For the first half of my working time in Fleet Street, life was still very much as it had always been in the early years after World War 2, writes Tony Stafford. Initially the BBC was the only Channel either side of the hostilities but then, in 1955, ITV brought in the first commercial opposition and nine years later BBC2 came on stream.
The dailies had combined sales well into eight figures at the start of the 1960’s and I remember there were THREE London evening newspapers. Every Saturday the paper man came round with the “Classified” edition where the football results magically appeared in the “fudge” – stop press -minutes after the matches finished. Every paper boy on the street corners in Central London called “Star, News and Standard”, always in that order until the Star disappeared in 1960, as we and our dads queued to find out what had happened to our team.
New (as we knew it anyway) technology was anathema to the print unions in those days and the internet and social media were half a lifetime away.
As I said, newspapers were the principal provider of news: households without television exceeded those homes with the big piece of furniture and its tiny screen of hazy black and white (grey really) pictures in the corner of the living room.
In those days, when we got to August everything shut down as politicians, journalists, schools and many big industrial factories went on holiday. Back in Fleet Street for those left behind, and then later when the two ‘new’ channels were well established, we had what was universally known as the “Silly Season”.
Suddenly editors were looking for quirky stories of the famed “man bites dog” variety. Reporters were dispatched around the country for the oddest and unlikeliest events which from September on wouldn’t have seen the light of day.
In many ways British horseracing has been mired in a similar tradition perhaps more firmly than its other major competing nations in Europe. The silly season has not really been possible yet this year with the pandemic still extending its grip and the Olympic Games 2020 going on for the past fortnight in Covid-strangled Tokyo. But there’s still time!
Between Goodwood (concluded on July 31 this year) and the end of August only the four days of York interrupt the ordinary sausage-machine offerings, weekends of valuable handicaps apart. One welcome innovation this year has been the William Hill Racing League where a dozen teams of four trainers, each calling on a squad of 30 potential runners and with three jockeys attached to each team, compete in six races on six consecutive Thursday evenings. Two have been contested so far.
With £50,000 available from each race, the idea seems to owe much to the successful 22 years of the Shergar Cup, the latest edition of which at Ascot on Saturday was won by the women’s team headed up by Hayley Turner and starring Nicola Currie and French sensation, Mickaelle Michel.
Any boost to prize money is welcome though an initial look at the type of trainer capable of compiling a team of 30 is obviously one for the already-haves rather than wishful-thinking have-nots.
But say a Newmarket trainer has an 80-rated horse that might be running for a £5k or so first prize in the normal run of things, it can be in line for a £25,000 first prize in the Racing League. Thirty-six handsome prizes among the thousands of embarrassingly unrewarding ones only fix one leak while water continues to escape from the rest.
Just three highlights at York – the Juddmonte, Yorkshire Oaks and Nunthorpe – carry Group 1 status, but that still exceeds Ireland’s single Group 1 in the month, the Phoenix Stakes, staged yesterday at The Curragh.
There were two more Group 1 races across Europe yesterday, the Grosser Preis von Berlin over a mile and a half at Hoppegarten and Deauville’s Prix Maurice De Gheest over six and a half furlongs. That was the first of four races at that level during Deauville’s holiday season, but throughout the month the programmes are of a higher quality than anything we have here as Chantilly goes to the seaside.
There is a received understanding that good sprinters in France scarcely exist, its proponents pointing to the UK domination of the Prix de l’Abbaye on Arc Day each year. Only four French-trained horses have won the five-furlong dash in this century, namely Imperial Beauty (2001), Marchant D’Or (2008), Whizz Kid (2012) and Wooded last year.
When the three home-trained sprinters/seven-furlong horses lined up for the Maurice De Gheest yesterday, they were respectively on offer at 9-1, 92-1 and 69-1 in face of potentially strong opposition not just from the UK and Ireland but also the Wesley Ward-trained Golden Jubilee promoted winner, Campanelle.
That filly ran an awful race, finishing last, while Starman, winner of the July Cup at Newmarket last month and the 9-5 joint favourite with the Ward filly, ran third, to two of the home team. Well behind was an assortment of Group 1 and 2 winners and the recent Wokingham hero, Rohaan.
But at the head of the race, a relatively unheralded horse that had won each of his previous six races this year stormed away from the field to win comfortably. Marianafoot, a six-year-old entire, owned by his breeder M Jean-Claude Seroul, was making it eight wins in a row since mid-December and was providing another reminder of the talent of his 35-year-old trainer, Jerome Reynier, who is based in Marseille.
Reynier has been training in his own right for eight years and in 2020 climbed into the top ten trainers’ list in France for the first time, owing much to the exploits of another six-year-old, Skalleti, also owned by M. Seroul.
He had a Deauville win over an under-ripe Sottsass, subsequently winner of the Arc, and this year has won four in succession including two Group 1 races at home and in Germany.
Reynier is a self-confessed racing nut who recalls that, aged 14, he used to make little contribution in his classroom as he was usually busy studying bloodstock sales catalogues. Little wonder that he was a winner of a Godolphin Flying Start award in 2008. A period as a bloodstock agent buying for his father, also a racing fanatic, preceded his taking the plunge eight years ago.
The €300,000-plus first prize (including owner’s premium} strengthens his place in fifth in this year’s trainers’ table and he is in rarefied company.
Leading the charge in his customary private battle with Jean-Claude Rouget is Andre Fabre with 78 wins worth €3.9m from 130 horses. Rouget has 97 wins from 131 horses and trails Fabre by close to €300k in prizes. Fabre provided yesterday’s runner-up, the filly Tropbeau, who, unbelievably given her connections and her fourth in last year’s French 1,000 Guineas, was the 92-1 chance mentioned earlier.
The Maurice De Gheest was the twelfth Group 1 race to be contested in France in 2021 and Aidan O’Brien has won five of them from 11 horses. That is enough to put him just behind third-placed Frank Rossi who has needed 135 horses and 68 winners to keep his nose in front of the Ballydoyle maestro, now fine-tuning his York team which will include St Mark’s Basilica and Snowfall. Jerome Reynier, still in his mid-30’s, is a very solid fifth and destined to go higher with the top two no doubt feeling the long-term draft from behind.
The Brits played a minor role in France but two big wins for Newmarket stables in Germany and Ireland proved that if the races aren’t to be found at home, “have horsebox, will travel” is still the mantra.
Sir Mark Prescott sent two of Kirsten Rausing’s home-bred fillies to Hoppegarten, a track bought in 2008 by an old acquaintance of mine Gerhard Schoeningh. He was based in England around the turn of the century and, after asking me whether I could introduce him to Sir Henry Cecil, had some nice winners with him.
Hoppegarten, in what was the old East Berlin, is the only privately-owned racecourse in Germany and has been brought back to its former prominence by Gerhard. The big race, the Grosser Preis, went to Prescott’s smart four-year-old Alpinista and Luke Morris who had Godolphin’s Walton Street back in third. Additionally, Prescott’s Alerta Roja finished second in a Listed race on the card.
One of the enduring mysteries of the international breeding business is just how Tony O’Callaghan’s Tally Ho Stud can continue to produce stallions that immediately out-perform what might reasonably be expected.
We all know about Kodiac, now at €65k a pop after producing a string of high-class performers over the past decade, but how about Mehmas? Available at €7,500 last year having entered the stud at €12,500 but, after his first crop ran away with the first-season sire title, he was upped to €25k for this year.
Tally Ho has two interesting first crop sires this year, and both were available at a covering fee of €5k. Cotai Glory is far and away the leader in his division with 18 individual winners. Heading his list is the brilliantly-fast Atomic Glory, already twice successful with ease in a Group 3 and then Group 2 in France for Kevin Ryan. Atomic Glory looks an obvious favourite for the Prix Morny (G1) later this month at Deauville.
Tally Ho’s other €5k bargain is Galileo Gold, Hugo Palmer’s 2000 Guineas and St James’s Palace Stakes hero. Palmer acquired his son, now called Ebro River, for Galileo Gold’s owners Al Shaqab for 75,000gns out of Tattersall’s Book 2 last October. Yesterday the owners collected almost double that when Ebro River landed the aforementioned Group 1 Phoenix Stakes as a 12-1 shot having looked short of top-class in recent runs at the major summer meetings.
Both stallions will assuredly be moving up into the Mehmas bracket for the next covering season and with sons Roger and Harry nowadays adding youthful energy as well as brilliant talent-spotting to the legendary skills of Tony and his wife Anne, John Magnier’s sister, Tally-Ho will be on top for many years to come. They repeatedly find new stallions that suit the sort of owners and breeders who like two-year-old winners! Who doesn’t?