Posts

Monday Musings: Poet-ic Justice

When the seven-year-old gelding One Cool Poet approached the finish of his second-ever steeplechase at Tipperary on July 21 it is unlikely that his owners, the DRFG Partnership, or trainer Matthew J Smith, who operates from Kilmessan, Co Meath, would have envisaged what the next two weeks might bring, writes Tony Stafford.

After the final fence at Tipperary, the seven-year-old, contesting his 29th career race (one win first time as a three-year-old in 2015) looked sure to double that score. Then the J P McManus colours, sported by the Gordon Elliott-trained and Davy Russell-ridden Touch Base loomed up, caught him close home and beat him half a length.

With nine runs over hurdles and a fair number of places from them, some imminent further Summer jumping looked the order of the day, but Smith and the owners chose a different tack and by Saturday evening had collected three first prizes, all in handicaps, to light up the Galway Festival.

For many years the clash between Goodwood and Galway has been an irritation for me. Until around ten years ago, work compelled me to attend Goodwood and while it’s something of a habit nowadays, I still go. Not that a disappointing drowning first day on Tuesday, dovetailing with other newer requirements caused me to question whether I might be better served trying a couple of days for the first time at Galway in 2020. If I can see my way clear!

Before detailing last week, it might be interesting to see how One Cool Poet arrived at where he was as Galway approached. Unconventionally, he started life on the Flat in Arthur Moore’s predominantly jumps yard, running three times at two, starting 66-1 on all three occasions with the same owners as now.

It’s a pity I didn’t listen to Fran Berry’s comments on Racing TV as it was he that rode him first time out and then again on his three-year-old bow when he started only 8-1 and won nicely. The rest of that year brought very little, one second place in five runs, and there was a gap of 839 days before he showed up with Matthew J for a couple of outings early in 2018.

The interesting part came later in the year when from August 9th to November 6th he ran ten times in 110 days, busy enough, switching competently (apart from winning) between Flat, including once on the all-weather at Dundalk, and hurdles and collecting six places. That established his Flat mark at 62 and hurdles 40lb higher.

Your first 30 days for just £1

Between October 13th and 29th he ran in three Flat handicaps, earning good places in big fields the last twice, almost serving an audition for the following year’s hyper-activity.

November 6th 2018, a two and a half mile handicap hurdle, was the date of his final run and another 218 days elapsed before he returned, lined up for an initial chase over 2m5f at Punchestown. Two more decent Flat runs followed, places at Leopardstown and Limerick, before the near miss at Tipperary.

Then came Galway. There was plenty of money for him as he lined up on Tuesday for a surely- inadequate eight and a half furlong 0-70 handicap under Billy Lee, but he brought him fast and late to beat Emphatic by a neck. Two days later, under 6lb extra (72) he was delivered by Lee to similar effect this time over a mile and a half and with, if I can say so, a more emphatic margin of one and a half lengths.

So to Saturday, now with 12lb more than the first win, which would surely anchor him, especially with Aidan and Joseph O’Brien both having fancied runners. The highly unlikely hat-trick proved almost routine as he romped to by far the easiest win of the three. This time it was five lengths and after coursing the field into the straight, he bounded away and was back on the bridle, easing up before the finish.

Now he can expect a rise in his mark to around 84, but maybe connections might not be too worried, as he stands as a maiden over hurdles and fences on a mark of 102, when an 84 rating might normally equate to 130. So just the two stone in hand!

I hadn’t heard much about Matthew J Smith, except to understand that anyone clever enough to plan such a feat would know the time of day as so many under-patronised trainers do, especially in Ireland.

Even with the three wins last week, Smith has only four successes from his 19 runs on the Flat and two from 22 over jumps in the present season. Nine wins in the previous jumps campaign was his best, and he’s never sent out more than four Flat winners in a year. Just watching that race on Saturday was the biggest pleasure of the week for me.

*

The best part of Goodwood, contrastingly, was the performance of Charlie Hills. I couldn’t add up the number of times that otherwise knowledgeable racing people have told me he couldn’t train. Where did that come from?

Starting in 2012 and taking over from his legendary father Barry, he knocked out a first Classic winner the following spring when Just the Judge won the Irish 1,000 Guineas and if he doesn’t quite have the bite and sharpness of Barry, he is constantly courteous and helpful to the media, while the results speak volumes.

His handling of the former handful that is Battaash was shown to have been a battle overwhelmingly won when that reformed character won a third King George Stakes without a semblance of worry last week. Further cracks at the Nunthorpe and Abbaye loom with Blue Point safely out the way.

A nice winner for Prince Khalid Abdullah followed on Thursday with a maiden filly, Vividly, but Saturday was his; first with a dominant performance by Khaadem in the Hamdan colours making a mockery of the Stewards’ Cup’s reputation as an “impossible” handicap and then perhaps a more interesting result with another juvenile winner.

This time it was first-time-out scorer Persuasion in the purple silks of Mrs Susan Roy. He won the always-competitive seven-furlong maiden with a strong finish. Persuasion is the second juvenile colt following Fleeting Prince that has won since being sent from Jeremy Noseda’s stable upon the sudden retirement of the former trainer.

One thing Paul and Susan Roy might not have expected was the starting price of the son of Acclamation, which returned – like Vividly – 16/1. In the Noseda days, any well-regarded first-time juvenile inevitably had that expectation reflected in the market. The Lambourn secret service is not quite so effective it would seem as Newmarket’s and especially Shalfleet’s.

As to Khaadem, he was paying a very big compliment to the German five-year-old Waldpfad, who beat him in the Hackwood Stakes at Newbury. His connections have the option of the Hungerford over seven furlongs at Newbury on Saturday week or the 32 Red Sprint Cup over six at Haydock next month. - TS

Monday Musings: Royal Ascot Friends Reunited

It’s here, less than a week away from the longest day of the year, Royal Ascot begins tomorrow with a trio of Friends Reunited races, writes Tony Stafford. I can’t wait to see Battaash, Blue Point and Mabs Cross going at it again in the King’s Stand Stakes, and Phoenix Of Spain and Too Darn Hot dusting off their Irish 2,000 Guineas rivalry in the St James’s Palace Stakes.

But the most intriguing of all for me is the opener, the Queen Anne Stakes, featuring not just the one-two-three from the recent Lockinge Stakes at Newbury, that’s Mustashry, Laurens and Accidental Agent, but also five of the also-rans, in finishing order, Romanised (fourth), Le Brivido (fifth), Sharja Bridge, Beat The Bank, Mythical Magic and Lord Glitters.

It’s as if none of the seven beaten trainers could accept that the Sir Michael Stoute-trained and Hamdan Al Maktoum-owned Mustashry had been a feasible winner. Yet here was a gelded six-year-old who has won eight of his 18 career starts and, since last summer when he beat Spark Plug half a length in a Sandown ten-furlong Listed race, has improved markedly winning twice at Group 2 level before Newbury.

Laurens, runner-up on that Newbury comeback, was the glamour element to that race having won four Group 1 races last year to add to her Fillies’ Mile win at the same level the previous autumn.

Then there’s Accidental Agent, 33-1 winner of this race a year ago, with all the attendant history of trainer Eve Johnson Houghton’s family. The horse was bred by Eve’s mother and named in honour of her maternal grandfather, John Goldsmith, a trainer either side of World War 2 in France and then after the War in England. He filled in nicely between the two parts of his equine career doing a little spying for MI5 behind enemy lines in Europe as Jamie Reid’s “Blown” so graphically describes.

I trust Jamie will not forget to send me a copy of his impending portrayal of Victor Chandler, whose intervention a decade and a half ago, asking me to go to Moscow and saying “this could change your life” had no idea just how right he was. As Eric Morecambe might have said, “not necessarily for the right reason!”

The Lockinge fifth, Le Brivido, earlier an eye-catcher on his debut for Ballydoyle after Michael Tabor bought a half-share from original owner Prince Faisal bin Khaled, is another interesting participant, given his 2017 Jersey Stakes win for the Andre Fabre stable. It’s a race of countless possibilities, but it’s equally likely that the Newbury form will be upheld as Mustashry did win it emphatically.

Your first 30 days for just £1

When you have as much success and as many good horses in your stable as John Gosden, you could probably afford to describe your 2019 handling of Too Darn Hot as appalling, or whatever term he actually used.

So far the colt has been second, after a spring setback, in the Dante, trying out for a possible tilt at the Derby, and when that plan was aborted, switched to The Curragh and the Irish 2,000 Guineas. Another second place, creditable enough but maybe a shade embarrassing for the master trainer after the unblemished two-year-old campaign, resulted there, and the second of the big three re-matches, against that surprise winner Phoenix of Spain, comes in the St James’s Palace Stakes.

In fact the pair had some previous ‘previous’. They were one and two, in reverse Curragh order in the Champagne Stakes, with Too Darn Hot a length and threequarters to the good, in the third of his four juvenile wins, rounded out in the Dewhurst.

Between those two runs Phoenix of Spain was runner-up to subsequent Newmarket 2,000 Guineas winner Magna Grecia in the Vertem Futurity at Doncaster and the Irish 2,000 was his comeback run. Magna Grecia, only fifth when attempting the 2,000 Guineas double misses the race and Derby sixth Circus Maximus drops back to a mile as the principal sub for the O’Brien team.

The third re-match which brings at least as much anticipation as the other two is the King’s Stand. Last year Blue Point comfortably beat Battaash and a strong-finishing Mabs Cross. He went on to dominate the major sprints over the winter in Dubai and returns freshened up for his repeat attempt.

Charlie Hills, who did such a good job to win the Irish 2,000 with Phoenix of Spain without a prep run, can be equally proud of the way in which Battaash, often uneasy before his races in the past, seems to have been calmed down as a five-year-old. He took advantage of favourable weight conditions to beat Mabs Cross in the Temple Stakes, but I have a feeling in the recesses of my mind, that the filly will come good, appreciating the slightly deeper test with the ground possibly riding on the soft side after last week’s rain. I think 9-1 about Michael Dods and the Armstrong family’s star is value, but then I thought Justin Rose at 7-4 was a gift last night!

Ryan Moore must have breathed a sigh of relief when the 48-hour acceptors for the Coventry Stakes did not include Visinari, the Mark Johnston colt who made such a superb debut under the former champion on the opening day on the Newmarket July Course.

I joked here last week that he was probably advising Mark (via son Charlie on course) Johnston to give him more time after that exceptional performance – which apparently did not over-excite the Racing Post’s experts – judged on his RPR’s at the entry stage compared with the rest of the Coventry field. Do they still sell Fudge?

Now with Visinari’s non-acceptance, and indeed if he is to appear at all at the Royal meeting it would have to be in Saturday’s Chesham which closes later today, Ryan’s Coventry mount Arizona, a son of No Nay Never who won by eight lengths second time out at The Curragh, heads the market. My advice, if you want to back him, is not to take the 9-4. With a full field, surely those odds will lengthen as the boys on the boards react to the Betfair-led market.

A couple of weeks ago coming back on the coach after the Derby I was talking about the day-to-day betting market with Alan Newman and he was aghast at the way apparent manipulation is an everyday occurrence.

In the old days, in a match race, if one horse was 4-6, by definition the other would be automatically 6-4 but understandably bookmakers need a margin, so maybe 4-6 and 11-10 would be more like a fair return in such instances.

If Alan had been at Doncaster yesterday I guarantee he would have been on the phone to a long-ago partner at the defuct Wembley greyhounds. In the days several decades before Michael Tabor became a vital cog in Coolmore, he was a bookmaker, but I can imagine what he and Alan would have thought of the betting on the third race of the afternoon up there.

Three of the five runners were no-hopers and priced up accordingly. Also there was a guaranteed favourite, Sea of Faith, trained by William Haggas and a 10-1 on shot, who duly beat the second favourite Bullion Boss by nine lengths. No 10-1 against though or anything near it for Bullion Boss. Just before the off, that gelding trained by Michael Dods and ridden by Paul Mulrennan, was shortened up from 4-1 to 7-2! Who says the betting world hasn’t gone mad?

- TS