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Monday Musings: Poet-ic Justice

When the seven-year-old gelding One Cool Poet approached the finish of his second-ever steeplechase at Tipperary on July 21 it is unlikely that his owners, the DRFG Partnership, or trainer Matthew J Smith, who operates from Kilmessan, Co Meath, would have envisaged what the next two weeks might bring, writes Tony Stafford.

After the final fence at Tipperary, the seven-year-old, contesting his 29th career race (one win first time as a three-year-old in 2015) looked sure to double that score. Then the J P McManus colours, sported by the Gordon Elliott-trained and Davy Russell-ridden Touch Base loomed up, caught him close home and beat him half a length.

With nine runs over hurdles and a fair number of places from them, some imminent further Summer jumping looked the order of the day, but Smith and the owners chose a different tack and by Saturday evening had collected three first prizes, all in handicaps, to light up the Galway Festival.

For many years the clash between Goodwood and Galway has been an irritation for me. Until around ten years ago, work compelled me to attend Goodwood and while it’s something of a habit nowadays, I still go. Not that a disappointing drowning first day on Tuesday, dovetailing with other newer requirements caused me to question whether I might be better served trying a couple of days for the first time at Galway in 2020. If I can see my way clear!

Before detailing last week, it might be interesting to see how One Cool Poet arrived at where he was as Galway approached. Unconventionally, he started life on the Flat in Arthur Moore’s predominantly jumps yard, running three times at two, starting 66-1 on all three occasions with the same owners as now.

It’s a pity I didn’t listen to Fran Berry’s comments on Racing TV as it was he that rode him first time out and then again on his three-year-old bow when he started only 8-1 and won nicely. The rest of that year brought very little, one second place in five runs, and there was a gap of 839 days before he showed up with Matthew J for a couple of outings early in 2018.

The interesting part came later in the year when from August 9th to November 6th he ran ten times in 110 days, busy enough, switching competently (apart from winning) between Flat, including once on the all-weather at Dundalk, and hurdles and collecting six places. That established his Flat mark at 62 and hurdles 40lb higher.

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Between October 13th and 29th he ran in three Flat handicaps, earning good places in big fields the last twice, almost serving an audition for the following year’s hyper-activity.

November 6th 2018, a two and a half mile handicap hurdle, was the date of his final run and another 218 days elapsed before he returned, lined up for an initial chase over 2m5f at Punchestown. Two more decent Flat runs followed, places at Leopardstown and Limerick, before the near miss at Tipperary.

Then came Galway. There was plenty of money for him as he lined up on Tuesday for a surely- inadequate eight and a half furlong 0-70 handicap under Billy Lee, but he brought him fast and late to beat Emphatic by a neck. Two days later, under 6lb extra (72) he was delivered by Lee to similar effect this time over a mile and a half and with, if I can say so, a more emphatic margin of one and a half lengths.

So to Saturday, now with 12lb more than the first win, which would surely anchor him, especially with Aidan and Joseph O’Brien both having fancied runners. The highly unlikely hat-trick proved almost routine as he romped to by far the easiest win of the three. This time it was five lengths and after coursing the field into the straight, he bounded away and was back on the bridle, easing up before the finish.

Now he can expect a rise in his mark to around 84, but maybe connections might not be too worried, as he stands as a maiden over hurdles and fences on a mark of 102, when an 84 rating might normally equate to 130. So just the two stone in hand!

I hadn’t heard much about Matthew J Smith, except to understand that anyone clever enough to plan such a feat would know the time of day as so many under-patronised trainers do, especially in Ireland.

Even with the three wins last week, Smith has only four successes from his 19 runs on the Flat and two from 22 over jumps in the present season. Nine wins in the previous jumps campaign was his best, and he’s never sent out more than four Flat winners in a year. Just watching that race on Saturday was the biggest pleasure of the week for me.

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The best part of Goodwood, contrastingly, was the performance of Charlie Hills. I couldn’t add up the number of times that otherwise knowledgeable racing people have told me he couldn’t train. Where did that come from?

Starting in 2012 and taking over from his legendary father Barry, he knocked out a first Classic winner the following spring when Just the Judge won the Irish 1,000 Guineas and if he doesn’t quite have the bite and sharpness of Barry, he is constantly courteous and helpful to the media, while the results speak volumes.

His handling of the former handful that is Battaash was shown to have been a battle overwhelmingly won when that reformed character won a third King George Stakes without a semblance of worry last week. Further cracks at the Nunthorpe and Abbaye loom with Blue Point safely out the way.

A nice winner for Prince Khalid Abdullah followed on Thursday with a maiden filly, Vividly, but Saturday was his; first with a dominant performance by Khaadem in the Hamdan colours making a mockery of the Stewards’ Cup’s reputation as an “impossible” handicap and then perhaps a more interesting result with another juvenile winner.

This time it was first-time-out scorer Persuasion in the purple silks of Mrs Susan Roy. He won the always-competitive seven-furlong maiden with a strong finish. Persuasion is the second juvenile colt following Fleeting Prince that has won since being sent from Jeremy Noseda’s stable upon the sudden retirement of the former trainer.

One thing Paul and Susan Roy might not have expected was the starting price of the son of Acclamation, which returned – like Vividly – 16/1. In the Noseda days, any well-regarded first-time juvenile inevitably had that expectation reflected in the market. The Lambourn secret service is not quite so effective it would seem as Newmarket’s and especially Shalfleet’s.

As to Khaadem, he was paying a very big compliment to the German five-year-old Waldpfad, who beat him in the Hackwood Stakes at Newbury. His connections have the option of the Hungerford over seven furlongs at Newbury on Saturday week or the 32 Red Sprint Cup over six at Haydock next month. - TS