As a certain young tennis player showed the world last week, nothing is guaranteed in sport, writes Tony Stafford. Certainly, when Aidan O’Brien assembled the cavalry for their dual skirmishes around the Curragh and on the manicured lawns of Longchamp last weekend, he and the Coolmore owners were expecting more than a single winner.
Okay, so St Mark’s Basilica, forced out of York but now refreshed for the task in the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown on Saturday, did see off the dual threat of top older mare Tarnawa and fellow multiple Group 1-winning three-year-old Poetic Flare, but that is pretty much where it ended.
True, Mother Earth should have won the Matron Stakes on the same day bar being pressed against the rail by 25-1 winner No Speak Alexander, whose rider forced Ryan Moore to ease her close home when short of room. It was only the intervention of second-placed Pearls Galore that prevented the 1,000 Guineas and Prix Rothschild winner from collecting a third Group 1 in the stewards’ room.
Luck in general was hardly on their side over the weekend. Innisfree, one of their best-backed horses at Leopardstown, was poised to collect in the Group 3 when going wrong and having to be pulled up by the same luckless pilot.
But when sending seven individual winners of Group 1 races during the current season for such an important two days’ racing not just in Ireland (Champions Weekend), but also in France (Arc Trials Day) and UK (Saturday’s St Leger), one may be forgiven for expecting at least a few of them to win.
The biggest shock of course was the ending of the explosive victory roll throughout the year of Snowfall, from unconsidered winner of the Musidora in May, through the record-making 18-length romp in the Oaks, nine-length demolition in the Irish version, and latterly a more measured four in York.
Cynics said divide it again and make it two but rather than a multiplying factor, it was the linear reduction that applied. Go from nine to four, take off another five, and you get a first defeat. Teona, third at York and a 28-length disappointment in tenth at Epsom, opted out of the Curragh and a return to the Knavesmire, instead restoring her reputation in a Windsor Listed race. Roger Varian had her primed and the resulting one and a half length (that’s the linear version working to a nicety!) put the 1-5 shot in her place.
The tell-tale stat, as if we needed to illustrate further the law of diminishing Snowfall returns, was the location of La Joconde, a daughter of Frankel and part of the regular team of maids of honour attending the queen on her perambulations around Europe.
La Joconde, a 40-1 shot at Epsom, was 11th of 14 there, beaten 34 lengths. At the Curragh, having first stopped off at Roscommon to break her maiden, she was again 40/1 when sixth, beaten 20 lengths, and the gulf contracted to just under seven lengths at York. Yesterday La Joconde, 44-1 under Hollie Doyle, was only half a length behind her principal in third, so some nice black type for her – well, they needed something on which to reflect favourably!
The Frankie Dettori magic on O’Brien horses – often getting on the Ryan Moore discards – didn’t extend to Doncaster on Saturday, either. With the stable number one in Ireland, Frankie had his first experience of riding one-time Derby favourite High Definition in the St Leger but true to form this disappointing animal proved worst of the quartet from Ballydoyle beating only one home.
The Mediterranean (28/1) in third and Hollie Doyle-ridden Interpretation (shortest of the quartet at 8-1) in fourth did as well as could be expected as Irish Derby winner Hurricane Lane continued his upward climb for William Buick and Charlie Appleby. Mojo Star, second in the Derby to Adayar and unlucky-in-running in Ireland, ran a big race again but was no match for the winner who is right up there at the top of the tree.
High Definition had been favourite for all three earlier starts, but now the plug had been properly pulled and he was relatively friendless at 14’s. In all honesty he should have been double those odds but highly-held reputations earned on the Ballydoyle gallops are not easily relinquished, especially among the bookmakers.
Reappearing at York in May after an interrupted preparation he was a rusty third behind Hurricane Lane in the Dante. Yet there he was next time at the Curragh, again favourite, this time for the Irish Derby, and you could hardly have imagined a less enthusiastic performance: always loitering at the back while Hurricane Lane was again doing their untroubled business while others, notably Mojo Star, were getting hung up in traffic.
The final straw ought to have been the Great Voltigeur back at York, the traditional St Leger trial, when again unbelievably favourite, he mooched into sixth of eight. He was a decent enough juvenile but the glitter has evaporated on the track in his Classic year. It happens to the best of trainers and even Aidan.
Talking of final straws, Hughie Morrison, spitting blood when Sonnyboyliston edged out his rallying Quickthorn for first prize in the Ebor, citing how well handicapped Johnny Murtagh’s horse had been, now has chapter and verse on his side as Murtagh’s stayer collected yesterday’s Irish St Leger. Rated 113, he got the better of 117-rated Twilight Payment to earn the greater part of €300k more to swell his month’s earnings to half a million, Raducanu proportions almost!
Quickthorn beat the 2020 St Leger runner-up Berkshire Rocco, conceding him weight in a conditions race at Salisbury last week, proving much too good despite losing 20 lengths at the start. No doubt he’ll be giving weight to Murtagh’s horse next time!
Appleby and Buick again had the wood on O’Brien and Moore at the Curragh yesterday in the National Stakes when Native Trail saw off Point Lonsdale in a clash of two unbeaten colts. Both had gone through the ring at Tattersalls: Point Lonsdale, by Australia, at the yearling sales when a 575,000gns purchase by MV Magnier. His four wins in a row – a maiden, Listed, Group 3 and Group 2, all with comfort – explained the 8/13 starting price.
But Native Trail, a 210,000gns acquisition from the Craven Breeze-ups this year, had won two, with a narrow success in the Group 2 Superlative Stakes at the July meeting at his home course, suggesting better to come. So it proved, Native Trail overturning the favourite after a short, sharp tussle. He must have moved right to the top of the two-year-old rankings after that.
Hard as the high-profile defeats had been, it must have been even more disappointing that Love and Broome, back in Group 2 company having both added in numerical terms to their top-level success – Love’s Ascot victory had been a little palled by two subsequent third places, admittedly in the King George and Juddmonte – could not convert the lower-level opportunities.
Broome had won the Group 1 Prix de Saint-Cloud but a return to France for his Arc Trial in the Prix Foy proved a disappointment as the Japanese Deep Bond made all in this full dress rehearsal for four-year-olds and up. Anyone fancying a bet on the big race next month would be well served placing a bet on course on the PMU as the hordes of supporters of the Japanese horses always distort even markets on world pool races.
Love’s defeat came from an unlikely source. When my friend Nicolas Clement bought a filly by Derby-winning Galileo stallion Ruler Of The World for Jonathan Barnett he paid the princely sum of €21,000 (his budget was €40k!). Clement has been adamant all along that she is the most promising of his fillies for next year and expects her to make a debut late next month. His reasoning was that Ruler Of The World is a vastly underrated sire.
As the result of yesterday’s Group 2 Blandford Stakes is digested it will show that La Petite Coco was winning for the fourth time in five starts for Paddy Twomey. She got up in the last stride to deny Love, with the third horse three lengths away. Already rated 110, La Petite Coco looks one to follow.
She has been the joint most productive filly by her sire in Ireland, from only a small representation, as he is based in France. Pineapple Express, trained and ridden by father and son Andrew Slattery (x2), was beaten a neck in the 23-runner finale handicap there yesterday. That made in four wins and three seconds in ten 2021 outings for her. I can’t wait to see Jonathan’s filly on the track.
In other news, it will hopefully be off to Yarmouth this week, either Wednesday or Thursday, for the three-year-old Dusky Lord, in whom Barnett is a partner along with Theona’s trainer, Roger Varian. I expect Roger to be in a decent mood when I speak to him before the race.
One very sad note was the death of Andy Stewart, owner of Big Buck’s and so many great jumpers, starting with Cenkos, over the past three decades. I knew him from even before he set up the company of that name with which he made his fortune.
We first met when he worked with investment bankers Singer & Friedlander, sponsors of a big chase every year at Uttoxeter. He liked to talk about his team of greyhounds at Hove stadium, with little thought of moving up into horses. That he did and with Paul Nicholls too was a joy for so many, especially the way in which he embraced horse racing and how graciously he treated everyone he met.