I was at Gosforth Park on Saturday – where the Turf meets the Tapeta, writes Tony Stafford. At 11.20 a.m. Del Mar time, Newcastle racecourse’s big screen showed what was to be the forerunner of a brilliant day for Ballydoyle as Declarationofpeace and Ryan Moore came with a nicely-timed run to win one of the 100 grand warm-ups to the nine Breeders’ Cup championship races.
He was a 14-1 shot and I hope some of the Aidan O’Brien/Coolmore acolytes had finished breakfast in time to throw away a few dollars on him. Big crowds and big pools make for big dividends – even bigger than some of the gargantuan breakfast buffets you get in the US.
I’d stopped wearing my “wish I was there” face long before undertaking the five-hour drive on Saturday morning, even making a late decision to stop en route at Wetherby. After all it’s only a five minute diversion which I usually take at the services there anyway.
The country’s most underrated and certainly under-publicised jockey had a winning chance and I wanted to watch him show his class. Jack Quinlan had just the one ride, for the highly professional Amy Murphy on her father Paul’s Kalashnikov, winner of his only previous start in a bumper on the same track last season.
Kalashnikov shared second-favouritism behind a Dan/Harry Skelton favourite in a good novice hurdle, but brushed the jolly aside with a stylish 10-length win. Unable to curb my delight, I picked out the Racing Post’s David Carr in the winner’s enclosure and said: “Maybe somebody might now start to notice what a good jockey Jack Quinlan is?”
Maybe not. The following day’s report gave a complimentary comment on the winning horse and trainer, but unlike the usual glowing reference to a later Richard Johnson winner, Jack remained as ever conspicuous by his absence. Mr Incognito. I’m not sure who it was, but one observer likened his style to Declan Murphy’s, praise indeed. Don’t worry Jack, Amy has enough nice horses to get you some coverage if only during the race commentaries.
I had intended staying in the north overnight, but after watching a couple of Raymond Tooth horses finish unplaced, although not entirely without promise, I reckoned I might make it home in time for the Turf race, although news that Ulysses was unable to take on Highland Reel took away some of the potential glamour.
It did mean I’d miss seven of the races and in retrospect it was not such a bad thing as it must have made macabre watching for anyone other than pin stickers, or punters who like the number 5.
Generally the term “Industry Prices” has me instinctively going into “It’s a Rip Off” mode, but in actual fact most of the winners paid more here than on the US tote.
The carnage started in the first of the six dirt races, with a 20-1 winner, Caledonia Road, followed by 40-1 (Stormy Liberal) and 66-1 shot Bar of Gold. Those three dirt races were the opening three legs of the early Pick Four, which carries a 50 cent stake. The total Pool for the bet was $2,272,356 and after Wuheida and William Buick saw off a late-running Rhododendron in the Fillies and Mares race on the turf, the half dozen lucky winners collected $289,000 each.
Daily Racing Form’s post-race analysis pointed out mid-meeting that the inside on the dirt track had become so slow in relation to the rest of the track that the jockeys were re-directing their horses away from the rail. While somewhat less impossible from that point, Roy H won the next dirt race at 9-2 (11-8 fav unplaced), before World Approval became the sole Breeders’ Cup winning favourite on the day in the Mile in which Lancaster Bomber was second and Roly Poly unplaced.
Two more double-digit winners followed, Good Magic at 12-1 in the Juvenile (dirt) with odds-on Bolt d’Oro a well-beaten third, and US Navy Flag miles back after trying to make all, while Talismanic and Mikael Barzalona battled home at 14-1 in the Turf with Highland Reel a close third.
Then, having collected my thoughts and unpacked my bag, I settled down to watch Gun Runner beat Arrogate – and he did. There was nothing majestic about it. They probably went fast enough, although they were outside the normal US mile-and-a-quarter “standard” of two minutes flat, but there was little evidence of any majestic thoroughbred motion as they slogged home in another apparently slow-motion finish.
I was amazed that Arrogate, whose slovenly starts had transformed him from the Horse of the Century – “best since Secretariat”, said Bob Baffert – to a grinder who never looks the part, should head the market. They had to give him one last hurrah, but he couldn’t even finish first of the Baffert quartet, with Collected second and West Coast proving best of the three-year-olds in third and Arrogate a never-nearer fifth.
Churchill, who never recaptured his double Classic-winning spring brilliance once surprisingly beaten in the St James’s Palace Stakes, was seventh, presumably finding the dirt as awkward to contend with as many of the locals who deal with it every day. As I hinted just above, dirt racing can make for an unappealing spectacle, especially when the outsiders win!
On the day, the lemmings in the stand, those who love a favourite and that means many of us, will have collected just once with 11-4 shot World Approval. He was one of eight winners by US based sires in the nine races, the only exception being Charlie Appleby’s Wuheida, a daughter of Dubawi. The beaten favourites were, in time order 9-4, 8-11 (the highly disappointing Lady Aurelia), 6-4, 9-4, 11-8, 10-11, 11-10 (Highland Reel) and 2-1 (Arrogate).
If I was there I would have backed the last winner Gun Runner, whose form all year entitled him to be favourite, but the undeniable instinct to go to the well one last time with the old champ was hard to resist for many.
Now the attention switches over here to jumps, and Kalashnikov will be one to follow until beaten – or when Jack Quinlan gets a mention in the Racing Post – probably the former. At around the same time tomorrow that I began these thoughts today, I hope to be awake in time to see Marmelo and Hugh Bowman win the Emirates Melbourne Cup for the Hughie Morrison stable.
If they cannot win, let’s offer the best of luck to Aidan and Joseph O’Brien, Willie Mullins, Iain Jardine and Hugo Palmer. It would be especially nice if Hugo could win as he has an Australian wife and worked for some time with legendary Melbourne trainer Gai Waterhouse as well as once being assistant trainer to Morrison. He has certainly gone along the local route with his light-weight Wall of Fire, the mount of lightweight Craig Williams. Hugo gave him a nice work out in a Caulfield Group 2 over a mile and a half and his strong-running second puts him in with a shot, just like 20 others!
[Stop Press: Since this was written, Ireland enjoyed a 1-2-3 with Joseph O’Brien’s Rekindling fending off father Aidan O’Brien’s Johannes Vermeer and Willie Mullins’ Max Dynamite. Europe claimed six of the first seven spots home, and nine of the first eleven. Australia must be spitting!]