I didn’t realise it at the time, watching the finish of the race, but I wish Party Playboy had won Saturday’s Emirates Cesarewitch (sounds funny, EMIRATES Cesarewitch doesn’t it!), writes Tony Stafford. As Stratum came up to the line narrowly in front, the name Mullins reverberated. It was only hours afterwards that I noticed that Willie’s 25-1 shot – by far the longest-priced of his three runners - had denied brother Tony’s 50-1 outsider by half a length.
Oblivious to the runner-up’s identity, I neglected to pay a visit to the winner’s enclosure, and attempting to put that right, spent much of yesterday trying in vain to reach him at the stable. I’d mislaid his (and many other long-held mobile numbers) when leaving my previous phone on the roof of Jonathan Powell’s car as he drove off from the Ascot car park last year.
We have history. In my “why don’t you send one to…” days, I suggested to Tony in the summer of 1992 he find a suitable horse for Wilf Storey reckoning no one would suspect the impending gamble. He did, producing a mare, Carla Adams, that he hadn’t run since acquiring her after she had been bought out of Ginger McCain’s stable for a couple of grand. In four runs for Red Rum’s trainer she showed nothing, twice having the benefit of the services of one Donald McCain junior, at the time a 7lb claimer and long before his illustrious training career.
So Carla was readied for a selling hurdle. The money was on and she started favourite, but after leading under Kevin Doolan, she fell away and was unplaced. Wilf and as far as my dimming memory can recall, Tony also, couldn’t believe it, so she turned out again three days later with a slightly better result, third of eight in a Hexham handicap under Kenny Johnson.
You’d think she’d be tightening up after those two quick runs but for some reason unknown to the trainer(s) the weight just wouldn’t come off. A return to Hexham two weeks later brought an even more disappointing outcome and Kevin Doolan suggested she might be in foal – horror of horrors. The vet was called. He duly inserted his hand where it is needed to investigate and declared: “She’s about six months!”
Hence the 485 days’ absence from action during which time she produced a bonny chestnut colt which was to bounce around Grange Farm, Muggleswick, for three years before finding a buyer as a riding horse. “He never got above 14.3hh” recalls Wilf.
He added: “Some time after the vet’s visit we found out she’d been covered by a black and white <coloured> horse while in the ownership of the buyer. I caught up with him at Doncaster sales and asked him for some “luck”. He said: ‘Her foal’s by one of the best coloured horses in Ireland. You don’t need any more luck than that!’”
That episode was to lead 15 years later to my getting the job with Raymond Tooth. I was in his company on the day Punjabi finished fourth in the 2007 Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham and was hurrying from Victor Chandler’s marquee where we were based that day for the toilet in my “soon to be diagnosed as diabetic” stage. En route I saw Tony engrossed on a phone call. Waving, I was about to pass him when he stopped the call and said “hold on”. I waited, crossing my legs to stave off the potential embarrassment, which happily didn’t happen.
Tony quickly ended his call and said: “You mustn’t miss mine in the last.” ‘Mine’ was the nine-year-old Pedrobob, a prolific winner already with six victories including a five-length defeat of Beef or Salmon on his card. Lightly-raced, somehow he got into the County Hurdle on bottom-weight, and under Paul Carberry duly strolled home at 12-1.
Mr T and his entourage had already left the track and were waiting in a lay-by in the chauffeur-driven Bentley listening to the race having received the intelligence just before their departure. The following Monday morning I received a call from Raymond asking me to come to his office whereupon he offered me the racing manager (in his words ‘advisor’) post and, otherwise unengaged, I accepted. We’re still just about clinging together on greatly reduced numbers and I’ll be at Windsor today, if it survives the inspection, hoping his home-bred Nathaniel filly Say Nothing can finally say something!
The Cesarewitch was a race in which traditionally the Irish struggled to make any impact. In the modern era – I’ve been looking at 1974 (and Ocean King, 25-1 winning tip!) onwards – it was not until Dermot Weld brought the brilliant Vintage Crop to win as the 5-1 favourite in 1992 that there was an Irish-trained winner. Tony Martin followed in 2007 with Leg Spinner, and Low Sun won for Willie Mullins last year.
All three trainers were represented on Saturday, bolstered by Tony and nephew Emmet Mullins, David Henry Kelly and Aidan O’Brien. Apart from O’Brien’s Cypress Creek, a died-in-the-wool Flat performer with a pedigree to match, the others all had National Hunt connections and all eight Irish runners came home in the first 14 of a 30-runner line-up.
English jumps trainers like Nicky Henderson and Alan King have often provided fancied and in some cases successful runners but Saturday’s result will surely encourage more Irish jumping trainers to target the race, especially now with its massive £350,000 prize pool. Mark Johnston and Hughie Morrison were third and fourth respectively with Summer Moon (50-1) and Not So Sleepy (33-1). The first three produced a £44,000 Tricast dividend to a £1 stake. A first-four style Superfecta bet would have had cumulative odds of around one million to one.
Party Playboy is a strange horse. Rarely can a maiden have got into the Cesarewitch, so strong usually is the demand for places, but oddly this year there was not even a full field. An 82 rating after 14 career Flat races, the first seven in France and Germany producing six placings, was enough to give Party Playboy his place in the line-up. For a while a furlong out he looked the likely winner. The fact that in 23 career starts his only victory came in a hurdle race might suggest he does not have too much in the determination stakes, but a 113 mark there should enable Tony to exploit him over hurdles this winter. Tony though, I read, has a $2 million race in Saudi Arabia in February on his radar. He better not tell his brother about it!
The six other Irish runners on Saturday, with the exception of dual bumper horse Sneaky Getaway who finished sixth and looks sure to be a top novice for Emmet Mullins this winter, have jumps ratings. Most of them come into the usual 40-50 differential Flat to jumps bracket save Buildmeupbuttercup, just 34lb higher, so Willie Mullins may make hay with her.
There was a domestic example of a potentially-lenient jumps mark on show on Saturday and the highly-skilled dual-purpose trainer Ian Williams certainly identified the potential for Speed Company in a nice handicap hurdle at Chepstow. Rated 89 on the Flat after a successful summer, he was only on 119 after four placed runs in novices and two handicaps over jumps and duly obliged. He’s one to watch out for in either code from now on, as is his handler.