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Delayed National could restore ‘celebration’ for shop punters

Bookmakers hope racing can again demonstrate its flexibility by pushing back the date of the Grand National to ensure betting-shop punters are able to enjoy the annual “celebration”.

Coronavirus put paid to the 2020 National – along with so many other major sporting events – and after Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement on Monday, this year it is set to take place just two days before the earliest possible reopening of non-essential shops.

Racing administrators have had to adapt to a series of challenges posed by the pandemic over the past 12 months, first with a halted fixture list, then a suspension of attendance for owners and spectators and shop closures also impacting on revenue.

Tiger Roll (right) is still on course to bid for a Grand National hat-trick at Aintree in April
Tiger Roll (right) is still on course to bid for a Grand National hat-trick at Aintree in April (Nigel French/PA)

Only recently, the winter weather has brought its challenges, too – but racing administrators were quick to draw up rescheduling plans to save big meetings lost to the freeze.

Ladbrokes Coral PR director Simon Clare is suggesting the sport can show more of that pro-active spirit – and give itself a much-needed financial boost – by delaying the Randox Grand National, currently scheduled to take place on Saturday April 10, so that it can be run with shops open again.

The National is by far the biggest betting race of the year, worth an estimated £300million in turnover.

Clare said: “Now we’ve seen the dates for the Government road map – which are provisional – and the fact that there is potential for betting shops to open on April 12, the obvious issue is the Grand National.

“It is the biggest betting race of the year – the race which millions of people enjoy as a national celebration. It was lost to the pandemic in 2020, and would take place two days before the shops open this year.

“It is the one race where betting shops provide a big service. There are a lot of once-a-year punters who want to come and have a bet on the big race.

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“There’s the celebratory aspect of the Grand National. It’s the showcase for racing and for betting – so we’d love to see it happen.”

Clare concedes it may not ultimately prove possible to push the race back by a few days or up to a week.

But he is pinning his hopes on another example of the resourcefulness which has helped the British Horseracing Authority, Jockey Club and other stakeholder administrators plot a path through the pandemic so far.

He added: “Just shops reopening is great – that’s the most important thing.

“The Grand National is the biggest betting race of the year. It’s worth 10 times more than the Cheltenham Gold Cup, which is the second biggest, in turnover.

“Obviously, racing has done an amazing job being flexible during the pandemic. It’s been an amazing effort.

“It may not be possible – but if it can be done, it would be fantastic.”

Bookmakers have, of course, felt the financial consequences of having to keep shops shut during the lockdowns of the past year.

Clare said: “It’s an important source of revenue for betting shops who’ve had a really tough time and for racing which has done a brilliant job keeping the show on the road but has been supported heavily by the Levy Board.

“The Grand National taking place when shops are open would give a big injection of money.”

Both Jockey Club Racecourses, who own and manage Aintree, and the BHA have declined to comment as yet about the prospect of any rescheduling.

Officials at Ascot, meanwhile, are considering the dilemma of whether to try to put the five-day Royal meeting back a week in the hope of having a full crowd.

As the road map currently stands, a limited number would be allowed at the current dates of June 15-19 – but restrictions could be lifted in their entirety on June 21.

Ascot’s director of communications Nick Smith told Nick Luck’s Daily Podcast: “We were quietly surprised and probably quite pleased at the level of detail the Prime Minister was able to share (on Monday).

Royal Ascot may yet be able to welcome back a full crowd this year
Royal Ascot may yet be able to welcome back a full crowd this year (Julian Finney/PA)

“It was certainly a surprise to us there was so much detail about the return of crowds to sporting events so early – so we’ve got an awful lot to digest.

“It’s natural the question (of moving the meeting back a week) would be asked. I think the reality is what the Prime Minister said was that stage 4 would be June 21 at the earliest. With Royal Ascot due to end on June 19, if it were to move a week later, that doesn’t give an awful lot of room for slippage.

“At this particular point in time, bearing in mind all the complexities of moving a race meeting with Pattern issues and the real uncertainty over whether June 21 will become tenable, we’re just watching this space.

“I wouldn’t want to set hares running to say there is a plan in the background to move the Royal meeting because a) it’s too early to think about that and b) there isn’t at this stage.

“I think we have to be realistic. It’s not impossible, and some would say it’s likely, that there will be some slippage in this programme – which won’t mean it’s failing, it will just mean the natural course of events aren’t as quick as people would like.

“It’s extremely complicated. Saying one week we could plan for ‘x’ thousand and the next plan for 70,000 capacity – or what have you – would require a huge amount of expenditure, and if you aren’t absolutely certain you would be able to deliver it one week later would be financially a very difficult risk to take, especially given what we faced last year and what we face this year.

“The really great news is that it appears to be likely we will be able to welcome at least some crowd. We don’t know what the number will be, as the Government has detailed what you can accommodate in a stadium – which is seat-based – and courses don’t operate like that.”

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon unveiled her own “cautious” route out of lockdown on Tuesday, with the reopening of the economy expected to start from April 26.

Following the announcement Scottish Racing – the body which represents Ayr, Hamilton Park, Kelso, Musselburgh and Perth – tweeted: “Further to today’s announcement from @ScotGovFM, Scottish Racing will continue to engage with @ScotGov on plans to allow horseracing to welcome spectators as part of the government’s new roadmap out of lockdown.”

Knicks Go clash with Charlatan would be ‘great match up’

Brad Cox’s dominant Pegasus World Cup winner Knicks Go remains in the mix for a mouthwatering clash with the Bob Baffert-trained Charlatan in the Saudi Cup.

Knicks Go earned an automatic berth with an all-the-way success at Gulfstream Park, proving he can stay further than a mile into the bargain.

“He’s done extremely well, he bounced out of the race fine and flew back to New Orleans on Sunday morning,” Cox told Nick Luck’s Daily Podcast.

“It looked like Joel (Rosario) didn’t get to the bottom of him, so hopefully we can head towards the Saudi Cup.

“As a trainer, you try to stay positive but always look at things that could go wrong. Obviously it was our first start without Lasix, he had yet to win at a mile and an eighth and as he’d been so dominant at Keeneland (Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile) – we had to transfer that form to South Florida and he was able to do so.”

The Saudi Cup sees the field only take one turn and Cox is in two minds whether or not that will be in Knicks Go’s favour.

“It’s hard for me to say if a one-turn mile and an eighth will suit him,” said Cox.

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“He went really quick the other day, there was a horse on his outside – I thought 46 (seconds) for the half-mile was quick enough, but he was able to stay on.

“He’s able to get into that one big cruising speed where he’s comfortable and I think he’s able to put horses away between the half (mile) to three-eighths pole. I think he’ll adapt to the one-turn.

“He doesn’t have to lead, he’s just naturally gifted and is quick from the gate. You’d like to think he doesn’t have to lead, but he’s performing well with the style he has right now.

“Charlatan is a very good horse, obviously lightly-raced, but he’s got crazy good numbers. He’s a freak talent, but he does lack some experience. If we decide to go to Saudi, it would be a great match up, it really would.”

Joel Rosario returns on Knicks Go following his Pegasus win
Joel Rosario returns on Knicks Go following his Pegasus win (Marta Lavandier/AP)

Another star in Cox’s barn is dual Breeders’ Cup Distaff heroine Monomoy Girl, who could take on the boys at some stage this year having stayed with Cox following her sale for $9.5million.

“There were definitely different views from the people who had interest in her, but I feel very fortunate that Spendthrift were able to purchase her,” said Cox.

“Their plan was to continue to race her all year and try to get her back at the Breeders’ Cup, which I think is probably the right thing for her.

“It’s been mentioned we might take on the males. We’ve picked out a few races like the Bayakoa and Apple Blossom as short-term goals, then (we’ll) reassess as the year goes on.

“I’d prefer an opportunity before then (Breeders’ Cup) and that would then give us the opportunity to go in the Classic or remain with the girls in the Distaff. It would be great for racing, I do believe.”

Excitingly for British fans, Cox’s Aunt Pearl, who beat Mother Earth and Miss Amulet in the Juvenile Fillies’ Turf at the Breeders’ Cup, is still being considered for Royal Ascot.

“Royal Ascot is still on the cards. She’s back training. We’ve just given her an opportunity to catch her breath while there wasn’t much going on for three-year-old fillies in the States,” said Cox.

“The Coronation Stakes would be what we are looking at. I’ve only seen videos, but she looks like she’s filled out and she looks amazing.”

Cox also has three contenders for the Kentucky Derby at this stage.

He said: “We’ve Essential Quality, but we’ve got some other colts. Caddo River has a lot of speed, Mandaloun will wear blinkers on his next start – he has a lot of talent but needs to put it all together mentally.”

Ward has Royal Ascot ambitions for Campanelle and Golden Pal

Wesley Ward is lining up a high-profile assault on two of the sprint features at Royal Ascot, with the sights of both Campanelle and Golden Pal set on the headline meeting in June.

Campanelle is being aimed at the Commonwealth Cup following a fruitful juvenile campaign that saw her win the Queen Mary Stakes at the Royal meeting, before going on to lift the Group One Prix Morny in France later in the summer.

She had to settle for fourth on her final start of 2020 upped to a mile at the Breeders’ Cup meeting, and Ward expects her main target to be the Commonwealth Cup back over six furlongs rather than either the English or Irish 1000 Guineas, for which she holds an entry.

Frankie Dettori celebrates after Campanelle's win last year
Frankie Dettori celebrates after Campanelle’s win last year (Edward Whitaker/PA)

He said: “Barbara (Banke, owner of Stonestreet Stables) is really keen on Ascot and I think six furlongs – and that’s a stiff six at Ascot for the Commonwealth – with a little weight break for being a filly, that will be our main target.

“I’m kind of working from that race backwards – the Guineas really don’t come into play right now unless when she’s at the farm, the team gets together and decides to go in another direction.

“Our main goal would be the Commonwealth. Barbara and her whole team are really looking forward to getting back (to Royal Ascot). She worked last week for the first time at Barbara’s farm at Ocala and she looked like she’s ready to go, so we’re all excited.”

Lady Aurelia won the King's Stand for Ward in 2016
Lady Aurelia won the King’s Stand for Ward in 2016 (David Davies/PA)

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Campanelle is one of the three top-rated fillies in Europe last year, with Ward’s star being given a mark of 113 along with Fillies’ Mile winner Pretty Gorgeous and Shale, who was victorious in the Moyglare Stud Stakes.

Ward was previously responsible for a top-rated filly in Lady Aurelia, who also won the Queen Mary and Morny before returning to Ascot to lift the King’s Stand Stakes the following year.

While Ward compares the two favourably, he believes Campanelle will shine over further than five furlongs.

Speaking via Zoom at the British Horseracing Authority’s two-year-old classifications press conference, he added: “They’re similar in their accomplishments, but I still believe Campanelle will stretch out a little bit – she’s a bigger, scopier filly and she will go a little further, that’s why we tried her at a mile at the Breeders’ Cup.

“I think it was a case of it was the end of the year, she had a long season whereas Lady Aurelia was beaten in the Cheveley Park over six and we found out she was better at five. This filly was going a mile and I just think it was just a long, long season.”

The Lir Jet (left) was a shade too good for Golden Pal last year
The Lir Jet (left) was a shade too good for Golden Pal last year (Julian Finney/PA)

Golden Pal also ran at the Royal fixture, being edged out by neck by The Lir Jet in the Norfolk Stakes, and he is also on course to return.

The Uncle Mo colt went on to win the Juvenile Turf Sprint at the Breeders’ Cup meeting and Ward has high hopes he can emulate Lady Aurelia.

He said: “We’re really excited about this guy. He will come back opening day at Keeneland, which is April 1. Every year they have a straight, three-year-old, $100-$150,000 stakes race over five and a half furlongs and that will crack off the season for him.

“He’s doing fantastic – he came out of the Breeders’ Cup in great shape and we’re going to try the same route we did with Lady Aurelia and go to the King’s Stand with him. I think the five should see him right between the ears there.

“He’s grown in height and he’s broadening out – he’s a really beautiful colt right now. I think he’s going to be a tremendous sprinter this year.”

Battaash and Golden Pal are on course to clash at Royal Ascot
Battaash and Golden Pal are on course to clash at Royal Ascot (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Reigning champion Battaash is due to kick off his campaign with a King’s Stand defence – and Ward would relish a clash between the two speedsters.

He said: “I’m a big fan of that horse. We’re excited to come back over, it’s always tough to come to the home court where he has the advantage.

“The Nunthorpe has eluded me and that will almost be the main goal for this guy. We’re going back to the King’s Stand (first), but as the summer progresses the three-year-olds catch up to the four-year-olds and I’m really looking forward to that race at York.

“This guy (Golden Pal) has proven he can go on all types of ground – he’s a very exciting sprinter, one of the best I’ve ever trained and hopefully could be the best with the accomplishments we’ve set out for him this spring, summer and hopefully culminating in the fall.

“He’s a really, really exciting horse to train, so we’re looking forward to it. Battaash is a very worthy opponent. The years are hopefully behind him, but I’m a big fan of his and when you get these good sprinters matched together, it just brings excitement to everyone involved in racing.”

Wesley Ward is hoping to make it to Ascot this year
Wesley Ward is hoping to make it to Ascot this year (Julian Herbert/PA)

While Ward had runners at Ascot last year, the Covid-19 pandemic meant travel for all but essential staff was not possible and the meeting was run behind closed doors.

However, he is hoping the situation will improve this year, allowing his family to make the journey to Ascot.

He added: “It’s not only for me, but my kids really look forward to coming there each and every year, they’ve been coming for over a decade now, so that’s a big mark in the calendar they look forward to.

“My oldest son has been coming since he was nine and he has a lot of friends over in Europe and England, so we’re looking forward to it hopefully opening up this year.”

Hills sets out Meydan Sprint plan for Equilateral

Equilateral will remain in Dubai for next month’s Meydan Sprint following his victory there last week.

The Charlie Hills-trained six-year-old took the Dubai Dash for the second year running and will now try to atone for a narrow defeat in the Meydan Sprint last February.

Hills reports the Equiano gelding to have come out of his recent exertions in good form.

“I was really delighted with him. Frankie (Dettori) gave him a great ride and it looked like he was always going to win the race,” said the Lambourn trainer.

“It’s nice to have won the race twice now and he was 5lb worse off than last year.

“He seems to have come out of the race in great order and we’ll train him for the Group Two.”

Equilateral’s best effort in defeat last year came when he was second to stablemate Battaash in the King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot.

Hills revealed the five-furlong Group One is likely to be the brilliant seven-year-old’s starting point in 2021.

“Battaash is still on his winter break,” he said.

Battaash is likely to start his season at Royal Ascot
Battaash is likely to start his season at Royal Ascot (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“He doesn’t normally come in until the beginning of March. They all seem very happy with him. He’s enjoying his hols at the moment.

“Last year he would probably have gone to Haydock (for the Temple Stakes) had that race been on. He’s won first time out every year, so I think we’ll just save him for Royal Ascot.”

Hills’ highly-promising and lightly-raced four-year-old Tilsit is being prepared for a possible trip to Saudi Arabia next month.

Tilsit is set for a trip to Saudi Arabia
Tilsit is set for a trip to Saudi Arabia (Dan Abraham/PA)

The First Defence colt, winner of the Thoroughbred Stakes at Glorious Goodwood, holds entries in the Saudi Cup and the Middle Distance Turf Cup in Riyadh on February 20.

“He’s in those two races and we’re looking at it,” he said.

“Hopefully we’ll run him. We’ll see how he is in a couple of weeks.”

Seven races a day at Royal Ascot to be permanent feature

Ascot has announced this year’s Royal meeting will be extended to feature seven-race cards on each day of the fixture, which runs from June 15-19.

Extra races were added to the meeting last year as a result of the late start of the Flat season due to the Covid-19 pandemic, with the Copper Horse Stakes, Palace of Holyroodhouse Stakes and Golden Gates Stakes added alongside the reinstated Buckingham Palace Stakes.

Those races will all be retained this year while a new handicap to be run over the Old Mile for four-year-olds and upwards fillies and mares, named the Kensington Palace Stakes, will also be added.

The ‘Silver’ versions of the Royal Hunt Cup and the Wokingham Stakes run last year will not be retained and there will not be eight races on Saturday as there were in 2020.

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Sir Francis Brooke Bt., Her Majesty’s representative at Ascot, said: “A positive that we drew from Royal Ascot 2020 was that the additional races presented more opportunities to participate and that this had been widely welcomed by owners, trainers, breeders and jockeys. We are delighted to be able to make this change permanent.”

The order of running in 2021 will be based on 2019 rather than last year’s revised schedule, with the races being permanently added run as the final event on each day apart from the Saturday when the Golden Gates Handicap will be run as race six and the meeting will conclude, as is traditional, with the Queen Alexandra Stakes.

The Queen Anne Stakes will return as the opening event of the Royal meeting this year and prize money will be confirmed in advance of the early closing races in April.

Nick Smith, director of racing and public affairs at Ascot, added: “The concept of extended cards last year was well received, and we are very pleased to be able to offer additional opportunities to the horsemen community, the public, broadcasters and media going forward.

“At this time, more than ever, the increased opportunity to win prize money and to generate more levy and domestic and overseas betting income is crucial.

“Following consultation with the BHA, we decided to remove the two reserve races and bring in another high-quality handicap, as we are actually reducing the number of races run by one from last year, where eight races were staged on the Saturday.

“It occurred to us that the Old (round) Mile course is only used twice during Royal Ascot and another race on this track would add to the variety on offer.

“Last year’s extended cards were only possible by reducing some field sizes slightly, and because no overnight stabling was allowed under Covid-19 protocols.

“In order that field sizes can go up to their maximums again and with overnight stabling extremely important, we have commissioned extra temporary stabling to be built to the required high BHA standards.

“Royal Ascot is constantly evolving and has benefited from many recent race additions and promotions and we are excited that the week will now be bigger and better for everyone.”

King’s Stand goal for Breeders’ Cup hero Golden Pal

Wesley Ward will target the King’s Stand at Royal Ascot next summer with Golden Pal following his sensational display at the Breeders’ Cup.

Mowed down late by Michael Bell’s The Lir Jet in the Norfolk Stakes on his first visit to Britain earlier this year, the Uncle Mo colt made a successful return to his homeland at Saratoga in September before blitzing his rivals in the Juvenile Turf Sprint at Keeneland.

While Golden Pal has the option of running against his own age group in the six-furlong Commonwealth Cup at the Royal meeting in June, Ward views the King’s Stand over five furlongs as a more suitable target.

“We’re really excited about bringing Golden Pal back to Royal Ascot. It was a great day at Keeneland and we’re really looking forward to 2021,” said the Washington-born trainer.

“We’re working from the King’s Stand backwards. I think we’ll go for the Commonwealth Cup with Campanelle and let the colt run against the older horses in the five-furlong race.”

Campanelle won the Queen Mary Stakes at Royal Ascot four months ago before claiming Group One glory in France in the Prix Morny.

Campanelle won the Queen Mary under Frankie Dettori
Campanelle won the Queen Mary under Frankie Dettori (Julian Finney/PA)

The daughter of Kodiac was well fancied to double her top-level tally in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, but had to make do with minor honours in fourth behind the hugely-impressive Aunt Pearl and the Irish pair of Mother Earth and Miss Amulet.

Ward added: “I think it was maybe the end of the long season for her. We got her back home early after Deauville and prepared for the race, but there was a lot of training involved.

“I don’t want to take anything away from the winner, because she ran great.

“We’re already looking forward to Royal Ascot next year with Campanelle, too.”

Monday Musings: He Who Dares…

In the event, I didn’t dress up for Royal Ascot, writes Tony Stafford. Lockdown Tuesday has become our day for Tesco shopping and Mrs S didn’t see any reason to alter the schedule even for a fixture she likes to visit once every year. She timed it nicely, so I was able to watch the first four races before setting off. I listened to Battaash and Nazeef, two of the endless stream of Hamdan/Jim Crowley winners, courtesy of John Hunt’s Radio Five Live Radio commentary, while the two-metre queue inched forward, and we were back just in time to see Blue Laureate trail the field for almost the entire 4,390 yards of the Ascot Stakes.

It would have been inconvenient on Tuesday, having to change out of Fashion Show week catwalk mode into car park waiting mufti halfway through the piece. So I didn’t bother.

Having missed it on Tuesday, the incentive to “Go Royal” after so many had already had their first-day home champagne parties lost its glister. Indeed that was more and more the case as the week progressed. By Thursday I was wondering how we had ever managed to get there at all in all those years. Driving across to pick up Harry and Alan; negotiating the M25; employing the well-worn but not generally-known short cuts like Watersplash Lane which leads down to the Golden Gates and doing all that to arrive by midday for a coffee in the box and a 2.30 start was always a real trial. Now we had to be ready for a start at 1.15 and I found it was almost impossible even without the travel.

Parkinson’s Law states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion” and that adage, first formulated in the 1940’s, certainly mirrors my experience of the long weeks of isolation during lockdown.

The normal Royal Ascot routine post racing always required a quick departure after the last and a brisk stroll past the community singing as the bulk of the crowd, unaware of the potential horrors of delaying, would be left behind. Talking of the singing, I wonder if the obvious changing tide of popular sentiment in the UK will ever allow such jingoistic throw-back melodies to be allowed in future, a thought that symbolically coincided with the death of Dame Vera Lynn last week at the age of 103. Even when we got back to the car park before the queues started in earnest, the M25 was still the major obstacle, and I rarely managed to get home much before 8 p.m.

One nonagenarian who would have managed to find elements of the cut-down menu to enjoy was Her Majesty, at 94 still vigorous and, in Dame Vera terms, a relative spring chicken. While denied for the first time since the War of the full Ascot experience of which she is always such a centre-piece for so many, including Mrs S., she had to find a private way of celebrating the success of her home-bred colt Tactical. How odd that she – I presume that’s where she remained after the Trooping the Colour transposition the previous weekend – was in Windsor Castle at the precise moment that her colt was winning the eponymous event!

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Her carriage routinely passes along our Watersplash Lane/ Cheapside Village route. No doubt the bunting will have been out as usual last week and the locals will have been feeling among the most penalised of all those denied that early summer feeling of normality. Now, as the days grotesquely start to grow shorter, and with Coronavirus deaths finally dropping below a thousand for the past week from a peak of 6,500 in mid-April, hopes of some degree of normality are rising.

For some stables the outward impression of the status quo remains. Royal Ascot success was largely the province of the big yards, but not exclusively so. Possibly the most remarkable were the achievements of Alan King, once almost exclusively regarded as a National Hunt specialist, but now a man for all seasons.

Royal Ascot encompassed 36 races over the five days. King had runners in five races. His Tritonic finished a half-length second to Highland Chief in the one-off Golden Gates Handicap which opened Thursday’s card and 40-1 shot Painless Potter was a creditable fifth in Saturday’s Coventry Stakes which will live long in the memory. Its victor, the Clive Cox-trained Nando Parrado, ridden by Adam Kirby for Mrs Marie McCartan, a 165,000 guineas buy as a foal, won at 150-1, the longest-priced Royal Ascot winner in its history. That exceeded two 100-1’s: Fox Chapel, who won the 1990 Britannia Stakes and Flashman’s Papers in the 2008 Windsor Castle.

Nando Parrado had run two weeks previously in one of the highly-competitive Newmarket races where trainers anxious to give preps to their nominated Royal Ascot hopefuls, took advantage of being guaranteed a run. Nando Parrado finished fifth behind Bright Devil whose trainer, Andrew Balding, opted for a step up in distance in Thursday’s Chesham Stakes. He finished fifth to the promising Coolmore colt, Battleground.

As well as Nando Parrado, three other subsequent winners started in that race. The fourth, Saint Lawrence, and sixth, Jimmy Sparks, both won races impressively last week, and London Palladium, last of 11 in that debut, was a 16-1 victor at Redcar yesterday.

Amazingly all three of King’s remaining runners won the final race of their respective days. Coeur De Lion made it third time lucky in Tuesday’s Ascot Stakes; Scarlet Dragon, at 33-1, gave Hollie Doyle a first Royal Ascot success in Friday’s Duke of Edinburgh Handicap and the final accolade of the week went to the redoubtable Who Dares Wins, just too tough for The Grand Visir, ridden by Hollie’s partner Tom Marquand in the Queen Alexandra Stakes for which he was the hot favourite.

Who Dares Wins, at eight, is the oldest of the King trio and has proved durable enough to run 44 times in his long career. The others are seven, Scarlet Dragon, with 45 runs on his card, and Coeur De Lion, 35.

Let’s deal with the other two first. Scarlet Dragon had 23 of his 45 runs for Eve Johnson Houghton before switching to King three seasons ago. He won five Flat races for Eve and, until Friday, his only wins for King had been in two hurdle races. He put that right here with a spectacular run from the back of the field, Hollie emulating Hayley Turner’s repeat win for Charlie Fellowes, this time aboard Onassis, in the Sandringham Handicap, Thursday’s finale.

Coeur De Lion has been with King from the start, the son of Pour Moi winning six races, two over hurdles, three on the Flat turf and one all-weather race. Who Dares Wins, with whom he has occasionally shared a horsebox to the races, had a remarkable time of it in 2019 and the first part of this year.

He was second in the Chester Cup on his third attempt. He was fourth in 2017, third the following year, and beaten only by Making Miracles last season. Between the two later Cup efforts he’d been off the track for almost a year before finishing a warming-up third under 9st 12lb behind Coeur Blimey and the inevitable Coeur De Lion in a long-distance Newbury Handicap.

Next came the Northumberland Plate, only a third all-weather run, but in the event a second triumph with a career-defining £92k winner’s prize. After that he was fourth to the smart Withhold in a valuable (but slowly-enough-run for him) two-mile handicap and then fourth in the Group 1 two-and-a-half-miler At the Arc meeting in Longchamp before finishing seventh to Stratum in the Cesarewitch.

So now Kingy would surely be giving him a break? Certainly not! Next came, of all things for a rising eight-year-old, four chases. Second places at Kempton, then (at 2-7) Plumpton before a Grade 2 win, showing all his stamina back at Kempton. His final run, in the Ultima Handicap at the Festival, probably owed more than a sideways look to the King stable sponsors, and his 13th of 23 was probably as well as could have been expected against “proper” chasers.

In the context of this weird season, a run on March 10th happily made him one of the less ring-rusty turning out for the Queen Alexandra, whose extended two miles, five furlongs could well have been written almost specifically with his requirements in mind. It needed many of those qualities to get him home ahead of The Grand Visir, who had been good enough to win last year’s Ascot Stakes under top weight. In truth, no other outcome seemed likely once the pair stripped off to do battle up the home straight.

Who Dares Wins fully lives up to his SAS-style motto. He could easily have been a Special Forces hero. In syndicate owner Henry Ponsonby’s eyes he surely is. It was such a pity that we couldn’t be there to celebrate, apart from everything else, the most heart-warming of his 11 victories and pay tribute also to Alan King, who has kept these three veterans of 124 races going to such wonderful effect.

  • TS

Monday Musings: Trainers with Form

A few hours from now (I’ve started even earlier than usual today) UK betting shops will be opening for the first time in three months, writes Tony Stafford. Those frustrated souls who do not have access to computer or telephone betting will therefore be back in the game. With the two-metre social distancing rule, sort of still in place, it will be interesting to see how it will be managed by designated employees.

Over time, many betting shops have become denuded of staff, often appearing at quiet times to be one-man or –woman affairs. So while Tesco, Sainsbury, Morrison, Lidl, Asda and the like can provide employees to monitor the outside queues, who can be spared by Hills, Coral, Ladbroke and the rest to ensure safety entering the betting emporia?

But, as we saw in various public demonstrations last week, the British red-blooded male (and sometimes female) is all-too-willing to ignore such niceties when the mood takes it. Let’s hope the much-sought-after “R” number was not too much inconvenienced by the various scrums in London town and elsewhere.

On my weekly analysis, Monday to Sunday, another 452 fewer deaths brought the latest tally to 1156, a fall of more than 32% on the week, more than maintaining the trend. So if the premature return to lemming-like crowd scenes did not damage the “R”, the return of the public to the racecourse in probably a limited degree, might not be too far off. Goodwood and York must be the two tracks most hoping for that prospect.

Many other shops are opening – even hairdressers! – from today, so anyone dressing up at home for Royal Ascot as I’ve promised myself to do tomorrow, can go for a quick tidy-up in preparation.

The overnights for the first two days are now set and the trainers who have made the most dynamic re-start, Messrs Gosden, Johnston, Hannon and Balding, all have double-figure representation. Six extra races have been added, bringing more opportunities for smaller stables, but the top teams still dominate with multiple chances in the handicaps especially.

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From the first two weeks’ action, John Gosden, who will be expecting success from 11 overnight declarations on the first two days, and with Stradivarius in the Gold Cup to wait for on Thursday as he goes for a third Gold Cup, clocked up 29 wins from his 93 starters. Mark Johnston has 17 declared on the first two days, and he too has made a flying restart, with 20 winners from his 128 runners.

A Saturday four-timer, all in Michael Tabor colours and with Seamie Heffernan in the saddle, projected Aidan O’Brien on to the domestic 13 mark at home in the first week, plus Love in the 1,000 Guineas. The Saturday quartet was spearheaded by Peaceful’s emphatic triumph in the Irish 1,000, yet another Classic winner, along with Love, for Galileo. The suggestion – it must have come from somewhere, but I’m not sure where – that Peaceful might join the team and come over for Saturday’s Coronation Stakes is both mouth-watering and eminently possible, knowing the ambition of owners and trainer.

I’ll be hoping to be still wide awake around 1 p.m. today waiting for the five-day entries. If only we could go on Saturday. The eight races kick off with the Silver Wokingham, like Wednesday’s Silver Hunt Cup, a 24-runner innovation, with the Wokingham itself staged as the seventh race on the card.

Then it’s the Queen Mary, the Coronation, the Coventry and St James’s Palace, with the chance of 2,000 Guineas runners coming on from Newmarket and Ireland. It would be great to see Siskin, especially after his fine display in the Irish 2000 Guineas, his power finish seeing off the Ballydoyle hordes. It’s more likely, however, to expect a few of the supporting cast from Newmarket and The Curragh to get an entry. Then it’s the Diamond Jubilee, the Wokingham and ending fittingly with the Queen Alexandra as the 36th race of the week. I can’t wait.

Eight races and, as so many are saying, a great chance for racing to get a bigger profile than has been the case hitherto. ITV will make it accessible to all who want to watch it, but without the pomp, ceremony and fashion we’ve come to love. Maybe this emasculated, work-a-day version will leave us with as much regret as pleasure, but I think the BHA and racing’s trainers and owners, jockeys and stable staff, and racecourses, have all done a wonderful job in getting the show back on the road in the  most challenging of circumstances.

The Queen has had plenty of interest from her horses on the track in the past fortnight. So far only First Receiver, a facile seven-length winner at Kempton in the opening week for Sir Michael Stoute and Ryan Moore, has been successful; and he looks to hold a great chance in Wednesday’s Hampton Court Stakes. I thought it also reflected well on the organisers that they were able to do the low-key televised Trooping the Colour ceremony from Windsor Castle on Saturday, on her official birthday. She was actually 94 on April 21st and the way the cameras picked up her still mobile, fully engaged and alert self was a great pick-me-up for everyone watching.

How irritating it must have been for her that the usual venue for the ceremony, Horseguards Parade, tucked in between the Cenotaph and Trafalgar Square in Central London, was being invaded by rent-a-mobs at the precise moment her first official engagement since lockdown was continuing with such dignity and efficiency 25 miles to the west.

If there is one constant irritation for me even in the general goodwill generated by the simple fact of there being some racing – and good stuff – to watch, it’s that “his stable has been in form” routine by various presenters. Form is governed by opportunity and the 200-plus stables by definition, just as the top riders, can have a string of fancied losers, but get another good chance in the next race after which the inevitable “in good form” line is trotted out.

What I think is worth noting, is to identify the up-and-coming operations. Archie Watson has already gone from upstart to top trainer usually with horses sent forward from the start. That rewarding pattern, almost A P McCoy-like, has been a constant factor, apart of course from natural talent, in the emergence of Hollie Doyle, already flying past the 50 mark for the year.

Now she’s getting the best out of all her mounts, for Archie and everyone else, and from the back of the field as well as the front. She, no doubt, will be one of the riders gaining the most attention, if not necessarily the most success, in the coming week.

Among the trainers, it’s been very good to see the emergence of Tom Clover. He had the good sense to learn his trade as assistant to the highly-accomplished David Simcock, and even more to marry Jackie, daughter of the late, great Michael Jarvis.

Last year the couple made the switch from Willie Musson’s Savile House just around the corner from Newmarket’s Clock Tower, a few strides up Fordham Road to Kremlin House, scene of Michael Jarvis’s greatest achievements.  So the Tottenham fan married into an Arsenal household, but harmony is clearly the name of the game. And talent, too, as Tom has fired in six winners from only 16 runners in the two weeks since the restart and 11 from 42 overall this year.

That puts him within reach of last year’s tally of 19, following seven in each of the previous two years, his first two full campaigns as a trainer.

Another to have switched yards even more recently is William Knight, up to HQ after a longish stint in Sussex to take over Rathmoy Stable, formerly the base for the legendary Neville Callaghan and more recently David Lanigan, who is departing for the US.

Knight has also been quick off the mark, and in his case, the “trainer in form” comment is fully deserved. From 14 runs, he’s sent out three winners (13-2, 22-1 and 33-1) and three third places. Four of the eight also-rans have started at 50-1 and above, and talking of opportunity, the average price of ALL his runners has been 33-1. Gosden’s 93 have averaged 4-1. Now that’s making the most of one’s opportunities and Knight I’m sure will continue to be a man to follow, as will Clover.

- TS

Royal Ascot 2020: Course Overview and Draw Bias

Royal Ascot 2020 will be the best domestic flat race meeting of the year so far, and perhaps of the year as a whole in this creatively concertinaed campaign. It will also be among the hardest from which to derive a betting profit.

With a meeting like Royal Ascot, especially the expanded version this season, it is imperative to have a game plan: this is a five-day fixture comprised in 2020 of thirty-six races (six more than normal), so let us attempt to know what we can know about the course and any nuances or biases it may have.

Ascot Course Characteristics

Ascot's course layout: straight up to a mile, with longer races on the round course. Also a round mile

Ascot's course layout: straight up to a mile, with longer races on the round course. Also a round mile

Uphill

The above graphic illustrates the stiff test that the Ascot racecourse represents, with the red triangle just past the winning post signifying the highest point on the course. Thus there is an uphill drag almost the whole way up the straight. On the round course, the lowest point is at the round mile (Old Mile) start, meaning that distance is also almost entirely uphill, too.

For more extended races on the round course, which is actually closer to being triangular than round, there is some early respite in the loop prior to the long climb for glory.

Tight bends

It is also worth noting that the bend into the home straight for round course races is tight and, being situated just two and a half furlongs from the finish, can cause trouble in running with horses either locked in a pocket or having to fan very wide on the turn to find daylight.

For round course races, then, it is often advantageous to be on or close to the pace: here, a horse and rider will have no traffic problems and, if the fuel has been burned proportionately, can slingshot into the straight and prove very hard to peg back.

The main focus of this article, however, is on the straight track, and will cover draw, pace and draw/pace composite analyses for each of five-, six-, seven-, and eight-furlong races.

Ascot Draw / Pace Bias

There may then be a pace bias on the round course, but what of the straight track? Races here are run at five, six, seven and eight furlongs, many of them big field handicaps or Group race sprints, and our Draw Analyser can help understand historical advantages.

Ascot 5f Draw Bias

The below chart shows something we call PRB3 for five-furlong races of 14 runners or more (good or quicker) since 2009, based on actual draw (i.e. after non-runners have been accounted for). PRB3 is the rolling three-stall average percentage of rivals beaten and it helps to better quantify the merit of a particular part of the track from a draw perspective. More information on PRB3 can be found here.

An average PRB score would be 50%, or 0.5, implying that a horse beat as many horses as beat it. Thus, any part of the track where the PRB(3) score is consistently greater than 0.5 implies a draw advantage. The converse is also true: a PRB(3) consistently below 0.5 implies a disadvantage in the starting stalls postcode lottery.

It can be seen, then, that, generally speaking, high numbers enjoy a slight benefit in big fields.

Ascot 5f Pace Bias

Horses racing from the front in big fields up Ascot's five furlong straight have fared best, as can be seen below. This information is derived from our Pace Analyser tool. The chart is based on place percentages, but the story is similar in the win context, too, as can be seen from the table and the coloured blobs above the chart.

 

The coloured blobs tell us that runners which led (or were very close to the pace, e.g. "pressed leader") in big field fast ground five furlong races at Ascot won nine races from 95 horses to adopt such a run style. That's a little under 10%, and was worth a profit at starting price of £20.50 to a £1 level stake. All other run styles were loss-making with win and place strike rates between half and two-thirds that of early leaders.

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That is not to say it is always easy to identify the early speed, nor that a one-in-ten hit rate will be plain sailing; but it is worth knowing that pace bias looks a little stronger than draw bias at the minimum on fast ground and in big fields.

Ascot 5f Draw / Pace Combinations

As might be expected, runners with early pace that were drawn high have fared best in big field five-furlong races at Ascot. Our Draw Analyser tool - and the Draw tab within any race in our racecards - contains a heat map illustrating the draw/run style combinations. Sorted by percentage of rivals beaten, it looks like this:

As can be seen, horses are able to run their race from anywhere on the track, with no big negatives. However, there does appear to be a 'green triangle' for pace pressers drawn middle to high, with high drawn leaders significantly outperforming the 0.5 benchmark.

Ascot 5f Draw / Pace Summary

High draws may have the best of it in big field fast ground five-furlong races. So, too, may pace pressers. And being a fast starter drawn high compounds those positives, with five from 20 such runners prevailing (+23.5 at SP), and another four making the frame.

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Ascot 6f Draw Bias

It's a similar story over six furlongs. If there is a stalls position bias, it might be slightly against low drawn horses, with middle to high persistently above the 0.5 mark as can be seen from this chart:

One important caveat to that is stall one, hard against the rail. That post position has secured seven winners from 58 to depart there, at a 12% clip (+44 level stakes at SP). It might be that the watering doesn't quite reach the innermost strip of turf and/or that the rail helps the runner there maintain its position. Either way, it looks material for all that it could be coincidental. [Stall one also outperformed its near neighbours, though to a lesser extent, over five furlongs.]

Ascot 6f Pace Bias

It is harder to lead all the way at six furlongs than it is at five, as can be seen by comparing the image below with the equivalent for the minimum trip above. Nevertheless, early leaders still have the best win and place strike rates, and an impact value of greater than 1.5. Those held up have also fared well relatively, with prominent and midfield runners collectively faring only as well as held up horses, from an almost 50% bigger sample.

Ascot 6f Draw / Pace Combinations

The combination of a high draw and early speed is again seen to good effect in the below 6f draw/pace heat map. But note also the performance of middle-to-high draws which are waited with. Any score of 0.55 or above can be considered meritorious in the general context of percentage of rivals beaten (PRB).

Ascot 6f Draw / Pace Summary

Over the six furlong range at Ascot, it is a similar story to the five furlong summary: early speed and a high draw are seen to best effect. But note the improved performance of hold up types, who are often exhilarating to watch if generally exasperating to wager!

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Ascot 7f Draw Bias

The picture becomes less clear still when we move up in range to Ascot's straight seven furlongs. Although those berthed highest have fared best, in percentage of rivals beaten terms, the scale on the vertical axis of this chart is narrower: there is a less pronounced draw bias, indeed arguably there is nothing worth noting.

Ascot 7f Pace Bias

It is a long way home in a big field cavalry charge up the stiff straight seven furlongs, and those waited with have performed clearly best. The chart below is sorted by place percentage for the sake of consistency with previously discussed distances, but the win percentage line would have been even more striking.

Indeed, perusing the table reveals that held up runners have won more seven-furlong Ascot races than the other run styles combined! Numerically, they've prevailed at 6.73% compared with all other run styles' combined 3.72%. It is clear that patience is a virtue in this particular trial.

Ascot 7f Draw / Pace Combinations

The heat map again ratifies the individual considerations of draw and pace, with those draw away from low and held up generally performing best, in PRB terms.

As an indicator of how difficult it is to win at Ascot over seven furlongs from the front, I've included the same heat map sorted this time by win percent:

Just two of the 90 horses to have vied for the early lead in the sample managed to get home. Middle to high and waited with achieved significantly more.

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Ascot Straight Mile Draw Bias

In fuller fields on the straight mile course, close to a wing has been better than up the middle, perhaps providing greater assurance of 'a run' away from the density of what can be a highly populous centre pack:

Ascot Straight Mile Pace Bias

From a pace perspective, the pendulum swing has completed its arc, with held up runners now not only ascendant in win strike rate terms but also profitable to back. Indeed a £1 e/w bet on all such runners over Ascot's straight mile would have yielded a surplus of £83.60. Hold up types have won as many races as all other run styles combined from slightly more than half as many runners.

Those racing prominently have a horrible record, winning at not markedly better than 1% of the time.

Ascot Straight Mile Draw / Pace Combinations

This is a classic heat map image, with a clear diffusion of colour: greens at the back, oranges and reds at the front. There is little of note in terms of stall position but a stonewall takeaway from a run style perspective.

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Ascot Straight Track Draw and Pace Summary

As with all tracks, it is a very solid starting point for your wagering considerations to understand the constitution of the course and any general principles which may assist. Our racecourse pages, including this one for Ascot, will help in that regard.

Based on what has been shown above, there is a pleasingly clean pattern to proceedings:

- Pace pressers perform best in five and six furlong sprints, more so at the shorter trip.

- It is much harder to hold on to the lead at seven furlongs and a mile, where waited-with types have the best of it.

- Generally speaking, middle to high is better than low at up to seven furlongs on the straight track, while...

- It may be preferable to be drawn closer to one rail or other in big field straight mile races, particularly if you like a hold up type.

It is unlikely that any of the above will help find winners by itself, but it ought to steer generally in the right direction. Naturally, Geegeez Gold has many more tools to assist the elimination process, and you can find out more about them here. Good luck!

Matt

Monday Musings: Rapid Start Far From Flat

The two unbeaten favourites didn’t collect the first two Classics of the UK racing season as many, including the bookmakers, were expecting, writes Tony Stafford. Pinatubo was a slightly one-paced third as Kameko gave Andrew Balding a second UK Classic in the 2,000 Guineas, 17 years after Casual Look was his first in the Oaks. Yesterday, Love made it six 1,000 Guineas triumphs for Aidan O’Brien, four in the last six years, as the Roger Charlton filly Quadrilateral also had to be content with third place.

For quite a while in Saturday’s big event, staged behind closed doors of course, it looked as though O’Brien would be celebrating an 11th “2,000” – from back home in Ireland as he left on-course matters to be attended to by his accomplished satellite team. Wichita, turning around last October’s Dewhurst form both with Pinatubo and his lesser-fancied-on-the-day stable companion Arizona, went into what had looked a winning advantage under super-sub Frankie Dettori until close home when the Balding colt was produced fast, late and wide by Oisin Murphy.

The young Irishman might already be the champion jockey, but the first week of the new season, begun eight months after that initial coronation last autumn, suggests he has a new confidence and maturity built no doubt of his great winter success in Japan and elsewhere. A wide range of differing winning rides were showcased over the past few days and Messrs Dettori and Moore, Buick, Doyle and De Sousa clearly have an equal to contend with.

It was Dettori rather than Moore who rode Wichita, possibly because of the relative form in that Dewhurst when Wichita under Ryan got going too late. This time Arizona got his lines wrong and he had already been seen off when he seemed to get unbalanced in the last quarter-mile. Kameko will almost certainly turn up at Epsom now. Balding was keen to run Bangkok in the race last year despite that colt’s possible stamina deficiency. The way Kameko saw out the last uphill stages, he could indeed get the trip around Epsom a month from now.

The 2020 Guineas weekend follows closely the example of its immediate predecessor. Last year there was also a big team of O’Brien colts, including the winner Magna Grecia, and none was by their perennial Classic producer, Galileo. The following afternoon, the 14-1 winner Hermosa, was Galileo’s only representative in their quartet in the fillies’ race. This weekend, again there were four Ballydoyle colts in their race, and none by Galileo. Two, including Wichita, are sons of No Nay Never. As last year, there was a single daughter of Galileo in yesterday’s race, the winner Love. Her four and a quarter length margin must make it pretty much a formality that she will pitch up at Epsom next month.

Love was unusually O’Brien’s only representative yesterday which rather simplified Ryan Moore’s choice. It will surely be hard to prise her from him at Epsom whatever the other Coolmore-owned fillies show at The Curragh and elsewhere in the interim.

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With Irish racing resuming at Naas this afternoon, attention will be switching immediately to the Irish Classics next weekend. What with those races, which Ryan will sit out under the 14-day regulations, the Coolmore owners and their trainer will have a clear course to formulate their Derby team and Oaks back-up squad. It would appear that the good weather enjoyed in the UK after which so many big stables, notably Messrs Johnston, Gosden and Balding, have made a flying start on the resumption, has also been kind to Irish trainers.

I know that sometimes in the spring the grass gallops at Ballydoyle have barely been usable by the time of the first month of action. The delayed and truncated first phase should continue to be to the benefit of the more powerful yards and maiden races, just as those in the UK, are already looking like virtual group races, especially on the big tracks.

Aidan O’Brien has 11 runners on today’s opening card, including four in the second event for juveniles, where Lippizaner, who managed a run in one of the Irish Flat meetings squeezed in before the shutdown, is sure to be well fancied. A son of Uncle Mo, he was beaten half a length first time out and the experience, which is his alone in the field, should not be lost on him.

The shutdown has been a contributor to a denial of one of my annual pleasures, a leisurely look at the Horses in Training book which I normally buy during the Cheltenham Festival but forgot to search for at this year’s meeting. The usual fall-back option of Tindalls bookshop in Newmarket High Street has also been ruled out, and inexplicably I waited until last week before thinking to order it on-line.

There are some notable absentees from the book and it has become a growing practice for some of the bigger trainers to follow the example of Richard Fahey who for some years has left out his two-year-olds. John Gosden has joined him in that regard otherwise they both would have revealed teams comfortably beyond 250.

Charlie Appleby, William Haggas, Mark Johnston, Richard Hannon and Andrew Balding all have strings of more than 200 and all five have been quick off the mark, each taking advantage of a one-off new rule instigated by the BHA. In late May trainers wishing to nominate two-year-olds they believed might be suitable to run at Royal Ascot, which begins a week tomorrow, could nominate them and thereby get priority status to avoid elimination with the inevitable over-subscription in the early fixtures.

In all, 163 horses were nominated with Johnston leading the way with 11; Charlie Appleby and Fahey had eight each; Hannon and Archie Watson seven and Haggas five. All those teams have been fast away in all regards but notably with juveniles. The plan, aimed at giving Ascot candidates racecourse experience in the limited time available, has clearly achieved its objective.

Among the trainers with a single nominated juvenile, Hughie Morrison took the chance to run his colt Rooster at Newmarket. Beforehand he was regretting that he hadn’t realised he could have taken him to a track when lockdown rules could apparently have been “legally bent” if not actually transgressed. Rooster should improve on his close seventh behind a clutch of other Ascot-bound youngsters when he reappears.

When I spoke to Hughie before the 1,000 Guineas he was adamant that the 200-1 shot Romsey “would outrun those odds”. In the event Romsey was the only other “finisher” in the 15-horse field apart from Love and, in getting to the line a rapidly-closing fifth, she was only a length and a half behind Quadrilateral. So fast was she moving at that stage, she would surely have passed the favourite in another half furlong. The Racing Post “analysis” which said she “lacked the pace of some but kept on for a good showing” was indeed damning with faint praise. Hughie also could be pleased yesterday with a promising revival for Telecaster, a close third behind Lord North and Elarqam in the Brigadier Gerard Stakes at Haydock despite getting very warm beforehand.

No doubt I’ll be returning to Horses in Training quite a lot in the coming weeks, but just as the long list of Galileo colts and fillies was dominant among the Ballydoyle juveniles for many years, the numerical power of Dubawi among Charlie Appleby’s team is now rivalling it. Last year, when I admit I didn’t really notice it, there were 40 Dubawi juveniles: this year the number has grown to an eye-opening 55. At the same time the yard has gone well past 200, reflecting his upward trajectory ever since taking over the main Godolphin job ten years ago. I’m sure Pinatubo has some more big wins in his locker.

I always look forward to seeing the team of Nicolas Clement, French Fifteen’s trainer, in the book, and he is there as usual with his middling-strength team. Nowadays much of what used to pass for free time for this greatly-admired man is taken up with his role as the head of the French trainers. He confessed that carrying out his duties over the weeks in lockdown and then the changes in the areas in France where racing could be allowed had been very demanding.

This weekend, Nicolas along with everyone in racing had a dreadful shock when his younger brother Christophe, who has been training with great success in the US for many years, suffered a terrible tragedy. On Saturday a Sallee company horsebox, transporting ten Clement horses from Florida to race in New York burst into flames on the New Jersey Turnpike, killing all ten animals. One report suggested that the horsebox had collided with a concrete stanchion. It added that the two drivers attempted to free the horses but were unable to do so.

At the top level, where both Clement brothers have been accustomed to operating on their respective sides of the pond, the rewards can be great. But as this incident graphically and starkly shows, there is often a downside for trainers and owners, though rarely one of quite this horrific finality.

- TS

Monday Musings: On the Resumption

After a first week of a successful and seemingly uneventful return to racing on the Flat, over jumps and, no doubt, while unseen on our screens, the equally popular trotting, the French government surprisingly invoked their colour co-ordinated map to ban racing in the Northern and Paris regions, but allowed it to continue elsewhere, writes Tony Stafford.

Fortunately for Sky Sports Racing, it was still able to continue with its daily offerings. Once I heard though on Monday the first strains of South African tones, with its accompaniment of some odd pronunciations, identity-delaying tactics like “in second placing, in third placing, and then came” <a switch of tenses another irritation> “in fourth placing…” one sole non-Ian Bartlett commentary was more than enough.

Mr Bartlett it seemed had done his bit for now, his rather posh and supremely accurate English “chalk” superseded by southern hemisphere cheese for the latest week. Smaller fields were the norm for this period compared with the generally bigger and therefore more demanding line-ups in the Paris region before Longchamp and the rest closed their doors once again. Maybe from today another commentator might be on duty for the third and final week before France becomes more of a side-show as, everything crossed, domestic sport gets going at last next Monday.

The French government’s unexpected pull back away from the country’s red zone prompted scepticism that the June 1st date might not be adhered to over here. One friend, in particular, who with two family members was laid low (though happily not hospitalised) with the virus in its early days, predicted that the hoped-for Monday week restart in the UK, would not go ahead. He pointed out that the schedule had never (and still hasn’t) been formally confirmed by government.

Now though we have a much more detailed programme of fixtures from the BHA, with races and prizemoney fully documented. Initially after the French decision on red zones, Betfair’s market on the June 1st resumption had swung to odds against. Early today it was around 4-1 on to resume on that date or earlier. Indeed the delay until the first day of June, after an earlier hoped-for date two weeks prior by trainers, owners and the BHA, has been fortuitous.

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Last week’s article outlined evidence which showed that the infection had been steadily reducing week on week for the previous month or so. One week further on, the trend has continued apace so that for each of the past five weeks, the number of fatalities and people remaining in hospital with the virus has continued its steady decline.

Most encouragingly, for the fifth week in a row, the percentage decline in deaths has been in double figures. Week one, Sunday April 19th-26th fell from 6207 to 5573, representing a fall of 11%; week 2, 5573-4791, 14.6%; week 3, 4791 to 3409, 28.3%; week 4, 3409 to 2781, 18.4% and the latest period until yesterday it was 2781 to 2157, and 22.4%.

A similar level of decline into the middle of next month – by the time of the behind closed doors’ five days of Royal Ascot – could coincide with the number of deaths falling some way short  of 1000 per week. Most striking has been the very small numbers for London, fewer than 20 mortalities a day over the past week, astonishing for a city of around 10 million inhabitants.

I’ve looked back again at the March 15th bulletin, when the first briefing from Downing Street was called. It was announced that there had been 15 UK deaths over the previous 24 hours. That day, one official predicted that as many as 80% of the population, thus potentially approaching 50 million people, could become infected. Of the three million plus people that have now been tested, around one in 20 (fewer than 270,000) have been found to have had the virus.

A couple of weeks ago I was pretty rude to Weatherbys, suggesting that while owners will have to be prepared to accept smaller prizes when racing resumes, Weatherbys’ administrative costs never seem to go down. In retrospect I have to agree with one of the firm’s top officials who pointed out how unfair a side-swipe it was. I had been referring to a small increase in the Levy yield for the past year, without factoring in that there would be no spectator or corporate catering income for the foreseeable future. No wonder prizes need to be reduced.

Over the past week the timetable for the early part of the revived season has firmed up. Most exciting and best received by all quarters has been the five days of Royal Ascot which will now include six extra races, seven rather than six each day from Tuesday June 16th to Friday the 19th and then eight instead of six on the Saturday. Racing will also begin earlier than usual each day.

There will be a maximum field size of 24, and three of the meeting’s existing races are now being divided with the Royal Hunt Cup and Wokingham both having consolation races. The Buckingham Palace Handicap has also been revived, the race having been lost upon the founding of the Group 1 Commonwealth Cup sprint for three-year-olds a few years ago.

My wife usually comes racing once during Royal Ascot every year although in 2019 she could not attend. She suggested to me that it would be fun if on the one day she normally goes, we could put on our finery and wear it while we watch the sport from home – she’ll stretch to one race at least! She did tell me the name of a site where such things are habitually shared with others, but I cannot remember what it’s called and I daren’t wake her at 5 a.m. I know my top hat still fits and the lockdown slimdown means the morning suit and waistcoat will also have a little welcome room. Join us if you will!

Ireland’s revived start of June 8th begins at Naas, while the following weekend features the opening fixtures at The Curragh with the Irish 2,000 and 1,000 Guineas staged on June 12th and 13th respectively.

Four tracks have not been included in the initial provisional UK fixture list which stretches to the end of August. Brighton and Worcester have had damage caused respectively by gales and flooding and, combined with the lockdown, it has proved impossible for ARC (the Arena Racing Company) to undertake the necessary repairs in time. Jockey Club Racecourses also have had to forego any fixtures during the resumption period at Carlisle and Nottingham, two of my favourite smaller tracks.

Many of the other highlights later on from the initial flurry are scheduled pretty much on their customary timings. If the recovery from the worst excesses of the virus continues at its present rate, it could even be that by Goodwood or York’s Ebor meeting some elements of a crowd could be possible.

We’ve missed coming up for ten weeks of racing, with Aintree, Chester’s and York’s May meetings as well as the Guineas lost, though thankfully those two Classics will be held over the first weekend at Newmarket. I reckon I would normally have been racing at least 30 times in that period which is always the most enjoyable and informative time of the year for me.

Thank goodness we have the two specialist channels able to televise the sport. Roll on next Monday and Newcastle. The entries will be out by noon tomorrow for the eight races (1.00 to 4.30) and I expect them all to be vastly over-subscribed. Good luck to everyone for the resumption.