An epic Champions Day at Ascot on Saturday definitely settled one major argument and all but decided another, writes Tony Stafford. In all honesty though, Murphy versus Buick and Appleby contra the Gosdens were the sideshows to an overwhelming afternoon for the Shadwell Estate Company, Jim Crowley and William Haggas.
There was a tinge of irony in the fact that in the week after the announcement of an admittedly expected but still shocking major reduction in the number of horses in the blue and white colours of the late Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum, Shadwell won half the races.
Most – me at the head of that particular queue – expected a John and Thady Gosden benefit. But in the opening stayers’ race, Stradivarius suffered another defeat at the hands not only of Trueshan but 50-1 shot Tashkhan who came through late to give Brian Ellison a scarcely credible second place.
So once again Hollie Doyle was the nemesis for Frankie Dettori. He had accused racing’s favourite and most talented female rider of setting an inadequate pace on a pacemaker when the pair were riding for Aidan O’Brien in the Prix Vermeille on Arc Trials Day.
Dettori was on the unbackable Snowfall that day, previously a triple Oaks winner in the summer, including at Epsom under the Italian, but was turned over by Roger Varian’s Teona. Frankie reckoned Hollie got the pace wrong, but horses are supposed to run on their merits and in the event La Joconde was only a half-length behind the superstar in third. If that smacked of sour grapes, on Saturday it was more a case of sour face.
Riding his favourite horse the now slightly faltering multiple champion stayer Stradivarius, Dettori came back boiling, now blaming young Irish rider Dylan Browne McMonagle for twice blocking his run. My view of the closing stages was that any inconvenience could hardly have been of the order of four lengths – the margin by which he was behind Trueshan. McMonagle, far from bowed by the old-timer’s complaints, quite rightly called it “just race-riding”.
The fastest finisher of the front three was undoubtedly Tashkhan, who started out in 2021 having joined Ellison from Emmet Mullins on a mark of 70. He was already up to 106 by Saturday and no doubt will have earned another hike. For Trueshan and his owners, who include Andrew Gemmell, his exploits entitle him to be the year’s top stayer.
I felt it worth starting out on Grumpy Frankie, who in a magical career of well over 30 years has had more than his fair share of good fortune – and leniency from the authorities - notably that day with the seven winners on the same racecourse. That was the year when I had just finished writing his “autobiography”, a Year in the Life of Frankie Dettori. Come off it Frankie, imagine how many times you’ve got in someone’s way when they thought they had a race in the bag!
But we move back to Shadwell. Two of their three winners on the day were home-breds. These were Baaeed, emphatic winner of the QE II Stakes and Eshaada, another Roger Varian filly to lower the colours of Snowfall, again below par in third in the Fillies’ and Mares’ race. After the brilliance of her trio of summer Group 1 wins at Epsom, The Curragh and York Snowfall may just be feeling the cumulative erosion caused by those efforts – not least her sixth in the Arc just two weeks previously. Varian must be thinking she’s his Patsy!
The third Shadwell winner was like the other two, a progressive three-year-old. William Haggas had not even revealed Baaeed to the racing public until June 7 of his three-year-old career but in the intervening 18 weeks he had won four more times including at Longchamp. Here the son of Sea The Stars was faced with the Gosdens’ Palace Pier, the highest-rated horse in Europe last year.
That status has been usurped by last weekend’s Arc hero Torquator Tasso. Baaeed was a most convincing winner and must have a massive future. Whether it will be that much more glorious than what we will see from Haggas’s other winner in the same colours cannot be certain. Aldaary, by Territories, had won a handicap on the same track two weeks earlier, the 6lb penalty for which brought his mark in Saturday’s closing Balmoral Handicap to 109. No problem as he proved to be the proverbial group horse running in a handicap by galloping away from 19 others under an exultant Crowley in a time only 0.07sec slower than the Group 1.
If there was an element of sadness around Hamdan’s colours winning half the races on that massive day, for me there was just as much poignancy about Aldaary’s success. The breeder is listed as M E Broughton, slightly disguising the identity of a man who equally hid behind the name of the Essex-based company he built, Broughton Thermal Insulation, in his many years as an enthusiastic owner-breeder.
Michael died last year – as did his wife Carol – and that after a career where the Racing Post Statistics reveal more than 100 winners in his sole name. He won races in all but two of the 33 seasons for which the Racing Post carries statistics, and in his final days actually won four to get him past the century.
He was a one-trainer owner, relying on the always-reticent Wille Musson and when the trainer retired five years ago, he stayed on as Broughton’s racing manager. Clever man that Willie Musson.
Michael was a jovial red-faced enthusiast and for a few years he used to ask me to go through the Cheltenham card on the days when he entertained a table of friends. These included his loyal PA, Maggie and Michael’s brother Roger as well as the Mussons, in the main restaurant at the Cheltenham Festival.
All his horses carried the prefix Broughtons (sometimes with an apostrophe before the “s”) and Broughtons Revival won three races of the four she competed in on turf as against a winless five appearances on all-weather, of course for Musson.
Retired to stud she had six foals before Aldaary and five of them are winners. No wonder Aldaary realised 55,000gns as a foal to the bid of Johnny McKeever at the 2018 December sales and then, re-submitted the following year in Book 2 of the October Yearling Sale, jumped up to 150,000gns to Shadwell. More than 150 Shadwell horses are due to go under the hammer at the Horses in Training Sale next week. I doubt that Aldaary, who holds the entry, will be sporting the insignia of Lot 1308 at Park Paddocks, rather enjoying some down time back at Somerville Lodge.
However sad it was that Sheikh Hamdan could not enjoy his day of days, I have much more regret that Michael was unable to enjoy seeing by far the best horse he has ever bred over all those years. Willie and Judy Musson will have been pleased as punch no doubt.
Earlier in the piece I suggested that Snowfall might not have fully recovered from her demanding run in the mud of Longchamp 13 days earlier, but the horse that finished one place ahead of her that afternoon stepped up to win the Champion Stakes thereby unseating Mishriff, the second Gosden ace in the hole.
That top-class globe-trotting winner of more than £10 million had sat out the Arc presumably to save his energies for Ascot, but shockingly, he didn’t last home, fading to fourth as Sealiway and Mickael Barzalona strode forward. Dubai Honour made a great show in second for the Haggas team and Classic winner Mac Swiney was third ahead of Mishriff thereby keeping Jim Bolger well in the action hard on the news that his other star of 2021 Poetic Flare is off to a stud career in Japan.
Sealiway had benefited from the traditional French way of training top-class three-year-olds. He had not run for almost four months before his Arc challenge having been runner-up a length and a half behind St Mark’s Basilica in the Prix Du Jockey Club.
Trained then by F Rossi, he switched to Cedric Rossi during the layoff and this convincing victory showed him as a high-class performer and one that is sure to be a major force in European and world racing over ten and twelve furlongs for the next year or so.
Elsewhere, Oisin Murphy held on to win a third title, but I understand there might still be some uncomfortable moments for him. He is a wonderful jockey and we have to hope he can overcome his demons. William Buick’s strong challenge will have given this unassuming young man the confidence that a championship is within his grasp especially as the Charlie Appleby stable remains so powerful.
Last week I suggested the Gosdens had more than enough firepower to claw back the half-million or so deficit they had on Godolphin’s main trainer, but in the event they retrieved barely ten per cent of it on Champions Day. Admittedly the season and therefore the title race in name continues until December 31 but big John and son Thady have no realistic chance of breaching the gap.
Creative Force won the sprint for Charlie and William and a touch more than £300k in the second race of the six. With his main rival surprisingly failing to get a winner on the day – especially the QE II and Champion Stakes, worth considerably more than £1.1 million that looked at their mercy - Appleby assuredly will win his first title after a period when John Gosden and Aidan O’Brien have been dominant.
The massive crowd and good weather and not least fair ground made for a wonderful day – on the tenth anniversary of the lavish Qipco sponsorship. A couple of friends managed to secure tickets for the owners’ lunchroom and Kevin and Dave had a wonderful time. The staff seemed overrun at times but the very pleasant greeter at the top of the stairs was a superlative advertisement for the hospitality trade.
The smile never left her face and then later in the afternoon I was quite surprised to see her carrying out a heavy load of rubbish to the bins. On suggesting that might be someone else’s job, she replied: “They are so busy and have been working very hard, it’s only fair!” What a woman!
At the end of the afternoon, when Dave, having enjoyed a fairly long and liquid lunch, mistook a step and fell headlong down half a flight of stairs, again the staff were quick to come to his aid, calling immediately for the medics. Dave, 78, was pronounced okay so we were cleared to go off to an evening at an Essex hostelry to complete a lovely day. And while I was fully aware of my chauffeuring requirements, the boys made a night of it and true to form were up and ready to go early on Sunday morning with Kevin, I know, supervising the action at his shellfish cabin in Billericay.