Tag Archive for: Michael Tabor

Monday Musings: Emollient

At any time over the past 20-odd years you would never have believed it possible, writes Tony Stafford. But when Tower Of London came with a breathtaking run from the back under Ryan Moore to win the Dubai Gold Cup, there was a beaming Michael Tabor on hand to welcome the Aidan O’Brien-trained colt into the winner’s enclosure.

Back home in the UK, I needed a second take as Nick Luck came across to interview him. “Congratulations”, said Luck. “Thank you, it’s my first time here”, replied Tabor.

“Your first time at Meydan?”, continued the interviewer. “Not just at Meydan, my first time ever in Dubai. It’s fantastic, not just the racecourse, the whole of Dubai!”

Whether Michael would have been quite as amiable following a third career bomb from Auguste Rodin in the £2.7milion to the winner Sheema Classic just over three hours later is immaterial. He said it and if the £400-odd grand victory for Tower Of London was chicken-feed in relation to the riches on offer later on, it still made the journey a success for Tabor and a number of elated fellow travellers celebrating the victory in the unsaddling enclosure afterwards.

For those two decades at the start of the millennium, Coolmore, especially Michael Tabor, had been sworn racecourse adversaries of the men from Dubai, largely in the person of Sheikh Mohammed Al Rashid bin Maktoum, Ruler of that Emirate.

Their mild-mannered if ultra-competitive trainer Aidan O’Brien would never have viewed the rivalry with anything like the fierceness of his owner, but I think we should applaud one man for the emollient qualities that made Saturday’s moment possible.

Step forward Charlie Appleby, the always-amiable Devonian who took over the training of half of Godolphin’s UK team. This occurred as a result of the misdeeds of Mahmood al Zarooni and his proven use of illicit means to propel his already formidable horses even further forward. Saeed bin Suroor was, and remains, supervising the other gradually shrinking portion.

One of the horses found to have been doped – but not at the time of his biggest success – was the 2012 St Leger winner Encke. It was in the spring of the following year that the eight-year punishment was handed down to the Dubai national. Ban served, he started to train again domestically with a much smaller team.

Appleby was al Zarooni’s assistant at the time of Encke’s St Leger and the biggest effect of that victory was that it denied Camelot, winner of that year’s 2000 Guineas and Derby, of what would have been the first Triple Crown in the UK since Vincent O’Brien and Nijinsky in 1970.

Al Zarooni’s ban came following a BHA inspection the following year after the St Leger found 11 horses testing positive to the presence of anabolic steroids in their systems. The steroids, he said, were brought back in his suitcase from the UAE, adding he “didn’t know they were prohibited”.

By the time of the ban, al Zarooni had won three races, two at the 2013 Craven meeting and another in the same week at Wolverhampton. Appleby took over soon after and sent out 80 winners that season. After almost two years off the track after his Classic success, Encke, still an entire, had three placed runs under the Appleby banner before disappearing without a trace.

The Appleby-Coolmore thawing of relations began with the mutual respect that Charlie and Aidan O’Brien invariably showed each other for their respective successes in major races. Also, Appleby’s and Ryan Moore’s children know each other very well. Charlie had no qualms about regularly congratulating Aidan and the owners, most often Michael Tabor, for their successes and Aidan responded in kind. Images of their mutual celebrations at Santa Anita and the like are still fresh in the memory.

Last year, there was the usual triumphal season for Coolmore and Aidan with yet another Derby, and other achievements, for Auguste Rodin. Contrastingly, it was the first time for a while that Appleby’s Classic generation had been below par. Last year’s two-year-olds will need to step up in the major races in 2024.

It didn’t take long though for Appleby to enjoy himself on his own terms. Despite struggling with periodic absences through his career, the Dubawi gelding Rebel’s Romance had proved himself a high-class performer, making the Breeders’ Cup Turf race in October 2022, his ninth win in only 12 starts.

After three disappointing performances last year he got back on track in a Listed race at Kempton in December and even though he followed up with a £1 million-plus pot in Doha last month he was allowed to start at 25/1. So now it’s 12 wins in 18, and £6.173m in prizemoney. Not bad!

While Auguste Rodin languished at the rear, reminiscent of his Guineas and King George meltdowns from last year, William Buick always had Rebel’s Romance in touch behind the front-running duo of Point Lonsdale, Auguste’s pacemaker, and the Japanese Stars On Earth. That Point Lonsdale, a 100/1 shot, could finish 6th, picking up almost £100k, shows just how far below expectations the favourite ran.

Hopefully, as last year, that first comeback run will be forgotten when he gets fully into stride. Nowadays it’s more a case of what a potential stallion has won rather the times he has lost that govern his marketability and, as a son of Deep Impact, there’ll always be room for him in Japan. They can afford him too!

Back in the Sheema Classic, Buick merely had to go past the front pair and wait for the expected late runners, but none came. Then a half-hour later, Charlie was just as delighted when the former Bob Baffert-trained Laurel River, now handled in Dubai by Bhupat Seemar made a mockery of the £10 million Dubai World Cup, never looking like relinquishing the long lead jockey Tadhg O’Shea initiated early in the ten-furlong dirt race.

The first prize of £5m should equate to about half a million quid for the rider who a decade or so ago regularly came to ride work for Brian Meehan at Manton, ostensibly in his job as he recalls it as number two (or more accurately surely three behind the late Hamdan Al Maktoum’s first jockey Paul Hanagan and recently retired Dane O’Neill). I always found Tadhg a friendly young man. It was a surprise at the time when he decided to go – like so many other fringe jockeys – to Dubai. He’s Beyond the Fringe now.

Laurel River was allowed to start at 17/2 amid a deluge of money for the Kazakhstan entry – sounds more like one of the heats of the Eurovision Song Contest – Kabirkhan, winner of 11 of his previous 12 starts.

A son of California Chrome, the 2014 Kentucky Derby and 2016 Dubai World Cup victor, Kabirkhan was a $12k buy from bargain basement Book 5 at Keeneland yearling sales in 2021. Sent to Kazakhstan where he went unbeaten at two, he was similarly never finding anything remotely to test him in his three-year-old season in Russia.

Now in the care of legendary locally based American handler Doug Watson and ridden by another of the long-term second-string jockeys Pat Dobbs, he was perfectly poised on the rail as Laurel River took off.

While Laurel River just went further and further away, the favourite faded and it was left to last year’s winner, the Japanese Ushba Tesoro, who came from miles behind to take second. Not quite the riches from 2023, but still worth nigh on £2 million for connections of the seven-year-old entire.

Frankie Dettori was back in ninth on Bob Baffert’s Newgate but, earlier, restored to the Godolphin blue, because amazingly he, unlike Buick, can ride at 8st5lb – given a few weeks’ notice, of course – he rode Appleby’s filly Star Of Mystery into second place behind six-year-old California Spangle, trained in Hong Kong by Tony Cruz, in the Al Quoz Sprint.

It wasn’t all gloom for Baffert. His colt Muth, by Good Magic (2nd Kentucky Derby) won the Arkansas Derby comfortably at Oaklawn Park. That race was worth £620k and Baffert used it successfully as the prep back in 2015 when his American Pharoah became the first US Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.

Justify in 2018 is the most recent of 13 horses to achieve that feat. He, like American Pharoah, is based at Ashford stud in Kentucky, Coolmore’s US base. Justify’s sons and daughters are already showing extraordinary ability, led of course by City Of Troy.

The winter 2000 Guineas favourite had his first look at a racecourse in 2024 at Leopardstown (re-scheduled from waterlogged Naas) a week ago. From the time he did what he did to his useful opponents in the Superlative Stakes at Newmarket last July, I’ve been convinced he’s the best two-year-old I’ve seen.

The Dewhurst win was just as emphatic, his all-the-way near four-length margin earning a 125 rating. Roll on May!

Talking of the Derby, there was a hark back to another time when an old-style “chalk jockey” won the race. Back in the height of Covid, the 2020 running was won by Serpentine, 25/1, ridden by the unknown, possibly even to his parents, Emmet McNamara, to the quietest ever reception for a Derby winner. I’m sure Bernard Kantor would have been quite bemused, consulting his race card as he supervised formalities after the race.

Serpentine, now a seven-year-old, won a 10-furlong Group 3 race at Rosehill, Australia, over the weekend. By Galileo, he was having his 18th race and first success since his Derby triumph, the last twelve following a gelding operation in March two years ago. He is now trained by close Coolmore friend Gai Waterhouse and joint licence-holder Adrian Bott.

  • TS

Tabor likens Dewhurst hero Troy to Frankel

Coolmore’s Michael Tabor described City Of Troy as “our Frankel” after his superb triumph in the Native Trail’s Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket.

The colt arrived at the track unbeaten after easy wins in a Curragh maiden and the Superlative Stakes, but he was far from a guaranteed contender as the soft ground threatened to scupper his run.

Trainer Aidan O’Brien eventually gave the son of Justify the go-ahead and under Ryan Moore he was sent off the runaway favourite at 8-15.

The juvenile made all the running to cruise to a three-and-a-half-length victory and now the Classics, and indeed a possible Triple Crown bid, beckon.

Owned by Coolmore, a group comprised of John Magnier, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith, the colt has exalted company to contend with but is still regarded as one of the best, if not the best, horse to have ever represented the owners.

City Of Troy and Ryan Moore
City Of Troy and Ryan Moore (Tim Goode/PA)

Tabor was at the Rowley Mile track to witness the victory and was effusive in his praise for a horse he hopes can develop into Coolmore’s answer to the great Frankel, who bowed out unbeaten in 14 starts with 11 of those victories coming in Group One company.

“This horse is our Frankel, I really think that. There is no question in my mind, by his comments, that Aidan thinks this horse is probably the best he’s ever trained,” he said.

“He was nervous with the ground and when you tackle that unknown factor, there’s always a chance that they just won’t do it. He’s got that action, that very low action, but they say that a good horse goes on any ground.

“This is a good horse and he obviously does go on any ground, but I’d say he’ll be much better on top of the ground.

“I know the way Aidan speaks and we’re all optimists – you have to be in life in my opinion, in this game especially – but this horse is special. No question, he is special. He is the real deal.

“Let’s hope he is as popular as Frankel was but he’ll only get that popularity as time goes. Hopefully as time goes on he’ll win all the big races and the accolades will be given to him. I like to talk before the event and I really feel that this horse could be anything.

“It’s always been John Magnier’s dream to win the Triple Crown and we were very unlucky years ago with Camelot, he got beaten a three-quarters of a length in the St Leger.

“The St Leger trip can be a trip too far but let’s take one at a time, to me the Guineas and the Derby are very realistic. Get me a bookmaker that would lay me a price!

“Aidan says this horse doesn’t get tired! Aidan is very enthusiastic, if he doesn’t believe in something then the yard doesn’t believe in it and you have to give people confidence, but I know the way he is and this is something special.”

The owner’s son MV Magnier echoed the dream of finally winning the Triple Crown after Camelot’s agonising defeat.

City Of Troy pulling clear in the Dewhurst
City Of Troy pulling clear in the Dewhurst (Tim Goode/PA)

He said: “It looks like it’s possible. Beforehand I was talking to Ryan and he said the horse that he rode in the Superlative was the best two-year-old that he’s ridden and he would beat any two-year-old he’s seen. That was some confidence going into the race and then afterwards he said he’s definitely the best two-year-old he’s ridden.

“His mother (Together Forever) won the Fillies’ Mile here a few years ago and her sister won the Oaks. Justify, Bob Baffert always said that he was a very good two-year-old but he got injured, he won the Belmont Stakes over a mile and a half so technically, he should get a mile and a half.

“It’s what everybody wants to do, it’s all about the Derby, it’s all about the Triple Crown, it’s really the pinnacle that everybody aims for. I’ll put it to you this way, we’ll keep trying to win the Triple Crown.”

Magical Montjeu an everlasting King George memory for Tabor

Michael Tabor, owner or co-owner of six King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes winners, can be forgiven for having a somewhat clouded memory.

He first won the the all-aged, midsummer middle-distance showpiece in 2000 with a horse blessed with the most scintillating change of gear.

“The one King George I really remember is Montjeu,” said Tabor. “He won on hock-deep ground at Chantilly in the French Derby and at Ascot it was a very hot day, on firm ground, and not that it surprised me because I thought he would, but he just coasted in.

“That is my really big memory of the King George – I’m just trying to think of what others there were…”

Like a lot of other things, you always remember your first King George win, no matter what else follows. In this case, Galileo (2001), Hurricane Run (2006), Dylan Thomas (2007), Duke Of Marmalade (2008) and Highland Reel (2016).

Whether Tabor will lift the laurels for a seventh time this year, only time, and possibly his dual Derby winner Auguste Rodin, will tell.

It is not hard to see why the images of Montjeu, sauntering past his six rivals with jockey Mick Kinane sitting as motionless as if he were a statue atop a plinth, would not be the ones still burning brightly in Tabor’s mind.

The Aga Khan’s second-string Raypour set a clear early pace, with the owner’s iconic green and red epaulets colours also sported by Coronation Cup winner Daliapour, who tracked him until taking it up three furlongs from home.

Michael Tabor remembers his first King George victory above all others
Michael Tabor remembers his first King George victory above all others (Julian Herbert/PA)

Held up with Fantastic Light at the back of the field, the John Hammond-trained Montjeu made progress to two furlongs out, before he cruised to the lead a furlong out and quickly went clear, with Mick Kinane barely moving a bushy eyebrow in astonishment at the ease of victory.

To those watching from the stands and the six poor souls aboard the also-rans, the length-and-a-half victory margin felt like the distance of the M5 motorway, such was the imperious display from the four-year-old son of Sadler’s Wells.

He entered the mile-and-a-half showpiece with five Group Ones already to his credit, so little wonder he was sent off the 1-3 favourite.

“That is the one that really stands out,” said Tabor. “I did have good bet on him. I bet 5-2 on, I remember. I beat the SP, but it is not hard to beat the SP when you are having a big bet.”

Bred in Ireland by Sir James Goldsmith, who died in 1997 before the colt began his racing career, Montjeu’s ownership passed into the hands of Laure Boulay de la Meurthe, mother of two of Goldsmith’s children.

He won both starts as a juvenile for Chantilly-based Hammond, including the Listed Prix Isonomy, where he beat subsequent Group One Criterium de Saint-Cloud winner Spadoun.

“We saw Montjeu run in France as a two-year-old and we liked him,” said Tabor. “I suppose like a lot of people she adopted the attitude that if I sell half of it, which she did, I’ll be a winner both ways.”

Montjeu proved to be a brilliant three-year-old. Along with winning two French Group Twos, he took the French and Irish Derbys. Yet it was his majestic romp in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, where he showed his electric turn of foot, that stamped him into the annals of racing history.

“I remember him winning the Prix du Jockey Club and it was hock-deep that day,” added Tabor. “I was standing there and he was coming down the top bend, just cruising.

“Sheikh Mohammed was about 30 yards to my right. He just turned and as he walked past me, he just said, ‘well done’. I remember that distinctly,” he laughed.

“Also, I remember when he won the Arc. El Condor Pasa, the Japanese horse, sort of went clear and he picked him up in a matter of strides. He was brilliant.”

Hurricane Run (left) and jockey Christophe Soumillon gave Tabor a third King George in 2006
Hurricane Run (left) and jockey Christophe Soumillon gave Tabor a third King George in 2006 (Rebecca Naden/PA)

Hurricane Run was the other King George winner to carry Tabor’s famous royal blue and orange disk silks to victory in an equally memorable Arc, six years later.

“I don’t remember Hurricane Run’s King George win particularly well, or Galileo’s – it was a long time ago,” admitted the 81-year-old. “Didn’t he beat Fantastic Light?” He did, by two lengths. “I remember that. I remember his Derby run better, though.”

It is easy to forget Montjeu was not an easy horse to train, with Hammond surmising he was “an eccentric genius”.

He had a stunning CV. Voted the Cartier Three-Year-Old European Champion Colt, he also topped the International Classification in 1999. The six-time Group One winner became a leading sire for Coolmore and produced four Derby winners – Motivator, Authorized, Pour Moi and Camelot.

Though Tabor would admit that money and knowledge can reduce the risk when purchasing bloodstock, success still comes with an element of luck. Bookmaker, gambler and shrewd businessman, he has always backed himself – and most times has won spectacularly.

From humble beginnings, his entrepreneurial flair, work ethic and later, his fortune, helped shape and solidify the future of the Coolmore breeding empire, and has brought him astounding success as an owner.

Kieren Fallon received some great advice from Michael Tabor
Kieren Fallon received some great advice from Michael Tabor (Kim Houghton/PA)

Rarely is his judgement anything other than razor-sharp, as jockey Kieren Fallon found in the parade ring at Longchamp in 2005.

“There weren’t many runners in Montjeu’s Arc, whereas in Hurricane Run’s Arc, there was a big field,” said Tabor.

“I never say anything to jockeys and tell them what to do and what not to do, but on this occasion, I think Kieren said, ‘I’m drawn on the inside’.

“So I just said, ‘Kieren, for me, you just stay, stay, stay on the inside. It will open up, it will be a fast-run race and the thing is, if you get locked up, they’ll call you an idiot and if you stay there and win, you’ll be a genius! So, I would stay there’. And that was it.”

Fallon did as he was advised and the Andre Fabre-trained three-year-old won by a comfortable two lengths, a victory that even Tabor will not forget in a hurry.

York could feature on Auguste Rodin agenda after Ascot

Michael Tabor, co-owner of dual Derby winner Auguste Rodin, feels a drop down to 10 furlongs for the Juddmonte International will feature “high on the agenda” for the colt, with the Breeders’ Cup Classic also a possibility at the end of the season.

A rare son of late Japanese champion Deep Impact, Auguste Rodin gave trainer Aidan O’Brien his 100th European Classic win when Ryan Moore’s mount downed stablemate Adelaide River in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby at the Curragh on Sunday.

Owned in partnership with John and Susan Magnier, Derrick Smith and Georg von Opel’s Westerberg racing operation, Tabor’s famous royal blue and orange disk silks had previously been carried to victory at Epsom.

Auguste Rodin with trainer Aidan O’Brien and jockey Ryan Moore after winning the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby
Auguste Rodin with trainer Aidan O’Brien and jockey Ryan Moore after winning the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby (Brian Lawless/PA)

To some observers, his latest length-and-a-half success was unconvincing, a view Tabor agrees with.

He said: “I do think it is fair that people say he was only workmanlike. It wasn’t the fastest pace in the world, which didn’t suit him and when he hits the front, he only just does enough.

“I think and hope you’ll see a lot better horse when he runs next, let’s put it that way.

“Only time will tell, but people are right when they look at it, they were not impressed and that was the way it was.”

Having been the first horse since Harzand in 2016 to follow up victory in the Epsom blue riband, Auguste Rodin is a general 9-4 favourite to win the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot on July 29.

While the prospect of a second clash with Epsom runner-up and subsequent King Edward VII Stakes winner King Of Steel and last year’s Derby hero Desert Crown looks a mouthwatering prospect, Tabor feels the three-year-old has the speed to drop back in trip.

He added: “He could go down in trip if it presents itself, but at the moment, if you go forward, what is he going to run in? If you do go down in trip, what race would he run in?

“The Juddmonte International would obviously be on the agenda. The Breeders’ Cup Classic is a shot to nothing – that’s a tough one – but certainly the Juddmonte is high on the agenda.

Tabor (left) and Aidan O'Brien will look at 10-furlong options for Auguste Rodin
Tabor (left) and Aidan O’Brien will look at 10-furlong options for Auguste Rodin (PA)

“It’s a difficult call, but how long is it between the King George and the Juddmonte? It is about three and a half weeks (25 days). It’s enough time (for both races), I should think.

“Aidan knows what to do with the horses, but I would think that is a distinct possibility.

“He’s fast enough for 10 furlongs and the Breeders’ Cup is a possibility, for sure.”

Tabor relishing Eclipse challenge with Paddington

Part-owner Michael Tabor is anticipating a “fascinating duel” should Paddington take on Emily Upjohn in Saturday’s Coral-Eclipse at Sandown.

The three-year-old would be stepping up to 10 furlongs for the first time in Esher following his Irish 2,000 Guineas and St James’s Palace Stakes wins, while the year older Emily Upjohn will be dropping back from a mile and a half after landing the Coronation Cup at Epsom last month.

Paddington, who has won five of his six starts for trainer Aidan O’Brien, would be getting 7lb from Emily Upjohn, and Tabor thinks that could prove crucial.

Emily Upjohn appears to be Paddington's main rival at Sandown
Emily Upjohn appears to be Paddington’s main rival at Sandown (Steven Paston/PA)

He said: “I think we have Paddington in the Eclipse at the weekend.

“He is up against a very, very good mare, Emily Upjohn. It will be a fascinating duel. What can you say? We are getting 7lb weight for age, I suppose.

“It makes a difference, but don’t forget we are only a three-year-old and Emily is a four-year-old.

“She should be that much stronger, so it is all compensation, but we have to respect her.”

Tabor owns Paddington in partnership with John Magnier, Derrick Smith, Westerberg and Peter Brant, with all but the latter also involved in Luxembourg, who is also entered in the Eclipse.

Luxembourg won the Tattersalls Gold Cup earlier in the year
Luxembourg won the Tattersalls Gold Cup earlier in the year (Niall Carson/PA)

Winner of the Tattersalls Gold Cup before having to settle for second in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot, he is a best-priced 20-1 for the Sandown contest, although Tabor is unsure on his running plans.

He added: “I haven’t even asked Aidan if Luxembourg is running, or with Derrick or John, because we have been focussing on Paddington running, because he’s our number one.

“Luxembourg is a good horse. He will have his day in the sun soon. We always discuss it with Aidan – he would never say I’m running him in this race or whatever.”

Tabor anticipating Derby double bid for Auguste Rodin

Auguste Rodin could drop back in trip after attempting to complete a Derby double at the Curragh, according to Michael Tabor.

Owned in partnership with John and Susan Magnier, Derrick Smith and Georg von Opel’s Westerberg racing operation, Tabor’s famous royal blue and orange disk silks were carried to victory at Epsom thanks to an imperious Ryan Moore ride.

The half-length margin of success over King Of Steel did not do justice to the superiority he had over his 13 rivals in giving trainer Aidan O’Brien a ninth Derby success, just weeks after the colt was beaten 22 lengths in the 2000 Guineas.

Tabor is now confident the son of Deep Impact will head for the Irish Derby.

He said: “It was really good. It was what we obviously hoped for. We thought he could do it and he did. We are all delighted, naturally. It was one of the great days.

“I would say he’ll go to the Irish Derby. I haven’t discussed it, but it’s common sense to say he definitely goes to the Irish Derby. Then we’ll bring him back in trip – a mile and a quarter – for some of those races.”

Tabor has always hankered for a Triple Crown. The last colt to win the Guineas, Derby and St Leger was Nijinsky in 1970 and connections had hoped Auguste Rodin could replicate the feat.

However, although the middle leg has been won, Tabor feels that stepping up to a mile and three-quarters for the final Classic at Doncaster in September will now be ruled out.

“He won’t go to the St Leger,” he added. “In my mind, that Triple Crown dream is over. A St Leger horse is not what we are looking for, once he can’t do a Triple Crown.”

The Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at ParisLongchamp in October could be a future consideration, along with the Breeders’ Cup meeting at Santa Anita in November.

Tabor added: “It is a long way before the end of the year. We’ll see how he is. It could be the Arc, but the ground could be against him, although he won on soft as a two-year-old.

“We’ve even got the Breeders’ Cup as an option on the turf. We’ll see how he goes and have those discussions, I’m sure.”

Monday Musings: The Derby’s Record-Breaking Connections

For the past three years, observers of the British Turf have been all agog awaiting the equalling of the best-known of all Classic records – the late Lester Piggott’s nine Derby wins as a jockey, writes Tony Stafford.

He was kept in suspended animation as Aidan O’Brien was poised on eight as a trainer when outsider Serpentine collected in 2020, just 19 years after Galileo gave him the first victory. When Piggott died on May 29 last year, the record, to his still very active mind, remained intact.

Well, it isn’t any longer and, while Saturday’s extraordinary victory by winter favourite but 2000 Guineas flop Auguste Rodin has prompted the record-compilers to regard Aidan as the joint record-holder, two men actually share the honours with ten.

The first Derby was won by Diomed in 1780. His owner, Sir Charles Bunbury, famously the man who lost the toss with the then Earl of Derby to have the destined-to-be great race named after him, won it again 33 years later.

Others in between enjoyed a quicker repeat win, and sometimes as the decades and centuries wore on, with more than two. Among its winners were kings, princes, noblemen of all levels and Prime Ministers, mostly past. Never would any of those great gentlemen of the realm have considered that a young man born and bred in East Ham, East London would – with his partner – eclipse them all, and within a remarkable 22-year span. Aidan does have nine, but in between, Pour Moi, trained by Andre Fabre, makes ten.

When the first Coolmore triumvirate, instigated more than half a century ago, and founded on Robert Sangster’s Vernon’s Pools money, Vincent O’Brien’s training brilliance, and Vincent’s son-in-law John Magnier’s all-round knowledge of horses and business acumen, was beginning to wane – Royal Academy’s 1990 Breeders’ Cup Mile win under Lester was the final positive - it fell on Magnier to take charge.

Robert had the expense of Manton to take precedence; Vincent was about to retire and son David, who won the Derby with Secreto six years earlier when El Gran Senor was supposed to win for the team – he got the show back on the road in Secreto’s absence at The Curragh, was out of love with training and went to be a wine grower in Europe.

With Vincent leaving, it needed somebody special to take his place at Ballydoyle. Many were surprised at Magnier’s selection, which fell on a young man who had only recently taken out a licence.

A former amateur rider with Jim Bolger, Aidan O’Brien (no relation to Vincent) had joined his wife Anne-Marie (nee Crowley) in her training base where she had followed her father Joe and instantly become champion jumps trainer in Ireland.

Still in her early 20’s, she promptly retired to have their first child Joseph, and Aidan took up the reins, following her as champion over jumps and attracting Magnier’s shrewd notice. Aidan had started with Bolger when Tony McCoy was a young apprentice and Willie Mullins was also in the team.

Even earlier, at least 45 years ago when he was based in White’s Gate, Phoenix Park, Bolger told me that his ambition was to train a stable entirely of his own home-bred horses. How remarkable that he has pretty much achieved that aim and at the same time has been responsible for putting the three most influential individuals (himself and Magnier apart) in UK and Irish racing – the best flat trainer, the outstanding jumps trainer, and the best jump jockey of all time – on the righteous, unwavering path.

Bolger’s wish came so close to happening over the years, brought closer when he sent out homebred Teofilo, then acquired at auction New Approach, both unbeaten champion two-year-old winners of the Dewhurst from the early crops of Galileo, the latter winning the Derby in 2008. These two came at the start of a remarkable spell of five wins in six years. O’Brien has a total of eight, six coming from the next nine years.

It was only the astounding prices commanded that compelled the former accountant to swerve (slightly) from that ambition and accommodate Sheikh Mohammed’s interest. It has ensured that his family’s Redmondstown stud in his home Co Wexford, run by granddaughter Clare Manning (daughter of Una and Kevin Manning) has the resources to continue to thrive.

If identifying the training talent was important to John Magnier, it was even more fundamental to ensure a stream of investment to maintain and, as it proved, improve on what had gone before. Michael Tabor was already owning horses with Neville Callaghan, enjoying big-race success with the likes of Danehill Dancer and Danetime, both sons of Danehill.

Danehill Dancer eventually became a successful stallion at Coolmore and was a great producer and broodmare sire.  Meanwhile Tabor was minded to invest with the great US handler and former college basketball coach, D Wayne Lukas, king of the Breeders’ Cup. They promptly won the 1995 Kentucky Derby with Thunder Gulch.

I remember a call the following morning from his then close associate Victor Chandler saying: “Unbelievable. It could only have happened to Michael.” Previously one of the leading figures in racecourse betting activity, and about to cash in his off-course Arthur Prince betting shop empire, this was success right out of left field.

As with all successful men, he didn’t marvel at it, unbelievable as it clearly was to those who knew him best, but he made it a starting point, and while finding his ally in racing with Magnier and Coolmore, his business interests also burgeoned.

His greatest pride is in his family. Son Ashley Tabor-King is founder and boss of the massive and ever-expanding Global broadcasting company which has an on-going programme of projects aimed at giving a helping hand to young people, many from under-privileged backgrounds.

Meanwhile, within the Coolmore family, it wasn’t long before the dividends started. Michael timed his membership with the first Derby success for the trainer and for Galileo, by Sadler’s Wells, son of Northern Dancer, the stallion John Magnier and O’Brien senior convinced Robert Sangster that they had to invest in from US auctions if they wanted to compete on the world stage. Nijinsky and Sadler’s Wells were among the first.

Two equine generations on, recently deceased Galileo is having a similar overwhelming influence on the breed. His son Frankel has developed into the leading stallion for providing Classic horses although, as ever, breeding needs to outcross, and Auguste Rodin is the product of the fantastic multiple Group 1 mare Rhododendron (Galileo – Pivotal mare cross) by the multiple Japanese champion, Deep Impact. Now the Tabor ownership figure stands after Saturday at a mind-boggling ten – from just 23 renewals of the great race.

All through that time, the measured way Michael, John and their long-term associate Derrick Smith – in for the last eight – have modestly taken the success – and respected the unique nature of a race founded 243 years ago and which is yet to have been stopped by Wars, Covid and even would-be horse-racing-ending Animal Rising protesters.

Rightly, the Derby Roll of Honour is a short-cut to an understanding of the history of the sport from its days when a few dozen rich men matched their charges against each other up to the business where massive pots of country wealth have been grafted, with the aim of making their rulers pre-eminent in the annals of turf.

The winner of the Derby is a unique beast. He needs the speed to stay in touch with the pace and again to settle any lingering doubts as they go for home. He requires the adaptability to cope with the bends, cambers, rises and descents over these 12 furlongs of historic Surrey downland, and the resolution and temperament to handle the extraneous demands of a massive crowd that challenges their still only part-developed strength and character.

Derby horses are far from the finished article, but the race has proven to be the perfect test over time. Aidan O’Brien knows what’s needed so, while everyone was cogitating as to whether he was crazy or not after the unexpected flop of Auguste Rodin in the 2000 Guineas, the trainer himself was adamant that he was special; and his word is his bond for Messrs Magnier, Tabor, Smith, their sons and the other members of the ownership team such as Westerberg, the racing operation of auto magnate, Georg von Opel.

I had a fabulous trip with Harry Taylor and Alan Newman to Ballydoyle/Coolmore, I think four years ago now, met Galileo at Coolmore and had a nice look at the O’Brien team on the gallops. The lot we saw – second I think – consisted of 70 and all the jockeys, which included Adrian Maguire and Dean Gallagher to name but two – were instantly identified by name by the trainer.

Likewise, the horses. Afterwards in a quiet moment, I asked Aidan if he ever betted. Now excuse me if I have the number wrong but I’m pretty sure what he said was: “I did at one time when I was with Jim Bolger. My first 15 bets all won. The next one lost and I’ve never had another one since!”

I truly believe no other trainer would have dared run the horse that finished so far back at Newmarket, and Roger Varian for one is wishing he didn’t. Roger was described as looking “gutted” when visiting the boys in the box on Saturday; no wonder, for otherwise his King Of Steel, a 66/1 half-length runner-up on stable and seasonal debut, would have been a near five-length Derby hero.

Varian, who won the St Leger for Derrick Smith’s son Paul with Kingston Hill, is sure to gain further attention for, like O’Brien, he was fulsome in the constant encouragement of his colt’s chances, despite the massive odds.

Aidan might not be a betting man nowadays. The three main Coolmore owners certainly have been. In each case, though, they have transcended their earlier status to the extent that, thanks to Aidan O’Brien, their place in the fabric of the English Turf will be forever as the most important players in the history of the Derby. Nothing more, nothing less!

  • TS

Monday Musings: Playing the Long (Distance) Game

Sometimes the story exceeds its components: the myth overcomes reality, writes Tony Stafford. For instance, how many Stayers Hurdles has the now ten-year-old Paisley Park won in his 20-race, ten-win hurdles career? Two, no three one’s mind wants to say. We’ve seen Andrew Gemmell, his owner, celebrate so many times. Sorry memory – and that went for me too just now until I checked – it’s just the one.

Yes, that day almost three years ago now when the Emma Lavelle-trained gelding sailed up the Cheltenham hill under Aidan Coleman clear of Sam Spinner and the rest to create a magical afternoon also charmed by victory on Frodon under Bryony Frost.

The owner, blind from birth but able to build quite a stable of horses having spent a successful career working in local government, has moved on notably also as a leading shareholder among the Barbary Lions in the champion Alan King-trained Flat-race stayer Trueshan. Andrew has enjoyed many wonderful days but Saturday’s third victory for Paisley Park in the Grade 1 Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham was very different as he was unable to be present.

At the time Paisley Park came up the hill to tumultuous cheers from the packed stands, his owner was in London Bridge Hospital recovering from surgery on a heart valve. He was intent on getting the surgery out of the way so he can be at the Festival.

As to the Stayers Hurdle, in 2020, sent off at 4-6 Paisley Park was only seventh behind Lisnagar Oscar – a well beaten third on Saturday in receipt of 6lb. Last year, again favourite, albeit at a more conservative 9-4, he was third, closest at the line behind the all-the-way, indeed runaway, Irish six-year-old Flooring Porter.

Coming into Saturday, the auguries for Paisley Park were far from bright. He now has a 12lb lower handicap mark – a relatively modest 157 – than after that Stayers Hurdle triumph in 2019. He had been third three times in succession in lead-up races at Wetherby, Newbury and Ascot, latterly in the Long Walk Hurdle, a Grade 1 race he had previously won, around five lengths behind Champ.

Re-opposing on identical terms, the last expectation was that he would revive old memories and many people were talking up the re-directed chaser Champ as the likeliest Stayers Hurdle winner, the Irish excepted and in some cases included. Indeed, such had been the impression created at Ascot by the J P McManus horse that the Irish were temporarily forgotten especially when Klassical Dream’s much-anticipated midweek trial for the Festival ended in a weak-finishing fourth.

Now, in the manner of racing and the best tradition of wishful thinking – I’m up there wishing with them all, too – we’re projecting a nice win in a five-runner race onto success in a 15-runner championship event.

“Look at all that ground he lost when turning around as the other quartet set off”, they say. Well, try that tactic on the big day and see where it gets you if Flooring Porter goes hell for leather again. It’s hoping to turn a potential deal-breaker into a positive. Saturday’s field was thin with only two of the five-horse field both in-form (Lisnagar Oscar certainly was not) and proven at the trip.

Paisley Park remains a wonderful stayer and his victory allowed all the outpourings of emotion that are commonly ceded to jump racing’s longest-serving heroes. We should take it as one more very welcome reminder of his talent rather that expect him to match or improve on it in six weeks’ time.  For his owner, just imagine how agonising it must be having to hear rather than see it happening. A remarkable man!

Earlier on the same Cheltenham card, we saw a very likely Festival winner in the shape of the Gordon Elliott-trained Pied Piper. The way this four-year-old by New Approach was followed vainly up the hill by his lesser rivals suggests his breeder, HM The Queen, was far-sighted in naming him.

Trained by the Gosdens, an easy win off 89 at Leicester in heavy ground on his last run before Tatts Horses In Training sale brought a final mark of 96 and a sale price of 225,000gns. I wonder whether Charlie Longsdon ever suggested to the powers that be that the owner-breeder might enjoy jumping him herself. Money talks, it seems, even in places maybe you’d think it would not!

If he shows up for the Triumph on the Friday of the Festival he will obviously take all the beating, such was the style of the win. Gordon Elliott also has unbeaten-in-three Fil Dor and the usual maybe we’ll go for the Supreme chat entered the equation briefly. You win the Supreme with a four-year-old, so what? Win the Triumph and if two have to go for it, needs must.

It’s not the same thing exactly, but I remember a few years back when Refinement was proving herself a top-class mare in long-distance hurdles, I asked Michael Tabor whether he would breed from her.

His answer: “How bloody old would I need to be before she has a runner?”. A home-bred foaled in 1999, Refinement won 13 of 33 races and more than £360k. Already the mother of four winners -  West Coast Time (2012), Meticulous (2014) and Risk Factor (2015) - all won in the blue and orange silks, but her most exciting prospect is a horse foaled when she was 18 years old.

That horse, Walking On Air, is trained by Nicky Henderson and is the first of the quartet to be sired by Walk In The Park, one of the star jumping stallions among the Coolmore NH team. If ever there was continuity of ownership and production, Walking On Air is it.

Walk In The Park, trained by John Hammond, was a home-bred of Tabor’s Irish and French Derby winner Montjeu, also trained by Hammond, an Englishman based in France who retired in the last couple of years.

Walk In The Park was runner-up in Motivator’s 2005 Derby as a big outsider and started his stud career in France standing at only €1,500. He immediately showed his propensity to produce winners and he was hastily finessed into the Coolmore nursery. Nobody – apart from anyone asking to send their mare – has ever been publicly aware of his fee. Betcha it’s a fair few Euros now!

But what a pedigree, and the way the Nicky Henderson-trained Walking On Air bolted up at Newbury on hurdles debut recently – in a similar manner to Pied Piper on Saturday – may finally make MT fully satisfied that his long-term and slightly unwilling project was worthwhile.

This column often descends into ageist talk and this week’s prime candidate for inclusion is one who made the century before his death last week. That worthy was Dick Duchossois, owner of Arlington Park racecourse in Chicago and founder of its Arlington Million.

I had one enjoyable evening at his posh estate outside the centre of Chicago when there to watch the race in the 1990’s. Arriving with festivities in full swing, I looked around for people I knew and recognised Michael Dickinson, by this time training in the US. Michael was holding forth to a table of admiring fans. As I approached, he called the table to order and said: “Meet Tony Stafford, a journalist from England. He taught me everything I know about handicapping!” As well as talking to me every night when he was still a jockey and returning back home after his sauna sessions, he was on to Colin Russell and Walter Glynn all the time, too. I never claimed a monopoly on the information, it was just me lucky enough to be there.

Michael and Joan Wakefield were at Newcastle racecourse the other night, obviously checking up on the well-being of the Tapeta surface he invented. He was chatting to Jim Goldie and Joanna Mason outside the weighing room when my pal Wilf Storey and daughter Stella came out with the colours bag after Joanna rode his horse.

Jim asked Michael if he knew Wilf, adding he’s the oldest trainer around. Michael said he did but Wilf corrected Goldie saying Joanna’s grand-father (Mick Easterby) is the oldest and Dai Burchill (to retire after a winner later in the week) was also older than him. Wilf said Michael looks as young as ever. He will be 72 on Thursday if you can believe that!

Talking of trainers packing up, it’s a great shame that Mick Quinn has called it a day after his big owner Kenny Bruce ended their relationship. Mick seemed to suggest that Bruce, a partner with his brother in Purple Bricks, who are now calling themselves in their advertising the biggest estate agency in the UK, might return some time in the future. Presumably when he can better afford it!

Mick trained a few horses for Raymond Tooth including Stanhope, a home-bred sprinter who won races before being sold to Ireland where he continued to do well. When he decided to hand in his licence, he gifted his two horses to the Northern Racing College.

One of them and the last to win him a prize was Great Hall, for his second in a Huntingdon hurdle race as an 11-year-old in October last year. A son of Halling, Great Hall was named on the way back from Manton to London as Ray and I were driven back by Steve Gilbey after Ray bought him from Brian Meehan.

He was a smart middle-distance horse who ran in the St Leger and won eight flat races and one hurdle.  He will be a wonderful schoolmaster. Mick’s colleagues on Talk Sport will be happy to welcome him back as he has more availability for punditry and commentaries, and he also looks forward to resuming his entertaining after dinner speaking.

A very nice family man, Mick Quinn is one of the most down-to-earth and cheerful of people. If he feels he didn’t get full reward for the 25 years of effort, generally with modest horses, often like with Great Hall in their declining days, he has helped make a day at the races very enjoyable for anyone he ever encountered.

- TS

Monday Musings: Maximum Security in the Sportswash Classic

Michael Tabor has seen many amazing and unexpected things – more positive than negative – in his long association with horse racing around the globe, but I’d be willing to wager that the one-time King of the Punters would never have expected to see his colours carried in a race in Saudi Arabia, writes Tony Stafford. That happened (twice) on Saturday night in Riyadh and Maximum Security came out on top while sporting them in the world’s richest-ever horse race.

His friends in London could only marvel – “Typical Michael!” they said – when his Thunder Gulch won the Kentucky Derby as a near 25-1 shot coincidentally 25 year ago. That win was the forerunner to Tabor’s teaming up with John Magnier at Coolmore Stud, and Thunder Gulch stood throughout his stallion career at Ashford Stud, Coolmore’s Kentucky breeding arm, albeit without ever producing anything near his own eminence.

Now his friends back home are no longer shocked with anything achieved by the Coolmore triumvirate – Derrick Smith, like Tabor a former London-based bookmaker, was the latest addition - and he has shared in the last six (since Pour Moi in 2011) of the eight Epsom Derby wins for the team.

As time has gone on, M V Magnier, John’s son, has been increasingly visible, at the sales especially. He was the on-site presence on Saturday after Maximum Security came with a sustained run up the straight at the King Abdulaziz racecourse near Riyadh to win the inaugural Saudi Cup over nine furlongs of the dirt course. Modest and measured as ever, he embodies the Coolmore reserve in the face of their coruscating triumphs.

To say that recent events on the world stage have made for tensions in western countries’ attitudes to the Kingdom is an under-statement, but KSA (as it likes to be known) has hit on the idea of using sporting events to counter that negativity.

Whether it works or not is questionable but the fact that last year, by paying a handful of top golfers massive appearance fees (far beyond the actual winner’s prize) for a Saudi golf tournament, they did persuade them to come. One or two, indeed, didn’t make the cut for the last two days of the tournament, but never mind, they came and had a lucrative little jolly.

They certainly came from all around the world for the Saudi Cup with its world record prize fund of £15million – yes that WAS sterling! – easily outstripping previous record holders the Breeders’ Cup Classic, the Pegasus (briefly) and the Dubai World Cup where you might expect some of Saturday’s principals to reappear.

Whether four weeks would be deemed sufficient for Maximum Security to go again must be doubtful. He had a tough enough race in chasing down early leader and old rival Mucho Gusto up the straight and, once getting past the weaving-around leader, he then had to resist the vigorously-ridden US mare Midnight Bisou in the final half-furlong.

The riders of three of the first four home were given suspensions, all for whip offences. Mike Smith on the runner-up, had 60 per cent of his share of the £2.6million second prize docked for hitting her 14 times (maximum ten) as she came from last to almost winning in the straight. Oisin Murphy, on the gallant third Benbatl, got a couple of days, but can shrug off whatever sanction he got when partnering the same horse in the World Cup.

The versatile six-year-old, a recent convert to dirt racing, will now assuredly go as Saeed Bin Suroor’s main chance of a tenth winner of his country’s principal race. The Americans will again provide the biggest threat to a home winner as they have ever since the great Cigar, trained by Bill Mott, was the first of their 11 victors in the inaugural running in 1996. American-trained horses filled four of the first five places, confirming that dirt is their playground.

The path to a Saudi win for the Tabor colours – Aidan O’Brien’s globe-trotting mare Magic Wand was the other, filling ninth spot and collecting an acceptable-enough £225,000 for her efforts – needed some understanding from Gary and Mary West, the breeders and, thereto, outright owners of the colt.

They had suffered the ultimate penalty back on the first Saturday in May last year when Maximum Security was “taken down” after crossing the line first in the Derby for an incident on the home turn when jockey Luis Saez was deemed to have caused significant interference. He was placed officially 17th of the 19 runners and the Wests’ mood at their misfortunate could hardly have been improved

when he failed when a 1-20 shot next time in a Monmouth Park Listed race. They could easily have dumped the jockey as a result and the new owners were wise enough to leave well alone.

Happily, consecutive wins in the Grade 1 Haskell back at Monmouth, a Grade 3 at Belmont and finally the Grade 1 Cigar Mile were enough to clinch the champion three-year-old colt Eclipse Award for the Jason Servis-trained colt. Coolmore stepped in for a half share, making it three recent “winners” of the Kentucky Derby to stand at Ashford. He will follow in the steps of American Pharoah (2015) and Justify (2018), the only Triple Crown winners since Affirmed in 1978.

New Year’s Day, Maximum Security’s sire, is a son of Sheikh Mohammed’s Street Cry, most famed for siring 37-time winner Winx. New Year’s Day raced only three times, all as a juvenile, winning the last two, a Del Mar maiden race and then the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. In that race he beat Coolmore-owned Havana, previously unbeaten and sporting the Tabor colours.

There was a link to Justify in Saturday’s big race. Gronkowski, the mount of Frankie Dettori and running for Phoenix Thoroughbred III and Khalid bin Mishref, sent over from his present base in Dubai, met Justify in the Belmont Stakes, the final outing in a six-race unbeaten career for the latter. Previously with Jeremy Noseda he was being prepped for the Kentucky Derby and won four consecutive all-weather races for the now-retired (but no doubt probably to return) Newmarket trainer.

I’m pretty sure that the last of them was a win-and-you’re-in qualifier, but in the end Phoenix fell out with Noseda and switched Gronkowski to top US trainer Chad Brown. He didn’t take up the Derby engagement, but Brown aimed him at the Belmont and he finished a one-length second to Justify who retired as the only ever unbeaten Triple Crown winner among the 13 possessors of that distinction. Even Secretariat lost five times!

Noseda’s former wife Sally is a sister to Lady Cecil and also trainers Rae and Richard Guest. The family is largely based around Newmarket but Richard has been based for many years in the North, riding the winner of the Grand National for Durham-based Norman Mason, and then training from a yard in Yorkshire. This week comes news that he is coming to town to join his siblings, effectively as private trainer to construction businessman Simon Lockyer, who most recently had his team with Shaun Keightley.