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Monday Musings: New Blood

If there is one thing horse racing in the UK needs above all else it is owners: men or women with resources, a love for the sport and the willingness to put up with the absurd economics of excessive and ever-rising costs against persistently modest returns via prizemoney, writes Tony Stafford.

The new player would need to be committed to the game. Like the brothers Maktoum, now down to two from four after first Maktoum Al Maktoum, Ruler of the Emirate, died in 2006 and, only this year, second in terms of age, Sheikh Hamdan also left the stage.

Nominally third in seniority but the long-term number two auditioning for the top job was Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, now in his 70’s after more than four decades’ involvement in our sport.

We had met in Kentucky and one day I sat with him and Michael (not yet Sir) Stoute as we waited near the famed King’s Head pub and eating house in Dullingham to see the young home-bred stock that the late Richard Casey, subsequently trainer of top handicap chaser Hogmanay, had in his charge. The Sheikh opined, “it doesn’t take ten years to build a breeding operation, more like thirty”. After last weekend, probably 38 years after our chat, with home-bred winners of the 2021 Derby and Kentucky Derby on the Roll of Honour, he has just about made it!

Hogmanay had been one of a package of ten horses I bought without the luxury of having the £100k to pay for them from Malcolm Parrish, owner of a massive stable of his own horses, a sort of precursor to Jim Bolger, but an Englishman based in France with carpet-making mills in Belgium.

Malcolm supervised the training but a M. De Tarragon, his head lad, held the licence and was officially responsible for the 100-head or so horses. I met him in July 1984 in the long-gone Cashel Palace Hotel near Ballydoyle but it was a total fluke as I was really over to meet David O’Brien who at 27 had become the youngest trainer to win the Derby with Secreto.

While the later O’Brien’s seem to have perfected the art of enjoying each other’s major successes, the 1984 Derby brought major tensions as the favourite and previously 2,000 Guineas winner El Gran Senor was lined up for a massive stud deal subject to his winning the Derby. In the race, Pat Eddery on the favourite appeared to be going far better than Christy Roche on the eventual winner but in a desperate finish was beaten a short-head.

The verdict had to delayed while Eddery objected but the result was upheld. Fortunately for the initial Coolmore team, El Gran Senor won the Irish Derby – his task eased by Secreto’s absence – and the Epsom hero also missed both the King George and Eclipse Stakes, retiring without racing again.

I had previously met David O’Brien on my trip that July to Keeneland, invited for my first look at the great Calumet Farm, owned by several generations of the influential Wright family. Then an outsider, J T Lundy married into the family and by this time controlled the place. His stewardship was to become a matter for serious concern in the city, but he had arranged a deal to buy 50 per cent of the would-be stallion for $20 million. The strain of training told on young O’Brien whose sister Sue Magnier says he is much happier tending his grape vines in France where he has been based for many years.

I was to see Calumet later when a previous contact, Henryk De Kwiatkowski, bought it and started the revival of the farm’s fortunes. Upon his death, his own family never having been interested in racing and breeding, new owners came in and it is again at the forefront in Lexington.

Incidentally, my wife recommended I watch the Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit and I was amazed when this epic tale about a female chess genius was entirely centred on Lexington. Right at the start her mother’s car is on New Circle Road, a mini-M25 I cruised every inch both ways during my many visits there. The scene again early in the seven-part series where the heroine plays a tournament at the Henry Clay school also invoked memories of a good friend of Brian Meehan, Henry’s grandson, who had several horses with him at Manton. Great series, you will love it, I promise!

Secreto was owned by a Venezuelan, Senor Miglietti, who also owned the main bus company in Caracas and had, it seems, connections with some less-than-reputable individuals in his country.

Down the decades, other major Arab owners have stayed the course, none more valiantly than Prince Khalid Abdullah, breeder and owner of dozens of the world’s great horses but two will do – Frankel and Enable. His passing, also this year, will no doubt lead to a diminution of seeing his pink, green and white on the racecourses of the UK and beyond and for the blue and white of Hamdan a reduction of 100 is immediately to be enacted.

Two Princes to suffer uncannily similar early deaths at the first years of the Millennium were Abdullah’s countrymen brothers Fahd and Ahmed Salman, both dead in their early 40’s. Their father has since become King Salman in Saudi Arabia.

I brought in Malcolm Parrish and Hogmanay because he was one of the ten horses. We got onto that tack as earlier he had sold two good horses to Michael Dickinson and I had a small part in that. “Want any more?”, he asked then elaborated. “Yeah okay, you can have ten for 100 grand, I won’t put you wrong,” he added.

Hogmanay was one of them but Rod Simpson, who had the job of sorting them out (and on balance did pretty well) said Hogmanay will never stand training, so the £5k he represented in the deal was deducted. For each of his eight wins (seven over fences) and £60k prizemoney a dagger went to the heart. In the end, I did manage to pay for them and there were some very decent animals among them. Later Malcolm bought both Lordship and Egerton studs in Newmarket before passing them on.

With deference to the Dixon brothers who head up the Horse Watchers, and who combine television expertise with phenomenally successful ownership, journalists are hardly likely to make that jump. But one man who has shown signs of joining racing’s big time is the football agent Kia Joorabchian, who has been one of the more visible personalities in the first months of the season.

His horses – 37 have run – have collected 22 wins and more than £400,000 in prizes. That compares with £240,000 in the whole of last season with 18 wins. But what gives the game away is that his horse Mayo Star, a maiden who finished runner-up to Adayar in the Derby nine days ago, earned £241,000 for that one run, so a touch more than for all last season’s exploits.

There is no doubt Kia has gone about it whole-heartedly. Using trainers like Roger Varian, Richard Hannon and Ralph Beckett he has not been shy to spend, paying for instance 460,000gns for a Shamardal colt he sent to Varian. Great King has won one of five starts and is rated 88. Of the horses he has run this year alone – he also has several similarly-expensive acquisitions from the recent breeze-ups in the pipeline - he has spent almost £6milion in acquiring them.

As the man behind the controversial Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano deals a decade or so ago, Kia has become a leader in his business and at 49 he is still a relative young man in racing ownership terms. This year his colours could be represented at Royal Ascot by up to 16 horses. Pivotal to his early success this year have been his two-year-olds with Beckett being joined by George Boughey and Michael Bell as having feasible chances in the juvenile events.

The best candidates in the purple silks must be in the Albany Stakes where once-raced 350,000gns Wolverhampton winner Hello You (Beckett) and twice-successful and cheaply bought Beautiful Sunset (Boughey) are due to line up and are both prominent in the ante-post market. He also has realistic chances with the Varian-trained and seemingly well-handicapped Raadobarg, £200k, in the Britannia, with Hannon’s Sir Rumi (£160k) as a potential second string.

Kia will have a major interest of course in the Euro 2020 championship as will another of the big soccer (and many other sports) agencies, the ICM Stellar Group’s boss, Jonathan Barnett.

From an earlier generation than Joorabchian, Jonathan, along with partner David Manasseh, sold the agency last year to the American group, but they remain in day-to-day charge. Their major players at the competition include four of the England squad (Mason Mount and Jordan Pickford, who played yesterday, as well as Jack Grealish and Luke Shaw who watched the 1-0 win from the subs bench). Gareth Bale (Wales) and Kieren Tierney (Scotland) will also be well to the fore at the championships.

Less than an hour after full-time at Wembley, Jonathan was watching his lightly-raced four-year-old Fitzcarraldo winning with a fast finish at Longchamp for trainer Nicolas Clement. Fitzcarraldo was a €27k buy that took time to mature but now looks like a stayer with a future. Clement, who is head of France’s trainers’ association, has a record of bargain buys having paid £30k for Ray Tooth’s Group 1 winner and later 2,000 Guineas second French Fifteen, who has been sending out jumps winners as a stallion lately.

Given a £40k budget to buy a yearling last autumn, Clement came up with a €21,000 daughter of Derby winner Ruler of the World and he rates her very highly. That’s the way Barnett, also owner of the decent handicapper Year Of The Dragon with William Knight, prefers it, rather than the Joorabchian method.

I bet the people that have been recruited to buy the Amo racing horses would be horrified at M. Clement’s behaviour. Watch out for Fitzcarraldo. I would not be at all surprised if later in the year the jumping boys come calling for this big strong gelded son of Makfi. Maybe then the Clement business acumen that turned a £30k colt into a £1.3 million Classic prospect and future stallion will be rather more in evidence.

Connections of Mojo Star so proud of huge effort in Derby

Connections of Mojo Star are excited for the future after the maiden ran the race of his life to finish second at odds of 50-1 in the Cazoo Derby at Epsom.

Trained by Richard Hannon for owner Kia Joorabchian, Mojo Star had just two previous runs under his belt ahead of the premier Classic, finishing second in two Newbury maidens in October and last month.

Partnered by David Egan, Mojo Star defied his inexperience to chase home impressive four-and-a-half-length winner Adayar, and Joorabchian, who is involved in the football industry, believes his Sea The Stars colt has some big days ahead of him.

He said: “It’s very, very exciting. It’s the first time I’ve been involved in the Derby and he’s run a great race. It was a fantastic run.

“Richard and Rossa (Ryan, his retained rider, who is currently injured) always loved this horse and always spoke about him very highly.

“Today he proved it, and that’s only his third run. You have to remember he’s quite inexperienced and he’s going to get better from here, and he’s going to be brilliant. Richard has a lot of belief in the horse and thinks he can go further and further, so we are very excited.

“I remember when we bought him Ross Doyle was very keen on him. Since then we’ve been patient with him and it’s proving to be very successful, as finishing second in the Derby is not an easy thing to do. We are a young operation – still a baby operation – and we are up against the big Goliaths.

“I’m loving being in racing.”

Hannon added: “This is a massive day for the owner. There’s more to life than winning the Derby, and it’s just what he needs. He wanted to come here and we always thought he was very good. He’s got loads of horses and that will cheer him up.

“We’ve got enough money now from this to throw at some fancy entries.”

Adayar was one of three runners for Charlie Appleby, who also saddled third-placed Hurricane Lane. He said: “He’s finished third in a Derby and is going to be a contender in some of the other big races in the year.”

Irish 2,000 Guineas winner Mac Swiney was fourth for veteran handler Jim Bolger, and jockey Kevin Manning thought it was a fair effort.

He said: “I had a good run all the way, but he just didn’t pick up in the straight. The ground may have been a bit dead for him, but it was a good run.”

Third Realm, conqueror of Adayar in Lingfield Derby Trial, was a further neck back in fifth for Roger Varian and Andrea Atzeni.

The rider said: “It was a pleasing run. I followed the winner through and he just got a little bit tight for room, but he stayed on quite well and didn’t disgrace himself.

“He’s still a young horse, very lightly raced and it was a nice run.”

Bolshoi Ballet was sent off the 11-8 market leader, but could finish only seventh as the sole representative for Aidan O’Brien this year.

The Ballydoyle handler said: “He just ran a bit lifeless. What the reason was, I’m not sure.

“It doesn’t work every day. That’s the way life is.

“I don’t want to make excuses because I don’t want to take away from the other horses.

“He was in the perfect position. He wants nice ground and maybe that was the reason.”

It was subsequently found at a post-race examination by the veterinary officer that the Galileo colt had been struck into on his right-hind in the early stages of the race.

Tom Marquand, rider of eighth-placed Youth Spirit, thought his mount had found the 12-furlong trip a stretch.

He said: “He probably melted a bit just beforehand – we travelled beautifully throughout and (they) probably just galloped the legs off him over a mile and a half on this ground.

“We’ll probably come back a couple of furlongs and hopefully see him back to his best.”

John Leeper was well fancied for Ed Dunlop and Frankie Dettori, but he trailed home in ninth place on his first try at the distance.

Dettori said: “It was just too far for him at this stage of his life. We’ll go back to a mile and a quarter.”

The Mark Johnston-trained Gear Up set the early gallop and was in front until the two-furlong marker, but eventually beaten a total of 21 lengths.

Jockey Ben Curtis said: “My race was very straightforward. We jumped out, led and everything went perfectly. I thought I’d pick up nicely heading into the straight and then I just lacked maybe for a gear up the home straight.”

Southern Lights finished last of the 11 contenders on what was just his fourth outing for trainer Joseph O’Brien.

Rider Declan McDonogh said: “He was disappointing. He got a lot of bumping around and had a tough trip, but he probably just wasn’t ready for the experience.”

Monday Musings: Boutique Classic

The Arqana Arc sale, staged every eve of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at the company’s Saint-Cloud base, used to be a major source of excitement with several candidates due to run the next day, sometimes even in the big race itself, going through in a real boutique auction, writes Tony Stafford.

It was the model for the much more recent pre-Royal Ascot auction where many of UK racing’s great and good, and many over here from overseas for the week, would be wined and if-not dined, certainly canape’d to their hearts’ content in Kensington Palace Gardens with nary a horse to be seen.

Friends of mine got a great result a few years ago selling a decent handicapper for an embarrassingly-large amount. I hope his new owners were as satisfied in the longer scheme of things as his original partners but I very much doubt they were.

Last October 3, with Covid in full force throughout Europe, a slimmed-down catalogue of 27 horses went virtually “sous le marteau” – I used the translation for hammer as the French for “gavel” is, boringly, gavel, what a let-down!

With absentees, reserves not attained and simply horses unsold or bought back, only 11 changed hands.

Most of those were three-year-olds and in the 43-49 kg mark, translating to 86-108 in UK ratings. The highest price was the €975,000 for Virginia Joy, a German-trained filly that has been exported from France to the USA, and won an optional allowance claiming race last month at Belmont Park for her new owner, Peter Brant.

One oddity and the only obvious jumps prospect was the once-raced (placed third) AQPS gelding Hercule Point, bought for €270,000 by Dan Skelton. I think we should look out for this son of the top French jumps sire, Network.

Two of those sold had in fact performed at ParisLongchamp that afternoon on the first stage of the Arc meeting. Step By Step, a colt, was third in the Qatar Prix Chaudenay. He went for €320,000 and has not been sighted since being bought by Narvick International.

Until yesterday the only other subsequent winner from the batch was King Pacha, €100k worth of three-year-old colt that has been strutting his stuff in Qatar. First time there in January he was second in the Qatar Derby and after a lesser runner-up spot, won a 100 grand race before two later fifth places.

But then there was yesterday, and what was expected to be the second leg of an Aidan O’Brien/Coolmore double 35 minutes after St Mark’s Basilica won the French 2,000 Guineas – forget all that Poule D’Essai stuff!

St Mark’s Basilica was allowed to start at 4-1 in his first run since claiming top 2020 European colt honours having won last year’s Dewhurst. That choice of Classic for his comeback run shows that a fair bit of planning goes into those Ballydoyle Spring pack-shufflings  as St Mark’s Basilica is a son of the top French sire, Siyouni.

After this victory, leading French breeders will be unable to resist him when he goes to stud. A quick look through the list of Aidan’s 192 inmates in Horses In Training shows he is the only Siyouni in the yard. Of course he does have a family connection a few miles down the road at Coolmore stud, the home of Siyouni’s 2020 Arc winner, Sottsass.

It’s been rather long-winded but at last I’m there. Sottsass was trained by Jean-Claude Rouget and that most prolific of French trainers from his base in the west of France is always dangerous in the Classic races on home soil.

Yesterday he had a single runner pitted against Mother Earth and, while the O’Brien filly was anything but disgraced in finishing runner-up in another Classic so soon after Newmarket, she could not match Rouget’s outsider.

Coeursamba is a daughter of The Wow Signal, who raced only at two and won his first three races, including at Royal Ascot, for John Quinn but lost his unbeaten record in the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere. He was the 7-4 favourite, but finished last of seven behind Gleneagles, the future 2,000 Guineas winner, and promptly retired to stud in France.

Coeursamba won only one of her six races at two, but did enough to earn a rating dead on 100. She dutifully took her place the next day in the Prix Marcel Boussac, and finished fifth to Tiger Tanaka, who was unplaced yesterday.  Then last autumn she had one more run, third behind Lullaby Moon, the Redcar Gold Trophy winner, another also-ran. Lullaby Moon now runs in the ever-more-recognisable Amo Racing colours.

That was one of many private and public deals that have bolstered the strength of Amo’s celebrity football agent, Kia Joorabchian.  A stream of juvenile first-time winners in his purple and white silks have been inevitably attracting attention and quickly propelling trainer George Boughey into the big time.

No doubt they will be going on a shopping spree this week when Arqana stage their breeze-up sale in Doncaster rather than Paris with the Covid recovery trailing behind the UK’s – touch wood and whistle, as Len Baily, brother of Spurs and England footballer Eddie used not only to say but perform with a modest trill.

I worked in Len and middle brother Charlie’s betting shop in Clarence Road, Lower Clapton, before leaving school and passed up an offer to take their partner Sid’s share when he retired – for free.  I’m clinging on to that sort of memory – Len’s whistle – for dear life, still wondering whether I should have been on the other side of the argument for the past 58 years!

Coeursamba, at €400,000 the second most expensive of those Arqana Arc sale graduates, might have started 66-1 but could have been mistaken for the favourite as she quickly asserted over Mother Earth.

Mr Joorabchian doesn’t show many signs that he is finished with his acquisitions. Rossa Ryan, a young jockey who is showing that the best way to go from mid-range to top-level rider is to get on good horses, revealed in a recent interview that his boss has a team of 85, more than 50 of them two-year-olds.

As I said, we’ve seen a few of them and good luck to Kia, a welcome incoming force just as two of the biggest players ever in the UK, Prince Khalid Abdullah and Hamdan Al-Maktoum, have left the scene. As the O’Learys are finding with the Gigginstown House hordes, it’s not easy to rationalise overnight, so I’m sure we’ll be seeing the Frankel and Nashwan colours for years to come until the two bosses’ successors decide on which way they will go with their massive operations.

One disappointment in the “1,000” was the running of King’s Harlequin in the Sam Sangster colours; but that Camelot filly has already far-outweighed her original purchase price of €30k, by Tina Rau and Nicolas Clement as a yearling.

It might not have been what connections had been hoping for yesterday as King’s Harlequin raced too freely and gradually dropped away. Sam, though, is continuing to show signs that he is a chip off the old block and in time could be winning big races in the manner of his father, the late Robert Sangster.

At Windsor on Monday Sam watched on from home as the four-year-old filly Beauty Stone came from last to first off her mark of 69 to win a fillies’ handicap over an extended 11 furlongs by just over six lengths.

A daughter of Australia she had three runs for Charlie Appleby in the Godolphin blue without making any impact. She was a 475,000gns yearling buy but cost only 5,500gns when Sam picked her up when culled at the February horses-in-training sale at Newmarket last year.

She had a busy 2020 when racing resumed winning a small race at the fifth attempt for trainer Tom Ward, chosen as he had been a school-friend of Sam’s brother Max, the youngest of the Sangster siblings.

To show just how good a choice that was, Beauty Stone was completing a hat-trick and winning for the fourth time in all at Windsor. Fancied in the morning, trainer and owner were constantly on the phone with Sam quizzing Tom as to why a filly which had won its last two races could still be available at 20-1 even though she’d been backed.

Making a final contact as the filly was being saddled, Sam asked the trainer: “Does she look big?” to which Tom replied: “Looking at her now, maybe?”  I wish I’d heard the story before rather than half an hour after the race, but with her nice pedigree, there’s no doubt that’s another Sangster steal. Sangster the Gangster is back! In a manner of speaking, of course .