Tag Archive for: Poetic Flare

Monday Musings: Of Long Days and the Classic Generation

June 21st is upon us. The longest day was to be the freest day until the timid medical advisors to the UK government put the wind up them with fears that the D variant – the virus formerly known as Indian – would cause another surge in infections, writes Tony Stafford.

Well it has, averaging around 10,000 a day for the last week or so, but they are testing many, many more nowadays. Anyone prepared to go anywhere near a racecourse will have enjoyed the experience of things up their nose or aimed at their tonsils.

Since mine were removed in 1952, the year of the Queen’s ascent to the throne – rewarded with a nice ice cream <me, not the Queen> as I recall – I would only be eligible for the nose job, but apparently it’s very much an officialdom-rich environment.

While the infections have risen, the numbers dying most emphatically have not, an average of ten a day for the last week when the “roadmap” was hastily and negatively redrawn. With massive numbers of older people fully vaccinated you wouldn’t expect many deaths, but the silly old advisors want it both ways.

As I’ve said numerous times, I won’t go until everyone is free to go everywhere. I contented myself with a Saturday night day-early Father’s Day celebration with my three 40-plus children and a selection of their issue. Lovely it was too.

So on to the summer and of course from tonight the days will shorten inexorably by three minutes for each of the next 182 and then the semi-cycle will start again the other way round. We’ve already had Royal Ascot and ten of the 12 spring/summer European Classic races – only Ireland’s Derby and Oaks remain in that part of the calendar, and then the St Legers in their various forms and degrees of credibility.

The Irish have won eight of the ten, Jim Bolger picking up the 2,000 Guineas with Poetic Flare and his domestic version with Mac Swiney. Poetic Flare’s demolition job in the St James’s Palace Stakes certainly puts him well ahead among the mile colts this year.

The two Classics decided so far and not to have been won by the Irish have been the Poule D’Essai des Pouliches (French 1,000) won by Coeursamba, trained by Jean-Claude Rouget, and  the Derby (Adayar, Charlie Appleby).

The remaining six have all been hoovered up by Aidan O’Brien and the Ballydoyle team and each of them boasts combinations of the increasingly complex Coolmore pedigrees.

Five individual horses have been involved in those all-important Classic victories, and four of them are fillies. I contend that St Mark’s Basilica, despite his workmanlike victory in the French 2,000 (Poulains) and a more comfortable Prix Du Jockey Club success, both under Ioritz Mendizabal, is vastly under-valued in official terms. He beat a big field in Chantilly and his female stable-companion Joan Of Arc (by Galileo, <really?!, Ed?>) was similarly too good for another large field of home fillies in yesterday’s French Oaks, the Prix de Diane. This time Coeursamba finished only 11th.

On Sunday Aidan relied on a single runner in a field of 17 and the 16 home defenders were no match for another Mendizabal mount who won by just over a length from the fast-finishing Fabre-trained and Godolphin-owned Philomene, a daughter of Dubawi.

That made it single-runner O’Brien challenges in three of the four French Classic races to be run so far – unplaced Van Gogh joined St Mark’s Basilica in the Jockey Club.  Therefore three wins and a close second (Mother Earth, ridden by Christophe Soumillon) in the French 1,000. That new-found minimalist approach also extended to Epsom and the Derby where Bolshoi Ballet, the favourite, was left as their only runner having been initially one of six expected to turn out.

Three of the four fillies in question improved markedly on juvenile form, the exception being 1,000 Guineas winner and then Pouliches runner-up Mother Earth, who had already earned her 111 rating for her second place in the Juvenile Fillies’ Turf race at Keeneland last November and remains on that figure despite her Classic exploits. She ran another game race in third in much the most testing ground she has faced in Friday’s Coronation Stakes at Ascot behind Andrew Balding’s Alcohol Free.

Joan Of Arc took a rating of 105 into the Irish 1,000 and was Ryan Moore’s choice for the race but Seamie Heffernan got up on the line that day aboard Empress Josephine (101) in a private duel between two Galileo fillies. She clearly improved on that yesterday while Emperor Josephine was assessed at 109 after her win.

But the biggest eye-opener was Snowfall, the 16-length Oaks winner at Epsom who went into her prep in the Musidora at York on an official mark of 90. That was upped to 108 after her Knavesmire romp but even so she was still believed by insiders to be second-best among a more normal Oaks quintet behind lightly-raced Santa Barbara, now beaten favourite in both this year’s fillies’ classics in the UK.

It seems to me a master-stroke of fudging by the BHA to restrict Snowfall’s latest mark to 120, not merely because that is 2lb lower than Enable after her Oaks defeat of Rhododendron – what that champion did after Epsom has nothing to do with the assessment - and also 1lb less than Adayar.

The give-away for me is to suggest that Mystery Angel, rated 100 after her fourth (four lengths back) in the Musidora had only equalled her York mark. That ignored she made the running at Epsom in a much bigger field and still had the resources left to stay on and retain second 16 lengths behind the Frankie Dettori-ridden winner, finishing well ahead of a trio of considerably more highly-rated fillies.

If the medical advisors who keep us wearing masks and touching fists rather than shaking hands are timid, they have nothing on the BHA men who fear giving too high a rating to a Classic winner, even one who has set a record winning distance for any UK Classic in living memory and beyond.

Snowfall has made the first big statement that she might be a challenger to Love, her predecessor as an outstanding Oaks winner and star of the stable’s slightly disappointing Royal Ascot, as the season progresses. Love, dropping back two furlongs after a ten-month absence since the 2020 Yorkshire Oaks, made all to win the Group 1 Prince Of Wales’s Stakes.

A third female deserving of mention in that elite grouping must be the David Menuisier-trained four-year-old filly, Wonderful Tonight. She got first run on Broome to win Saturday’s Hardwicke Stakes in style despite its being her first appearance of the year. Her French-born Sussex-based trainer has the Arc, where she has a good chance of getting the soft ground she favours, as her main target.

Broome may not have won but earlier that afternoon his close relative by Australia, the two-year-old Point Lonsdale, won the Chesham Stakes, a race often reserved for the best of the earlier O’Brien juveniles. Ryan had a battle keeping him straight, first going right and as they got close home, more markedly left, but they had enough in hand to beat the Queen’s promising colt Reach For The Moon – Sea The Stars/ Gosdens / Dettori – by half a length.

We had wondered why she chose Saturday to make an appearance. That highly-encouraging performance and the good run later of her King’s Lynn in the Wokingham made it a bit more like Royal Ascot, even when viewed from Hackney Wick. Hopefully, Your Majesty, you and me (and many others besides) can be there for the whole five days in 2022.

The astonishing thing about all four female Coolmore Classic winners is that at no time did anyone at Ballydoyle, and certainly not the trainer nor the owners, believe any of them was within hailing distance of Santa Barbara. My guess from Epsom was that the favourite probably did not stay the mile and a half under the conditions and in the quirky way the race was run, up the stands side with all the direction changing that inevitably happens.

I’m looking forward to seeing her, in what still will be only her fourth race and with a highly-creditable close fourth to Mother Earth at Newmarket on her record, in a suitable race over ten furlongs. The Nassau would be nice, but maybe she won’t be the only one from her stable appearing in that Goodwood Group 1.

 

Monday Musings: The Genius of Jim

It’s Sunday morning in the breakfast room of Glebe House, Coolcullen, Co Carlow, writes Tony Stafford. Ranged around the kitchen table are trainer Jim Bolger, wife Jackie, daughter Una Manning, grand-daughter Clare Manning, who runs the family’s Boherguy stud, and two jockeys. Stable jockey and the Bolgers’ son-in-law Kevin Manning has been a fixture here for decades but a young interloper is an honoured guest.

It’s the morning after Jim Bolger’s historic first victory in the Irish 2,000 Guineas with Mac Swiney, but not just that, he also provided the short-head second, Poetic Flare, more than three lengths clear of the third, the Aidan O’Brien-trained Van Gogh.

The interloper is young winning rider Rory Cleary, who edged out the main man in a thrilling private duel between two colts whose breeding had all been an act of JSB.

The atmosphere around the table is rather tenser, though, than you might have imagined after a long-awaited Classic success. Then Jim began.

“Now do you remember when we talked about the race yesterday morning I told you what I wanted you to do?” said Jim.  “Rory, I told you to make the running as Mac Swiney is our Derby horse so the better stayer and Kevin, you were to join him on the line. Obviously Poetic Flare, as the Newmarket 2,000 Guineas winner is more the miler of them and after failing to follow up in France last Sunday, we needed you to make amends here!”, said Jim.

“How could you get it so wrong? Rory, either you were just a little too forceful on the run to the line – you hit him eight times rather than the permitted seven after all and got that ban - or Kevin, you couldn’t keep Poetic Flare straight in the finish. That result cost us a second Classic winner in one day!” added the trainer.

Then I woke up!

The alchemist of Irish racing had just pulled two rabbits out of the same hat. Has ever a Classic been decided by a dead-heat where every being, human or equine – save Rory Cleary, and even he’d been fashioned in the manner of Aidan O’Brien, Tony McCoy, Willie Mullins and so many more, in the Bolger hothouse – had been so minutely sculpted by one man?

The fact it was not a dead-heat, and make no mistake neither horse deserved to lose, was the only issue that stopped this result from transcending reality into fiction.

To describe Bolger’s unique status during a lifetime as trainer, owner and breeder as the supremo of an Academy doesn’t go anywhere near to covering it. It’s been more like a multi-generational pattern of life based on hard work, honesty and intuitive talent. Forty years ago he talked of an ambition to own all the horses in his stable. Even that apparently over-blown dream has proved to be much less than the surreal actuality.

He not only does – in the name of his wife Jackie - own almost all the horses in the yard, but breeds the majority too. He is the breeder of both the Guineas winners and, much more improbably, their respective sires, Derby winner New Approach (Mac Swiney) and that horse’s son Dawn Approach, sire of Poetic Flame, not to mention Teofilo, Mac Swiney’s broodmare sire.

To breed one unbeaten champion two-year-old in a lifetime would be beyond the dreams of most stud owners. To breed three, all of which won the Dewhurst Stakes to clinch their European juvenile championships and ensure their reputation, is something beyond comprehension.

Much was said of his genius in identifying Galileo as a sire to bank on when he first went to Coolmore following that horse’s epic career under Aidan O’Brien including his impressive Derby win. At the time Derby winners weren’t the most fashionable for stud careers – often being packed off to Japan or indeed ending up as jumps stallions, but Galileo was the exception.

Teofilo emerged from that first crop, running five times – all at seven furlongs – and only twice winning by more than a neck, and even then never by as much as two lengths. In two of the three narrow victories he rallied at the finish to regain the lead, a characteristic of both Saturday’s main protagonists.

He could not have proved more justified in his patronage of Galileo, but even for Jim Bolger, it is impossible to be right all the time.

I remember one day at Arqana’s Saint-Cloud sales seeking a stallion to cover one of Raymond Tooth’s mares asking David O’Loughlin which of Coolmore’s new sires might fit. He kindly pointed me in the direction of another of their Derby winners, the Andre Fabre-trained Pour Moi. He said: “Jim Bolger’s sending a load of mares to him.”

So we sent Laughing Water to Pour Moi and her son, Waterproof, did win a hurdle race on New Year’s Day last year but nothing else. Coolmore meanwhile did not waste much time diverting Pour Moi to their successful NH division despite his producing a Derby winner from his first crop in the shape of Wings Of Eagles.

From a €20k starting point, Pour Moi is now serving his mares having been banished for the last two covering seasons to the Haras de Cercy in France at €3,000 a pop. That’s less than 1% of what Galileo still commands as he approaches the twilight of the greatest stallion career of all time. From his starting point of €30k he will stand in historical terms at least on a par with his own sire Sadler’s Wells and that great horse’s father, the inimitable Northern Dancer.

Just as Bolger identified Galileo’s potential so did John Magnier all those years ago when with the assistance of Robert Sangster’s financial clout and Magnier’s father-in-law Vincent O’Brien’s training skills, they descended on Keeneland in Kentucky to cherry-pick the best of the Northern Dancers.

Again here was a champion and a Derby winner, despite in his case being very small. He missed out on the Triple Crown, finishing only third in the Belmont Stakes following victories in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, but once sent to stud, he produced the English Triple Crown winner Nijinsky, trained by Vincent O’Brien from only his second crop.

That event guaranteed the future success of Northern Dancer, standing at Windfields Farm in Maryland, near Washington DC, initially for $10,000. It also galvanised the O’Brien/Sangster/ Magnier certainty that Northern Dancer should be the sire to concentrate on.  As well as Sadler’s Wells, the Irish 2,000 Guineas winner who did not contest the Derby, but became such a prepotent stallion winning 14 Champion Sire titles, 13 in succession, their shopping trips also brought back The Minstrel, one of the bravest winners of the Epsom Classic in memory.

If Jim Bolger was the biggest star on Irish 2,000 Guineas Day 2021, David O’Loughlin, or rather his wife Treasa, and also the wives of fellow Coolmore senior executives Tom Gaffney and Clem Murphy, won the Group 3 Marble Hill Stakes for two-year-olds with Castle Star, trained by Fozzy Stack.

Magnier has always encouraged his most valued employees to own, breed and above all cash in on the potential of horses and no doubt the trio (and their wives of course) will be hearing plenty of offers for this very stylish winner by Starspangledbanner, who has returned from the ignominy of infertility to a full part in the Coolmore story.

Last week I mentioned Sam Sangster, son of Sadler’s Wells and The Minstrel’s owner among many other Vincent O’Brien stars, for his own exploits with a filly called Beauty Stone. The daughter of Australia, originally a 475,000gns Godolphin buy, but a Sangster acquisition for barely 1% of that when culled from the Charlie Appleby team, made it four wins in a row at Goodwood on Saturday.

Running off 77, 15lb higher than when she started her winning run as recently as February at Kempton, the Tom Ward-trained filly battled on well to defeat 0-90 opposition. Black type could be next for Beauty Stone and no doubt young Mr Sangster will know how to handle the experience and also her future marketing which will involve rather more figures than those he paid for her. It’s all a matter of breeding as Jim Bolger will tell you. Nice kitchen by the way!

Monday Musings: Irish Domination

Where once there was meaningful rivalry, now there is renewed omnipotence. A picture spread through social media early this year of a grinning trainer talking on a mobile phone atop a dead horse has had even more effect than its horrified recipients throughout the horse world could have imagined, writes Tony Stafford.

Up until Cheltenham, the remnants of the Gordon Elliott stables, which had run 321 horses from the time jump racing resumed after the initial stopping through Covid19, was still punching most of its weight under the name if not the supreme control of Mrs Denise Foster.

Traditionally though, every late April/early May the Punchestown Festival has ended any wistful hope that the brash Elliott with his legion of major owners, most notably the O’Leary family’s Gigginstown House Stud, might finally gain a first Irish NH trainers’ championship.

Last week, respectable second place seemed a long way off, that eminence supplanted by the exploits of Henry De Bromhead, he of the surreal Champion Hurdle, Gold Cup and Grand National hat-trick over the previous six weeks.

But now we were in Willie Mullins territory and the week was just perfectly situated to welcome back the trainer’s previously stricken stable jockey. Paul Townend had seen his advantage over the challenging and seemingly unstoppable Rachael Blackmore slip to less than a handful of winners with seven days to go.

Mullins doesn’t do Cross-Country races, of which there are four over the five days of Punchestown, but he does do everything else. And how!

Eight races are staged each day, leaving 36 to go for. Mullins, with five on the opening day and never fewer than three on the four succeeding instalments, put together the unbelievable tally of 19 wins from the available 36 – so more than 50%. He did have 87 runners, very often multiple chances, then, and another 21 of his horses made the first four, that’s 40 win or placed. Place money at the meeting goes down to sixth and he had another ten of those, so altogether 50 in the money.

In all, Mullins’ runners brought back a total haul over the week of €1,470,950. For the season his 182 winners brought almost €5.5 million.

Elliott’s monetary reward for his 155 wins was €2,863,875 at the time of his suspension. Add to that Mrs Foster’s 16 victories in 205 runs from 135 of the Elliott horses was another €412,860.

But the magic which initially lingered after the paper – if not actual – change of control all but died last week. Mrs Foster’s 36 runners at Punchestown brought no wins, three second places, two thirds and a single fourth and a mere total of €52k. Nineteen of her runners either finished outside the first ten or failed to finish.

You would think that everyone associated with the Closutton steamroller would have been delighted, but what was probably the most spectacular of his victories, in terms of style of performance and the circumstances behind it, was a cause of regret for that horse’s connections.

When Mark Smith first moved to his present house in Essex 40 years ago the one-time Foreign Exchange trader met a neighbour who was soon to become his best friend. Mark owned Balasani, a horse that won the Stayers’ Hurdle for Martin Pipe at the Cheltenham Festival, and soon he and his friend, John Coleman, regularly went racing together.

Then a few years back John became gravely ill with cancer by which time he had bought Klassical Dream. Sadly he was never able to see the horse on the track – it raced in the name of his widow Joanne but was a family horse with his two sons and a nephew taking shares. They insisted that Mark should also accept a share.

It was bitter-sweet for the team when Klassical Dream won his maiden hurdle first time up at Leopardstown’s St Stephen’s Day fixture in 2018 and he duly went on to take three Grade 1 prizes, at Leopardstown in February, Cheltenham’s Supreme Novice, and Punchestown’s Champion Novice Hurdle.

The 2019/20 season proved a massive anti-climax, the ante-post Champion Hurdle favourite racing only twice and beaten at odds-on behind less talented stable companions. Cheltenham 2021 was originally on the agenda but that came and went without him, after which the plan was laid for Thursday’s big stayers’ hurdle over three miles. Klassical Dream had never raced over much further than two miles and would have a 487-day absence to overcome.

Mark spoke to Willie a few days before the race and on Thursday morning before leaving home for a funeral of another good friend he tried unsuccessfully to reach the trainer. Mullins left a recorded message when he could and Mark says it was very similar to the previous one.

I’ve heard it and in it Willie says he would be happy if the horse finished in the first six but above all the priority is that he comes home sound. Mark interpreted this to mean the trainer wasn’t sure he would make the first six.

Mark relayed the news to the other owners, and before leaving had what he calls a “suicide throwaway 50 quid” at around 17-1 when he first noticed the price was dropping. He had expected to be home in time to watch the race, but was still at the reception at the off, so watched it on his phone.

In what was described as the biggest gamble of the week, 20-1 down to 5-1, Klassical Dream under Patrick Mullins, and one of four stable-mates in the race, cantered into the lead going to the last hurdle and drew easily clear of Mullins’ James Du Berlais for a nine-length victory.

There was more than a degree of consolation that the horse had come back with such a bang, and not least for winning the €147,500 winner’s prize, but also some irritation that the message might have been a little more accurate.

These words will be written before Mark and the trainer have their next conversation. “I knew I shouldn’t talk to Willie, who has always been so helpful in all our dealings, as I would probably have lost my temper. None of the other owners are racing people in the way John was and of course I am, and their delight at their horse coming back in such a dramatic manner easily outweighs for them any irritation that they might have had a bigger bet if they knew a bit more beforehand”.

The Irish dominated Cheltenham and Aintree and it was the Flat trainers from that side of the wet divide who collected the first two Classics of the season at Newmarket.

First Jim Bolger, 79, and jockey and son-in-law Kevin Manning, 54, took the 2,000 Guineas with brave home-bred Poetic Flare, 16-1 and a son of Dawn Approach, also a Bolger home-bred and winner of the same Classic.

Then yesterday, Aidan O’Brien, a pupil and amateur rider for Bolger before embarking on his own stellar training career, made it seven wins in the 1,000 Guineas. His second string 10-1 shot Mother Earth, ridden by 50-year-old Frankie Dettori, made use of her greater experience to run past long-time race favourite and stable-companion Santa Barbara.

Like Love last year, who came to the “1,000” with three wins from seven juvenile appearances, Mother Earth put in plenty of creditable runs at two but in her case for just one win, although second at the Breeders’ Cup was hardly a negligible effort.

Unlike Love, though, who went on to Epsom and then York for two more emphatic wide-margin Group 1 victories, Mother Earth is being pencilled in for the Irish 1,000. Santa Barbara, who understandably showed signs of greenness - she raced only in one maiden as a two-year-old – goes straight to Epsom.

It was quite a weekend for big numbers and veterans. Bob Baffert, now 68 years old, made it a seventh Kentucky Derby when Medina Spirit, at just over 12-1, made all under John Velazquez, who is in his 50th year. The colt had won only once previously too, so it was stretching credibility after three defeats that he could win the most important three-year-old race of the year in the USA.

But it was even more amazing given that two runs back, in the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita, Medina Spirit had been crushed by eight lengths by another Baffert colt, Life Is Good, who was unable through injury to get to Churchill Downs.

The old prototype for winning the “Run For The Roses” was plenty of race-conditioning as a two-year-old, but Medina Spirit didn’t appear until January this year. That was also the starting-point for Life Is Good. That day, Medina Spirit came up short by only three-quarters of a length and he must have been energised when he noticed that his nemesis was not in the field.

Still pictures of the race finish show the Churchill Downs grandstands were packed. I just can’t wait for that to happen here - sooner rather than later I trust!