Friday morning 6 a.m. and I was keeping one of an increasing number of early-morning assignments with my good friend Steve Gilbey, long-term right-hand man of Raymond Tooth, writes Tony Stafford. He habitually – for Steve is very much a man of routine – starts his morning at crack of dawn at the North Audley Street, Mayfair, Grosvenor’s Café just along the road from Selfridge’s.
His first unofficial action is to help the early-morning setting out on the generous pavement of nine round tables and 36 chairs, using his boxing and security-man strength to speed up the operation.
But as we approached on Friday, there was a difference. A nicely-tanned, fit-looking gentleman came towards us, beaming at Steve, interrupting his own initialising that first task of the day at the café.
“How are you, my friend?” he asked. Steve had often mentioned the owner over the years but only on our previous visit the week before to my enquiry, said: “No, it’s been ages since I’ve seen him; he’s been stuck in South Africa because of Covid”.
So here we were on the morning of the Oaks and I was being introduced to the café owner, Mr Bernard Kantor. It wasn’t exactly a year before, more like eleven months, that Mr Kantor was standing alongside The Queen on the presentation dais for the Investec Derby as she gave the trophy to the Coolmore partners of shock winner Serpentine.
Co-founder and long-term managing director of the bank which had for ten years sponsored the entire Derby meeting, he had since retired upon reaching the age of 70 – you would guess ten years less when you see him.
So here was a highly-successful man actually enjoying the physical release of helping his bijou business – “I love it, it is so old school”, he says – start its day.
We had a pleasant chat, as racing people usually do, with the news that he had already been speaking to his trainer William Haggas and expected a call from him before we left after our toast and in my case some very tasty bacon in between.
As we went out, he thrust a napkin with an email address and imparted the news that Sans Pretention was fancied for the 3.00 race at Catterick that afternoon. When I got a chance to look up the race I discovered not only was the Haggas-trained three-year-old a daughter of Galileo but that she was owned and bred by a certain Bernard Kantor.
Naturally she won and this went along as just another of the ridiculously-fortuitous encounters I have experienced in my long life – even longer than the man who sponsored the Derby and who in 2018 dreamt on the morning of the race he might be winning it himself.
Haggas-trained Young Rascal, a son of Intello, had just come out on top in the Chester Vase, beating Mark Johnston’s Dee Ex Bee, but at Epsom while Dee Ex Bee filled the same position behind Masar, Young Rascal was back in seventh.
He won two more Group 3 races, both at Newbury, and a Kempton Listed to make his career tally five wins from ten starts and then he was passed on to Australian interests to continue his career. There is clearly a strong bond between owner and trainer and Kantor describes Lester Piggott’s son-in-law as “the perfect gentleman, someone who brings great credit to his profession and to racing”.
Obviously, there was little time to sample the benefit of the experiences of a man whose husbandry of his company even though he had basically lived in London for almost a quarter of a century, maintained its South African roots, always with the theme of inclusiveness of the entire population of his homeland.
But he did offer one nice moment. One year as they were erecting the presentation platform for the Derby, one of his staff showed him the three steps he had sourced up which the monarch would climb to reach the presentation area.
“I said, “can you get two taller steps?” and he asked me why. “Wait and see”, I told him. “So when the Queen came to the top step of two I had to bend down to reach her hand to help her up. As I did, right behind me a massive banner depicting “Investec” came into view. I thought he knew why then”, said Bernard.
By the way, I can’t wait to go back and try to get in between the two powerful senior citizens at least to take a couple of chairs out and next Tuesday is already in my diary. As I said, the bacon is delicious and so too are the lunches according to Steve. Grosvenor’s is open until five p.m. so if you want to sit in the sunshine just up the road from Selfridge’s, and sample “the life” I can heartily recommend it.
Ten hours after we left the café, a filly won the Cazoo Oaks by six lengths more than Shergar had won the Derby; four more than St Jovite’s margin in his Irish Derby and only second in terms of a Classic-winning distance in an attributed leading racing nation to Secretariat’s 31-length romp in the Belmont Stakes.
Big Red, though, was unbackable and faced only four vastly-inferior non-staying opponents already worn out by taking him on in the Derby and Preakness. Snowfall wasn’t even her stable’s first choice, that distinction going to beaten 1,000 Guineas favourite, Santa Barbara.
Two starts before the Oaks, Snowfall had finished eighth at 50-1, beating only two home in the Fillies’ Mile at Newmarket although if you have another look at the race you will hear the commentator calling her a close third in her pink cap.
But that was the day the caps between her and better-fancied stable-companion Mother Earth were inadvertently switched, so the white cap, intended for Mother Earth ended on Snowfall who was just hunted up once victory was out of the question.
The Aidan O’Brien team were given a disciplinary sanction for the mix-up but events for the two fillies in 2021 have been ample compensation. Mother Earth, ridden by Frankie Dettori as Ryan Moore partnered the much-lauded favourite Santa Barbara, won the 1,000 Guineas and on Friday, Snowfall, also with Dettori as Moore was again more-or-less obliged to stay with the now Oaks favourite but Santa Barbara never held up much hope as Dettori landed on his feet on an O’Brien Group 1 winner.
There was a race in between the 50-1 no-show and the best Oaks winner of all the years I’ve been watching racing and probably any in the previous two centuries. That was the Musidora when Moore made all the running on the 14-1 shot and just when it looked as though the better-fancied challengers would be coming to get her at the end of the ten and a bit furlongs she opened out again. Most observers on the day thought she might struggle to repeat it at Epsom.
I mentioned last week that O’Brien horses could suddenly make massive strides from two to three. Already up from an official 90 after the Fillies’ Mile, she was raised to 108 after York and with the look from that race and in her pedigree that stamina would not be a problem, she had to come into the Oaks argument.
But this was not an argument. Projecting the late York surge away from the trio that were chasing her at York another almost two furlongs on a more testing track and on rain-drenched ground clearly produced extra dimensions of superiority.
In the last furlong and a half, perfectly in tune with his filly, once Dettori grabbed the stands rails with a little tickle to the long-term leader Mystery Angel, the margin stretched exponentially. As with Secretariat who, once his far-inferior rivals were stone cold, put in an exhibition for the Belmont Park crowd, so did Snowfall in leafy Surrey.
If the Epsom finish line had been another furlong on, 30 lengths would have been a realistic margin. How Snowfall can lose the Arc off bottom weight with all the allowances against her elders and male opponents is hard to imagine. I wonder how daring Dominic Gardner-Hill will be in rating her after this?
We all expected, especially once Aidan removed his other five acceptors from the path of favourite Bolshoi Ballet, his own ninth Derby to go with the same record number of Oaks (Oakses? Ed.) looked almost a case of going down and coming back.
But while that can happen occasionally in a Derby, there are always potential pitfalls. Afterwards everyone was musing on why the favourite had so clearly under-performed. It was only as the generous praise for hard-working Adam Kirby, winner on Charlie Appleby’s well-deserved second score in the race with strong staying Adayar, that Aidan O’Brien was tweeting a ghastly-looking wound on the favourite’s off-hind leg where he had been struck into in the early scrimmaging.
Hopefully he can be brought back to full health to challenge Adayar later in the season, though maybe their future diverging distance requirements might make that unlikely.
Not 24 hours later, with last year’s Dewhurst winner St Mark’s Basilica annexing the Prix Du Jockey Club yesterday in such emphatic fashion to add to his earlier French 2000 Guineas success, Coolmore and O’Brien instantly re-established themselves at the top of the three-year-old colts’ division, too. It all makes for an exciting year.
Adam Kirby is such a nice bloke. One day coming back from a race meeting up north, one of my tyres blew but luckily it was close to the services on the A14. I limped into the garage and luckily noticed Big Paulie, formerly Adam’s driver, who had just stopped to re-fuel.
Paulie looked into the car, spoke to a bare-chested and clearly sleepy passenger who hastily pulled on some clothes and came out to look with Paulie at the damage. Within minutes they had changed the tyre with minimal help from the driver and we were all on our way. As I reiterate, very nice bloke is Mr Kirby!
Godolphin’s second win in four years started an astonishing day, rounded off by Essential Quality, who made the Belmont Stakes – the third leg of the US Triple Crown – his sixth win in seven career starts.
Before yesterday, Essential Quality, a son of Tapit and, like Adayar a home-bred Godolphin colt, suffered that sole defeat when fourth to the controversial Medina Spirit, absent from the field last night and with his trainer Bob Baffert now under a two-year ban from having runners at Churchill Downs.
Even if Medina Spirit is disqualified, as seems inevitable after two positive drug tests, the latter in a laboratory Baffert chose to carry out the test, there is no prospect of Essential Quality being the beneficiary beyond being promoted to third. Had he won the Derby, I’m sure trainer Brad Cox would have run him back in the Preakness.
In any case it was a memorable weekend for Godolphin, but even if they win ten more Derbys and three US Triple Crowns, it will never wash away for me the memory of a horse and jockey in perfect synchronicity slicing up the last furlong in the biggest show of superiority I have ever witnessed in a championship Flat race.