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Monday Musings: How much soup have you missed?

So we’re to brace ourselves for another retrenchment in the battle against Covid by all accounts? Having voluntarily hidden away for five months apart from the once weekly drive to Tesco, sitting in the car while the shopping was effected by the household’s responsible adult, and some less than regular walks around one of the two massive local parks, I don’t feel minded to go back into that oblivion any time soon, writes Tony Stafford.

By my calculations at the very least I’ve missed a conservative 100 trips to the races and, at Chelmsford alone, at least 30 bowls of soup. Where some things are concerned I just can’t help myself. And they do serve up the most wonderful soup (and chicken goujons and chips) in the owners’ room. Okay, the racing goes on everywhere but where you’re looking, but I love it – as far as I can remember!

I’m pleased to learn that the wonderful Linda is still looking after either the owners or is it the trainers at Newmarket? She never sees this, so how can I tell her how much I miss her. Not everyone it seems is happy that as much is being done to thank the owners for their continuing stoical support in face of reducing prize money and a feeling that the entire race programme in Europe is morphing into a homogenous mass.

Last weekend it was the Arc; then it was the Dewhurst and Cesarewitch and next week it’s British Champions Day at Ascot. The week after that the clocks go back and it’s ten minutes to Christmas. You might disagree but I can tell you I was at Cheltenham for the entire four days and nights and that only seems about six weeks ago so quickly has Covid time progressed.

The three O’Brien stables, father and two sons, had the hammer blow of the French testing of their Gain feed which led to the voluntary withdrawal of their Parislongchamp runners over Arc weekend but the levels were clearly back on track in time for Newmarket. There, the number cloths were transposed for Aidan’s two runners in the bet365 Fillies’ Mile on Friday to cause another stir. Snowfall (50-1) and Mother Earth (18-1) actually finished third and eighth rather than the reverse that everyone believed had happened.

Busy at the time of the race – amazing what you find to do when the alternative is coming over and having to quarantine afterwards! – as soon as Aidan O’Brien saw the race recording he spotted the error. Unfortunately the team based in Newmarket, managing the Ballydoyle UK runners in these oddest of times, was not quite as firmly on the ball.

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Part of the confusion, for the viewing public anyway, could have been that both were outsiders and ran in Derrick Smith’s purple colours. So too did the Coolmore partners’ third and most eagerly-anticipated contender, the 7-2 shot Shale who was renewing an on-going rivalry with the favourite, Pretty Gorgeous. The talented pair had met three times previously, with the verdict 2-1 in favour of Shale as they filled the first two places each time, including most recently in the Moyglare at the Curragh last month when Shale, trained by Donnacha, beat Pretty Gorgeous, from Joseph’s stable, by almost a length.

Shale could do no better than sixth here, adding to Donnacha’s frustration just days after the rookie trainer’s stable star Fancy Blue retired to stud following her inevitable withdrawal from her planned Arc weekend target.

Joseph, already with Friday’s fillies’ Group 1 in his locker, would have been excused for thinking the Dewhurst Stakes might be coming his way too.  In the National Stakes last month at The Curragh, the previously once-raced Thunder Moon overcame his inexperience when bursting through to beat the Ballydoyle pair of Wembley and St Mark’s Basilica by a length and a half and a short head.

On Saturday, Declan McDonagh soon had Thunder Moon in a more prominent position. Instead of that being the launch-pad for a replica winning spurt up the hill, less than expected materialised. Rather it was dad’s re-opposing duo, St Mark’s Basilica, ridden by Frankie Dettori, crossing the line more comfortably ahead of Wembley, who again finished well into second, this time under Ryan Moore, who had ridden Saturday’s winner in Ireland. The result in other words was a 1-2-3 exact reverse of Ireland’s main juvenile race and Aidan O’Brien’s seventh Dewhurst.

It was tempting for bookmakers to put St Mark’s Basilica, a $1.3million yearling by Siyouni from the Galileo mare Cabaret, at the head of the betting for next year’s 2,000 Guineas after this as he is half-brother to Magna Grecia, (by Invincible Spirit) who won the Classic two years ago. If you prefer to stay with the authentic Guineas-winning formula rather than make do with the broodmare sire, you can always hope that Wembley can turn the form around over another furlong. He’s certainly strong at seven. Battleground (by War Front), another stable-companion and a Royal Ascot and Glorious Goodwood winner, is also an early 8-1 shot.

When you work every day in close proximity to such giants of any business as Coolmore, Juddmonte or Godolphin, there must be deep down a latent wish or belief that some of the magic dust might percolate on to you. Over the years many of Coolmore’s senior staff have dabbled, or in truth much more than dabbled, in breeding and bloodstock. Always, it seems, they do so with John Magnier’s full support and encouragement.

On Saturday at HQ, when the big cats had done their day’s work finishing 1-2 in yet another Group 1 championship-defining race and metaphorically vacated the scene, some of the “Coolmore mice” were allowed to come out to play. Not that the Group 3 Darley Stakes which ended the two-day meeting was an insignificant affair.

On a day when the only winning favourite came in the 34-runner Cesarewitch with Willie Mullins’ hat-trick-completing Great White Shark, events concluded with a 28-1 success (some people got 40’s!) for a Fozzy Stack-trained four-year-old filly ridden by Jamie Spencer.

It will not be a shock to learn, if you didn’t see the race, that the Co Tipperary Spice Girls who own the filly – and who also raced the filly’s mother, similarly a Group 3 winner before her - had to wait until the last 100 yards for Spencer to put them out of their misery and go into the eventually comfortable winning lead.

I’m sure that the smaller than usual contingent over for the yearling sales at Tatts, but still witness to two massive multi-million buys in M V Magnier’s name last week, would have stayed behind to cheer as the racecard – if there was one – puts it, Mrs Tom Gaffney and Mrs Barbara <wife of Clem> Murphy.

Attempts, admittedly after sensible people will have been long tucked up in bed, even the afore-mentioned no doubt still-celebrating Mr Tom and Mr Clem, initially failed to elucidate Mrs G’s first name, but the wonderful Wendy Normile called just in time to remind me it was Marie. Their filly is called Lady Wannabe, a daughter of Camelot, the nearest we’ve had to a Triple Crown winner since Nijinsky in 1970, out of Wannabe Better, who was a half-sister to the even more talented Wannabe Grand.

Both fillies were daughters of the 1990 foal, Wannabe, coincidentally who arrived on this earth seven years before the song of that name which launched the Spice Girls’ careers. So it’s a stretch, but that’s what I’m calling them. I know that with Camelot doing so well in his early years as a stallion and the blue chip female family, even if their two husbands cannot continue to keep the two Tipperary girls in the style in which they are in danger of becoming accustomed, Lady Wannabe will!

As for next Saturday, this morning the entries for Ascot, where soft ground is expected, will be eagerly awaited. Magical, in whichever race she targets, must be a prime candidate for another win having dethroned Ghaiyyath last time, but I’ll be looking for The Revenant, so smooth on his delayed comeback in Paris a week ago to perform a minor giant-killing against Palace Pier in the Mile race.  Fresh is best at this time of the year and no horse will be fresher than the French five-year-old.  In the Balmoral Handicap it is hard to look beyond the Brian Meehan-trained recent course winner Raaeq. He’s 5lb well in despite his penalty and he seemed to love soft ground on the track last time out.

- TS

Thunder Moon leads all-star cast for Dewhurst

Thunder Moon bids to double his top-level tally in a mouthwatering renewal of the Darley Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket.

A runaway winner on his Curragh debut in early August, Joseph O’Brien’s juvenile then rocketed to the head of ante-post lists for next year’s 2000 Guineas after displaying a blistering turn of foot to land last month’s National Stakes at the Curragh.

O’Brien managed to win the Dewhurst as a jockey aboard his father Aidan’s War Command in 2013, and has high hopes of getting his name on the roll of honour as a trainer on Saturday.

“We’re looking forward to the race. Hopefully the ground dries out as much as possible and we’ll see what happens,” said O’Brien, who took the Fillies’ Mile on Friday with Pretty Gorgeous.

“We were delighted with him at the Curragh and he’s been in good form since.

“The Dewhurst is always a very good race and I’m sure it will be again.”

Wembley (right) is one of two for Aidan O'Brien
Wembley (right) is one of two for Aidan O’Brien (PA)

Aidan O’Brien saddles National Stakes second and third, Wembley and St Mark’s Basilica, in a bid for a seventh Dewhurst success.

He said: “Both ran very nice races last time out in the National Stakes, obviously St Mark’s Basilica was supposed to run in France last week and they would have been kept apart, but that’s the way it is.

“Both have been in good form since their last runs.”

Poetic Flare after winning at Naas
Poetic Flare after winning at Naas (Gary Carson/PA)
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Jim Bolger also has a fine Dewhurst record with five victories and is represented by an interesting outsider in Poetic Flare, who has not been seen since making a winning debut in the very first race of the Irish Flat turf season at Naas in March.

Bolger said: “He hasn’t run because he started to grow – he’s grown two inches since March and I didn’t want to push him.

“That’s all settled down now. He’s been fine since the beginning of August and we’ve had an uninterrupted preparation since.

“I thought it would be good to get him away before the end of the year. I think he’ll go on any ground.”

A formidable Irish challenge is headed by Jessica Harrington’s Group Two winner Cadillac.

Richard Hannon is excited about the chances of Chindit
Richard Hannon is excited about the chances of Chindit (Steven Cargill/PA)

The home team is headed by the Richard Hannon-trained Chindit, who extended his unbeaten record to three in the Group Two Champagne Stakes at Doncaster last month.

The Marlborough maestro also saddles a second unbeaten colt in Etonian, who has won twice at Sandown, most recently claiming the Group Three Solario Stakes in August.

“Both horses are fit and well and good to go. We’ve not managed to win the Dewhurst yet, so let’s hope this is our chance,” said Hannon.

“Chindit’s last bit of work with a couple of older horses was very good for a two-year-old. He seems in very good form.

“Etonian has done nothing wrong either. It’s a shame we have to run them against each other really, but this is the right race for both horses and the Dewhurst is always the best two-year-old race of the year.”

Leading owner Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum has a strong hand after Marcus Tregoning’s impressive Mill Reef scorer Alkumait was supplemented to join the Owen Burrows-trained Albasheer. The owner’s retained rider Jim Crowley has sided with Alkumait.

Tregoning said: “I think he’ll stay seven furlongs fine. I suppose seven furlongs in soft ground makes it more of a test, but Showcasing’s progeny are versatile.

“He’ll give himself every chance of getting the trip because he settles well, or at least he did at Newbury, and if he settles as well again, I can’t see seven being a problem

“I think Chindit might be the one to beat. He looked tough at Doncaster, he had to battle but came through it well.

“It’s the right race for us, though, and I’m pleased he’s running.”

Albasheer was beaten just a length into second place by Chindit at Doncaster four weeks ago, having run out an impressive winner on his debut on Town Moor. With Crowley opting for Alkumait, Dane O’Neill takes the ride.

Burrows said: “I’ve been happy with him since Doncaster. He did his last proper piece of work on Saturday and had a breeze midweek.

“He is inexperienced and this will be different for him. I’d like to think wherever Chindit finishes, we would be bang there with him – whether or not that is good enough to win, time will tell.

“On his pedigree he should get a mile next year and we will look to go down that route. God willing he is good enough to be talked as a Guineas horse, but we will learn a lot more on Saturday.”

Tactical won the July Stakes earlier in the campaign
Tactical won the July Stakes earlier in the campaign (Francesca Altoft/PA)

Andrew Balding has two chance in the shape of Mill Reef runner-up Fivethousandtoone and the Queen’s Tactical, who was fourth in the Middle Park having earlier won the July Stakes at Newmarket and the Windsor Castle at Royal Ascot.

Balding said: “Both horses have shown a good level of form and seem in good form.

“Ground conditions could be different to what they’ve encountered before and that is going to play a part, but they’re both in good shape.”

A stellar field is completed by Decisive Edge (Brian Meehan), Devilwala (Ralph Beckett) and Devious Company (Tom Dascombe).

Chindit work has Hannon excited ahead of strong-looking Dewhurst

Richard Hannon hailed a piece of work completed by his Darley Dewhurst Stakes hope Chindit last week as “one of the best” he has seen for years on his Herridge gallops.

Hannon sends two unbeaten colts to Newmarket this weekend, with Solario Stakes scorer Etonian set to join Champagne Stakes winner Chindit on the Rowley Mile.

Pat Dobbs had the choice of mount and will partner the latter – who heads Coral’s market at 5-2 ahead of the Joseph O’Brien-trained Thunder Moon at 11-4 – with Tom Marquand taking the ride on Etonian.

“On Thursday morning Chindit did an extremely good piece of work, probably one of the best pieces of work we have seen at Herridge for a lot of years,” Hannon told Unibet.

“We are hopeful that both will run very well, but I think Pat Dobbs was particularly pleased with Chindit and he had the choice of rides.

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“On Tuesday morning Etonian did a very nice piece of work, he has never been that much of a showy horse, but he worked well and he is on target for the Dewhurst, Tom Marquand is going to ride.”

Impressive Mill Reef winner Alkumait has been supplemented for the Group One feature.

Alkumait was an impressive winner of the Mill Reef
Alkumait was an impressive winner of the Mill Reef (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Trained by Marcus Tregoning, the Showcasing colt was a taking victor in the Group Two at Newbury last month.

Owner Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum already had the Owen Burrows-trained Albasheer, runner-up in the Champagne Stakes, engaged, but connections have opted to further strengthen their hand.

Tregoning said: “He runs on Saturday and I’ve been very happy with him since Newbury.

“Obviously we don’t know what the ground is going to be like yet, and we don’t know how many of the Irish horses are coming over.

“Most Showcasings go on soft ground anyway and as he’s in good form, we thought we had to go for it.

“It’s been a while since I won the Dewhurst (with Sir Percy) in 2005, but we’ve had nothing good enough to run in it since. Hopefully this is a good horse, he’s looked it so far.

“The fact Sheikh Hamdan had another horse already entered didn’t come into the reckoning really.”

Thunder Moon, who made a splash when winning the National Stakes in good style, is one of three possibles for O’Brien along with Snapraeterea and State Of Rest.

His father, Aidan, has left in Royal Ascot winner Battleground, who was a late defector from the National Stakes, Wembley, who was second in the National, and St Mark’s Basilica, who was due to run in France on Sunday but was caught up in the contaminated feed situation.

A total of 18 juveniles remain in the mix.

Mill Reef hero Alkumait added to Dewhurst field

Impressive Mill Reef winner Alkumait has been supplemented for Saturday’s Darley Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket.

Trained by Marcus Tregoning, the Showcasing colt was a taking victor in the Group Two at Newbury last month.

Owner Hamdan Al Maktoum already had the Owen Burrows-trained Albasheer, runner-up in the Champagne Stakes, engaged, but connections have opted to further strengthen their hand.

Tregoning said: “He runs on Saturday and I’ve been very happy with him since Newbury.

“Obviously we don’t know what the ground is going to be like yet, and we don’t know how many of the Irish horses are coming over.

“Most Showcasings go on soft ground anyway and as he’s in good form, we thought we had to go for it.

“It’s been a while since I won the Dewhurst (with Sir Percy) in 2005, but we’ve had nothing good enough to run in it since. Hopefully this is a good horse, he’s looked it so far.

“The fact Sheikh Hamdan had another horse already entered didn’t come into the reckoning really.”

Joseph O’Brien’s Thunder Moon, who made a splash when winning the National Stakes in good style, is one of three possibles for Joseph O’Brien along with Snapraeterea and State Of Rest.

His father, Aidan, has left in Royal Ascot winner Battleground, a late defector from the National Stakes, Wembley, who was second in the National, and St Mark’s Basilica, who was due to run in France on Sunday but was caught up in the contaminated food situation.

Richard Hannon’s Chindit, winner of the Champagne Stakes, stablemate Etonian, successful in the Solario, and Jessica Harrington’s Cadillac are other major contenders among the 18 left in.