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Monday Musings: A True Goodwood Celebration

There was a lovely moment at Goodwood racecourse on Saturday afternoon, writes Tony Stafford. The Celebration Mile, initially the Wills Mile and a feature of the late summer fixture since 1967, was always a post-York and pre-St Leger highlight.

In the early 1980’s no trainer did better than Guy Harwood with three wins in four years, via smart trio To-Agori-Mou (1981), Sandhurst Prince the following year and Rousillon in 1984.
At around that time, his Pulborough, West Sussex, stables, financed by the family motor sales business, was one of the top yards for big race wins in the UK. Stable jockey Greville Starkey, yet to be compromised by his poor ride on Dancing Brave in the 1986 Derby and then an overly extravagant celebration after the horse won his next race in the Eclipse, rode all three.

Owner Khalid Abdullah was never a man for extravagance of any kind – save in terms of having legions of high-class racehorses – and Pat Eddery took over from that point. Dancing Brave proved one of the greats and Eddery had a long time as the Saudi Prince’s principal jockey.

In the early 1980’s the race had a lot of prestige, not quite of the level from the earliest days when such as Habitat, the peerless Brigadier Gerard and Kris adorned the race’s Roll of Honour; but it was still a major event very much to win. It fell in 1999 to Cape Cross, later sire of Sea The Stars and Golden Horn, having been disqualified as a three-year-old two years earlier.

Anyway, I mentioned a lovely moment and that came with the strong finish and narrow victory of Lavender’s Blue, trained by Amanda Perrett, daughter of Guy Harwood. It is almost impossible to believe that Amanda, with the considerable help of husband Mark, previously a top-class jumps rider, has been holding the licence for a quarter of a century since her father’s retirement.
In that period she has initially “waxed” to a best score of 60 a decade or so ago to if not quite “waning”, she certainly has had to accept much smaller figures. In the regard that she is suffering from the familiar story of established trainers struggling to attract new owners.

The 2021 version of Horses in Training listed 24 horses in her care. The fact that she has won 19 races from the 23 that have run – two juveniles of her original trio are yet to appear – speaks volumes of the efficiency of her operation.

One owner who has stayed loyal over the years, especially since the retirement of the late John Dunlop, has been Benny Andersson, 25% of storied Swedish pop group Abba in terms of personnel and 50% of the writing team.

In the persona of Chess Racing - celebrating the musical he and Bjorn Ulveaus wrote with Tim Rice – he bred Lavender’s Blue, a daughter of Sea The Stars from a Danehill mare. The decision to keep her in training as a five-year-old, apart from getting her trainer back in the big time where she belongs, has brought handsome dividends with her future stud career in mind. One day at Newmarket two years ago in the owners’ room he sat quietly with the Perrett’s at the next table to me and Peter Ashmore, a pleasant, quiet and very humble man. The memory of that day alone makes me enjoy the mare’s success.

On Saturday she needed to peg back the multiple Group 1 world traveller Benbatl as Godolphin’s seven-year-old initiated another return after injury, and also overcome a previous winner of the Group 2 race in Duke Of Hazzard.

The Celebration success added to a Listed win at the start of her season and then she was a close third in the Dahlia Stakes, a nine-furlong Group 2 on 1,000 Guineas Day, behind top-class Lady Bowthorpe, whose subsequent heroics could have prepared us rather more than the 20-1 SP on Saturday suggested.

As the Amanda Perrett stable has rationalised itself, the famed Pulborough gallops do have another occupant and one who this year has had a much higher profile. French-born David Menuisier has always been regarded as a man who takes time with his horses and he too has a smart filly in his care.

Menuisier had worked initially in the UK with John Dunlop and, while he was there, he came under the scrutiny of Marcus Hosgood, the long-time right-hand man to Dunlop whose influence in finding suitable races for the Arundel inmates should not be under-estimated. I met Hosgood at Arundel when there just the once with Prince Ahmed Bin Salman to watch a few Thoroughbred Corporation-owned horses go through their paces.

Reputedly that was a luxury even the stable jockeys for Dunlop never experienced, that singular gentleman preferring to restrict galloping duties to the trusted home-based work riders. Since taking out a licence himself, horses like Thundering Blue have advertised Menuisier’s talent and this year Wonderful Tonight is only a 10-1 chance in betting on the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe despite her disappointing run behind Snowfall in the Yorkshire Oaks when the fast ground was not in her favour.

A few years ago I bumped into Marcus Hosgood at a gathering of former Raceform employees – many of whom have gone on to bigger and better things - myself qualifying as the one-time part-time Editor of the late, much-lamented Racehorse weekly publication. The event was organised by my almost exact contemporary Will Lefebve and we met in a pub close to the former Raceform base in Battersea, South-West London. Chatting about Menuisier, the shrewd Hosgood declared him the most talented horseman he had ever met. Praise indeed!

Amanda Perrett is no mean horsewoman either and where her yard contains, give or take a few mid-season arrivals, two dozen animals, Menuisier has three times as many in his care and stands on 31 wins, so the family firm is more than holding its own. I’m pleased to see that my friend Alan Spence maintains an interest with Amanda in a half-share with stable stalwart John Connolly in a progressive staying Gleneagles three-year-old called Eagle One, a winner and close second in his last two starts.

Jockeys have been restricted to riding at a single meeting from the resumption of racing after the Covid19 break last year and will again have to live with that rule for the whole of 2022, something I agree with. I see Jim Crowley has come out in favour of a continuing bar on racecourse saunas, which has been in place for the same period.

In the days of Guy Harwood’s pomp, most of the top jockeys would ride in the early races at Goodwood then after the Celebration Mile hightail it for the major races on the Windsor tea-time fixture which ended the year’s evening racing in those days.

Apart from the Group 3 Winter Hill Stakes, which is still going after around 40 years’ existence, there was and still is a Listed race and a valuable sprint handicap. I used to follow the jockeys’ route for what I now see is the 60-mile trip, largely because it was on my way home – sort of – and in those days I could never resist an opportunity to see top-class racing.

Twenty-one years ago, having seen Sir Michael Stoute win the Celebration Mile with Medicean, later sire of Dutch Art, I followed on to Windsor and Stoute again had the answer with the three-year-old Adilabad. Stoute may not have quite the firepower of old against the 200-plus teams that lead the sport these days, but the talent is clearly intact as he showed as his five-year-old Solid Stone picked up the 34k first prize of the Winter Hill Stakes on Saturday.

xxx

Last week I was getting rather hot under the collar when pointing out the apparent favourable treatment accorded to Irish stables in handicaps on the Flat and especially in the big UK races over jumps. I added for good measure that the French are not immune to allowing Irish horses into races with obvious chances and gave the illustration of a race due to be run at Deauville last Thursday.

Willie Mullins had orchestrated a very clever plan with his 2020 Triumph Hurdle winner Burning Victory who joined his stable after earning a 40-kilo rating (UK/Ire 88) following her three-year-old season in France.

Sparsely campaigned apart from over jumps, she had been sent for only one Flat run since her exportation to Ireland, and that two months ago when Mullins sent her across to Lyon Parilly for a minor conditions race and she had no trouble in winning it by five and a half lengths. To say I was surprised – I did have an interest in the race – that her rating remained firmly on 40 for a race with a €27,500 first prize plus 45% owner’s premium thus just about €40k to the winner is an understatement.

It was worth going for – indeed impossible to ignore - and Burning Victory duly won the race by almost two lengths. Too late for Thursday’s home opposition the handicapper closed the stable door after Mullins’ mare had bolted, giving her 5kg more (11lb). He should have done that before the race.

I was mentioning this situation three days before the race talking at Brighton to Owen Burrows, one of the trainers likely to be most affected by what could be a significant reduction in the Shadwell operation after the death of Sheikh Hamdan earlier in the year.

The twin subjects of our talk were handicappers – and, as he says, how long it takes (and costs) for a horse to come down the handicap in the UK before it is well enough treated to win a race – and the always testy subject of moderate prize money about which he feels people in racing do not complain enough.

Burrows reckons our system with the high administrative and ever-increasing feed costs encourages (or compels) smaller trainers especially to run horses deliberately below their true form to get one big chance to retrieve the high costs with a major bet.

As to prize money, reacting to my tale of the €40k for the equivalent of a 0-88 handicap he surprised me with the case of the Cambridgeshire, run next month and traditionally one of the prime handicaps of the season. This year it carries what I believe given its prestige is a derisory £61k first prize: in 2020 the understandable excuse for lower prizes was Covid and at just shy of £75,000 might have been acceptable in the circumstances.

In 2019 John Gosden’s Lord North, a Group 1 horse masquerading as a handicapper, romped home and collected to all intents and purposes £100,000. Owen wanted to know, where did the missing £40k go? I’d like to ask Jockey Club Racecourses the same thing. The prize is just about 50% more than Burning Victory won for an open goal in Deauville. Something is very wrong somewhere.

Lavender’s Blue pips Benbatl to spark Goodwood Celebration

Lavender’s Blue got up in the final strides to deny Benbatl in the tote Celebration Mile at Goodwood.

Trained locally by Amanda Perrett and ridden by Rob Hornby, the 20-1 chance was the lowest-rated of the nine runners.

Settled in the rear by Rob Hornby, she looked to have plenty to do as Benbatl hit the front with over a furlong to run.

The multiple Group One winner took a couple of lengths out of the field and looked sure to collect on his first run for almost a year, but the only mare in the field began to reel him in.

Lavender’s Blue was closing with every stride and in the shadow of the post she hit the front, prevailing by a short head from Benbatl.

Perrett last won the race 19 years ago with Tillerman in 2002.

“She’s really deserved that as we’ve set her some stiff tasks the last few times,” said Perrett.

“The fillies’ division is really strong this year and that is why we weren’t too worried about taking on the opposite sex today.”

She went on: “Her Group Two win has been long overdue, so I’m just really glad to get it done today.

“Her form is very strong. She’s very consistent, she loves top of the ground and if you look at her three-year-old form, she was mixing it with Oaks fillies, so she deserved a big one.

“We just need to finish it off now by winning the Sun Chariot, which is where she’ll go next at Newmarket and we’ll hope for fast ground.”

Lavender’s Blue was bred by her owner Benny Andersson of ABBA fame.

Perrett added: “I’m delighted for Mr Andersson, her owner/breeder. You couldn’t wish to train for a better man and it’s great for him, especially as he loves Goodwood.

“With ABBA releasing more music, it’s all happening for him.”