Some weeks, I worry right until the moment when I finally open the keyboard, wondering what to put into these rambling epistles, writes Tony Stafford. Often, it’s a lottery, with random episodes of equal, often minimal, importance to weigh. Other times, like this weekend, I’m spoilt for choice.
Monday Musings is not an organ of record, unlike my long-term employer, the Daily Telegraph, its great rival the Times, or another of my early parking places, the Press Association. Even before then, on a local paper it was instilled in me to chisel out the “who, what, when, where, why, how and to whom” coda for story compiling half a dozen years before the start of my DT days half a century ago.
Among the formula’s most exacting adherents of PA vintage was David Thomas, son of the Sporting Life’s celebrated Chief Racing Reporter, Len, who had been for decades and still was a doyen of the 'paper. If his issue was a doyen of anything, it was repetition, as upon confronting a winning trainer after a race, he would ask, bright bowtie to the fore, “how many do you have in this year?”, “where does the owner come from?” and, more acceptably, “where will he go next?”
In fairness, the domicile of the owner was important, too, as local papers needed those lines from the exciting world of horse racing and sport to flesh out their parochial coverage of robberies, brawls outside public houses and the misdemeanours of local politicians. How I loved Police Calls at Leyton nick in metropolitan Essex in my first newspaper job on the Walthamstow Guardian! Up to a point! I presented “Tommy” with a 1972 copy of Horses In Training one day and dared him to ask another trainer his worn-out trilogy. He defied me, but not until the next day!
There are more than enough “proper” stories elsewhere in this comprehensive, authoritative electronic publication to keep everyone on point, and to allow me an old man’s self-indulgence. In reverse order, in best Miss World mode – if we’re still locked in the 1970’s – the heroes are Hughie Morrison, Charlie Appleby and Roger Varian.
Hughie has been around the longest of the three and equally I’ve known him the longest too. A shade chippier than the others, he finds plenty not to admire about the administration of the sport, and trains at his own pace. He takes any injury the horses sustain as if it were to himself and opportunities for his horses are minutely sought out. On Saturday, his scouring of the Pattern programmes led to two of his progressive fillies collecting Group 3 races, at home at Newbury and in France at Chantilly. The latter foray Hughie declared necessary as he reckoned there was such limited domestic opportunity for the cross-Channel traveller. “Just one other suitable race before Christmas,” he said.
She was Mrs Fitzherbert, a Kingman filly owned by Sonya and Anthony Rogers. Her emphatic success at Chantilly earned €40k for the win and a decent multiple of that in inherent paddock value for her legendary owner-breeders.
The Arbibs, father and son, were the happy beneficiaries of the earlier winner, Stay Alert, as her jockey David Egan needed to, for she was apparently securely trapped on the rail inside the last furlong. But after belatedly worming a small gap, his mount got him out of trouble with instant acceleration to be ahead and back hard held before the line.
Before this challenge against the boys, which brought not just a similar prize but also the promise of much more to come, Stay Alert had been in line for the big fillies’ race on Champions Day next month, and the way she accelerated will make her a threat to even the top fillies at Ascot. “Had she not,” Hughie reminded me beforehand, “given Nashwa a real battle at Newbury earlier in the summer?”
Egan, with confidence emanating from last weekend’s St Leger win on Eldar Eldarov, rather than shrink after the sacking following Mishriff’s too-late finish into second behind Vadeni in the Eclipse, was riding the second of four consecutive winners on the day, more of which later.
I wouldn’t say replacing him has been a conspicuous success – the Eclipse was by far Mishriff’s best run of an unproductive year! The many millions he won for owner and trainer back in Saudi Arabia early last year obviously counted for nought in the face of that one slight misjudgement on a track where any jockey – the best down - can get into trouble even in a three-horse race.
Egan had his day in the sun while William Buick was off travelling to North America for Charlie Appleby and Godolphin. The champion-elect had two mounts at Woodbine in Canada, while as Buick can only sit on one horse and be in one place at a time, former Godolphin habitué, a certain L Dettori, had the gig at Belmont at the Big A – presumably Aqueduct was needed to fulfil some of its near-neighbour’s dates. [It was/is, as Belmont is under reconstruction - Ed.]
The three horses, Nations Pride at the Big A, and the juvenile Mysterious Night and French 2,000 Guineas winner Modern Games in Toronto, all bolted up. They showed, as if we didn’t know already, that North American turf horses are a pretty crummy bunch, relatively speaking at least. Each of the trio won by at least five lengths – cumulatively just over 17 – and picked up a combined $1,450,000 - £920,000 according to the Racing Post. However, with the pound at a long-time low against the dollar, it currently converts at a shade more than £1,250,000, and so made it a very worthwhile trip indeed for all concerned.
Buick will not have been even a trice concerned at Egan’s clean-up job, which also encompassed an impressive Mill Reef Stakes victory for Sakheer, who looked one of the fastest juveniles so far seen out. By common consent that put a classy gloss on an astounding day for his trainer Roger Varian.
With a second St Leger in the bag, Varian has been flying up the trainer charts in recent weeks, but even he would not have anticipated a seven-timer on a single day. The wins came nicely spread around the nation with three each at Newbury and at Ayr’s Western meeting and one at Newmarket. Had Cobalt Blue not been caught on the run-in at Wolverhampton it would have been an eight-timer!
I know I’m putting it at the bottom, but my race of the day, and one of amiable Roger’s septet, was Dusky Lord. This was his eighth run of the season and second win. I’d travelled a total of 1,800 miles to see each of the previous seven, in representing Jonathan Barnett, the football agent, one of those in the Partnership in whose colours he runs.
Six days earlier he had raced from the worst stall of all in the Portland at Doncaster, frustratingly as it was a target I’d suggested for him all year, and he was never able to overcome the disadvantage. David Egan, who won on him at Newmarket in the spring and finished a close second on the four-year-old at Glorious Goodwood, was adamant. “He ran well.”
Armed with that intelligence, Varian declared him for Ayr, happy he had not had too hard a race thanks to Egan’s sensible ride. While he missed by only a few horses and a couple of pounds to make the Big Show, he slid in almost at the top of the Silver Cup, albeit with a massive weight – 9st 11lb.
So, in front of the TV, I was happy to see Jack Mitchell, who had won on Dusky Lord at Newcastle last year, get him away well in the middle group. From then on it was 70 seconds of regret that I’d not taken another road trip – this time 975 miles, there and back.
From here let me leave you in the hands of Timeform. They reported: "Dusky Lord turned out again quickly, having been drawn out of things in the Portland, proved a revelation back in headgear <cheek-pieces>, showing much improved form, rare to see a handicap of this nature won with such complete authority; midfield, tanked along, quickened to lead over 2f out, drew clear, impressive; it’s hard to see even a big rise in the weights being enough to stop him being of interest again."
The Silver Cup has been an adjunct of the Gold Cup for at least a decade. I checked the last eight and each time the Gold Cup, as one would expect, has been run in the quicker time, always between 0.2 sec and 0.8 sec faster. Saturday’s big race went to now 15-time winner Summerghand, trained by David O’Meara. His time was 0.93 sec slower than Dusky Lord’s.
The Racing Post, to my mind, often does a fair bit of massaging of their speed figures. Summerghand’s figure was 72, compared with Dusky Lord’s 95, which represents a second and a half or seven and a half lengths' difference. Yet to arrive at such a low mark on what is clearly Summerghand’s best run of the year, they felt obliged to give him his smallest time performance of the season after 79, 75, 88, 76 and 85.
They clearly felt they had to minimise the figure for Dusky Lord as it would have been in the stratosphere. After the way he won, without being slightly challenged by his 24 rivals, the margin of the win and the fast time, Timeform have raised his mark from the high 90’s to 109. Phil Bull, Timeform’s founder whose whole ethos was based on the accurate interpretation of times, will be turning in his grave!
I think the partners have a Group horse of the future. What a day for Roger Varian, David Egan, Charlie Appleby, William Buick and Hughie Morrison! Not too shabby for Dusky Lord and his owners either!