On the fateful Saturday evening of July 17 this year, an apprentice seemingly with the world at his feet made a misjudgement for which he is still paying, writes Tony Stafford. Had he been able to maintain the income per month with rides and percentage of winners of the first half of the year he would have added around £7,500 to his earnings so well was he progressing. Instead, Mark Crehan was given a 28-day salutary suspension in the manner of the old Army traditions which historically governed the Jockey Club’s total domination of racing.
On that Saturday, having only his fifth ride for Sir Michael Stoute – three of the previous four had won – he thought he was passing the winning post in the lead on Aerion Power, when he was in fact just at the half-furlong pole.
Replicating the same mistake that many riders have made down the decades, he eased his mount and was immediately horrified when two of his rivals continued urging theirs and went past him. He rallied Aerion Power to good enough effect to claw back second place, but Connor Beasley riding Colony Queen had a neck to spare at the line.
That was 51 days ago, and it was precisely one day before that when he last rode a winner. He has yet to add to the 38 he had clocked up from 225 rides in the first half of the year. Since his ban ended his ten rides have been sprinkled with near misses, one for Sir Michael who showed his support in the best way possible, and George Boughey his boss with five.
It is not just the loss of earnings but the complete halt to his momentum that is so frustrating. The late John McCririck was always most vociferous in cases like Mark’s: “Ban them for life,” might have been his coda such was his one-eyed concern with the men in the betting shops and their small daily wagers.
It seems, though, that there are mistakes and mistakes and, depending on who is making them, the penalty can be way out of proportion. The same month as Crehan’s blunder, Jessica Harrington’s course representative allowed the three-year-old filly Aurora Princess rather than the two-year-old Alezarine to run in the 2yo maiden at the Galway Festival. She finished first, unsurprisingly, but the error was discovered and she was automatically disqualified, the race going to the favourite from the Aidan O’Brien stable who had crossed the line second.
Later Mrs Harrington said it was an “indefensible blunder” and got a ticking off and a €2,000 fine. Life goes on for the top people, Aurora Princess winning as herself at Clonmel the other day. Alizerine made her “real” debut early in August and was unplaced.
A more amazing error – one described by Aidan O’Brien as “a million-to-one chance” was the mix-up in caps for two of the trainer’s runners in Deryck Smith’s purple colours in the Fillies’ Mile at Newmarket last autumn. Mother Earth, the subsequent 1,000 Guineas and Prix Rothschild heroine, ran as Snowfall, called over the line third in this Group 1 race, while Snowfall in eighth was identified throughout as Mother Earth.
Considering the pair has now won five Group 1 races between them and Epsom, Curragh and Yorkshire Oaks winner Snowfall heads betting on the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, a £4,000 fine was, with hindsight, hardly swingeing. I doubt the penalty troubled Aidan’s liquidity any more than Jessie’s two grand or even the bargain-basement £1k handed out to their similarly high-powered UK counterpart William Haggas this weekend.
A last fortnight tally of 15 winners from 50 runners with around £316,000 in first prizes alone is testament to his talent, power of stable and ability to find races all the way through his team. Winning Saturday’s September Stakes at Kempton with his father Brian‘s Hamish, brought back to fitness after a long absence for a tendon injury, was the emotional highlight of an eventful weekend, crowned by the fifth and finest success for the unbeaten Baeed in the Group 1 Prix du Moulin de Longchamp yesterday. Useful yardsticks Order Of Australia (Aidan) and Victor Ludorum (Fabre) followed this late challenger for Europe’s champion miler status over the line in Paris.
But over at Ascot on Saturday all was not well. There was a £38k handicap on the card and Haggas horses Chalk Stream and Candleford crossed the line in the first two places, Chalk Stream well ahead of his much longer-priced and apprentice-ridden stablemate. On weighing in, however, Candleford’s rider drew light and Haggas admitted that when saddling him he left the weight cloth on the head lad’s bucket and simply forgot about it.
So Candleford ran with a much lower weight than required and the trainer’s immediate worry was whether the BHA handicappers would take that into consideration especially as the £18k second prize was forfeit. Trainers receive a higher share of winning prizes than jockeys and William can expect more than £30k to go into his Weatherby’s account just for the last fortnight’s work.
There is absolutely no complaint intended about the trainer, apart from an unexpected lapse, just that the three examples I’ve listed are so blatantly lenient in comparison to the draconian treatment of Mark Crehan. I was pleased to see Frankie Dettori joining Sir Michael Stoute in pledging his support for the lad, but as with prizemoney and the scandal of the Cambridgeshire, referred to last week, something seriously needs to be done.
I note that while the Cambridgeshire, traditional first leg of the Autumm Double in the days when bookmakers were prepared to risk a few quid in case someone might get them both – in my time on the Daily Telegraph I managed it a couple of times – is worth £61k to the winner, the Cesarewitch over twice the distance, carries more than twice the money – £128K.
The top weight in the first leg has a handicap mark of 109 and there are 121 entries. Top weight in the Cesarewitch is 108 and 94 have been entered. It seems ridiculous given the tradition that there should be such a disparity. Among the latter race’s entries and now with a 4lb penalty after her €40k free kick in France the other day is the 2020 Triumph Hurdle winner, Burning Victory.
Yet to run on the Flat either in her now home base of Ireland or in England, she has two Flat wins in France to her credit for Willie Mullins this summer. I was gratified to see that the BHB handicapper thought she merited 96 rather than the French 88 when Cesarewitch entries were made and the 4lb more as against the French 11lb for Deauville brings them in line. How about her being the one from his 14 entries that is most fancied – he usually lines one up in particular for it? The fact she is only 12/1 suggests the guess might have some mileage.
As the ink was barely dry – yes I’m still living in the dark ages, but at least I don’t talk about quill pens! – on last week’s article, I started reading a book that has been on my shelves for years and one I have always assumed I’d read. I hadn’t!
Called Horsetrader, it was written in 1994 by noted author Patrick Robinson, with Nick Robinson, and outlined the 20 years of Coolmore stud dominance in racing and breeding and then the challenge made to them by Arab owners, particularly Sheikh Mohammed. Unexpected meetings in life can propel our future in a totally unexpected direction, and it was such an unlikely eventuality that years later brought Robert Sangster, heir to the Vernon’s Pools fortune, into a partnership with John Magnier and his father-in-law, Vincent O’Brien.
In his schooldays at Repton College, Sangster had an opinion that Vincent O’Brien must be the greatest trainer of racehorses in the world. “Had the Irishman not won three consecutive Grand Nationals and three Gold Cups and Champion Hurdles in the post-war era before turning to the Flat?”, he reasoned.
Later, as he was feeling his way in the family firm, Sangster used to meet up with several of the other well-connected young men in Liverpool where Vernon’s was based. There he met Nick Robinson, grandson of businessman Sir Foster Robinson, once a top cricketer and now a horse breeder outside his commercial interests.
Sangster’s chosen hobbies were golf on the Hoylake links where father Vernon would become Men’s Captain and mother Peggy, Lady Captain, and more seriously boxing. He won a dozen fights unbeaten before going into the army as a private soldier and another dozen in the service as a heavyweight. His godfather had taken him under his wing, often travelling down to London for big fight nights and for tuition with the great middleweight British champion, Freddie Mills.
But racing under Robinson’s prompting came into his life and it was with a horse trained locally by Eric Cousins, who was to be his first trainer before he graduated to Vincent, that he became enraptured by the sport.
On one of their Kardomah coffee house meetings, Nick Robinson told the gathering that Cousins’ horse Chalk Stream – I knew the name was familiar when seeing Saturday’s race – would win the Lincoln. It was 1960 and young Robert became captivated by the thought of a horse being “laid out” to land a big gamble, especially when his friend knew chapter and verse and also “everything it seemed” about racing.
Chalk Stream lost that race but won the Liverpool Autumn Cup in the days when Aintree still staged Flat racing, and from then there was no stopping him. Derby winners, stallions, champion owner and eventually breeder accolades all followed in great profusion over the next four decades.
I’d only got to page 6 when I saw fit to text Robert’s son Sam saying: “Now I know why you and your brothers are who you are!”
The book ends in 1994 when our hero is still intertwined with Coolmore, preparing to keep his massive new investment in Manton along with his 100 broodmares and breeding rights to some of the best and most highly valued stallions in the world. The latter chapter, just as successful but now with Michael Tabor and Smith joining Magnier and Aidan O’Brien, equally deserves telling.
I did a little research about Patrick Robinson, born in Kent but who now lives in the USA and is 81. Initially I assumed he must have been Nick’s son, but now am prepared to guess he was his elder brother as Nick is 77. As usual there’s nobody to ask once Wikepedia fails me at 3 a.m. on Monday morning.
Sadly I heard at the sales at Newmarket last week that Nick Robinson hadn’t been well. Robert Sangster of course died impossibly long ago in 2004 aged only 67. Two Derby wins – although he had owned Dr Devious before selling him too – 27 European Classic races and more than 100 Group 1 horses fell to his colours. Happily they are still seen on a number of the Sam Sangster syndicates based at Manton under Brian Meehan.
Quite a few were in action at the recently concluded Racing League where Brian, Alan King and Roger Charlton joined forces. Despite a paucity of publicity outside Sky Sports racing’s coverage, Meehan reckons it was a very good initiative that should be persevered with.
Six evenings of six races with £25k to each winner has been a target for some of the leading trainers and he believes there is scope for an expansion next year. “When it happens you should come along. You would enjoy it!” As I enjoy anything to do with racing or sales, I’m sure I would.