“It’s a long way to Tipperary”, the first world war British army recruits used to sing as they trudged along the blasted fields of France, writes Tony Stafford. More than a century later, Ryan Moore fitted in an afternoon there sandwiched in between two successful days in Surrey, with a winner apiece at Epsom and Sandown Park.
Tipperary also provided a victory for Aidan O’Brien on Thursday but when the private jet touched down for its second Irish hop for Navan on Saturday, the serious business began. It is, after all, Guineas week – yes April 30th rather than the first Saturday in May - and the barely started flat-race season will be two-fifths of the way through the 2022 Classic races by May Day.
If we needed a sign that O’Brien senior, like his main adversary for the first Classic, Charlie Appleby, has his team in form, then Navan would tell us. Before the meeting Ryan told a mutual friend that all the maidens would run well.
In the event Ryan got on three of O’Brien’s five winners, Aidan matching stay-at-home Paul Nicholls’ tally on the final day of yet another victorious jumps championship at Sandown. Understandably, Nicholls preferred saving his best horses for the two four-runner and one five-runner highly-priced (if not as highly-prized as the swollen jumps pattern would wish) contests largely free from Irish interference. *Note: If you would like a detailed, reasoned evocation of the negative effect on the sport of the ever-growing jumps pattern, read editor Matt Bisogno’s highly informed piece on the subject.
Where the Irish did challenge, in the £90k to the winner Bet365 Gold Cup (nee Whitbread), they mopped up the prize, via 16/1 shot Hewick, trained by Shark Hanlon. Why he, of the flaming ginger hair, should be called “Shark” remains a mystery to me.
Indeed why he alone should have that designation when so many of his compatriots make an equally skilled job of matching and bettering his exploits by turning equine base metal into gold is probably a case for the Monopolies Commission, assuming of course that his nickname was acquired from his training days. But then it sometimes feels like there are other aspects of Irish stables’ domination of the major British jumps prizes every season that need referring to that body. All else seems to be failing as this year’s early false dawn at Cheltenham soon reverted to the usual bloodbath for the home team.
As a domestic aperitif to their top teams’ coming over at the weekend to Newmarket, there is the small matter of Punchestown, five days starting tomorrow and concluding on the day the 2,000 Guineas welcomes Luxembourg from the Coolmore boys to challenge the two prime Godolphin candidates, red-hot favourite Native Trail and market second-best, Coroebus.
Coroebus’ style had many admirers on the day he and Native Trail both won their 2021 finales, the favourite in the Dewhurst and the back-up in a lesser race.
But Native Trail is the only unbeaten colt of the pair, a distinction shared by Luxembourg and just two others from the 24 that stood their ground before the field is whittled down once more at noon today. I dealt with the case of William Knight’s Checkandchallenge, winner of a deep race at Newcastle last weekend. Coincidentally the other unbeaten colt is also trained in Newmarket, in his case by David Simcock. He is Light Infantry, twice a winner last year, and like Checkandchallenge, a son of the deceased Fast Company.
At the time he was in training as a juvenile with Brian Meehan, Fast Company showed many of the attributes of a potential Classic winner, but after an excellent half-length second in the 2007 Dewhurst behind the following year’s Derby winner, New Approach, he never raced again.
I was a regular on Thursday work mornings at Manton in those days and it was a great disappointment to Brian when Fast Company was sold to Godolphin and sent to be trained by Saeed bin Suroor. If either of these relative longshots wins on Saturday it will be a long-awaited accolade for a horse that had been under-valued for all his stud career despite being in the care of Darley throughout.
In the manner of such things, now Fast Company’s son Checkandchallenge has inevitably been attracting interest from people who could more easily shrug off the disappointment of a below-expectation run in the race – be that fourth or eighth as anything better would be a triumph - than Mr Hetherton whose colours he has carried hitherto.
I recall a last-minute pre-Derby sale by Karl Burke around a decade ago that probably made all the difference financially to his training career which at the time looked to be stalling or probably worse. I hope this very smart, sweet-travelling colt does his owner (whoever he may be on the day) and his talented trainer proud.
I make no apology for interjecting here on the Nicholls plans for Punchestown this year which are miserly in the extreme. Nicholls has never been as enthusiastic a Punchestown challenger as Nicky Henderson – I travelled to see Punjabi at the meeting four years in a row for two wins, a nose second and a pulled up (wind).
At time of writing on Sunday afternoon, Clan Des Obeaux, the impressive Aintree winner, is ranged alongside Allaho, Minella Indo, Galvin and Al Boum Photo in Wednesday’s Punchestown Gold Cup. He is a 3-1 shot, a short-enough price for all the domination of Aintree if that quartet turns up.
The only other possible for the UK jumps champ is Monmiral, slated to take on the two wonderful mares Honeysuckle and Epatante, the latter another Aintree winner, in her case over further. With around €160K to the winner in each of a dozen Grade 1 races over the five days, you would think sending a horse with place chances might be worth the risk even for cautious Paul.
Yet tomorrow’s card, worth in all €735k, hasn’t attracted a single English, Welsh or Scottish challenger. It will be great to watch on Racing TV all week but with the wistful thought that surely things should be different.
Back in the Guineas, Camelot, by Montjeu rather than the more influential Galileo (both sons of Sadler’s Wells) but hardly his inferior in terms of producing Derby winners, is Luxembourg’s sire.
When asked about his abilities, Aidan O’Brien said he has superior speed to Camelot, a horse that just saw off French Fifteen in an epic battle for the 2,000 Guineas ten years ago. He followed up in the Derby and the much-sought third leg of the Triple Crown was denied O’Brien and son Joseph when Camelot lost the St Leger by three-quarters of a length to Encke, a horse trained by the subsequently disgraced Mahmood Al Zarooni for Godolphin.
That was Camelot’s first defeat after five successive wins and prevented the first English Triple Crown since Nijinsky graced the 1970 season for an earlier O’Brien – the revered Vincent.
It's always great when the champion two-year-old gravitates to winning the 2,000 Guineas and after his bloodless Craven Stakes return that is entirely possible. Charlie has the horse with the form, but Luxembourg has the Coolmore badge all over him, not just on the sire’s side, but the dam is by Danehill Dancer, a sprinter that ran in Michael Tabor’s colours but far exceeded his decent racing ability when sent to stud.
The mare Attire provides another major link to the glorious past of Ballydoyle. Ben Sangster, her owner-breeder, is of course a son of the late Robert Sangster whose inheritance from his Vernons Pools-owning father funded the domination of the international bloodstock market in the 1980’s and 90’s. Along with Vincent’s supreme training skills and the business acumen and animal husbandry of Vincent’s son-in-law, John Magnier, they were an unbeatable partnership for more than two decades.
I’m with Luxembourg to prove on Saturday that blood is thicker than form lines and take him and Ryan, not to mention Aidan and the Coolmore team, to beat Native Trail with the underdog Checkandchallenge coming from the pack late on to clinch third. Easy, really, this flat racing.
I have loved the 2021-22 jumps season as my little daily job editing fromthestables.com which involves sharing the thoughts of around 15 trainers, ended with a nice win in the William Hill Radio Naps table. The 2022 summer table started yesterday and we were off to a flier when Rogue Millennium won for Tom Clover at 9/2. Only seven months to go!