We were looking for performances of championship quality at York last week and Ghaiyyath, Love and Battaash certainly provided them, writes Tony Stafford. Battaash maybe didn’t need to be quite at his best to win a second Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes, benefiting from unexpectedly disappointing runs from Art Power and A’Ali as well as the absence of the Wesley Ward two-year-old Golden Pal. But he overcame difficult ground conditions and had to catch a flying filly in Que Amoro to land the odds.
Love was also an odds-on shot in the Yorkshire Oaks, and she made it three majestic Group 1s in the year following 1,000 Guineas and Oaks supremacy with another flawless performance, galloping five and a bit lengths clear of 33-1 shot Alpinista.
Aidan O’Brien and winning rider Ryan Moore did nothing to dissuade us that Love’s rightful objective and a highly winnable one would be the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in which she would form the third major protagonist along with Enable, wisely pulled out of a pre-emptive clash with her last week in favour of the September Stakes, and Ghaiyyath.
Much was made after the Yorkshire Oaks of the three-year-old fillies’ big advantage in the Arc against their elders and contemporary colts. They need to be good, though, and no female of that age contested last year’s race. Two did the year before, the sadly ill-fated Sea of Class just failed to catch Enable when her 7lb weight pull (10lb from older males) was almost enough. Magical, back at her best trip when a three-length second to the impressive Ghaiyyath in the Juddmonte last week, was tenth in that second Arc victory by Enable.
I think Love will win the Arc, and the way she coped with the rain-affected ground last week was probably the final piece in the puzzle.
I want to gloss over the rest of the big-race action at York to concentrate on three if-only moments, one from the Knavesmire, two of which certainly deserved to have a different result.
Peter Charalambous is an owner-trainer based in Newmarket who breeds most of his own horses but rarely has more than ten in training at any one time, many now running in the partnership name of pcracing.com. Over the years he has been particularly successful on the July Course at Newmarket where Trulee Scrumptious has been a standing dish, winning seven times on that track, usually at the Friday Newmarket Nights meetings, so greatly missed by regulars this year.
Before Trulee Scrumptious, Peter did even better with the higher-class mare Boonga Roogeta, who over five seasons won 11 of her 46 starts, at one time achieving an official rating of 96.
Now she is one of his most valued broodmares but when her 2018 foal by Equiano hit the track on the Rowley Mile this month, there was little hint of expectation in the overnight betting market. Called Apollo One, the colt, who went unsold through Book 3 of Tattersalls yearling sales last October at 3,500gns, opened at 33-1, drifting to 40’s before the Charalambous insiders caused him to drop to 22-1 at the off.
Difficult to load, he was slightly slowly away but Martin Harley allowed him to lead and despite setting only a modest pace, he was soon clear. Eased some way before the finish, he won pulling up by four lengths from the Richard Hannon-trained Keep Right On.
That was only a maiden auction race and he was receiving 3lb from the runner-up in a field of 11, so when he turned out for yesterday’s Solario Stakes, Group 3, at Sandown he was again an under-valued contender. Charalambous might be excused for thinking the horse was disrespected just as he, pointing to his Greek Cypriot heritage as a possible underlying reason, has often felt shunned and excluded by the Newmarket establishment.
In the race, faced by the highly-regarded Hannon colt Etonian, Apollo One, and this time the complete outsider of the field at 28-1, he was again was the subject of late support. He ran accordingly. Fast away under Luke Morris, he led until inside the final furlong where Etonian finally got to him and it was only in the closing strides that second-favourite King Vega got up to deny him second place by half a length.
The Racing TV team certainly gave Apollo One more than a passing complimentary mention and I’d love to see him win a Group race to give this enthusiastic and talented professional’s many years of hard graft some financial reward to go with the already secured black type recognition. Certainly Boonga Roogeta’s subsequent foals will get more attention at future yearling sales. It was nice, too, to see Julie Wood’s colours, after a quiet time, coming to the fore again with Etonian.
Like most of her horses in a much-reduced string compared with a decade ago, Etonian was bought as a foal, in his case at Goffs in Ireland for €14,000. Re-submitted in Tattersalls Book 4 the following year, fortunately he was led out unsold at 10,000Gns. A son of Olympic Glory, originally owned by Mrs Wood, but then bought by Qatar’s Sheikh Johann at the time when he was becoming briefly a major player, he won three of his four races in her colours. His first run for new connections was a victory in the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere on Arc day, so it would be a nice piece of symmetry if, as planned, Etonian takes in that same race this October.
I’ve been following the William Knight-trained Sir Busker all season, delighting in his wins, at Newcastle before lockdown when beating subsequent Royal Hunt Cup winner Dark Vision and then again in the consolation Hunt Cup. Since then he’s probably been the unluckiest handicapper in training, first throwing away a winning chance by hanging violently left in the last furlong of the Bunbury Cup at Newmarket before recovering to chase home Motakhayyel.
At Goodwood he was possibly the pick of all the many “stuck on the rails in handcuffs” victims, but at York this week came the unkindest cut of all. Dropped out by Oisin Murphy in the ultra-competitive 17-runner Clipper Logistics Handicap, he was easily spotted, moving along serenely up the inside under the champion jockey.
Then approaching the bend into the straight with nothing apparently to hinder his course, Murphy suddenly was confronted by a vision in light blue, the 50-1 shot Red Bond, on whom John Egan effected a wholly-unnecessary, highly-illegal and totally-damaging abrupt left turn onto the rails right in Sir Busker’s path.
Instead of turning for home in midfield, he now had five more horses than would have been the case to re-pass once he was able to re-engage forward movement. In the straight, with the whole field coming up the middle, Sir Busker, who, as he showed in the Bunbury Cup tends to go left, drifted across to the far rails with absolutely no cover. He had maybe five lengths to make up from less than two furlongs out only failing by a neck with once again a Hamdan horse, this time Montatham, denying him victory.
Rated only 92 at the start of the season, he was running off 15lb higher at York and in finishing second in a race where the first four home in that big field were the quartet at the top of the betting, should mean that his handicapping days are almost over. Knight though has long felt that the Cambridgeshire, over nine furlongs at his new home course Newmarket, is the ideal race while acknowledging he’ll need another personal best with the probability of another small rise in his mark to win that for all that it’s ideal in terms of getting cover and room to make your move. Then of course there’s the three-year-olds to worry about.
There was another instance of an unlucky loser at Cartmel yesterday on a day where massive prices, a week on from the 300-1 winner in Ireland, were once again commonplace, not just in Ireland, but also in England and France.
Ben Haslam was the star of the show at Cartmel, winning with a 66-1 chance, Black Kraken, in the opener and book-ending the card with 22-1 shot Ever So Much. The latter, an 11-year-old in the J P McManus colours was winning for the 13th time in his career, off a mark of 92. As the Haslam double came out at a massive 1,540-1, it is doubtful whether J P had too much on it! And, if he did, he’s very likely cursing his other Haslam runner, Demi Sang, finishing second at 9/1, narrowly foiling a 15,400 treble!
For much of the closing stages it appeared that his veteran would have to be content with second place as the 40-1 shot Artic Quest, having his first run for 13 months and stable debut for Micky Hammond, looked the certain winner three hurdles from home.
Unlike Ever So Much, Artic Quest had never managed to finish in the first three in any of his previous 16 races in Ireland, under Rules or in points. He achieved a solitary fourth place and that was the only time he got within hailing distance in any race.
In his last Irish outing, on July 6 last year, he ran in a three-mile hurdle, by which time the official Irish handicapper had given him an initial mark of 87. In a field of five at Bellewstown he started 100-1 and finished last, 47 lengths behind the winner and 20 lengths adrift of the fourth horse.
Three days later, Ever So Much, already a 12-time winner, ran his last race over hurdles before yesterday and was well beaten running off 99. In the interim he won one of five chases. In his wisdom, the handicapper dropped him 7lb to 92 for yesterday’s return to hurdles. The same official saw fit to rate Artic Quest, whose deficits in his 13 previous runs were (in bumpers) 25 lengths, pulled up and 19.5; then, over hurdles, 38 lengths, 9.5, PU, PU, 3.5, 55, PU, 116, 40 and 47. No wonder he rated him 7lb HIGHER than his Irish counterpart had done, so that yesterday he was GIVING weight to a prolific winner!
I spoke to Micky Hammond before the race and he said that while his form in Ireland was poor, Artic Quest had been working well, although the early-morning 25-1 had become double that before some small correction into his 40-1 SP.
Just like Sir Busker, ill-luck was to step in. At the sixth flight, as Becky Smith was just allowing the eight-year-old to move closer to the leaders, one of the front runners fell immediately in front of him, interrupting his progress. He recovered and, remarkably, was cantering all over the three leaders, with the rest already well beaten off jumping two out.
I can hardly call Micky at four a.m. to check if his horse, dismounted by Becky immediately on passing the line, had finished lame as I feared he may have done, but the way he weakened markedly while the winner plodded on halfway up the long run-in would tend to suggest he might have.
You guessed it. Sir Busker, Apollo One and Artic Quest, I was on them all. As I said, if only!
On a day when there was a 48-1 Group 1 winner in France for James Fanshawe, his third Prix Jean Romanet in six years; those two big prices at Cartmel and winners at 20-1, 22-1, 50-1 and 22-1 at Naas, why couldn’t I be allowed a 40-1 winner of my own?