I had intended writing copiously 24 hours after my first wholly enjoyable, nay rejuvenating, visit to Newmarket racecourse for two years about a brief conversation of which I was the sole observer, writes Tony Stafford. The conversants were those two genial giants of our sport, Charlie Appleby and Aidan O’Brien, but I will leave that until later.
It was in the evening during a catch-up scan through the Saturday results that I noted the 7.30 p.m. race at Chelmsford was called the Tote.co.uk Now Never Beaten By SP Handicap (Division 1).
I’ve noticed that race title before, marvelling that the object of so much ridicule and indeed suspicion in its Betfred-owned days between 2011 and 2019 had been apparently transformed upon its acquisition and operation by the group formerly known as Alizeti Capital but now UK Tote Group.
Their intention, I remembered reading, was exactly that - to ensure the Tote returns were never to be bettered by SP and to help grow its new version to be of financial benefit to the sport.
In its rubric, Tote Group UK says it is “now owned by a group of racehorse owners and breeders who are passionate about the sport, backed by people who own and train over 1,000 horses worldwide.
“We’re united by a shared desire to secure British racing’s finances for generations to come through a revitalised Tote”. Glowing contributions in that notice in support of UK Tote Group have come from Sir Anthony McCoy, John Gosden, Richard Thompson of Cheveley Park Stud, and the Racehorse Owners Association.
I scrutinised all 36 races run in the UK on Saturday and in 24 of them, including the 7.30 at Chelmsford, SP was better than the returned Tote price about the winner. Course and betting shop punters would not have benefited, but I am reassured that online Tote odds backers will have been, according to the publicity (admittedly confusing) blurb to the tune of a maximum £500 per bet. [The race title referred to tote.co.uk, the online arm of the tote]
The three regular backers I know whom I thought might have been able to confirm this as correct all were unable to do so as they all three to coin a theme “had my account with the Tote closed years ago.” They all habitually try to get a few hundred quid on a horse. One big firm, asked for £500 each way on a horse the other day, offered to take £2.80 each way. Still theirs is a happy slogan and I wish anything that might correct the joke level of prize money in the lower reaches of the sport, a potential blessing. But as my three friends I’m sure would say: “Don’t hold your breath.”
I mentioned Charlie and Aidan’s very amicable chat earlier at Newmarket soon after the Darley Dewhurst Stakes victory of unbeaten Native Trail and the Irishman was glowing in his congratulations to his younger English counterpart.
Three wins on the day had already pushed Appleby past Andrew Balding at the top of the trainers’ championship standings for the first time and Aidan admired both Native Trail and the less exposed Coroebus, easy winner of the Group 2 Autumn Stakes.
Where Native Trail was a breeze-up buy for 210,000gns in the spring, able to make his debut in early July and now was making it a perfect four-for-four, there is no Godolphin blood in him, being by Oasis Dream out of an Observatory mare – Juddmonte all the way.
Coroebus meanwhile is Godolphin through and through: by Dubawi, their version of Coolmore’s great stallion Galileo, out of a mare by Galileo’s first superstar, the unbeaten Teofilo.
O’Brien remarked on both colts’ physicality, to which Appleby replied: “Coroebus is 540 kilos and Native Trail is 545, and that’s as heavy as Adayar who you know is a monster!” Formidable for two-year-olds you would agree!
The wins brought Appleby some elbow room at the top of the table and with a dearth of major and valuable races to come save next Saturday’s Qatar Champions Day at Ascot and the Vertem Futurity (just over £100k) at Doncaster the following weekend, opportunities are somewhat polarised.
Aidan told me he plans to run his top juvenile Luxembourg in the Vertem Futurity and expects that outstanding Camolot colt to go first in 2022 for the 2000 Guineas where he will almost certainly encounter Native Trail and Coroebus.
While Appleby has been inching his way up to and past Balding, who has had a season that must have surprised him with more than £4 million already in the satchel, he will be aware that John and Thady Gosden, who started slowly this year, are still in there pitching.
Balding has ten entries for Ascot, but only a couple, both 8-1 shots – Invite in the Fillies and Mares race, and Alcohol Free in the QE II – have better than outside chances. Appleby’s hopes from six entries centre, should he run, on Derby winner Adayar, about whom 3-1 is probably a little tight after his Arc exertions.
But the Gosden ten, with six in the closing Balmoral Handicap - Gosden senior dearly wants to win that race – include four serious darts at the biggest prizes of the day.
Mishriff, saved from the Arc in favour of the Champion Stakes, is 6-4 favourite for the £680k Champion. Palace Pier vies for favouritism with improving Baeed in the £623,000 to the winner QE II. Additionally, Free Wind is 7-2 for the £283,000 Fillies and Mares, and Stradivarius, should he renew hostilities with Trueshan, is second favourite behind that horse in the similarly-endowed Stayers’ race.
The Gosdens lurk around £500,000 behind Appleby and, unless such as Snowfall and maybe something else can edge out Mishriff, or The Revenant, back with a near miss at Longchamp, could possibly again unseat Palace Pier with Baeed’s help. Otherwise it seems a dominant position for a hat-trick for Clarehaven. It looks theirs to lose.
While that stealthy challenge in the trainers’ race has suddenly crystallised, the jockeys’ battle between incumbent Oisin Murphy and his nearest challenger William Buick has been a constant side-show most of this year.
It’s easy to portray this tussle as between Mr Naughty and Mr Squeaky Clean and certainly Oisin Murphy’s second failed breath test, which for the moment merely cost him one day’s riding at Newmarket on Friday, has done nothing for his reputation.
The jockey stressed that the alcohol reading while exceeding the permitted limit for being allowed to ride a racehorse was below that excluding him from driving a car. Great! Only slightly pissed then!
He dominated talk at Newmarket on Saturday, most people saying that for a repeat offence the case should get a proper investigation and the inside story at Newmarket on Saturday was that an inquiry will be held at the BHA today.
A one-day slap on the wrist, if that is all that happens for the offence, seems inappropriate to me. Suppose he hadn’t been tested, thus was free to ride on Friday and had caused danger to other jockeys and their horses. That puts the six-month ban (now ended) for promising apprentice Benoit de la Sayette when he was found in breach of the drug rules back in the spring in some context.
In the end, of course, Murphy was free to ride Buzz in the Cesarewitch and he gave the one-time Hughie Morrison horse a peach of a ride, one befitting of a champion, to make it a third win in the race for Nicky Henderson.
Buzz came to deny Burning Victory and William Buick in the dying strides, maintaining his margin over his rival to eight, when had the result been turned around it would have been only six. Charlie isn’t giving up on his jockey though and plans to run plenty of talented maidens between now and D Day on Saturday. Burning Victory of course was only Mullins’ second string but it would have been a nice result for readers of this column who may have noticed my frequent mentions of the mare in recent weeks.
So we had a seven-year-old winner who hadn’t raced on the Flat for two years beating a mare who had never previously run in a Flat race either in England or Ireland outclassing 30 other stayers. Burning Victory’s defeat and the no show of favourite M C Muldoon stopped a Willie Mullins four-timer in this contest.
Why are jumps trainers so good at winning on the Flat? We’ve known about these two for decades, but another younger member of their profession, an Irishman based in Gloucestershire, is showing similar tendencies.
Until 16-year-old daughter Fern attained that age in the summer, her father Fergal O’Brien was so disinterested in Flat racing that he had only winner from 50 runners in sporadic seasons from 2013 to 2019.
Fern, mentored by Fergal’s assistant and partner Sally Randell, a former star military race rider, won at the first time of asking a couple of days after her birthday and now stands on four wins from eight rides for her father as a lady amateur. His other 16 runners have yielded another four victories, including smart hurdler Gumball making all in a decent staying handicap at York on Saturday and Polish getting home first in a jump jockeys’ Flat race at Goodwood yesterday.
That makes it eight from 24 and a strike rate of 33%, a figure the Gosdens, Balding, William Haggas and the rest would kill for. And none of them has 55 jump winners since the end of April either!