One training centre above all others was at the forefront of the action this weekend just past as four (or technically five) of its incumbents joined in the bonanza with wins of varying importance, writes Tony Stafford.
It was a rarity for me not to have been at the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot but instead I went to Newmarket. I’m glad I did for it was the day reserved as a memorial to the late football man and Newmarket races adherent Glenn Roeder, who always used to love a chat whenever we bumped into each other on one HQ course or the other.
What was marvellous was to find the superbly produced brochure for a two-day silent auction. Late last night when I looked at the site, 90 of the 95 listed items had bids totalling, addition permitting, more than £125,000, with some time to go, all destined to the benefit of the Brain Tumour Association. It was a brain tumour that Glenn fought with such courage for the last decade of his life but to which he finally succumbed aged 65 in February last year.
Midway through the programme, I had a chat with one Lambourn trainer battling valiantly to revive his career after his sacking late last year from Michael Owen’s Manor House Stables in Cheshire after many years’ success.
The trainer of course is Tom Dascombe, who started the New Year effectively with no horses and no stables. Now he has 21 in three rows at Uplands Stables in Lambourn, famously, in the second half of the last century, the base of the great Fred Winter.
Much later Charlie Brooks held the licence, then its former owner Charlie Egerton (who still owns the house and garden, but not the yard according to Tom), and latterly Warren Greatrex – now up the road at Rhonehurst, the fiefdom for 30 years of Oliver Sherwood.
If the village just from that snapshot seems like a rather incestuous enclave, that’s pretty much the case. The place does spread out though with such as Charlie and dad Barry Hills and Nicky Henderson out one way, and Clive Cox and his even more famous landlord, John Francome, radiating in another direction from the village hub.
As we started to talk, a racegoer came along and congratulated Tom on his first winner since his removal from his comfort zone where his tally in reverse order for the ten previous seasons from last year had been 60, 41, 67, 77, 59, 75, 45, 62, 56 and 79.
The winner, the 48th runner of the year from 17 horses to have gone to the track, was Felix Natalis in a handicap at Newbury. There must have been much reassurance that Felix had been ridden by his old partner, Richard Kingscote.
I asked Dascombe about how it all started for him with horses and he said that his family had been from Bristol and when he was young they used to go to Weston-Super-Mare: “If you led the donkeys on the beach they would let you have a free ride. It all came from that”, he said.
I mentioned what I had recalled in this column when Kingscote rode the Derby winner, Desert Crown, and how, years previously, I had met his grandmother who was working as a cashier at a Tesco store in East London; she had proudly told me about him when I presented a Racing Post to her early one morning. “My grandson’s in racing. He’s a jockey called Richard Kingscote.”
I asked Richard about her a few days after the Derby and, after establishing which grandmother it was, he confirmed she is still with us but did not go to the Derby. Kingscote, contrary to my amateur sleuthing, did not come from the East End like that relative, but rather from close to where Dascombe grew up.
Tom came into the lunchroom on Saturday frustrated after his solid handicapper Miramichi, who won four in a row last summer, was obliterated by first-time handicapper Francesco Clemente. An unbeaten Dubawi colt, he was running for only the third time for the Gosdens and owner-breeder Peter Brant’s White Birch Farm.
The margin was nine lengths and Dascombe said: “I’ve got a nice horse here, but the way the programme is framed he will have to be so lucky to find a race he can win off with his mark. There’s always a three-year-old like today’s winner, which is probably a future Group 1 horse, able to get an easy race as they get their careers started. No wonder owners are persuaded to sell horses when they get to a certain level. It can only get worse in the future,” he said.
Happily for Dascombe, things got better yesterday when Misty Grey, a five-year-old gelding and the top weight for Chelmsford’s feature, defied 9st 13lb, again with Kingscote in the saddle, winning by half-a-length and collecting a £25k first prize. Where there’s life there’s hope, Tom!
Two of the five trainers I mentioned at the start were at that time within minutes of the biggest triumph of their lives. Willie Muir, who nowadays trains in conjunction with Chris Grassick, sent his hard-knocking five-year-old Pyledriver to the King George.
In a market dominated by the Irish Derby winner Westover, trained by Ralph Beckett, and the Gosden pair of Emily Upjohn – considered by many an unlucky second to Tuesday in the Oaks – and Mishriff, similarly portrayed after his fast but futile finish second to French colt Vadeni in the Coral-Eclipse, Pyledriver was largely unconsidered in the betting.
Similarly under-estimated was last year’s Arc winner, Torquator Tasso, and in the event, while this year’s Classic form was left in tatters, these two veterans of many battles had the final furlong to themselves as the other quartet trailed home well beaten.
Westover’s fifth-placed finish, 18 lengths behind the winner, could have been explained by his making the running, a new departure, and at an exaggerated tempo, too. As likely, the race may have come too soon after his Irish Derby exploits: however easy a Classic win appears, any horse has to run hard to win one. Emily Upjohn was simply too free in the first half of the race; she would not be the first filly to shine brightly for a while but fail to sustain it. It appears talk of a second Enable was premature. [It generally will be. Ed.]
Muir’s renaissance has been allied to his unearthing of Pyledriver, winner of the Coronation Cup last year and second in it last month. Altogether the winner of seven races, he has earned more than £1.8 million and his toughness should ensure a lot more.
Whether an Arc can be one race for him, that is the target, but I believe Torquator Tasso, last year’s winner of France’s great race, might have the greater scope for improvement in the second half of the season. This was only his third race of 2022 and the ground was faster than ideal.
The next Lambourn resident to share in the weekend wins was Owen Burrows. Last summer at Brighton, on one of my first post-Covid racetrack visits, I sat talking to Owen who was telling how all the trainers with horses of the recently-deceased Hamdan Al Maktoum were fearing the future. “There’s going to be a big meeting in Dubai and we’ll learn more soon,” he said.
The massive reductions that eventually resulted might have shaken up racing a good deal, but the positive effect was that it enabled other owners and trainers to buy otherwise unavailable bloodstock at auctions. Burrows’ own numerical string at his new base at Farncombe Down Stables in Lambourn has been significantly reduced.
What has not changed is his ability to win races. Already in 2022 he has ten wins to his credit – his annual scores were usually in the mid-20’s – but from only 34 runs. Remarkably these have yielded just short of £500,000 in prizes, a tally only bettered in a whole season once – last year.
His weekend winner was Alflaila, a three-year-old Dark Angel colt in the Shadwell Estate Company colours, who collected £28k for his win in the Skybet-sponsored Pomfret Stakes, the main event on the final day of the Go Racing in Yorkshire Festival at Pontefract.
The other in-form Lambourn trainer has been Archie Watson with three wins over the weekend, two ridden by Hollie Doyle who has been in terrific form lately. One race Archie didn’t win though was Ascot’s lady riders’ handicap on Friday when Micky Hammond’s Carnival Zain and Becky Smith raced away from Alazwar and Brodie Hampson, Archie’s partner.
Hammond was also on the mark at Pontefract yesterday when his progressive ex-French Piecederesistance won nicely. In the calendar year 2022, Hammond is already on 49 wins, including 16 on the level, which is only three short of his highest-ever figure in more than 30 years as a trainer.
Another to be setting records is William Knight. It had been twenty races since his six-year-old Sir Busker had last won, at Royal Ascot in the Royal Hunt Cup Consolation race straight after the Covid break. He had been placed many times since but gained a first Group 2 win in the Skybet York Stakes on Saturday. The seventy-odd grand prize has pushed Knight beyond the best season’s prizemoney of his career.