When you watch American racing – not that I do very often these days – it is always obvious that when there is a tight outcome, any deviation off a straight line by one of the protagonists is treated with unsympathetic correctitude, writes Tony Stafford.
Memories of those middling-to-far-off evenings in the old Racing Channel studio around the corner from London’s City Road – Old Street junction, scene of my schooldays at Central Foundation Grammar School – bring back overwhelmingly-superior winners being unceremoniously and totally-expectedly taken down.
On Saturday at Churchill Downs, poor old Ryan Moore (can we call him that?) and the Coolmore team’s Mendelssohn were given such a buffeting at the start; on the way to the first turn, and apparently just at the bend, that he never had a chance to add to his Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf and UAE Derby (on the Meydan dirt) triumphs on a rain-drenched night in Kentucky.
Step forward Luis Saez. He and his mount, the Todd Pletcher-trained Magnum Moon, have been identified as the catalyst for the mayhem which brought Moore such initial difficulty. From a single viewing it looked as though after such a rough introduction, Ryan had battled his mount valiantly into a reasonable position quite close to the turn but then came out of it mysteriously a fair way back and was never happy thereafter.
So while one Scat Daddy colt trailed home last of the 20 – one place behind the initially-swerving Magnum Moon – another, the favourite Justify, was always in the first two; led four furlongs out and was never troubled to maintain his unblemished record.
Favouritism - he started a shade under 3-1 on the local Pari-Mutuel – was guaranteed a long way before the off. I remember on my sole trip to the Kentucky Derby in 2002 we were gathered in the paddock for at least an hour before War Emblem went out to do his stuff, gazing up at the giant odds board. For the whole of that time the prices for the 20 runners barely fluctuated.
It left such an impression on me that when I was in the studio for the following year’s race, I had cause to question the normally-erudite James Willoughby. He said with a decent while to go before the race: “The prices could still change quite a lot”. I felt qualified to suggest, rather too forcibly I fear, that like Exit Polls in UK elections, these very large samples are almost set in stone.
This re-telling of an old story is not used to imply excess knowledge on my part. Rather it is to rebuke UK bookmakers for their treatment of punters aiming to back Mendelssohn.
A year ago, almost as a mark of respect to the great statesman after whom last year’s 2,000 Guineas winner was named, I stopped off at Woodford Green, close to the statue for the area’s former MP Sir Winston Churchill, and bought a nice piece of fried fish in Churchills fish shop, having first looked in on the odds on that evening’s big race in Churchill Downs.
My interest, though not for a bet, was on Thunder Snow, also previously winner of the UAE Derby, but in his case, only narrowly, whereas Mendelssohn won his renewal by 18 lengths. In the event, Thunder Snow proved intractable, and once leaving the gate, rather than run with the others, did a fair impression of the bulls which are specially trained to test the skills of the rodeo riders in the Wild West shows.
Whatever assailed him there, Thunder Snow bounced back three weeks later to chase home Churchill in the Irish 2,000 Guineas; was third just ahead of him in Barney Roy’s St James’s Palace, and more recently won the Dubai World Cup, beating the Bob Baffert-trained favourite West Coast by almost six lengths.
On Saturday, having dropped off Mr Taylor at his car in Loughton, I retraced my steps, satisfying my unfathomable need for further sustenance with a battered sausage in Churchills and then looking in again on William Hill’s shop across the road. I was amazed to see him quoted the 11-4 favourite.
Ridiculous, I thought, but upon asking the counter assistant whether an SP bet would be settled at “industry” or American odds, was told that William Hill prices would hold. A long time before the race, Justify was clear market leader at 3’s with Mendelssohn one of a trio around 6-1. He ended up 6.8-1 on the machine, but less than half an hour before the race, was showing 9-4 with most bookmakers on the Oddschecker facility on the Internet. Larceny of the highest order, I would call it.
What with the shenanigans, intended or otherwise, of Senor Saez and his errant mount, and the corporate “price-fixing” of the UK layers where the Ballydoyle colt was concerned, his backers were the gambling equivalent of drawn and quartered. Fortunately the boys and their trainer have seen it all before, so Aidan’s pledge that the colt will return for the Breeders’ Cup Classic back at Churchill later in the year was both reassuring and realistic.
I cannot imagine whether the identical plan for the Roger Teal-trained and Mrs Anne Cowley-owned and -bred Tip Two Win will bring too much trepidation for O’Brien, but the small grey Dark Angel colt certainly gave the awesome Saxon Warrior a race when runner-up in Saturday’s 2,000 Guineas just ahead of the favourite, Masar. Roger and his intrepid owner deserved their 30 minutes of fame and Mrs Cowley pledged once more that her little champion will never be sold. Who says racing is not for the small owner?
Like Justify, Saxon Warrior is unbeaten with four from four, and like his American counterpart, could have Triple Crown pretensions, although it’s much less likely to be attempted on this side of the pond, with an honourable mention of its closest recent attempt by Camelot, whose stock predictably are on the up. This was Saxon Warrior’s three-year-old reappearance, unlike Justify who became the first colt to win the Derby for 136 years without having run as a two-year-old. Apollo in 1882 was the last.
Justify and Mendelssohn are, as mentioned above, both from the penultimate crop of the much-lamented Scat Daddy; and as the television screens showed the deluge from Churchill – three inches fell during the day – it reminded me of a similar day’s weather when I attended a party arranged before the day at Monmouth Park 11 years ago when a broken leg tragically ended George Washington’s career. I believe the host for the party was James Scatuorchio, the original owner and latterly partner with Michael Tabor in Scat Daddy.
Scat Daddy’s racing career had ended with an 18th place in the Kentucky Derby that May, but he went into Ashford stud the following season for a $30,000 fee. As is normal with untried stallions, the early years are tough commercially, so by the 2011 season, when his first crop was about to be launched, the fee was down to $10,000.
From then until his untimely demise in late 2015, when the price for his 2016 matings had already been fixed at $100,000, his progeny have far out-performed those limited expectations. Had he lived, with the quality of the runners since, it would have been more like $400,000 by now.
Saxon Warrior’s emphatic win on Saturday proved yet again what brilliant and imaginative people run Coolmore. He was one of the first examples of the bold decision to send a number of Group 1 winning mares to be mated with Deep Impact in Japan. At a stroke, a much-needed outcross source for the many high-class mares, particularly daughters of Galileo, seems to have been established.
That top-class son of Sunday Silence was foaled late in his sire’s long career in Japan at the Yoshida family’s farm in Hokkaido. I had the good fortune to get a trip to Japan in the early 1990’s and saw Sunday Silence winding down at the end of his first year’s residence.
Back in 1989, Sunday Silence won the first two legs (Derby and Preakness) of the Triple Crown, but failed in the Belmont as was often the case until American Pharoah came along two years ago to end the void since Affirmed in 1979. Both times he beat the favoured Easy Goer, his major rival, before losing the argument by eight lengths in the Belmont. Finally, by defeating Easy Goer in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, he earned championship honours.
A disappointing four-year-old campaign left US breeders generally unmoved, but Shadai had already bought an interest and he was shipped to Japan where he became the perennial champion stallion, a position Deep Impact has inherited a decade and a half after his father’s passing.
Deep Impact might conceivably have had another European Classic winner if his diminutive daughter, September, had been able to take her place in yesterday’s 1,000 Guineas. She was very unlucky when a fast-finishing runner-up in the Fillies’ Mile over the same course and distance behind Laurens, herself runner-up yesterday behind Billesdon Brook, at 66-1 the longest-priced winner of the race.
As with Saxon Warrior, who had won the Group 1 Racing Post Trophy over a mile at Doncaster last autumn, the May Hill Stakes over that course and distance at the St Leger meeting provided the fillies’ Classic’s winner. Billesdon Brook, trained by Richard Hannon, was twice successful at Goodwood last year, showing finishing speed and determination to win a handicap and then a Group 3. After those runs, fifth at Doncaster behind Laurens was probably a disappointment. She certainly put it all together up the hill yesterday and never looked like being caught.
I’m off to Windsor this Bank Holiday Monday to see if Sod’s Law can confirm what we’ve long hoped might be above-average ability. Raymond Tooth and Steve Gilbey are coming too, so let’s hope he’ll at least go close. Apres Le Deluge has been entered for Market Rasen on Friday. As the only previous winner in the field he has to be interesting, but there are some well-connected and quite pricey newcomers to worry about. Hughie Morrison can do it if anyone can.
In between it’s off to Chester, to check whether the scoff in the owners’ room remains up to standard. For me, it’s the best anywhere.