Tag Archive for: Denman

Monday Musings: An APT Comparison?

Last March, as Rachael Blackmore urged her mount in the Cheltenham Gold Cup to close on stablemate Minella Indo and Jack Kennedy up the hill after the last fence, she would have been excused for saying: “A Plus Tard” or “see you later” in the English version, writes Tony Stafford.

The comment might have been Lostintraslation for some – the much-fancied horse of that name pulled up two from home that day – but after last weekend when both latter horses won major races, the path appears set for a march to greatness for the Henry De Bromhead seven-year-old.

Lostintranslation’s easy win in Ascot’s Chanelle Pharma Chase signalled another pointer to the revival in form of the Tizzard stable – soon by all accounts to have son Joe’s name rather than dad Colin’s above the stable entrance. That effort, though, could not compare with the Irish-trained horse’s performance in running away with the Betfair Chase at Haydock Park.

Most enjoyable for British racegoers as the Irish won this coveted Haydock autumn feature for the first time, was that A Plus Tard carries the colours of Cheveley Park Stud, the principal UK-owned breeder which every year produces top-class animals. With more than 100 mares and in excess of 110 in training every year, Flat racing is the bread and butter. Jumping is the winter release.

Under the careful management of Chris Richardson the stud has fuelled on the enthusiasm for jump racing of Patricia Thompson and her late husband David. The couple won the 1992 Grand National with last-minute buy Party Politics, trained by Nick Gaselee and ridden by Carl Llewellyn, and in recent years built up a select team of high-class jumpers in Ireland.

A class apart though is A Plus Tard and although only a seven-year-old he has just entered his fourth season as a steeplechaser, and still has only 12 races over fences (five wins, five seconds and two thirds) on his record.

Much of the talk before Saturday’s race surrounded the possibility that Bristol De Mai would equal the achievement of Kauto Star who won the Betfair four times in the first decade of the millennium with one unseated preventing an unblemished five-race record.

Bristol De Mai, trained for the last eight seasons by Nigel Twiston-Davies and, like Kauto Star, an early acquisition from France after precocious efforts over hurdles, has won three. Initially he beat in turn Gold Cup winners Cue Card and Native River. He was narrowly beaten in the race in 2019 to Lostintranslation before outstaying multiple Grade 1 winner Clan Des Obeaux last November.

As with those two multiple Betfair victors, A Plus Tard started in France. Whereas Kauto Star had already raced nine times (winning three) before his dramatic step up in form to win a four-year-old Graded hurdle at Auteuil when a 36-1 shot in late May, A Plus Tard never raced at that level. His moment came on his fifth and final start (and second win) when collecting a 40k to the winner 4yo handicap early in April 2018 there.

Like Kauto Star and Bristol De Mai before him A Plus Tard switched quickly to chasing, running as early as November of that year and finishing runner-up in a field of 13 at Gowran Park under Blackmore – the first of the 11 races in which they have combined.

Remarkably, three races on and less than four months after that initial association the now five-year-old ran away with the 20-runner Close Brothers Handicap Chase. The only horse of his age in the race, he did so giving weight and a 16-length thrashing to Grade 1 hurdle winner Tower Bridge with 18 other decent performers trailing far behind.

His next run brought defeat in third over three miles at Punchestown at the end of his busiest season with De Bromhead. He was restricted to only three races the next winter, sandwiching defeats on reappearance and when a close third behind Min in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham with a first Grade 1 triumph at Leopardstown over Christmas.

And last season was another cherry-picked campaign of just three races. Again Leopardstown provided the one win, another at Grade 1 level over Christmas but this time without Rachael who partnered instead Minella Indo, who fell before the race warmed up. Darragh O’Keeffe was the lucky man to step into her shoes. Back on A Plus Tard in the Gold Cup as chronicled at the start of the piece, second place to her stable-companion and other regular partner came as their rally up the hill was a little trop tard.

There is an uncanny symmetry about aspects of the early careers of Kauto Star and A Plus Tard. Both started in France and showed precocity. Certainly in the case of Kauto Star, he burned bright for many seasons. De Bromhead’s deliberate planning for his young improving star’s career offers hope that his will also be long-lasting

The Knockeen, County Waterford, trainer has run him sparingly and, with a horse of such talent, there is no need to go searching away beyond the top prizes. I would be surprised if he turned out more than four times, with Punchestown a possible after Cheltenham, especially if he wins the Gold Cup this time. Next will likely be the normal trip to Leopardstown for a Christmas hat-trick attempt.

Minella Indo, who comes from the parallel universe of Irish jumps talent, the point-to-point field, is the De Bromhead version of Paul Nicholls’ Denman. That great chaser was a contemporary of and in terms of merit almost exact counterpart of Kauto Star and he too came from the Irish pointing field.

Kauto Star was by 29 days the senior and in terms of their careers with Nicholls earned almost twice as much as his colleague and rival, collecting £2.2 million from 19 wins in 31 chases. Denman won 14 of 24 for £1.14 million

When Kauto Star won his first Betfair Chase as a six-year-old he was rated 173. Afterwards he even once touched as high as 190 but mostly was rated in his prime in the 180’s.

Although at seven a year older at the time of his first win in the race, A Plus Tard is rated 1lb lower at 172. It is worth reminding ourselves of the ease of his win, and on faster ground than is normal for the Betfair Chase.

Bristol De Mai and Royale Pagaille kept each other company for more than two-thirds of the race on Saturday before Royale Pagaille got the edge in that private battle, with A Plus Tard always tracking them going easily. He was sent to the front three out and, pulling away all the way home, the finishing margin of 22 lengths over Royal Pagaille could have been much greater had Rachael wished.

Remembering just how impressive Royal Pagaille (rated 163) had been in the Peter Marsh Chase over the same course and distance last January, it was salutary to see a similar disrespectful beating being handed out to him. The winner must be raised for the win although Kauto Star’s rating as he won successively his first Betfair, Tingle Creek (two miles) and the first of his five King Georges brought very little reaction from the handicapper.

There was definitely a hint of Kauto Star in the speed with which A Plus Tard disposed of his 2019 Close Brothers rivals at Cheltenham, and again as he cosied up to Royal Pagaille before asserting. This was an exceptional performance but there is still that stable-companion and last season’s Cheltenham defeat to avenge before we declare him the best of the bunch.

Rachael Blackmore also had to make a painful (at least it looked that way beforehand) choice between A Plus Tard and her 2021 Cheltenham Festival winner Bob Olinger when that horse also made his seasonal return at Gowran Park, again with Darragh O’Keeffe as the beneficiary.

Bob, the deeply-impressive unchallenged winner of last season’s Ballymore Novice Hurdle at the Festival, was appearing for the first time since and enjoyed a nice school round to defeat useful yardstick Bacardys (Willie Mullins). This was the champion trainer’s first try at assessing the likely threat to his own best novice chasers later in the season. It might have dented his optimism a bit, but he usually pulls one out of the hat!

One Saturday winner who will offer some hope of a domestic success at the Festival is the Nicky Henderson-trained but Hughie Morrison nurtured and developed grey, Buzz, who followed his Cesarewitch success with another dominant effort in the Coral (to you and me Ascot) Hurdle.

While there is an intermediate distance race for the top-class chasers (the Ryanair) at the Festival, two and a half mile hurdlers are forced to drop back to the minimum for the Champion Hurdle or stretch to three miles and a bit for the Stayers. Otherwise they can wait for Aintree which does cater for them.

I think the level Aintree circuit would be perfect to utilise Buzz’s Flat-race speed and he would be meeting horses partly used up trying either of the possible Cheltenham options. But then, who can resist the lure of Cheltenham? Certainly not, it seems, James Stafford and his Thurloe Thoroughbreds syndicate.

Buzz races for the partners but, with a portion of the proceeds of their victories going to the Royal Marsden, Buzz will always have a feel-good factor going for him.

Never mind additionally that James did casual shifts for me ages ago at The Daily Telegraph and thereafter always greets me on the country’s racecourses as “Uncle Tone”. I can think of worse forms of address – indeed I’ve received a few in my time!

- TS

Gold Cup glory with Long Run was the stuff of dreams for Waley-Cohen

Long Run had to win a race for the ages as he surged clear of both Denman and Kauto Star to lift the 2011 Cheltenham Gold Cup.

A decade on, his name still resonates among his fellow heroes of a famed golden era of steeplechasing – as do the Corinthian achievements of father-and-son, owner-rider combination Robert and Sam Waley-Cohen.

Robert still recalls the “unimaginable” joy at seeing Long Run and Sam silence the doubters who wondered if an amateur jockey would be sufficiently adept for the most exacting of challenges, beating the very best to claim National Hunt racing’s greatest prize.

The Waley-Cohens and trainer Nicky Henderson (right) welcome Long Run home to Lambourn after his Gold Cup glory
The Waley-Cohens and trainer Nicky Henderson (right) welcome Long Run home to Lambourn after his Gold Cup glory (Ben Birchall/PA)

Waley-Cohen senior never harboured any such qualms – and vindication was emphatic.

Long Run had interrupted Kauto Star’s sequence of five King George VI Chase victories in six years – in an edition of the Kempton showpiece delayed three weeks by a frozen Christmas – and would go on to succeed Paul Nicholls’ great on Boxing Day 2012, too.

At the age of just six, his CV also included two Grade One victories in his native France and another on British debut in the 2009 Feltham Novices’ Chase at Kempton.

It was enough to send Long Run off favourite in his first Gold Cup to beat a mighty old guard comprising the three winners of four preceding renewals – dual hero Kauto Star, stablemate Denman and title-holder Imperial Commander.

Nonetheless, as the Waley-Cohens gathered to cheer on their horse and their man, there were thousands yet to be convinced about Long Run’s suitability to Cheltenham – where he had been beaten on his two previous visits, third in both the RSA Chase 12 months earlier and then the Paddy Power Gold Cup.

Waley-Cohen senior begged to differ.

Long Run (middle) left the mighty Denman ad Kauto Star in his wake as he won the 2011 Gold Cup
Long Run (middle) left the mighty Denman ad Kauto Star in his wake as he won the 2011 Gold Cup (David Davies/PA)

“I wasn’t at all concerned (about Cheltenham) – and unlike many others, I wasn’t at all concerned about his rider’s ability to handle it, although the pressure was considerable,” he said.

“He was more than capable of doing a good job.”

Ten years on, however, he is prepared to admit to a momentary consternation as to whether Long Run could match Nicholls’ two superstars as they joined battle ahead of him leaving Cheltenham’s back straight.

“There were definitely some concerns during the race, particularly when Kauto Star and Denman took each other on coming down the hill,” he said.

“As it turned out, that was probably to our advantage – they probably overdid it coming down the hill. But I thought ‘Oh no, we’re not quite good enough to get to them’ – then as he turned the corner and started to gain on them and jumped the second-last so well, I did shout extremely loudly.”

He was not alone.

“The noise from the place we were in was unbelievable from there to the line – we couldn’t quite believe what we’d just seen,” Waley-Cohen added.

“It was before the construction of the Princess Royal Stand, so we were in one of those ghastly little boxes in that old space – a whole bunch of us and a lot of Sam’s friends, including his then fiancee now wife.

“It was absolutely fantastic. It is the biggest National Hunt race there is – to win that with your horse and your son on board is just unimaginable.”

Yet he knew all along that – albeit with history against them – Long Run and his jockey had the credentials to become, respectively, the first six-year-old Gold Cup winner for almost half-a-century and first amateur to succeed since 1981.

“I thought he had every chance, and indeed he started favourite,” he said, referencing other factors behind Long Run’s near five-length defeat in handicap company four months earlier.

“It wasn’t that Cheltenham wasn’t his course, but two and a half miles wasn’t his trip – certainly not that early in the season.

“When he ran in the RSA, (trainer) Nicky (Henderson) said he was over the top by then. He’d been running in top-class races in France before he came over.

“He won Grade One races in five consecutive years, which is exceptional. He beat Denman, Kauto Star and Imperial Commander – the winners of umpteen Gold Cups before him – which was amazing.

“He’d also done something quite extraordinary the year before. As a three-year-old, he won the Grade One three-year-old hurdle in France, and as a four-year-old he won the Grade One four-year-old chase in France – which no other horse had ever done, and still hasn’t.

“Then he came over as a four-year-old, and in his first race in England he won the Feltham – so he’s the only four-year-old to have won two Grade One races in two different countries.”

Long Run was not, however, able to add a second Gold Cup – having to settle for third in both 2012 and 2013.

Waley-Cohen said: “The only thing I’ve never understood and never will, just to show how horses are not machines and how they break your heart, is how he didn’t win the Gold Cup the following year.

“Everything was going his way; Sam produced him perfectly, and he got beaten by two horses who had never beaten him on any other occasion.”

Long Run cannot tell us why, of course, either – but at the age of 16, five years after his retirement, he is still compensating his owner with a larger-than-life presence at their home on the Warwickshire-Oxfordshire border.

“He’s very much still around – he’s still with us at Upton,” said Waley-Cohen.

“We decided to allow him have a quite normal life, enjoying going out – he doesn’t like hunting, because he can’t understand why things don’t happen a bit quicker.

“He’s happy to stand around for 20 minutes, then he says ‘Right, time for something to happen now!’

“I didn’t want to train him for dressage or to go showing – he’s much too impatient to go showing. We did actually take him once to show off Gold Cup winners at Cheltenham, and he was a complete nightmare – he bounced around the paddock as though he was going to run in a race.

“My eldest son Marcus rides him a lot around the farm, and he enjoys going with the kids. He’s like an old pro going away from home, and an absolute idiot racehorse going back towards home!”

The memories endure for the Waley-Cohens, and the future promises much – including perhaps at this year’s Cheltenham Festival, and in part thanks to Long Run’s lineage.

Long Run's half-sister Liberthine was a winner over the big fences at Aintree, ridden by Sam Waley-Cohen in the 2006 Topham
Long Run’s half-sister Liberthine was a winner over the big fences at Aintree, ridden by Sam Waley-Cohen in the 2006 Topham (Gareth Copley/PA)

Waley-Cohen bought him when he started to show great promise for owner Marie-Christine Gabeur and maestro French trainer Guillaume Macaire – having previously acquired Long Run’s half-sister Liberthine from the same source.

She went on to be a Cheltenham Festival winner and also mastered Aintree’s fences as heroine of the 2006 Topham Chase.

Her son Sure Touch won his bumper debut at Wincanton in January, and on Gold Cup day on March 19 the first edition of Cheltenham’s newest race – the Liberthine Mares Chase – will honour her.

The competition will be formidable, but Waley-Cohen will be trying to win it 10 years on from Long Run’s triumph.

“They’re both bred by Madame Benoit Gabeur,” he said of Long Run and Liberthine.

“Benoit also bred (dual Champion Chase winner) Master Minded, but I think they are all in his wife’s name.

“I bought Liberthine, who is five or six years older – she was Sam’s first ever winner against professionals in a novice chase at Stratford – (and then) Long Run was the fourth I bought out of the mare.

Elusive Belle (right) may bid to mark the 10th anniversary of Long Run's Gold Cup glory in style at Cheltenham this year
Elusive Belle (right) may bid to mark the 10th anniversary of Long Run’s Gold Cup glory in style at Cheltenham this year (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“Sure Touch won his bumper. Liberthine’s first foal won black type, and her second foal won a bumper – both fillies, both with foals in the yard now.

“She’s now retired, but she’s a granny.”

There will be no Cheltenham challenge this spring for Sure Touch, as Waley-Cohen nurtures a bright future for the five-year-old, but he could yet be double-handed in pursuit of the race named after Long Run’s sibling, on the anniversary of his Gold Cup glory.

“I won’t run Sure Touch (in the Champion Bumper), because I think it’s too tough a race for horses you hope have a very good future,” he said.

“But I definitely will run, if I possibly can, two or three others (at Cheltenham).”

Among them, Elusive Belle and Lust For Glory are contenders in the Liberthine – and although currently outsiders behind Irish big-hitters such as Elimay, no one will treasure victory more than their owner.

Covid-19 restrictions will prevent his son Sam from riding unless the current suspension of amateur jockeys lapses – but the Waley-Cohens may nonetheless yet be able to celebrate again on Gold Cup day 2021.