In the latter half of last week’s missive I took you back to June 1989, writes Tony Stafford. Today I’m going another year, all but two days, and the eve of day one of Royal Ascot. The feature and only Group 1 event of the day, and in those days carrying more than double the prizemoney of the Group 2 Queen Anne and Prince of Wales’s Stakes on that afternoon, was the St James’s Palace Stakes.
I’d gone on the Monday evening down to Holland Park Road in leafy West London with trainer Geoff Huffer and I remember there was much discussion about whether Persian Heights, whom Geoff trained for Prince Yazid Saud (son of King Saud, the Ruler of Saudi Arabia in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s) should take his place in the field.
Until checking back I’d forgotten the reason for what was in effect a summit meeting as it entailed something of a gamble. Persian Heights had made his seasonal reappearance as recently as the previous Wednesday at Newbury, when he won a conditions race by an easy four lengths.
Obviously it was going to be a risk and I’m not quite sure why I was there, but there I was. Also in the house that evening was Tony Nerses, nowadays the brains behind Kuwaiti Imad Al Sagar’s bloodstock interests, but in those days the secretary for Prince Yazid.
Mr Sagar, with his then partner Saleh Al Homaizi, also a Kuwaiti, won the 2007 Derby with Authorized, trained by Peter Chapple-Hyam; and that victory has provided Tony with a great advertising vehicle. Whenever his boss has a non-home-bred winner, it’s always accompanied with “purchase Authorized by Tony Nerses”.
At some time later that evening, mid-discussion, Geoff and I crossed the road to another of the grand houses in that select enclave – God knows what they would be worth now! I did look, you wouldn’t want to know!
There we met one of Prince Yazid’s fellow Saudi Arabian Royal family members, Prince Abdul Rahman Abdullah Faisal, and blow me down when on Saturday night his horse Mishriff, trained by John Gosden and ridden by 21-year-old David Egan, exceeded all previous expectations by winning the world’s most valuable race, the Saudi Cup, from the American-trained second favourite Charlatan, in turn ridden by one of the world’s most celebrated and successful jockeys, Mike Smith.
I’m delighted for the Prince who goes sometimes as Prince A A Faisal but more often as plain – well not so plain, just look at the Garrards of London-made all-gold trophy that’s almost as tall as its recipient – Prince Faisal. At home he needs the initials, there’s a bit of competition for that first name among the family.
They were all friends and indeed relatives with the late Prince Ahmed bin Salman (late son of the present King Salman) of Thoroughbred Corporation fame. He won the 1999 Derby with Oath, four Triple Crown races in two successive years without managing to get all three together as well as umpteen other major races around the world.
Even before 1988, when they were very young men, Yazid and Ahmed were partners together in several good horses, often high-class sprinters trained by Bill O’Gorman running precisely in those two first names.
Well to cut a circuitous route slightly shorter, the decision was made. Persian Heights ran and won comfortably and, while never really graduating any further in his own career, he did leave an indelible mark on the thoroughbred breeding world by being the sire of the great stayer Persian Punch.
Winner of 20 of his 63 career starts for trainer David Elsworth and owner Jeff Smith, only four times did he step below stakes class and he won on all those four occasions. Sixteen stakes wins is right up there and I know from experience that Mr Elsworth never likes to worry about winning a small race when a tilt at a much bigger target is in his sights.
I bought Prince Yazid a few horses after my own first trip to Saudi Arabia in the late 1990’s to race in France where he was based at that time and I later lost touch. I know on returning home, he was in charge of arrangements for the Hajj where Muslim pilgrims travel to the Holy City of Mecca, a journey they are required to make at least once in their lives.
Prince Faisal meanwhile was breeding some top-class horses to run in his purple, grey epaulettes colours from his prolific broodmare Rafha, winner of the 1990 Prix de Diane for Henry Cecil. The best was easily Invincible Spirit, a sprint-bred son of Green Desert who won seven of 17 starts for John Dunlop but turned into a phenomenal stallion for the Irish National Stud.
Initially standing at a cost of €10k, as his accomplishments increased so did his fee and, at its height from 2016-9, he commanded an investment of €120,000. Down to €100k last year it has taken another little trim to €80k, but his shareholders who took the initial risk won’t be complaining. After all that’s not bad for a 24-year-old!
Kodiac, his half-brother by top Classic sire Danehill, didn’t measure up as a racehorse. I met the Prince at Newmarket on a July Saturday in 2003 and we had a cup of tea together before his colt’s juvenile debut. He was optimistic before the race and was happy afterwards about his third place finish.
Four wins came from his 24 career starts, none in stakes, but Tony O’Callaghan, the shrewd boss of Tally Ho Stud, bought him and quickly turned him into the world’s most consistent and prolific sire of two-year-olds. His fee, originally €5,000, has been at a high of €65,000 for the last three breeding seasons and the now 20-year-old shows no sign of slowing down as neither does Tony.
It was remarkable that the Prince was so astute to secure the services of the then 20-year-old David Egan as early as he did in his career. Egan travelled to Riyadh for the meeting last year when Mishriff, on his three-year-old debut, finished second in the inaugural Saudi Derby.
Mishriff then returned to Europe and won a Listed race at Newmarket under Egan, but wins in the French Derby and a Group 2 at Deauville were unavailable to the jockey with the Covid travel ban in place. Ioritz Mendizabal and then Frankie Dettori were the happy recipients of Egan’s misfortune. He ran his only disappointing race, again with Dettori in the saddle, when unplaced behind Addeybb at the Champions meeting at Ascot in October on what Gosden has described as the worst ground at any UK meeting he can recall.
Saturday’s victory, on his first run since – this time Dettori was on an unplaced stable-companion – carried the astronomic winner’s prize of £7.29 million, so a nice windfall in percentage terms for Mr Gosden – whose handling of this home-bred colt has been masterful – and Egan. His opportunistic and unflustered riding has to be taken in the context of the opposition and importance of the day. How proud his father John, in the crowd and still a potent jockey in his 50’s, must have been.
Mr Sagar was in Riyadh for the weekend as was Hollie Doyle principally to ride his gelding Extra Elusive – who seemed not to enjoy the dirt surface – in the big race. To show in just how high regard she is held, she got the ride on the Willie Mullins-trained eight-year-old mare True Self in a ten and a half furlong turf race and they won comfortably. Hollie’s share of the £439k first prize will keep partner Tom Marquand happy down in Sydney while he waits out his quarantine.
While the top two were from the upper end of racing’s hierarchy – the runner-up was a $700,000 dollar buy and ran for Bob Baffert - the third horse home has a much more proletarian heritage.
The five-year-old Great Scot was originally prepared for sale by Rachael and Richard Kempster of Kinsale Farm near Oswestry, Shropshire, and was led out unsold as a yearling for 2,500gns at the mixed Ascot sale. The Kempsters also got a less than brilliant result at the same venue when offering some disappointing Raymond Tooth horses also raised on their farm.
Unlike them Great Scot went on to race for a syndicate of owners – the Empire States Partnership and was originally trained by Tom Dascombe. Seeing the names involved at the time of that yearling sale, I suspect some footballers possibly associated with Michael Owen, who owns Dascombe’s stables, might have been involved.
He won four of 11 races, getting up to a rating of 111, so I expect they got a nice windfall when passing him on. Next time he appeared it was in last year’s Saudi Cup where he finished only 12th of 14 at 100/1 running off the boat as it were.
The latter part of last year was much more fruitful with wins by 12 lengths and then three lengths before a four-length success in a £78k Listed race last month.
Intriguingly – I hinted there was a Prince Faisal or two – Great Scot is owned by Prince Faisal Bin Khalid (so son of a previous King) and trained by Abdullah Mushrif. Confused? You will be. When the Empire State Partnership people realise that yesterday’s run, still at 66-1 despite the three spectacular wins, earned this Prince £1,459,000 they will no doubt take a moment from watching the football on telly. As for the Kempsters, who run a very nice efficient farm where Punjabi has spent his retirement, they can congratulate themselves for their part in the story.
On the domestic front, Saturday also featured the reincarnation of Goshen, incidentally a son of Authorized, in Wincanton’s Kingwell Hurdle. Beaten three times since his last-flight fall in the 2020 Triumph Hurdle and in those defeats, showing little sign that he was still a smart performer, he slaughtered his field by 22 lengths, surely ending Song For Someone’s Champion Hurdle hopes.
More interestingly, as the ground dries out will the connections of Honeysuckle, so impressive last weekend at Leopardstown, start to think that maybe the mares’ race over an extra half mile will provide less of a gamble. Faster ground and two miles suits Goshen and almost certainly Epatante. Decisions, decisions!