In late April when the first clamour for a resumption of racing was brewing up with, at the forefront, particular criticism of the BHA in the person of Nick Rust’s perceived failure to hurry the process along, there were still more than 5,500 UK weekly deaths from Covid-19, writes Tony Stafford.
By the time the announcement came that June 1 would be the witching hour, the figure was still above 2,500. Time and history will show that the starting date coincided with numbers in the 1600’s and by yesterday, over the last week, the fifth since racing resumed, the number was down to 680, barely ten per cent of the peak in early April. New daily infections, despite massively greater testing, were around only one-sixth of the peak figures.
The BHA, in conjunction with France, who started two weeks earlier, and Ireland, a week after us, has managed to salvage a great part of the Pattern. So in the short time since the resumption, we have seen the crowning of a true champion filly in the emphatic 1,000 Guineas and superlative Oaks heroine Love; the development from an occasional soft-Group bully into a fully grown-up superstar in Ghaiyyath, conqueror of Enable and Japan in the Coral-Eclipse; the confirmation of Stradivarius’ place in the pantheon of great stayers and so much more. A start any later than June 1 would have made all that impossible while any earlier would have been highly contentious.
I have a feeling that Love will be the Horse of the Year and I hear Ryan Moore believes she is better than Minding, her predecessor to a 2016 1,000 Guineas/Oaks double on the way to seven Group 1 wins in a career tally reading 9/3/1 from 13 starts. The common link of course is Galileo, also as if it were ever going to be in question, once again sire of the Investec Derby winner on Saturday, albeit not the most likely one, either by riding arrangement or betting prominence.
Five Galileo colts turned out in the 16-runner Derby line-up on Saturday, including the spectacular five-and-a-half length all-the-way winner Serpentine, and the other four were all in the seven-horse cluster from second to eighth, supplemented by two Andrew Balding runners, 50-1 second Khalifa Sat and the 2,000 Guineas winner Kameko, who was fourth. He, like all the other fancied runners, was never nearer at any time than the finish. English King, the mount of Frankie Dettori, also ended in that group, fifth after a tardy start from stall one, more in the manner of an unraced two-year-old than a race-hardened Classic contender.
You can bet that there will be much more to come from the other O’Brien/Coolmore team members in that respectful grouping as the season progresses.
Amhran Na Bhriann, a 66-1 shot, was, like the runner-up always nearest and clear of the remainder if never close enough to challenge the winner. Their more-fancied trio of Mogul, Russian Emperor and Vatican City, who filled sixth to eighth places will have plenty of opportunities as the season progresses.
Emmet McNamara’s ice-cool ride, a week after his near-miss on Tiger Moth in the Irish Derby shows that the riding talent on the gallops at Ballydoyle extends well into the support team.
This was a fifth Derby triumph for Galileo, himself one of the best winners of that race. Serpentine follows New Approach, Ruler Of the World, Australia and Anthony Van Dyck as the champion stallion’s quintet. The last four were trained by O’Brien, who with eight wins is now the leading trainer in all the 240-year history of the great race. Michael Tabor and Mrs Sue Magnier both appear in the partnerships of nine Derby winners, the most ever, a figure equalling the long-standing tally of Lester Piggott’s unique riding record.
If anyone had suggested to the East End-born former hairdresser and bookmaker that one day he would make history in this respect, he would have laughed. You’re not laughing now, Michael!
Actually, probably you are.
In his run before the Derby, Serpentine was still a maiden, something he corrected in very similar fashion to Saturday’s virtuoso show just six days before his great success. That statistic fuels the suggestion that ten- and 12-furlong maiden form in Ireland early in this truncated season is probably equivalent to UK Group 3 level at least. Such as Tiger Moth (Irish Derby second) and Ennistymon (Oaks third on Saturday), are among 19 winners for the sire back home since the resumption on June 8. In that time Group 1 wins for Magical, who seems sure soon to resume rivalry with Enable after their impressive respective returns to action, and Peaceful in the Irish 1,000, have been the domestic highlights.
The latter filly’s rider, Seamie Heffernan, her greatest admirer, might well have been in not quite the best frame of mind when partnering Peaceful to a close third in the Prix De Diane in Chantilly yesterday. In the first colours of Michael Tabor he was always struggling for room as Coronation Stakes winner Alpine Star set the pace from the Donnacha O’Brien-trained Fancy Blue, sporting the all-blue cap second colours of Mr Tabor.
Seamie had clearly forgotten the newly-installed French whip requirement of hitting a horse no more than five times. In the Prix Du Jockey-Club (French Derby) which preceded the Diane, he was found to have hit pace-setter Order Of Australia 11 times on his way to seventh place only four and a half lengths behind the winner Mishrif, trained by John Gosden for Prince AA Faisal.
In Ireland or the UK you could imagine a maximum few days for a similar effort but the French not only frown on numbers, they took the importance of the race (and presumably the greater likelihood of public sensibilities being offended) into account and came up with a number for the Heffernan misdemeanour, 22.
Given that Heffernan was already resigned to spending the first 14 days after fulfilling his trip to the Derby Days of the UK and France in quarantine back home, he will now be free to concentrate his efforts fully on the Ballydoyle gallops as he will be off the track until... August 9.
Blimey! Lockdown mark 2!
It’s not taking long for Donnacha, 21, to follow his equally precocious elder brother Joseph into adding Classic success as a trainer to Classic wins and championships as a jockey. His first turf winner as a trainer came only last week by which time Fancy Blue had already given him a placed runner when second to Peaceful in the Irish 1,000. Now, under former French champion Pierre Charles- Boudot, the same filly raced just ahead rather than a few lengths behind her rival and did well to hold Arctic Star and Peaceful in a tight finish.
In the UK since the resumption there have been fewer Galileo victories, 11 in all since June 1, but four of these, two for Love, one for Septentine, and also Circus Maximus in Ascot’s Queen Anne Stakes have been at Group 1 level, and two more at Group 3 for Russian Emperor and Nayef Road. Four of the other five have been in handicaps, three of them for a modestly-rated horse who also started out under the Coolmore banner.
Until this year the seven-year-old Le Musee was regarded as a decent chaser with a 147 rating. His last run before racing’s resumption was at the Cheltenham Festival where he finished 13th of 23 in the Kim Muir having won twice in the previous summer.
Nigel Hawke is his trainer and the West Countryman has for many years been highly-respected as a jumps handler with successive tallies over the past seven seasons of 19, 19, 11, 28, 17, 16 and 17. Contrastingly, before this year from a total of 76 runners on the Flat over 23 years he didn’t send out a single winner.
Then In January, between runs at 100-1 at Newbury and latterly in that Kim Muir, he decided to try Le Musee on the Flat, and he was rewarded with his and the horse’s joint first Flat-race success at Southwell in January.
When he originally showed up for sale in France as a yearling, Le Musee was bought by Coolmore for Euro 300,000 and was sent to be trained by Andre Fabre. Unraced at two, he finished a 20-length sixth in the Tabor colours on his sole three-year-old start in a March Compiegne maiden. His next outing was at the Arqana summer sales where Hawke picked him up for Euro 3,000.
He took his time, gelding him the following October and before making the track Le Musee had a wind operation in July 2017. His first start for Hawke was as a five-year-old over hurdles and he proved quite useful, winning twice. By the time he shipped up at Cheltenham this spring he was having his 24th run for the stable within 26 months, a compliment to the trainer’s skills at keeping fit and well a gelding that had proved hard to train for the redoubtable M. Fabre.
Already a winner on the Flat, post-lockdown Hawke decided to exploit his gelding’s great stamina and also a highly-tempting handicap mark in the 60’s. This was more than 80lb lower than the jumps figure and therefore potentially a stone or two too low. In the past five weeks Le Musee has gone to the track three times and won them all, first at Newcastle and then twice at Chepstow. Judged on the economical way he races, just getting up late, more success should follow.
It seems only poetic justice for Hawke who must have spent the last seven years regretting his actions over another bargain sales recruit who stayed in his care only long enough to make a winning debut in a juvenile hurdle. That horse was a son of another Derby winner, Authorised, out of a mare by Mrs Magnier’s and Michael Tabor’s Entrepreneur, winner of the 2,000 Guineas and beaten odds-on favourite for the 1997 Derby.
Unraced for Sheikh Mohammed, Tiger Roll cost the princely sum of 10,000gns from the Darley consignment at Doncaster sales in August of his three-year--old season. On debut at Market Rasen in early November he won easily at 12-1 and if they got a few bob there, another £80k came into the coffers of his owners when Mags O’Toole paid £80,000 for him at Brightwells sale at Cheltenham racecourse the following month.
Within three-months Gordon Elliott had produced the gelding to win the Triumph Hurdle on his way to more than £1.3 million in prizes, two Grand Nationals, four Festival wins and greater national fame than Love, Serpentine or even Enable will earn in their careers. Nigel Hawke deserved to get one back after that. It’s nice that a Coolmore reject should have persuaded him that he can indeed train Flat horses.
For most ordinary owners, picking up crumbs from the rich man’s table is often the only realistic route to racing success. There are three days of breeze ups and Horses in Training on offer at Tattersall’s in Newmarket from Wednesday and in this strange year of all years there will undoubtedly be some cast-offs with more than a little potential for the shrewdies to unearth. Good luck!