two years for the return from injury of the 2015 Champion Hurdle winner, Faugheen, Walsh suffered his broken leg the day before that one’s planned reappearance at Punchestown. Faugheen had been absent since his 15-length January 2016 romp over Willie Mullins stablemates Arctic Fire and Nicholls Canyon in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown.

Faugheen returned in the Morgiana Hurdle, the same race in which he suffered his sole defeat, narrowly, by Nicholls Canyon. It might only have been a four-runner affair yesterday, but Paul Townend on his first ride on the brilliant jumper, set him off in front and he beat Jezki, his 2014 predecessor as Champion Hurdle victor, by 16 lengths. Swamp Fox, assuredly a handicapper, but one good enough to win the Naas November handicap on the Flat this month, was 37 lengths back in third.

Walsh has had more than his share both of injuries and spills. His injury at Leopardstown came on the last of four rides after an 11-day absence due to a hand injury. He rode one short-priced winner for his boss, but had three falls, the last and most costly on Let’s Dance in a Listed mares’ hurdle for which she started odds-on.

Now, as in all good long-range dilemmas, the attention will switch to another Champion Hurdler, the reigning champ Buveur d’Air, who, like Faugheen, has a single jumping defeat on his curriculum vitae. He is set to return in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle on Saturday week.

The Nicky Henderson-trained six-year-old also suffered his only loss to a stable-mate and in a championship race, the 2016 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham when only third to Altior. After two novice chase wins, Henderson, with one of the intuitive decisions that mark him out as an outstanding handler, decided to send him back to hurdling.

That decision was presumably prompted by the fact that he had already moved Altior to chasing when, for many, he had been the more obvious Champion Hurdle contender for the stable. Then again, Altior would not have to worry about the likes of Faugheen – at the time still on target to regain his crown – if he went over fences.

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Both decisions proved far-sighted and until Arkle winner Altior recently suffered one of the all-too-frequent wind problems that seem to assail top jumpers, few would have looked past him for the Queen Mother Champion Chase next March.

I can understand the trainer’s irritation that when he finally released the news last week, having taken a couple of veterinary opinions and consulted owner Patricia Pugh, unnamed (but only just, according to the trainer) members of the media criticised what they saw as his handling of the issue.

Nicky Henderson grew up and learned his trade under Fred Winter in the age of the great stables where journalists cowered and gratefully sought out trifles while lauding their achievements.

Social media has ended that climate, not just in racing, but in all walks of life and where once there was deference from the media, now there’s intrusion, with the general belief it is justified. The BHA and its attitude to trainers and what is perceived as their duty to keep the betting public informed has played its part in that process.

One BHA decision that has caused general derision was when Raul da Silva was given a ban for throwing a handful of Chelmsford’s Polytrack surface sand onto the hind quarters of his mount, Sandkissed, to encourage her into the stalls before a race last week.

Considering all the horses running round each of the all-weather surfaces are expected to cope with copious amounts of said surfaces being thrown up into their eyes every time they run, such pernickety officialdom seems out of proportion. For me, it is merely another instance of present-day political correctness.

Anyone who has seen horses going to a sale showing their displeasure at coming off a lorry down a ramp will realise stable staff can have an unenviably dangerous job. The same goes for stalls handlers and when a jockey shows a little invention to ease what could become a bigger problem on the day, such an extreme reaction is embarrassing.

The sad death last week of Alan Potts, the surviving half of the Ann and Alan Potts ownership team who battled with the big battalions with such success over the past few seasons, will not apparently stop the success of the green, yellow and red colours.

There were two wins at Cheltenham over the weekend, via the impressive pair Finian’s Oscar and Fox Norton and I hope the story I heard about Alan Potts is true. It seems shortly before he died, so the story goes, he made provision for all the training fees in the future careers of his family’s horses to be secured. No doubt Colin Tizzard, who trains both winners and, among others, Jessica Harrington, trainer of Gold Cup hero Sizing John, will know whether that is true or just a racing urban myth.

I’m not sure if the Potts’s had any horses with Dan Skelton, but Mrs Richard Kelvin Hughes certainly does and her North Hill Harvey, owned in partnership with Mrs Widdowson, impressively won the Arkle Trial at Cheltenham yesterday, to put the trainer onto 99 for the season.

Skelton may still be trailing the likes of Henderson, Mullins and Gordon Elliott with potential big-race contenders, but the efficiency with which he churns out the winners is a reminder of the halcyon days of Martin Pipe. Only Joseph O’Brien, Melbourne Cup and umpteen victories over jumps just in the past month, among youthful trainers, is keeping pace with Skelton’s rapid rate of progress.

I managed to sneak into the owners’ room at Cheltenham on Friday courtesy of Alan Spence whose On the Blind Side was an impressive winner of his second hurdle race when stepping into Grade 2 novice class. I had a brief chat there with Anthony Honeyball, his wife Rachael and their 18-month-old son who I can report enjoys eating cream, some of it not going onto his face.

Two days later the trainer had a treble at Fontwell in which the most significant for the future was the victory of Jukebox Jive, a 97-rated Flat-racer, in the juvenile hurdle, beating the Kelvin-Hughes home-bred Lisp. Success was hardly a surprise first-time-out for Ron Huggins’ also home-bred son of Jukebox Jury, whose former owner Alan Spence will tell you is a much-underrated stallion – evidence his Dominating, winner of six races for Mark Johnston this year.

It was also Johnston who handled Huggins’ best-known and much-loved stayer Double Trigger and it would hardly be a shock were Jukebox Jive to take high rank as a staying hurdler who could double as a potential Cesarewitch winner next year. I’d love him to do that.

- Tony Stafford

Monday Musings: Winter Scorches into Spring

Your eyes told you it was good, writes Tony Stafford. Reflection overnight on the times over the weekend more than confirmed that Winter had stepped up a notch on her 1,000 Guineas victory at Newmarket. It also suggested that Rhododendron, the runner-up that day, will be very hard to beat on Friday in the Investec Oaks.

There were two supporting Premier handicaps on the 1,000 Guineas under-card. The first, half an hour after Winter stopped the clock in 1 min 39.78 secs, was also a fillies’ race for three-year-olds. Constant Comment, rated 80 but a daughter of Fastnet Rock out of a Galileo mare, twin Coolmore influences, completed the mile a full 4.30 seconds slower than the Classic finale.

Then to finish proceedings for an epic meeting, run at a Curragh track denuded of stands and by all accounts facilities, Sea Wolf, a tough 101-rated handicapper, defied 10st1lb in beating 19 rivals. Although the difference in weights carried on the day might seem to have given an obvious advantage to Winter over Sea Wolf, an older colt or gelding would concede the identical 15lb to a three-year-old filly if they were to meet in the eight and a half furlong Diomed Stakes (Group 3) at Epsom on Saturday.

Sea Wolf’s time in a hotly-contested affair was 1 min 42.45 secs, almost three seconds more than Winter’s, reflecting a margin of around 50 yards, if you take an average 13 seconds per furlong.

Racing Post Ratings as ever were quick to offer assessments, suggesting this was a 2lb improvement on the defeat of Rhododendron. Time may well show this to be an over-cautious mark. Caution clearly is inhibiting the other big stables from tackling the O’Brien Classic generation, to such an extent that Roly Poly and Hydrangea were able to participate in yet another 1-2-3 for Ballydoyle, just ahead of Joseph O’Brien’s Intricately, but almost five lengths behind the imperious winner.

The previous afternoon, Churchill preceded his stablemate by also completing the 2,000 Guineas Newmarket – Curragh double with a fuss-free two-and-a-half length win in the Tattersalls-sponsored event. Thunder Snow, at one time travelling apparently better than Churchill until that embryonic champion’s decisive surge, rehabilitated himself after his mulish and inexplicable effort at Churchill Downs with a sound second place.

There was much made of the fact that these two Classic triumphs for O’Brien came 20 years after a similar double set him up for a total to date of 72 European Classic wins. Eleven of these have come in the Irish 2,000 Guineas. Not even Mr Wenger (seven FA Cups in the identical period) can match that.

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There is sure to be a blanket attack on Royal Ascot from the Coolmore partners, with the Classic hero and heroine stand-outs for the St James’s Palace Stakes and Coronation Stakes respectively, while on Friday night Order Of St George warmed up for a second Gold Cup challenge with an emphatic success in the Saval Beg Stakes.

In this game, reflecting on triumphs achieved soon has to give way to concentration on future objectives. The proximity of The Curragh’s fixture to the Oaks and Derby, earlier this year due to the timing of Easter, and also relative to Chester and York’s trials has meant that any quick bounce on to Epsom from The Curragh was probably even outside O’Brien’s comfort zone. Luckily Ascot beckons soon after, though not as soon as is usually the case.

Rhododendron’s defeat at Newmarket was attributed by many as partially the fault of Ryan Moore. True he did find a little interference, but as I thought at the time, Winter showed no more sign of stopping up the final incline at HQ than than she did on Sunday. Rhododendron was flying at the finish to secure second and she looks set to make it three UK and two Irish 2017 Classic wins for Galileo, ever more the super-sire.

Without Churchill, the O’Brien Derby challenge looks more questionable, but of seven possible runners, only one, the promising Chester Vase second Wings of Eagles (by Pour Moi) is not by Galileo. Cliffs of Moher, the Dee Stakes winner, rather than Vase hero Venice Beach, seems to carry the principal hopes of connections on a day that looks sure to be characterised by observers as the chance for Frankel to put one over on dad.

He could easily do so with the Anthony Oppenheimer/John Gosden colt Cracksman proven on the track, having beaten Permian (Teofilo, by Galileo) there in the Derby Trial before Permian franked the form in the Dante Stakes at York.

Then there is 2,000 Guineas sixth, Eminent, expected by Martyn Meade to prove better suited to the longer trip, and the unexposed Mirage Dancer, who is highly regarded by Ryan Moore. He represents Sir Michael Stoute, who has a tradition of producing major forward strides with this type of horse in the Derby, but his patient trainer believes this may be too much too soon.

At present odds, there is decent value available about Mark Johnston’s Permian, who won the prime trial for the race, and the fact that the trainer has not had a Derby runner for a long time and needs to supplement him are positives. This time he has a proper candidate, but like O’Brien, I have a soft spot for the Chester trials: I was racing manager when Oath won the Dee Stakes for Henry Cecil and the Thoroughbred Corporation before winning at Epsom under a peach of a ride by Kieren Fallon.

Friday’s second feature, the Coronation Cup, has been selected as the 2017 European comeback for the five-year-old Highland Reel, whose trip to Dubai in March was doomed when the ground turned against him.

Previously, in winning the Breeders’ Cup Turf, he supplanted the lifetime earnings of Found, his contemporary and stablemate, thereby avenging his defeat by her when they were one-two in the Arc at Chantilly last October.

Both are over the £5 million mark and therefore their sire’s top two earners. With Found now retired, Highland Reel can be expected to confirm his status as the “new St Nicholas Abbey” by making a winning Epsom debut on Friday. Should Highland Reel be found wanting, then Idaho looks a worthy alternative in the field, should be run.

If you call a horse Profitable and he wins  a Group 1 race, then you have to take yourself at your word and take the profit, as Alan Spence did last year from Godolphin after Clive Cox’s sprinter won the King’s Stand Stakes.

Then to call a filly Priceless and watch her win the Group 2 Temple Stakes, following Profitable’s example of 2016, the only option is not to sell. She is indeed Priceless to Mr Spence and while the original idea was to go to Profitable when she retires, maybe watching the example of Wokingham winner Laddies Poker, now dam of Winter, and other sprinters, he might consider a date with Galileo. Whatever course he takes, the arch-negotiator holds all the aces.

I did notice that it is not just Derek Thompson who refers to Spence as a Director (sometimes Chairman, even) of Chelsea FC when his horses go to post where Tommo is acting as commentator. That description did apply in the Ken Bates days, but he’s now just a humble Vice-President, contrary to the Racing Post’s report on Priceless’s smart win. Had he been at Haydock rather than wasting his time at Wembley, Alan could have prevented the normally punctilious David Carr from making a rare error.

Monday Musings: A Weekend Roundup

The Elliott bandwagon continued to roll with Apple's Jade usurping her former guv'nor, Willie Mullins

The Apple of Elliott's eye

I’ve promised not to stray far outside the confines of horse racing for these musings, but how can I talk about the two people that head up this week’s offering without a mention of Arsenal and Chelsea football clubs?, writes Tony Stafford.

The pair concerned are linked even more closely than my own emotional allegiance to the former. The first, Neal Wilkins, sadly died last week after a long, debilitating illness. The other, Alan Spence, was yesterday celebrating a fine win for Josses Hill in Huntingdon’s Peterborough Chase the day after Chelsea’s confirmation at the top of the Premier League.

Many in racing will have known Neal, with whom I worked for a couple of years at the Press Association where he was a typist, but one always destined for higher things. Later he was the public face of Victor Chandler as their on-course rep, always getting in his ante-post television quotes with the same alacrity as Mike Dillon for Ladbrokes.

As another contemporary, Geoff Lester, said in last week’s story that recorded his death in the Racing Post, “Neal was always first to the bar and last to go home”. He certainly enjoyed a glass of wine as well as he stoically endured what he, like many Arsenal fans, regarded as under-achievement by his team.

Alan Spence was once a director of Chelsea in the Ken Bates days and remains an honorary Vice President – often promoted to Chairman by Derek Thompson when his horses go to post. My boss Raymond Tooth’s Tommo handle is “the most expensive divorce lawyer in the country” – maybe I should ask him if that’s true?

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During the Flat season, Spence’s horses, including a few shared with son Michael and friend Peter Hargreaves, won more than 20 races, with Profitable collecting the Group 1 King’s Stand Stakes for the Clive Cox stable. Profitable will not now appear in the Godolphin colours in next Sunday’s Longines Hong Kong Sprint after a deal was announced last week, but few horses will have better lived up to their name.

I met Neal Wilkins soon after a brief association at the Press Association with Claude Duval, whose recent retirement was accompanied by a bit of a shirty send-off in these parts. Claude had a fair old name to live up to – the 17th Century version is described as the “most gallant and courteous rogue” who earned his money robbing stagecoaches on the approach to London, in Holloway, between Highgate and Islington, in other words, outside the Emirates stadium.

While unable to resist the repetition of a one-time unflattering headline, I sent Duval off by ridiculing his final scoop, scoffing at the suggestion that Paul Hanagan was to lose his job with Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum. Well now he has, so hats off to the most courteous and dashing of journalists, whose retirement should be rather happier than his predecessor’s – he was hanged in Tyburn in 1670!

Alan Spence will have no more than four horses to jump in the winter – Soldier in Action will aim at the Triumph with Nicky - but obviously Josses Hill will be the focal point with possibilities of Cheltenham Festival success after placed efforts behind recently-deceased Vautour (Supreme) and Un de Sceaux (Arkle) in 2014 and the following year. He’ll want to avoid the latter, probably running in the Ryanair over 2m5f,  but just a cursory look at yesterday’s action at Fairyhouse shows just how strong the Mullins and Elliott teams will be next March.

Un de Sceaux showed a different side to his always-evident talent when forsaking the customary early lead under Ruby Walsh in Saturday’s Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown, leaving that role to Gary Moore’s speedy Ar Mad.

Once that horse’s exuberance had been pricked in his first run after a layoff, Un de Sceaux settled down for a battle with Sire de Grugy up the final hill and over the last, coming out narrowly on top. With Sprinter Sacre – on parade again – out of the equation, the pair will be among the major contenders for the Queen Mother Champion Chase. They may only be keeping the seat warm, though, for Altior. Nicky Henderson’s gelding remains a hotpot for the Arkle after a second workmanlike novice chase win in the Henry VIII Novice Chase. Altior beat Charbel by six lengths in a rare case of two Irish- and Flat-bred animals contesting a major jumps race.

There were still more than enough French imports on show on either side of the Irish Sea. Aintree’s two big chases, the Becher and Grand Sefton, over the National fences, went respectively to Vieux Lion Rouge and As de Mee, both French-breds. Vieux Lion Rouge, seventh in this year’s Aintree spectacular, came late and fast under Tom Scudamore to get the Becher on the line for the David Pipe team.

As de Mee, ridden by Sean Bowen for Paul Nicholls, is jointly owned by the Stewart family of Big Buck’s fame and Dame Judy Dench, who when work allows, likes an evening at Sandown. I’m sure the next time she goes to Esher, she’ll love the newly-enlarged and improved owners’ room, just in time for Peter Jensen’s takeover as Chairman.

The best story from Aintree though was the excellent first post-wind-op effort of Many Clouds who impressed in the Betfred-sponsored Listed Chase over 3m1f. He was well on top at the finish and the Oliver Sherwood-trained 2015 National winner will be the one to beat again next April.

In Ireland yesterday, the potential state of things to come where Willie Mullins is concerned was brutally revealed when Apple’s Jade, his wide-margin Aintree Juvenile Hurdle winner, now with Elliott, brought to an end the winning run of 2016 Mares’ Hurdle champion, Vroum Vroum Mag. In ten previous starts for Mullins, shared between hurdles and fences, Mag had been unbeaten, but Apple’s Jade showed great resilience to hold her off by a short head in the Hattons Grace Hurdle.

Other notable winners there were Landofhopeandglory, completing a hat-trick for Joseph O’Brien in the Juvenile Hurdle; and Airlie Beach, who made it seven out of seven for Mullins in the Royal Bond Hurdle, in which Ruby Walsh chose fourth-placed Penhill. Airlie Beach won once last year in a bumper. He made his hurdles debut in mid-July and less than five months later has made it six-in-a-row over jumps with this smart performance. Bapaume, second to Landofhopeandglory in the Juvenile Hurdle, looks one to follow.

Amanda Perrett is one of Alan Spence’s trainers and she supplied him with three 2016 successes with the handicapper Frozen Force. Amanda and husband Mark, a high-class and stylish jockey in his riding days, always enjoy the occasional foray over jumps and at Huntingdon they sent out the former Juddmonte-owned Glaring to win first time at 33-1.

Glaring’s 2016 campaign on the Flat since his 50,000gns acquisition from Prince Khalid Abdullah, a long-standing owner with the stable, was modest. But considering he started with a rating of 108 based on French placed form in Group company, dropping to 93, it seems hard to understand his price of 33-1 in a novice hurdle. Spencey was there and I bet he backed it: after all it was his weekend!

Holland’s “Family” Reunion Falls Flat

Monday musings

By Tony Stafford

When is a stable jockey not a stable jockey? That’s the question I’m sure will be gnawing at Darryl Holland’s mind tomorrow morning as he tries to celebrate his 44th birthday.

Late last December, after spells riding in South Korea and Mauritius, Holland, who owns a well-appointed yard – his “pension fund” – in Exning, near Newmarket, was telling the press that he was “delighted to be announced as first jockey to Charlie Hills”.

In many ways it was a double homecoming, the itinerant jockey returning from the sport’s far-flung outposts to renew acquaintance with, as he referred to it at the time, “my family”. He’d started out more than a quarter century earlier with Charlie’s father Barry Hills, while his new employer was talking about his delight at securing a jockey of Darryl’s “great experience”.

Charlie has a team of 168 horses under his care and Holland was quickly in action, travelling down to Lambourn a couple of times a week to ride work and getting to know the horses.

Slightly ring-rusty at first, Holland soon got into his stride on the all-weather when he did indeed get most of the stable’s mounts and a sprinkling of winners. His minimum weight this year has been a pretty acceptable 8st 8lb, something a fair proportion of his weighing room colleagues cannot match, but since the turf started the picture has been less rosy.

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In all, he has had 68 rides for his retained stable with six wins. From 51 “outside” rides, he’s won five more races, giving him 11 from 119, probably rather less productive a year than anticipated in the first flush of the announcement.

But it’s the last couple of weeks that prompted my mini research project. Where’s Darryl, I wondered? Charlie Hills has run 39 horses in the fortnight, with three wins shared between Andrea Atzeni, Fran Berry and Jimmy Quinn. Holland has ridden only three non-winners for Charlie during that period, but has kept active with 16 outside rides and two wins, both for Alan Swinbank including Sunday’s 10-1 Doncaster short-head scorer, Zealous.

This week he is booked to ride Sonnet for his main employer at Beverley’s evening meeting tomorrow the night after four bookings at Thirsk this afternoon, none for “the family”. His sole Royal Ascot appointment is with the David Evans-trained John Reel in one of the handicaps later in the week.

With some of the sport’s major owners providing the bulk of the yard’s horses, it must have been anticipated by Holland that such as James Doyle and William Buick (Godolphin-connected rides), Paul Hanagan (Hamdan Al Maktoum) and Frankie Dettori (Al Shabaq) would be levering him off, but I wonder whether the prodigal son would have expected Kennet Valley Thoroughbreds to veto him in favour of Dettori for Magical Memory, Hills’ prime Ascot candidate for Saturday’s Diamond Jubilee Stakes.

He certainly would not have expected to sit on the sidelines while a total of 30 other jockeys took Hills mounts in the first half of the season, more than 100 in total escaping his saddle. Jockeys for many owners are often little more than a fashion accessory to impress their pals. Presumably Darryl’s not that fashionable any more. I hope he isn’t too discouraged, but the fact he’s travelling north a lot suggests otherwise.

The last two offerings in here have had a quick resolution. Last Monday was given over to the imminent beginning of Joseph O’Brien as a trainer. Four wins from seven runners on the opening day had by the end of the week stretched to six (three Flat, three NH) with all three of his siblings sharing in the success. Brother Donnacha partnered two and sister Ana one, while amateur Sara won on one of her two bumper rides. Two hurdle wins were handled by professionals.

Typically, the self-effacing Joseph left it to dad Aidan to represent him at Listowel, where Sara won, on Monday, preferring quietly to assess potential jumping talent at the Derby sale. He was there to bid and secure some lots early in the week, but left it to Sara to do some lower-level buying on the last day. That’s a proper family affair.

The previous week’s article majored on Profitable, the Clive Cox-trained and Alan Spence-owned sprinter who had been backed into King’s Stand Stakes favouritism after his victories in the Palace House and Temple Stakes earlier in the spring.

Spence announced on Saturday that he’d completed a deal with Godolphin to buy the colt for stud duties at the end of his racing days, but that the new owners had acceded to a bucket list of associated conditions, principally that he remain running in Spence’s name and that Cox and regular rider Adam Kirby would continue their partnerships with the horse.

By all accounts, the very shrewd Mr Spence covered as many bases as could be covered. The one he could do nothing about was the weather, and the way Michael Dods was beaming, indeed almost crowing, after Easton Angel’s Sandown Listed win on Saturday, Alan must have been relieved to get the job done.

For Dods, hopeful of a turn-around of the Temple Stakes form with Profitable and his Mecca’s Angel at Ascot, was invigorated by the news that an hour’s deluge on Friday night had produced 20 millimetres there. More rain on Saturday and Sunday will have made the projected good to soft ground ambitious. Ascot expects sunshine and showers every day. I don’t think I’ll bother to tell Mrs S in advance of her visit on Wednesday.

Regulars might have noticed that I rarely mention anything outside racing these days, but the behaviour of a not-inconsiderable portion of the support for the England soccer team at Euro 2016 in France has been despicable.

Street fighting, goading ISIS and jeering at the French police offered a humiliatingly embarrassing microcosm of a section of the UK’s population. The culmination of three or four days’ unpleasantness in Marseille was the pitched battle in the stadium.

The Mail reported “Russian thugs” attacking “English fans”. It could easily have been written the other way round as “English thugs’” actions bringing a brutal response from “Russian fans”. I believe that FIFA or UEFA should expel both England and Russia from the tournament having no mind to such trifles as money.

Monday Musings: A Profitable System?

A simple but Profitable system for Ascot?

A simple but Profitable system for Ascot?

Monday Musings

By Tony Stafford

It’s Derby week and I’m sure you expect me to delve into the two mile and a half Classics taking advantage of my many years’ experience. With that in mind I had a nice day on Epsom Downs last week, at Breakfast with the Stars, where there were a number of stars, equine and human, and even more Breakfast of which your correspondent and for one that I can vouch for, Mick (Michael) Channon junior, partook with great alacrity.

It was later that morning when I started to project my thoughts a little further forward, having spent a pleasant half an hour in the company of Alan Spence, who has been having a good time of it with his horses this season.

Thoughts turned into research; research into statistics and stats into a sure-fire profitable system. How appropriate that the next horse to test the seemingly unbreakable thrust of my argument, is Profitable, owned by A D Spence!

Amazing. The system is one I bet cannot be replicated anywhere else in the history of English racing, at least not with such spectacular returns. It involves a Group 3 race run in either late April or early May, and a Group 1, around six weeks later. My research also encompasses an interim race, this time Group 2, with all three races being over the minimum distance.

So step forward, Newmarket’s Palace House Stakes on 2,000 Guineas day, the Temple Stakes (optional) at Haydock three weeks later and the King’s Stand three and a half weeks after Haydock.

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The Newmarket race has been going for more than half a century and I fondly remember the first winner, Galivanter, a Major Lionel Holliday home-bred trained by Major Dick Hern, who won in 1961. Plenty of army stuff there!

The Temple has an even longer history, but having been a feature of the old Sandown Whitsun meeting and run either on Bank Holiday Monday or the following evening, it switched to Haydock for the first time in 2008. Such are the differences in the two tracks, I have confined my studies to the Haydock period <lazy sod, Ed>.

Ascot in 2016 is also a fair bit different from its pre-2006 model, as the straight course has been re-aligned so that at the finish it is 42 metres further north (nearer the High Street) than previously. Inevitably the character of the track has been at least marginally altered.

So that’s fine, you say, where is this profitable system?

Ok, there have been eight King’s Stand Stakes run on the modified course since 2008, the period of the study. I took note of all the Palace House Stakes winners in the period and noticed that only four of them took the quick return to Haydock, none winning. Six of them went on to run at Ascot and four of them won.

Of the four that ran in all three races in the same year, Equiano, now a stallion at Newsells Park Stud in Hertfordshire, performed easily the best. Trained in 2010 by Barry Hills, he was second, beaten by dual winner and still active Kingsgate Native at Haydock. Equiano had also won the 2008 King’s Stand when trained in Spain on his first appearance in England.

In 2009 the Henry Candy-trained Amour Propre, a gelding, won at Newmarket, missed the trip to Haydock before finishing unplaced behind Australian sprinter Scenic Blast at Ascot. In 2011 Tangerine Trees, like Kingsgate Native still active on the racecourse, was easily beaten both at Haydock and in the King’s Stand (last of 19 to Prohibit).

Mayson, the 2012 Palace House scorer, got off the mark with his first stakes winner, Global Applause, in the National Stakes at Sandown last Thursday. He missed both Haydock and Ascot, but then took the July Cup (6f) before finishing runner-up in the Prix de l’Abbaye on his final appearance.

Otherwise, all the Palace House winners followed up at Ascot. Equiano’s second success, much more anticipated than his unconsidered first came at 9-2. The remarkable Sole Power, another durable gelding, took a close fourth at Haydock before his first Ascot win at 8-1.

Sole Power made it a double double – missing the trip to Haydock this time – at 5-1; and, last year, Goldream, having won the Newmarket race for sprint specialist Robert Cowell, bombed at Haydock, but came bouncing back at Ascot at 20-1!

So in other words we have six contenders for a Royal Ascot bet, with only two losers. The other four collected 37.5 points profit, making it 35.5 points overall, or almost 600% to level stakes.

So, what do we do about this year, you could ask? Well for the first time, the two key races have provided the same winner, the eponymous Profitable – by name and by nature. The last Temple Stakes winner to succeed in the King’s Stand was Cassandra Go in 2002, when of course it was run at Sandown. Sole Power has won all three races, but has had a fair few goes at it, and never in the same year.

Profitable, now four, and by Mayson’s sire Invincible Spirit, has apparently caught the eyes of several would-be suitors following his latest win in the Group 2 Temple. There he had to contend with softer ground than ideal, and the attentions of the talented Mecca’s Angel, who had beaten the flying Acapulco on soft in the 2015 Nunthorpe on her previous start.

The insistent attempts by sections of the media to suggest the Haydock result should have been reversed after the pair came close through the last furlong would have been less unfair had their proponents first contemplated the potential downside for the winner’s connections.

Profitable is one of the few top sprinters in independent (non-Arab or Coolmore) hands, and as a colt also a highly-attractive and rare stallion prospect, being by a noted sire of sires. Whether his value would have been adversely affected by a demotion – I’m sure it would have; who cares if a goal is incorrectly ruled out, it’s not a goal?– the result on the ground was almost certainly unaffected by their coming close together.

So with all that in mind, how can Profitable, rated by Timeform as recording the best Time Figure of the season, better than any of the Guineas winners, still be available at 8-1? Clive Cox is in flying form, too. Fill your boots. Wonder what price ADS has on his voucher?

My appearance at Epsom was principally to run the eye over Harry Champion, who went along to keep company with Hugo Palmer’s Oaks contender, Architecture. He did a nice job and acted well enough on the track, although his rider reported the ground was too soft. If Architecture wins on Friday, stay around for Harry in the last off just 8st 3lb.