Posts

Monday Musings: The Middle Distance Ranks Are Massing

Until Wednesday evening in Paris it was all plain sailing for Aidan O’Brien, writes Tony Stafford. He could pick his Group 1 spots for the rest of the year with his team of Classic colts and more plentiful top fillies and wait to see what presumably ineffectual opposition Europe’s other major stables would be able to throw at them.

But then along came Hurricane Lane, only third to lesser-fancied stable-companion Adayar in the Derby at Epsom but subsequently a workmanlike winner in the face of a good late challenge by English-trained Lone Eagle (Martin Meade) in the Irish Derby at The Curragh.

Neither run could have prepared us for the Frankel colt’s storming performance on Bastille Day (14 July) as he ripped away the home team’s barricades <couldn’t help myself> beating the Prix du Jockey Club also-rans with possibly more ease than St Mark’s Basilica had managed a month earlier.

Die-hard traditionalists have already been put in their place in France. In the old days the Jockey Club was 2400 metres (12 furlongs) in line with Epsom and The Curragh and was reduced to its present distance of 2100 metres in 2005.

That move coincided with the moving up to a mile and a half of the great Fête Nationale celebration race on a movable feast of an evening card at Longchamp. The Grand Prix de Paris, until the arrival of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in 1920, had been the most prestigious and valuable race in France and was run over 3000 metres (15 furlongs), and even 3100 metres for a shorter intervening period.

In 1987, though, it was reduced significantly in distance to 2000 metres (1m2f) and it was at that trip that Saumarez won the 1990 race prior to his victory in the Arc that October. Previously trained to place in the Dee Stakes at Chester by Henry Cecil, Saumarez made Nicolas Clement, who had recently taken over the stable when his father Miguel died, the youngest-ever trainer to win France’s greatest race.

It works for France because, as Hurricane Lane showed so eloquently, a horse could run in and even win either or both the Epsom and Irish Derby, or indeed the Jockey Club, and there would still be time to prepare him for the Grand Prix.

That is just what Charlie Appleby did with such skill and the most notable element of it was how much he had in hand of the William Haggas colt Alenquer whose form with Adayer in the Sandown Classic Trial over ten furlongs in the spring appeared to give him a collateral edge on Hurricane Lane.

Alenquer not only beat Adayer on the Esher slopes but afterwards comfortably won the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot. But he was put in his place as Hurricane Lane stormed <that verb again!> six lengths clear of Wordsworth, first home of the O’Brien trio. It looked at first appraisal a major improvement on The Curragh but closer inspection reveals that Wordsworth had been beaten slightly further in his home Classic.

So where does that leave Adayer? Well, according to a conversation Charlie Appleby had with a friend who visited his luxurious stables in Newmarket before racing on Saturday, Adayer is fancied to run a very strong race as he faces up to last year’s O’Brien Classic superstar, Love, in Saturday’s King George.

The filly has the edge in the market after her comeback win over an inadequate ten furlongs in the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot but Appleby, mindful that the weight-for-age scale favours three-year-olds, is by all accounts confident he will do so. Love concedes 8lb to the Derby hero while William Muir and Chris Grassick’s Coronation Cup hero Pyledriver gives him 11lb. Ascot is also the probable target for Lone Eagle.

Like O’Brien, Appleby is a modest man who often deflects praise to the people around him. Indeed as my friend left, Charlie said, “If you couldn’t train horses from here, where could you?”

Guesses that maybe St Mark’s Basilica might step up in distance on Saturday have been scuppered by his trainer’s single-mindedly pointing him towards the Juddmonte International. Those three days in York next month will also feature the next step towards the stars of Snowfall, following in the footprints of Love from a year ago by taking in the Yorkshire Oaks.

By the way, Jim, get my room ready! I’ll see how my first day back racing on Saturday at Ascot goes and then I might take the liberty of giving you a call. Where have I been? Too busy with all this Covid lark, mate, but I have been thinking of you!

However short a price Love was on what was to prove her last run of 2020 after the easy wins in the 1,000 Guineas and Oaks, the latter by nine lengths, 4-9 will be looking a gift if that is available about Snowfall. Could be 1-5!

Many felt the exaggerated superiority, indeed a UK Classic record-winning margin of 16 lengths, could in part be ascribed to the very testing ground at Epsom. Just as many were predicting that on faster ground in Saturday’s Irish Oaks she might go for economy.

Leading two furlongs out under Ryan Moore, delighted to be riding her for only the second time – he was on board for the shock Musidora win at York on May 12 three weeks before Epsom and that Frankie Dettori benefit – she drew away by eight-and-a-half lengths in majestic style.

As we know, the Coolmore boys like all the boxes ticked and the opportunities covered, but I can categorically tell you that they did not expect her to win at York. Even when she did, the beaten horses’ connections were dreaming up reasons why you could not trust the result.

After all she was rated only a modest 90 on the back of her juvenile exploits, the most memorable apart from winning a small maiden race was the mix up when she wore the wrong colour hat when well behind in the Fillies’ Mile at Newmarket last autumn.

After the Epsom and Curragh regal processions there is only one place you would consider for a soft-ground loving but equally comfortable on quicker turf three-year-old filly of her status - the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. It took me a while – having discarded my European Pattern Races 2021 book with hundreds of others in advance of a hoped-for downsizing move – to work out why she had not been one of the dozen O’Brien horses entered for the Arc.

Six older male horses – Mogul, Broome, Armory, Serpentine, Japan and Inisfree (where’s he been for 20 months?) – are supplemented by Love. The five three-year-olds are the colts St Mark’s Basilica, along with domestic Classic flops Bolshoi Ballet, High Definition and hard-working Van Gogh whose dance in four Classics (the UK and Irish Guineas, when third behind Mac Swiney, and French and Irish Derby) brought that one positive result.

That left room for one filly and, considering Santa Barbara took until last week to gain Grade 1 winning honours in the New York Oaks while four of her supposedly inferior female counterparts beat her to it, the evidence is there. They did indeed think she was far and away the best.

At least that was the case until 3.15 p.m. on the afternoon of May 12. The Arc closed at France Galop’s HQ around four-and-three-quarter hours earlier.  Now they have to wait until September 27 to get her in and pay a heavy penalty to do so.

In all, 101 horses made it. I am sure that date is writ large on the Racing Office wall and, if she enjoys another exhibition round back at the Yorkshire track she first consented to tell her trainer and owners how good she is, the supplementary entry will be made. Chances to win the race do not come along very often.

For all his and his owners’ successes in big races around Europe and in the US, the Arc has proved elusive. Two victories, with four-year-olds Dylan Thomas in 2007 and the brilliant filly Found five years ago, leave him still with a blank to fill. No Ballydoyle three-year-old has won the race since the days of Vincent O’Brien, who took the first of his two Arcs with Alleged in 1977. His second win, doubling up for Lester Piggott the year after followed Ballymoss in 1958, showed once again just how tough a race it is to win.

As mentioned, two O’Brien fillies are entered, Love and Santa Barbara. The latter might continue to make up for her earlier limitations in the Nassau Stakes next week but, as we know, a trio of Classic-winning alternatives, Joan Of Arc, Mother Earth and Empress Josephine, are equally qualified to step in and possibly pick up the Goodwood fillies’ Group 1.

Meanwhile Kevin Ryan has been exploiting the early juvenile Group contests in France with Atomic Force. Beaten first time out and gelded before a win in a small race at Hamilton, Ryan took him to Longchamp last month and he won Group 3 Prix du Bois nicely.

Returning yesterday for the Group 2 Prix Robert Papin, he started 2-1 on and bolted up. He will probably return for the Prix Morny at Deauville next month. Having watched that win the Sky Sports Racing team suggested the Nunthorpe might be an option given how much weight juveniles get from their elders. This year though that could be a hot race if newcomers on the Group 1 sprinting scene like Ed Walker’s Starman and Tim Easterby’s flying filly Winter Power turn up.

- TS

Love on target for King George date

Superstar filly Love remains on course for the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Qipco Stakes at Ascot on Saturday.

Last year’s 1000 Guineas and Oaks heroine made a successful return from 10 months off the track in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot last month and is set to return to the Berkshire circuit for next weekend’s midsummer showpiece.

Speaking at the Curragh on Sunday, trainer Aidan O’Brien said: “The plan at the moment is that we’re looking at running Love in the King George. Mogul and Broome are also there, but Love is the most likely to run. Something else could run but I’m not sure just yet.

“Everything has gone well with her since Ascot.”

Love’s likely rivals include Charlie Appleby’s Derby winner Adayar, Irish Derby runner-up Lone Eagle and Coronation Cup victor Pyledriver.

Plans are less certain for O’Brien’s hugely-exciting colt St Mark’s Basilica.

St Mark’s Basilica stretches clear in the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown
St Mark’s Basilica stretches clear in the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown (Nigel French/PA)

Like Love a dual Classic winner, having won the French 2000 Guineas and the French Derby, the Siyouni colt comfortably beat his elders for the first time with an impressive display in the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown.

O’Brien confirmed the Juddmonte International at York and the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown as potential targets, adding: “The lads haven’t really decided yet what they want to do but York and Leopardstown would certainly be races we’ll be looking at.

“We’ll probably know more in another week where we are going.”

Monday Musings: St Mark My Words!

The sports pages yesterday were dominated by a certain football match in Rome and, much earlier on Saturday, the 18-year-old world number 338-rated female tennis player wowing the home crowd at Wimbledon, writes Tony Stafford. At least on a par, ten miles down the A3 in Esher, St Mark’s Basilica was deservedly making his own headlines.

There is winning a Group 1 race, indeed one completed in slower time for the Sandown Park ten furlongs than the two handicaps over that trip on the card, and then there’s winning it like a potential champion.

You can list a big winner’s credentials but when it gets into the top level it is rare to find a horse running past fully tested Group 1 performers in a few strides and drawing away. That is what St Mark’s Basilica did in swamping Mishriff and Addeybb for speed once Ryan Moore unleashed him.

Afterwards there was the inevitable qualifying of the performance, commentators suggesting Addeybb, who battled back to wrest second off Mishriff, and the third horse may have both come to the race a little under-cooked.

Well here’s the rub. Both horses had already won Group 1 races this year, Addeybb continuing his Australian odyssey with another defeat of the brilliant mare Verry Elleegant in the Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Randwick in April while Mishriff earned his owner Prince Abdulrahman Abdullah Faisal just about £10 million when annexing his own country’s Saudi Cup and the Dubai Sheema Classic on Dubai World Cup night.

Those wins illustrated his versatility, the former over nine furlongs on dirt and the latter a mile and a half on turf, so Sandown’s mile and a quarter will have fitted comfortably within his parameters.

When Mishriff drew alongside Addeybb in the straight on ground possibly a little less soft than ideal for the leader, he looked set to win, but St Mark’s Basilica was poised in behind in this four-horse field and, when given the signal by Ryan, he sailed serenely clear.

Sandown’s tough uphill conclusion often provides sudden changes in momentum. By the line St Mark’s Basilica was, either from loneliness or simply feeling the effects of the sudden change in velocity that took him clear, definitely if marginally coming back to the rallying Addeybb.

But William Haggas’ seven-year-old is a battle-hardened winner of 12 of 23 career starts. Mishriff, handled skilfully by the Gosdens, has won six of 11, but until Saturday his only defeat in the previous six had been in Addeybb’s Champion Stakes where he appeared not to appreciate the very testing ground.

Saturday’s success makes St Mark’s Basilica the winner of four Group 1 races in succession starting with the Dewhurst. That normally is the race that signals the champion juvenile of his year and then he went on to hoard both French Classics open to males, the Poulains and Jockey Club, where his electric burst heralded the type of performance we saw on Saturday.

In a year where four-fifths of the Aidan O’Brien Classic winners have been four different fillies and none of them Santa Barbara, the fifth has been going a long way to eradicate the overall disappointing showings – so far, and remember it is a long season – of the other colts.

A son of Siyouni – also the sire of Sottsass, the 2020 Arc winner, now standing his first-year stallion duties for €30k a pop at Coolmore Stud – his two French Classic wins made him an obvious object of admiration for French breeders as previously mentioned here.

Unfortunately, their pockets will need to have become much deeper than anticipated with each successive Group 1 victory and if the speed that has characterised all his wins remains or, as is more likely, intensifies with experience, he will easily outstrip his sire’s appeal – and stud fee.

Any thought that he will end up anywhere other than Co Tipperary is fanciful and with all those mares needing partners he will have an enviable stream of potential mates. One slight difficulty is that his dam, Cabaret, is by Galileo.

Cabaret was an unusual product of Galileo on the racetrack, atypically precocious enough to win twice including a Group 3 by mid-July of her two-year-old season but never nearer than seventh in four more races. Sold for £600k at the end of her four-year-old season – double the yearling price at which she joined Coolmore – she has been the dam not only of St Mark’s Basilica but also Aidan O’Brien’s 2,000 Guineas winner Magna Grecia, by Invincible Spirit.

Post-race quotes of 6-4 for the Juddmonte International look just about spot on in a year when you get the impression that Aidan is being more confident in narrowing down his candidates for the biggest races to the single most deserving.

Of course, there’s still Love as a possible for the Juddmonte as she won reverting to ten furlongs at Royal Ascot, but why wouldn’t O’Brien prefer to keep her in her comfort zone for a second Yorkshire Oaks at a mile and a half? Then it is the small matter in three weeks of the King George, for which in a vastly over-round market, Love and the Derby winner Adayar are vying for favouritism at around 2-1 or 9-4, with St Mark’s Basilica moving in close at 4-1 if Aidan wants to stretch him out to 12 furlongs as soon as that.

And what of Snowfall? A 16-length Classic winner is not one to ignore wherever she runs. It’s great having a lot of good horses: the trick is knowing where to run them.

One trainer who never seems to be at a loss in choosing the right target for his equine inmates is William Haggas. With 67 wins from 266 runs, but more pertinently having won with 49 of the 106 individual horses he has run this year, the Newmarket trainer operates at a better than 25% strike rate despite many of his horses having to run in high-class handicaps.

If they sometimes are not raised as rapidly as those of his fellow trainers who might have a much less healthy strike rate, the economy with which they often win is at least a contributary factor.

But they are invariably well bet, so for Haggas to be losing under a fiver to level stakes for those 266 runners is miraculous. I saw Bernard Kantor, a patron of Haggas, again last week and we were musing as to whether his Catterick winner Sans Pretension – remember she was DROPPED 2lb for that! – would ever be reappearing.

The next day, Bernard excitedly told me, “She is in at Yarmouth on Wednesday,” about his Galileo filly. I’m sure he will have seen a later and much more high-profile entry in a fillies’ race at Ascot on Friday. I could be tempted as there’s another horse on the same card I really ought to go to see. I had planned to wait until post July 19, so possibly the King George, but maybe I will try to go this week. I bet Sans Pretension will not be too far away in whichever race the shrewd Mr Haggas decides upon.

There are some jewels that one’s eye will often pass over when looking for something in the Racing Post records. While Haggas has had nine winners from 41 runs in the past fortnight there is another area where he has plenty to prove.

Like Ryan Moore, who won a hurdle race first time on the track for his dad before ever riding on the Flat and who has not revisited that discipline since, Haggas had a go at jumping. I know he had at least one winner over jumps, Fen Terrier on October 20, 1995, at Fakenham, but possibly only one.

The 6-4 second favourite, a daughter of Emerati owned by Jolly Farmer Racing, won narrowly with the 5-4 favourite Dominion’s Dream, trained by Martin Pipe, ten lengths behind in third.

William has had a further seven runners over jumps in the intervening 9,389 days without another win. I wonder if he considers he has something to prove. Probably not!

Another of my favourite meetings will come and go without my attendance this week. Whenever I think of Newmarket July I go back to the day when Hitman broke the track record in the competitive ten-furlong three-year-old handicap for owners the Paper Boys, and Brough Scott insisted I do an interview for the telly.

My then wife was blissfully unaware of my association with the Henry Cecil colt, that was until a colleague on a day off who was interested in racing congratulated her on the win in the office the next morning. Other similar offences were digested and clearly taken into account before the eventual inevitable domestic rupture!

- TS

O’Brien lavish in praise of Eclipse hero St Mark’s Basilica

Given the greats of the Turf Aidan O’Brien has trained in his illustrious career to date, it is probably worth listening when he talks of St Mark’s Basilica in such glowing terms.

One of two three-year-olds in a field of four for the Coral-Eclipse, he arrived with a serious claim for already being the best colt of his generation – possibly in an argument with Jim Bolger’s crack miler Poetic Flare.

However, St Mark’s Basilica had beaten Bolger’s teak-tough colt in the French Guineas and subsequently added the French Derby to the Dewhurst which he won last season, so the only Siyouni colt in O’Brien’s Ballydoyle stable came with a smart CV.

He faced by far his toughest test to date, though, with William Haggas’ Champion Stakes winner Addeybb, a multiple Group One winner in Australia, and John and Thady Gosden’s Mishriff, last year’s French Derby winner who had also won on dirt in Saudi Arabia and the Sheema Classic in Dubai, in opposition.

It was not the fact that St Mark’s Basilica won – in receipt of 10lb many thought he would and he was sent off the even-money favourite. It was more the ease with which he did it, by three and a half lengths and displaying an electric turn of foot that had O’Brien reaching for the superlatives.

Ryan Moore returns victorious aboard St Mark's Basilica
Ryan Moore returns victorious aboard St Mark’s Basilica (Nigel French/PA)

“We came here today taking on two proper older horses, they weren’t middle of the road horses, so it was pressure time as he would have been exposed if he wasn’t very good,” said O’Brien.

“They didn’t go very fast and he gave the two older horses first run, but he quickened up and put it to bed very quickly. He’s just a lovely horse, lovely nature, does everything right and is a true professional. I’m over the moon.”

Ryan Moore had not been on board since his defeat in the National Stakes last year, but had taken advice from his Dewhurst pilot Frankie Dettori and Ioritz Mendizabal, who rode him in France.

“Ryan was confident on him, but that is how Ioritz and Frankie rode him. Ryan spoke to them both and you can ride them like that when they have that change of pace,” said O’Brien.

“It’s what marks out the good horses and the ones who are better than good when they can turn it on like that.

“He’s very relaxed, he’s chilled, he floats along and is very professional. Ryan said today he was quick out but he was relaxed – even though there was no pace he settled.

“With everything about him, he’s always a horse you are confident with going into races. I was thinking about it the other day, it’s a different feeling with that type of horse, you are happy. He relaxes, he quickens, he’s genuine – it’s just a different feeling.

“I wasn’t nervous today, but the only nerves I had was that he had a lot to lose today because if he got beat it would neutralise all the work he had done up to now. He’d won two French Classics and a Dewhurst, so he had a lot to lose.

“We had to step him up somehow and this was the first chance. You can sometimes take on the older horses in this and they wouldn’t be as strong as those two were today – and in slowish ground.”

O’Brien was winning the race for a sixth time having struck with such greats like Giant’s Causeway, Hawk Wing and So You Think. But he believes St Mark’s Basilica might just be a little different.

He said: “Horses come from all angles, but you can only have one of them (top class) every year and if you get one you are very lucky, you can’t expect to get many.

“For all the horses we’ve had down the years I can’t remember we’ve had one like that, we’ve had horses who get into battle and brawl it out but he’s very happy to follow horses and quicken – he puts races to bed very quickly and that’s what he did again today. He’s just a bit different.

“He’d have no problem going back to a mile, and he won the French Derby over 10 and a half furlongs. I’m not sure what the lads (Coolmore) would like to do as we have other horses that can do other things. Ioritz was of the opinion he’d have no problem going further, but it’s up to the lads.”

St Mark’s Basilica was favourite for a Group One as a maiden last season, giving some indication of the regard in which he was held.

“We always thought he was very good, but last year was a mess. I tried to get a run into him before the Heinz (Phoenix Stakes) as I thought he’d win that. I rushed him out to get there,” said O’Brien.

“He ran in a maiden when he should have been having a gallop and ran in the Heinz when he should have been running in a maiden, but even though I was pitching him in he never took a step back.

“The plan was to go to France on Arc day, that got messed up and I just thought it wasn’t meant to be. But then he came and won the Dewhurst. He’s the only Siyouni I’ve ever had.

“He’s a very good horse, I don’t remember coming to an Eclipse as strong as this with a three-year-old before, they were two proper older horses, and he gave them a couple of lengths.

“I spoke to Gary O’Gorman yesterday (Irish handicapper) and he told me what he’d have to do – obviously he’s done that and more.

“The Juddmonte or the Irish Champion – he could do both – are the obvious races. He could do both, but the lads will decide.

“You’ll be nervous running him from now on because he’s turning into a very important horse.”

St Mark’s Basilica brilliant in Eclipse victory

St Mark’s Basilica put up a hugely impressive display to beat top-class older horses Addeybb and Mishriff in the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown.

Winning his fourth successive Group One race, St Mark’s Basilica was giving trainer Aidan O’Brien a sixth Eclipse triumph.

Sent off the well-backed even-money favourite, the three-year-old son of Siyouni powered away from his talented opponents in the final furlong under Ryan Moore.

Tom Marquand had sent Addeybb into the lead straight from the stalls, with Mishriff for close company. St Mark’s Basilica was held up in third, with El Drama last of the four as they travelled in single file.

There was no change in the order until David Egan on Mishriff drew alongside Addeybb and hit the front. It was a short-lived lead, however, as St Mark’s Basilica stormed past the pair and quickly put the race to bed.

He won by three and a half lengths from Addeybb, who rallied past Mishriff to take second place.

O’Brien said: “We couldn’t believe when Ryan asked him to quicken how well he did quicken. He quickens and has a great mind – he does everything.

Celebration time for connections of St Mark's Basilica
Celebration time for connections of St Mark’s Basilica (Nigel French/PA)

“We felt he had stepped up since the last day and Ryan gave him a beautiful ride. I’m delighted for everybody.

“He’s a relaxed traveller and doesn’t use any energy. He comes on slowly and when you go for him he really turns it on. He has the mark of a special horse.”

Asked about targets, the Ballydoyle trainer said: “The lads (Coolmore owners) will decide what they want to do, obviously he’d have options of maybe going to York (Juddmonte International) or Leopardstown (Irish Champion Stakes).

“I’d say something like that, depending on what the lads want to do.

“He’s a horse with a lot of pace and a lot of quality.”

Of Addeybb, a delighted William Haggas said: “It was a fantastic run. He fought hard as usual and he’s a very consistent, genuine horse. When it’s slower ground they don’t quicken like that.

“The winner is obviously a very smart horse, but he fought back to beat Mishriff. It wouldn’t have suited him making the running, either. He needs a good gallop.

“He might go for the King George, but he needs soft ground.”

His rider Tom Marquand added: “He gave everything. He’s an absolute superstar – giving that weight to the best three-year-old in Europe, and probably the world. I’m really pleased with him and he’s pulled up great. No doubt William will have some nice targets for him throughout the rest of the year, and possibly into next year too, knowing him.

“I jumped and rode the race as I saw fit, and he winged the lids and showed willing. I was left alone to find a nice rhythm, and while we haven’t won he’s run a super race. For him on his return that was a big effort.”

Winner of the Saudi Cup and Dubai Sheema Classic, as well as last year’s French Derby, Mishriff could have a rematch with his Sandown conqueror at York.

John Gosden said: “He was just a bit keen early, it was his first run for a while and the ground is soft enough for him. I expect him to come on a good deal for that.

“We will head to the Juddmonte at York next, but the winner was very impressive.”

David Egan was in the saddle on Mishriff and said: “On the ground over the stiff mile and a quarter on what was his first run in Britain he just got tired in that last half a furlong. He has run a good race, but he should come forward for that and progress.

“For sure I think (he has a Group One in Britain in him) as the way he travelled into the race shows how classy he is and there will be more to come.”

Roger Varian, trainer of fourth-placed El Drama, said: “I thought between the two and the one (furlong) we might go and trouble the second and third, and I don’t think he’s quite got home over this stiff 10 (furlongs) on this ground.

“He wasn’t disgraced and he’ll be an interesting horse over an easy 10 or a stiff mile. I’ve nothing in mind, but I’ll speak with the Sheikh (Mohammed Obaid Al Maktoum) about which direction we go now. He’s a Listed winner, and after two shots at Group One I should think we’ll look for a Group Three.”

St Mark’s Basilica poised for showdown with Mishriff and Addeyyb

St Mark’s Basilica is out to uphold the honour of the Classic generation in the Coral-Eclipse Stakes at Sandown on Saturday.

Only three of the last 10 winners have been three-year-olds – despite a 10lb weight-for-age allowance – and they were not even represented last year as Ghaiyyath beat Enable.

Those that have won in recent times include the John Gosden duo of Roaring Lion and Golden Horn and perhaps one of the best Eclipse winners of them all in Sea The Stars.

On what he has done so far this season, the Aidan O’Brien-trained St Mark’s Basilica certainly would not look out of place among those names should he come out on top in a select four-runner field.

Winner of the Dewhurst as a juvenile, in two runs this year the Siyouni colt has landed the French 2000 Guineas and Derby.

“We’ve been delighted with him this season, both his runs,” said O’Brien.

“Everything went well before them and everything has gone well since. The ground is drying up and I’d imagine that the more it dries up the more it will suit him.”

When asked what made him decide to go down the French route with St Mark’s Basilica this season, the Ballydoyle hander replied: “We’d planned to take him over on Arc day last year with the intention of then aiming him at the French races.

“Obviously he couldn’t run on Arc day (due to feed irregularities) and that was how he ended up in the Dewhurst a week later. He was always going to go back to France.”

Ryan Moore has not ridden him since he finished third in the National Stakes, his last defeat.

“There are not many horses who win three Group Ones in a row, but that is what my colt has done in winning the Dewhurst and the two French Classics,” Moore told Betfair.

“I wasn’t on board for any of those successes, but he looked very impressive in beating last year’s Lagardere winner in the Prix du Jockey Club last time.

“Hopefully, getting 10lb from the older horses can swing it his way, but it is clearly his toughest assignment yet. And, of course with just four runners, this promises to be very tactical, too. But it is the same for us all on the latter front.”

Gosden has done his bit for the Eclipse recently, winning it with Nathaniel as well as the earlier aforementioned duo – not to mention running Enable in it the past two years, and she also won it once.

His Mishriff has proved a revelation abroad, but needs to win a big prize on home soil before he perhaps can be considered among his trainer’s very best.

“He was in winter training, which is a little bit different and obviously in his last race (in the UK) he got stuck in a bog at Ascot (on Champions Day),” said Gosden.

“We’ve been happy with him, he trained nicely into the Saudi Cup and flew home, then we had to train him again for the Sheema Classic.”

Mishriff on the gallops in Newmarket this week
Mishriff on the gallops in Newmarket this week (Joe Giddens/PA)

He went on: “He showed his versatility winning over a mile and an eighth on dirt and a mile and a half on turf, and then the idea was immediately to freshen up and give him every possible chance to come back for our summer programme.

“We’re not midway though the summer, but the Eclipse has been our plan for a long time. I’ve been very happy with his preparation. He’s not a horse I take away for racecourse gallops, he’s done enough travelling this year.”

After some trials and tribulations David Egan regained the ride on Mishriff and completed the job in Saudi Arabia and Dubai. He is understandably excited by the challenge.

“I think the Eclipse is the first middle-distance Group One of the European season open to both sexes in which the classic generation meet their elders, so that always makes it very exciting,” said Egan ahead of the latest middle-distance leg of the Qipco British Champions Series.

“It’s a small field, but it’s what you might call a boutique field, as they are all very good, and what makes it even more interesting is that it’s a clash between the last two French Derby winners.

“Mishriff has to give St Mark’s Basilica a bit of weight and it should be a very exciting race to watch, but I think he’s got what it takes. It should be a terrific race and I hope everything goes smoothly.”

A third top-class runner among the quartet is William Haggas’ Addeybb – three times a Grade One winner in Australia and successful in the Champion Stakes in October.

He has proved a real breakthrough horse for Tom Marquand who, like Egan, is a former champion apprentice.

“That spell down under last year was a huge help to my career, for while I was doing quite well already it took everything to a different level for me,” said Marquand.

“As we know, Addeybb is entirely ground dependent, and any more rain will help, but provided it’s suitable for him to run then he ought to have every chance. It’s a small field, but it’s good horses against good horses and that’s just what you want in a race like the Eclipse.”

Roger Varian’s El Drama completes the field. He won the Dee Stakes at Chester, but was a long way behind St Mark’s Basilica in the French Derby.

Fabulous four take Eclipse challenge

French Guineas and Derby winner St Mark’s Basilica will take on older horses for the first time in Saturday’s enthralling renewal of the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown with a small but select field of four set to line up.

The 10-furlong Group One is always one of the highlights of the season as it is generally the first time the Classic generation tackle their elders in one of the showpiece races.

While there may not be many runners, the race lacks little in quality with Mishriff and Addeybb setting a very high bar for St Mark’s Basilica to aim at.

Having won the Dewhurst last year as Aidan O’Brien’s second-string, St Mark’s Basilica has continued to progress and has enjoyed two successful forays to France this season.

He is on his travels once more this weekend but slightly closer to home.

Mishriff has been a revelation for John and Thady Gosden, proving his versatility over different trips and surfaces.

He was a big price to beat his stablemate Waldkonig when racing resumed last June but since then his progress has been – bar one blip – phenomenal.

Mishriff won the French Derby on his next outing, returned to France to win a Group Two in August and his sole defeat came in the Champion Stakes at Ascot.

Mishriff goes through his paces on the Newmarket gallops on Friday morning
Mishriff goes through his paces on the Newmarket gallops on Friday morning (Joe Giddens/PA)

Since then he has won a valuable pot in Saudi Arabia on dirt – beating some of the best Americans – and then returned to turf to prove he stays twelve furlongs in the Sheema Classic in Dubai.

David Egan keeps the ride on Mishriff in his role as retained rider for owner Prince Faisal and he is targeting the the latest leg in the middle distance category of this year’s Qipco British Champions Series.

“He’s a fresh and enthusiastic horse who can be ridden any way you want,” said Egan.

“I rode him very differently in the Saudi Cup and at Meydan, and having been able to lay up over nine furlongs on dirt, for which you need a lot of speed, he then switched off at the back of the field over a mile and a half on turf at Meydan.

“Not many horses can win at the highest level on dirt and turf, let alone over trips as varied as that, so it was a tremendous achievement. I think the stiff 10 furlongs at Sandown will be ideal for him. He’ll enjoy that climb and he should be doing his best work at the end, so I’m very excited.”

The winner of the Champion Stakes, though, was William Haggas’ Addeybb, another globetrotter.

While that was his first Group One in Europe, he does have three in Australia to his name and despite being seven, retains all his ability.

Roger Varian’s El Drama, winner of the Dee Stakes at Chester but unplaced behind St Mark’s Basilica in the Prix du Jockey Club, completes the field.

As expected David Menuisier did not declare Wonderful Tonight while O’Brien chose to take out Armory and Japan, also.

Love pleasing O’Brien following Royal return

Love has bounced out of her triumphant return to action in last week’s Prince of Wales’s Stakes in fine form.

Last year’s 1000 Guineas, Oaks and Yorkshire Oaks winner had been off the track for 300 days, but proved without any doubt she retains all her ability.

In beating James Fanshawe’s dual Group One heroine Audarya and stablemate Armory at Royal Ascot, Love was setting herself up for what Aidan O’Brien will be hoping is another lucrative campaign.

“Love is good. We’re happy with her,” said O’Brien.

“Obviously she’s done very little since Wednesday, she’s only back cantering again now, but we’re very happy with her.

“To do that after a long break, we were delighted. She hadn’t had a run since the Yorkshire Oaks so we were delighted.

“Anything over 10 furlongs or a mile and a half is her all over. She’s in the mix for all those types of races now, anything over that trip.

“It’s great to have her started again and now we can look at all those races.”

Love is entered in the Coral-Eclipse, Falmouth Stakes over a mile, King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes, the Irish Champion Stakes and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe currently.

St Mark's Basilica won the Dewhurst under Frankie Dettori
St Mark’s Basilica won the Dewhurst under Frankie Dettori (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

In St Mark’s Basilica, O’Brien has a three-year-old who has already won the French 2000 Guineas and Derby to add to last season’s Dewhurst success.

“St Mark’s is in the mix for the Eclipse, something like that will be the plan for him,” said O’Brien.

“I’d have thought the Eclipse, the Juddmonte and the Irish Champion are all the races we’ll be looking at for him.

“I think at the moment we’re happy to keep him at 10 furlongs, but obviously he could drop back. I think that’s the sort of plan we’re thinking of at the moment.”

St Mark’s Basilica unstoppable in Prix du Jockey Club

St Mark’s Basilica gave Aidan O’Brien a first victory in the Qatar Prix du Jockey Club with a brilliant effort at Chantilly.

The son of Siyouni was confidently ridden by Ioritz Mendizabal to run away from the opposition in the closing stages and join an elite band of horses to complete the French 2000 Guineas/Derby double.

St Mark’s Basilica (11-4 favourite) broke away from the stalls well and was always in a good position, close to the pace set by Normandy Bridge.

The latter led into the straight, but was quickly tackled by El Drama, who did his best to set sail for home.

Mendizabal had the move covered, however, and St Mark’s Basilica was soon in command – putting the race to bed in a matter of strides.

Sealiway (66-1) was second just ahead of the fast-finishing Millebosc in third.

Mendizabal – who performed a Frankie Dettori-style flying dismount -said: “This morning I spoke with Aidan, and he asked me not to go to the front too early, so I waited as long as I could. He was going so well that I had to go to the front a little bit further out than I wanted.

Ioritz Mendizabal leaps with joy from St Mark's Basilica
Ioritz Mendizabal leaps with joy from St Mark’s Basilica (PA)

“But he has won like a horse that would stay the full Classic distance (mile and a half) and any question of him getting the (extended 10-furlong) trip today, he proved.

“He’s a very good horse. He could be an Arc de Triomphe horse in two or three months. The distance is no problem.

“I had a perfect run on the inside, and the gaps opened up very nicely for me.”

Ioritz Mendizabal with the presentation party for the Prix du Jockey Club
Ioritz Mendizabal with the presentation party for the Prix du Jockey Club (PA)

St Mark’s Basilica’s third consecutive Group One victory, and successful move up in trip, points towards a further series of possible high-profile assignments this season.

O’Brien said: “He has a lot of options, and obviously we’ll wait and see how he is when he comes back and see where we go.

“The Eclipse, the Champion Stakes – all those types of races – would be very strong possibles for him. It will depend on how he is and see what the lads (owners Coolmore) want to do.”

Reflecting on the emphatic victory, he added: “We’re delighted. Ioritz gave him a brilliant ride.

“Ioritz is a great rider and rode for us in Deauville last year – and we were very impressed.

“He’s a world-class rider, and we’re so delighted to get him.”

A jubilant Iortiz Mendizabal
A jubilant Iortiz Mendizabal (PA)

Soft ground has prevailed in all of St Mark’s Basilica’s four career victories to date, but O’Brien stressed he has nothing to fear on a quicker surface.

“We think he doesn’t mind (any type of) ground,” he said.

“We were a little bit worried about the distance, because he’s a horse with so much speed – (so) we weren’t sure about that.

“But everybody was confident he would get the trip – (and) he has form with easy ground as well. We think he’s very versatile really.

“Initially, we were worried about him running on soft ground – and it’s just the way it’s worked out.

“He moves like a very good ground horse, but obviously he has worked on the soft ground – but it’s just because the races he’s run in have come up that way really.

“You would imagine with his action he should be more effective on good ground. He’s a lovely-moving horse – he doesn’t bend his knee much. He puts his legs straight out in front of him – that all suggests good ground should suit him better.”

O’Brien senses a move further up in trip is more open to question.

He said: “Frankie (Dettori), who rode him in the Dewhurst last year, (and all the staff at home) always felt that a mile and a quarter was within his compass – even though he is a horse that has a lot of speed and, as you can see, he quickens very well and always has done.

“I think it’s very possible (he could stay a mile and a half). But he obviously has a lot of speed, and you couldn’t be sure until he’s run that far.

“You definitely couldn’t be sure – but obviously it is possible, because he relaxes and quickens so well.”

On stablemate Van Gogh, who finished 10th, O’Brien said: “He ran well. We were very happy with the run.

“We felt he was a horse who was going to stay well and there is a chance the step up to a mile and half will suit him.

“Colin (Keane) was very happy to go up in trip again with him.”

Enable’s brother Derab going for French Derby gold

Derab and Megallan give John Gosden a strong hand in his bid for back-to-back victories in the Qatar Prix du Jockey Club on Sunday.

The Clarehaven handler, who now trains in partnership with son Thady, secured his first success in the French Derby last season with the brilliant Mishriff, who has since won the Saudi Cup and the Dubai Sheema Classic.

Both Derab and Megallan have some way to go scale those heights, but head to Chantilly with strong claims – albeit neither has fared particularly well in the draw.

Derab, a son of Sea The Stars and a half-brother to Gosden’s wonder mare Enable, opened his account at the third attempt with a runaway success in a Newmarket novice event last month. He is drawn wider than ideal in stall 14.

Megallan was last seen contesting the Dante Stakes at York – running a fine race in defeat to fill the runner-up spot behind Epsom contender Hurricane Lane. He will break next to his stable companion in stall 15.

Thady Gosden said: “Both horses cantered on Friday morning and seem in good form.

“Derab has taken his Newmarket race well and Megallan ran very well in the Dante and has been in good form since.

“Chantilly is a hard enough track to ride without being drawn out on a wing, but it could have been worse. Martin Harley (rides Derab) has ridden there a couple of times and Olivier Peslier (rides Megallan) could go round there in his sleep, I’d imagine.

“They’re forecast quite a bit of rain. Hopefully the ground doesn’t get too soft.”

St Mark's Basilica on his way to ParisLongchamp glory
St Mark’s Basilica on his way to ParisLongchamp glory (Scoopdyga/France Galop)

St Mark’s Basilica bids to join an elite list by notching up a French Classic double, having won the Poule d’Essai des Poulains – the French 2000 Guineas – last time out.

Shamardal doubled up in 2005, the year the race switched distance to 10 furlongs, while Lope De Vega (2010) and Brametot (2017) have also lifted both races in recent years.

St Mark’s Basilica, who also landed the Dewhurst last year, was partnered by Ioritz Mendizabal to Classic glory at ParisLongchamp last month, and he will be in the plate again on Sunday.

Trainer Aidan O’Brien told Sky Sports Racing: “He’s been lovely since the Guineas and it was always the plan to go back to France for the French Derby, so that’s where he is.

“We’re very happy with him since and looking forward to seeing him run. He hasn’t run over that trip, but we’re looking forward to seeing it.”

Van Gogh is Aidan O'Brien's second string
Van Gogh is Aidan O’Brien’s second string (PA)

O’Brien also runs Van Gogh, a Group One winner as a juvenile in France and last seen finishing third behind Mac Swiney in the Irish 2,000 Guineas at the Curragh. Colin Keane takes the ride.

The Ballydoyle handler added: “Van Gogh is a quality horse that won a Group One at the back end of last year and he had a very good run in the Irish 2,000 Guineas. For him to run that well, as we took our time on him in not a strongly-run race, we were very happy with him.

“He always works like a horse with plenty of class and with that type of horse you can never be sure (of the trip) until they go there. You would think there is a really good chance he will get a mile and a quarter.

“I don’t think (he needs soft ground) as he had some very nice runs here on nice ground.”

Jean Claude-Rouget fields three, headed by Makaloun, who relinquished his unbeaten juvenile record when only third to Gear Up in the Criterium de Saint-Cloud in October but returned with a cosy success in the Prix de Guiche last month.

Rouget said: “We made a conscious decision to keep Makaloun under wraps for a considerable period during the winter, as he had run late in the season and on a track that was very demanding on the body. So he went late into training, but quite quickly came to himself in the mornings.

“In the Prix de Guiche, which the colt won, he wasn’t 100 per cent. I don’t think I can have him in any better condition than he is now.”

Rouget also has two unbeaten colts in Saiydabad and Cheshire Academy, who won the Group Three Prix Noailles in the stewards’ room on his only outing so far this term.

Both Makaloun and Cheshire Academy will have to contend with high draws though, in 18 and 19 respectively in a 19-runner field.

Freddy Head expects Adhamo to handle testing conditions
Freddy Head expects Adhamo to handle testing conditions (Steve Parsons/PA)

Adhamo won the Prix La Force in April for Freddy Head, but had to settle for fourth behind Makaloun at Chantilly last time out.

Head expects the 10-furlong trip to suit and is unconcerned by conditions, which were described as very soft on Friday following 32 millimetres of rain.

He said: “The colt is doing very well and I’m very happy with him. The 2,100-metres trip is not a problem and, if it rains it won’t be a problem either.”

Three colts who finished behind St Mark’s Basilica in the Poulains take him on again – Policy Of Truth (fourth), Normandy Bridge (seventh) and Sealiway (eighth).

St Mark’s Basilica and Van Gogh all set for French Derby

St Mark’s Basilica will face 18 rivals when he bids for a French Classic double in the Qatar Prix du Jockey Club at Chantilly.

Aidan O’Brien’s colt, winner of last month’s French 2000 Guineas on the first start of his three-year-old campaign at ParisLongchamp, is joined in Sunday’s field by stablemate Van Gogh.

The latter was a possible for the Derby at Epsom until O’Brien pared his team down to one, favourite Bolshoi Ballet, for Saturday’s premier British Classic.

St Mark’s Basilica, who has been drawn in stall two, steps up beyond a mile for the first time this weekend, as does Ballydoyle’s apparent second string – last seen finishing third in the Irish 2,000 Guineas at the Curragh.

As in the French Guineas, Ioritz Mendizabal rides St Mark’s Basilica, while Colin Keane is called up for Van Gogh.

Like O’Brien, John and Thady Gosden will be double-handed in the French Derby, over 10 and a half furlongs – with their Dante Stakes runner-up Megallan (Olivier Peslier) and impressive Newmarket novice winner Derab, who will be ridden by Martin Harley and is a half-brother to the mighty Enable. The yard was successful last year with the brilliant Mishriff.

Roger Varian also provides a British challenger in the shape of El Drama (Mickael Barzalona), following his surprise victory in the Dee Stakes at Chester.

Among the home contingent, Jean-Claude Rouget has three contenders – dual Group Three winner Makaloun and unbeaten pair Saiydabad and Cheshire Academy. Makaloun and Cheshire Academy are drawn in stalls 18 and 19 respectively.

Frederic Rossi’s Sealiway, only eighth to St Mark’s Basilica at ParisLongchamp but a Group One-winning juvenile there, and Freddy Head’s Adhamo are others of note.

Monday Musings: Boutique Classic

The Arqana Arc sale, staged every eve of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at the company’s Saint-Cloud base, used to be a major source of excitement with several candidates due to run the next day, sometimes even in the big race itself, going through in a real boutique auction, writes Tony Stafford.

It was the model for the much more recent pre-Royal Ascot auction where many of UK racing’s great and good, and many over here from overseas for the week, would be wined and if-not dined, certainly canape’d to their hearts’ content in Kensington Palace Gardens with nary a horse to be seen.

Friends of mine got a great result a few years ago selling a decent handicapper for an embarrassingly-large amount. I hope his new owners were as satisfied in the longer scheme of things as his original partners but I very much doubt they were.

Last October 3, with Covid in full force throughout Europe, a slimmed-down catalogue of 27 horses went virtually “sous le marteau” – I used the translation for hammer as the French for “gavel” is, boringly, gavel, what a let-down!

With absentees, reserves not attained and simply horses unsold or bought back, only 11 changed hands.

Most of those were three-year-olds and in the 43-49 kg mark, translating to 86-108 in UK ratings. The highest price was the €975,000 for Virginia Joy, a German-trained filly that has been exported from France to the USA, and won an optional allowance claiming race last month at Belmont Park for her new owner, Peter Brant.

One oddity and the only obvious jumps prospect was the once-raced (placed third) AQPS gelding Hercule Point, bought for €270,000 by Dan Skelton. I think we should look out for this son of the top French jumps sire, Network.

Two of those sold had in fact performed at ParisLongchamp that afternoon on the first stage of the Arc meeting. Step By Step, a colt, was third in the Qatar Prix Chaudenay. He went for €320,000 and has not been sighted since being bought by Narvick International.

Until yesterday the only other subsequent winner from the batch was King Pacha, €100k worth of three-year-old colt that has been strutting his stuff in Qatar. First time there in January he was second in the Qatar Derby and after a lesser runner-up spot, won a 100 grand race before two later fifth places.

But then there was yesterday, and what was expected to be the second leg of an Aidan O’Brien/Coolmore double 35 minutes after St Mark’s Basilica won the French 2,000 Guineas – forget all that Poule D’Essai stuff!

St Mark’s Basilica was allowed to start at 4-1 in his first run since claiming top 2020 European colt honours having won last year’s Dewhurst. That choice of Classic for his comeback run shows that a fair bit of planning goes into those Ballydoyle Spring pack-shufflings  as St Mark’s Basilica is a son of the top French sire, Siyouni.

After this victory, leading French breeders will be unable to resist him when he goes to stud. A quick look through the list of Aidan’s 192 inmates in Horses In Training shows he is the only Siyouni in the yard. Of course he does have a family connection a few miles down the road at Coolmore stud, the home of Siyouni’s 2020 Arc winner, Sottsass.

It’s been rather long-winded but at last I’m there. Sottsass was trained by Jean-Claude Rouget and that most prolific of French trainers from his base in the west of France is always dangerous in the Classic races on home soil.

Yesterday he had a single runner pitted against Mother Earth and, while the O’Brien filly was anything but disgraced in finishing runner-up in another Classic so soon after Newmarket, she could not match Rouget’s outsider.

Coeursamba is a daughter of The Wow Signal, who raced only at two and won his first three races, including at Royal Ascot, for John Quinn but lost his unbeaten record in the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere. He was the 7-4 favourite, but finished last of seven behind Gleneagles, the future 2,000 Guineas winner, and promptly retired to stud in France.

Coeursamba won only one of her six races at two, but did enough to earn a rating dead on 100. She dutifully took her place the next day in the Prix Marcel Boussac, and finished fifth to Tiger Tanaka, who was unplaced yesterday.  Then last autumn she had one more run, third behind Lullaby Moon, the Redcar Gold Trophy winner, another also-ran. Lullaby Moon now runs in the ever-more-recognisable Amo Racing colours.

That was one of many private and public deals that have bolstered the strength of Amo’s celebrity football agent, Kia Joorabchian.  A stream of juvenile first-time winners in his purple and white silks have been inevitably attracting attention and quickly propelling trainer George Boughey into the big time.

No doubt they will be going on a shopping spree this week when Arqana stage their breeze-up sale in Doncaster rather than Paris with the Covid recovery trailing behind the UK’s – touch wood and whistle, as Len Baily, brother of Spurs and England footballer Eddie used not only to say but perform with a modest trill.

I worked in Len and middle brother Charlie’s betting shop in Clarence Road, Lower Clapton, before leaving school and passed up an offer to take their partner Sid’s share when he retired – for free.  I’m clinging on to that sort of memory – Len’s whistle – for dear life, still wondering whether I should have been on the other side of the argument for the past 58 years!

Coeursamba, at €400,000 the second most expensive of those Arqana Arc sale graduates, might have started 66-1 but could have been mistaken for the favourite as she quickly asserted over Mother Earth.

Mr Joorabchian doesn’t show many signs that he is finished with his acquisitions. Rossa Ryan, a young jockey who is showing that the best way to go from mid-range to top-level rider is to get on good horses, revealed in a recent interview that his boss has a team of 85, more than 50 of them two-year-olds.

As I said, we’ve seen a few of them and good luck to Kia, a welcome incoming force just as two of the biggest players ever in the UK, Prince Khalid Abdullah and Hamdan Al-Maktoum, have left the scene. As the O’Learys are finding with the Gigginstown House hordes, it’s not easy to rationalise overnight, so I’m sure we’ll be seeing the Frankel and Nashwan colours for years to come until the two bosses’ successors decide on which way they will go with their massive operations.

One disappointment in the “1,000” was the running of King’s Harlequin in the Sam Sangster colours; but that Camelot filly has already far-outweighed her original purchase price of €30k, by Tina Rau and Nicolas Clement as a yearling.

It might not have been what connections had been hoping for yesterday as King’s Harlequin raced too freely and gradually dropped away. Sam, though, is continuing to show signs that he is a chip off the old block and in time could be winning big races in the manner of his father, the late Robert Sangster.

At Windsor on Monday Sam watched on from home as the four-year-old filly Beauty Stone came from last to first off her mark of 69 to win a fillies’ handicap over an extended 11 furlongs by just over six lengths.

A daughter of Australia she had three runs for Charlie Appleby in the Godolphin blue without making any impact. She was a 475,000gns yearling buy but cost only 5,500gns when Sam picked her up when culled at the February horses-in-training sale at Newmarket last year.

She had a busy 2020 when racing resumed winning a small race at the fifth attempt for trainer Tom Ward, chosen as he had been a school-friend of Sam’s brother Max, the youngest of the Sangster siblings.

To show just how good a choice that was, Beauty Stone was completing a hat-trick and winning for the fourth time in all at Windsor. Fancied in the morning, trainer and owner were constantly on the phone with Sam quizzing Tom as to why a filly which had won its last two races could still be available at 20-1 even though she’d been backed.

Making a final contact as the filly was being saddled, Sam asked the trainer: “Does she look big?” to which Tom replied: “Looking at her now, maybe?”  I wish I’d heard the story before rather than half an hour after the race, but with her nice pedigree, there’s no doubt that’s another Sangster steal. Sangster the Gangster is back! In a manner of speaking, of course .

 

St Mark’s Basilica swoops for French Classic glory

St Mark’s Basilica provided Aidan O’Brien with his fifth victory in the Emirates Poule d’Essai des Poulains at ParisLongchamp.

It is 19 years since the Ballydoyle handler first landed the French 2000 Guineas with Landseer in 2002, subsequently adding to his tally with Aussie Rules (2006), Astronomer Royal (2007) and The Gurkha (2016).

Making his first appearance since winning the Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket in October under Frankie Dettori, St Mark’s Basilica was a 9-4 chance in the hands of Ioritz Mendizabal, who initially settled his mount in midfield.

Some early scrimmaging meant he got shuffled back in the back, but he began to make inroads on the pacesetters rounding the home turn and was switched wide to deliver his challenge.

Once asked to extend fully, St Mark’s Basilica showed a sizzling turn of foot to charge to the front and he was well on top at the line.

Jim Bolger’s 2-1 favourite Poetic Flare – bidding to double his Classic tally following success in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket a fortnight ago – was stuck behind a wall of horses early in the home straight. He was staying on at the finish and passed the post in sixth.

St Mark’s Basilica was due to contest last year’s Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere, but he had to sidestep the engagement due to an issue with suspected contaminated feed, with the colt then rerouted to the Dewhurst.

A second French visit could now be in prospect for next month’s Prix du Jockey-Club over 10 furlongs, although the St James’s Palace Stakes at Ascot provides an alternative over a mile.

O’Brien said: “The plan last year was that he would go to the Lagardere and then on to there.

“He quickens very well. He has an option to go to Ascot or go back for the French Derby. The original plan was that he would go there and back for the French Derby.

“He’s been working lovely and you saw the way he progressed through last year.

“They all couldn’t go to Newmarket and when he was to go to France last year, we said we’d stick that way.”

Mendizabal was teaming up with St Mark’s Basilica for the first time and O’Brien added: “He gave him a good ride and rode for us before when second on Lope Y Fernandez at Deauville last year.”

The jockey was thrilled to ride for the Ballydoyle handler again.

He said: “It’s an incredible opportunity to be able to ride for Aidan O’Brien. As he is able to successfully tune a colt to win a Group One race first time out, that’s why he’s the best trainer in the world.

“It took me a little while to get a position. I was able to get on the tail of Sealiway, who was one of the leading fancies. He gave us a tow to the 300-metre mark. My mount really was a cut above the rest.”

Poetic Flare poised for second leg of Guineas treble mission

Poetic Flare goes for the second leg of what could be a remarkable Guineas treble at ParisLongchamp on Sunday.

The three-year-old emulated his sire Dawn Approach in winning the Qipco 2000 Guineas at Newmarket for trainer Jim Bolger and he turns out just a fortnight later for the French equivalent – the Emirates Poule d’Essai des Poulains.

Bolger is hoping his exciting colt can double his Classic tally before potentially bidding for a hat-trick in the Tattersalls Irish 2,000 Guineas next weekend.

“He’s come of Newmarket well,” said the Coolcullen handler.

“I’m hoping to do them all (all three Guineas), all going well.

“The draw (stall four) is what it is and I’ve no worries about the ground.”

Bolger almost completed a similar treble with Finsceal Beo in 2006. The top-class filly won at Newmarket before being beaten a head in Paris, but bounced back to winning ways at the Curragh.

Her narrow defeat in the Poule d’Essai des Pouliches is as close as the veteran trainer has come to winning a French Classic – a record he is keen to set straight this weekend.

He added: “She (Finsceal Beo) was second in the Pouliches and I haven’t had many runners (in the French Classics) – she’s the only one, I think.”

St Mark's Basilica winning the Dewhurst at Newmarket under Frankie Dettori
St Mark’s Basilica winning the Dewhurst at Newmarket under Frankie Dettori (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Irish hopes are also carried by St Mark’s Basilica, who bids to provide Aidan O’Brien with a fifth victory in the race.

The son of Siyouni is making his first appearance since winning the Dewhurst at Newmarket in October.

O’Brien said: “It was always the plan for him to run in the two-year-old race on Arc day (Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere), but he didn’t (because of a feed issue) and that is why he ended up going to Newmarket.

“After that it was always the plan then that he would go to France for this race.

“I think he’s a miler, but when Frankie (Dettori) rode him in the Dewhurst he said then he’d get further than the Dewhurst trip, so you’d think he might get a bit further at three.”

The sole British challenger is Archie Watson’s Mehmento.

Following two wide-margin wins on the all-weather Southwell, the Hambleton Racing-owned colt ran an excellent race in defeat on his turf debut when touched off by subsequent 2000 Guineas fifth Chindit in the Greenham Stakes at Newbury.

Cosmo Charlton, Hambleton Racing’s head racing manager, said: “He’s in really good form and Archie is very happy with him, so fingers crossed he runs well.

“It was only his third start at Newbury so hopefully there’s more improvement to come. It’s a big step up again. You’ve got the 2000 Guineas winner in there and Aidan O’Brien’s Dewhurst winner, so those two are going to be hard to beat.

“If we can be in the mix to make the frame we’ll be absolutely delighted.”

The home team is led by Frederic Rossi’s Sealiway, who was a runaway winner of the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere and is expected to improve from his comeback second in the Prix de Fontainebleau four weeks ago.

“Sealiway is getting stronger. His last work was very satisfactory. The rain won’t bother him. I hope the ground will be on the soft side,” said Rossi.

“I don’t think that there is one particular standout horse. He is here to run well, and this with the help of Christophe Soumillon.”

Andre Fabre is seeking a third consecutive Poulains, after Persian King and Victor Ludorum.

He relies on Parchemin, who was unbeaten in two juvenile starts but only fifth on his reappearance in the Fontainebleau.

Lisa-Jane Graffard of Godolphin told www.godolphin.com: “We hoped that Parchemin would have run slightly better in the Prix de Fontainebleau but he ran well enough, all things considered. The ground was possibly a bit quick that day but the first two home look very strong contenders here again.

“He is a really lovely horse with a great temperament and a real standout physically. We have seen horses turn around the form between the trial and the Classic itself, and we are optimistic that Parchemin can improve on his seasonal return.”

Classic plans still fluid as O’Brien prepares to unleash mighty squad

Aidan O’Brien is trying to juggle his army of three-year-old colts as the Classics get under way at Newmarket this weekend.

With fast ground looking assured at Headquarters, O’Brien has an embarrassment of riches in the Qipco 2000 Guineas with four colts who all boast strong form.

St Mark’s Basilica beat stablemate Wembley in the Dewhurst, but O’Brien feels the latter may be suited by conditions on Saturday.

There is also Breeders’ Cup runner-up Battleground to add to the Ballydoyle mix and another Group One-winning juvenile in Van Gogh.

“It looks like the ground is going to be very fast in Newmarket, and we are trying to work out where to go with Battleground, Van Gogh, Wembley and St Mark’s Basilica,” said O’Brien on Monday.

“We have two weeks from Newmarket to France and another week to the Curragh, so the same type of horse could do Newmarket and the Curragh.

“They will do a little bit tomorrow and Wednesday, and we’ll have a discussion with the boys (owners Coolmore) to see what we do.

“Battleground has form on easy ground and he’s a War Front, so he should go on fast ground no problem.

“Van Gogh has form on nice ground but good form on soft ground as well, so I think it’s not an issue.

“Wembley has form on both but would love fast ground, and it was on the easy side most of last year when St Mark’s Basilica ran.”

It is not just the milers in which O’Brien looks to have a strong hand but also in the Cazoo Derby too, with Beresford winner High Definition heading the market and Ballysax scorer Bolshoi Ballet not far behind.

The latter seems likely to take O’Brien’s tried-and-tested route by heading for the Derrinstown Derby Trial, with High Definition likely to travel to England – but for which race the trainer is still unsure.

“We are thinking of sending Bolshoi Ballet back to Leopardstown for the Derrinstown, and that would leave High Definition with the option of Chester, Lingfield or York,” said the Ballydoyle handler.

“He’s a big galloping horse, and York would suit him well, but our only worry is that it is closer to the Derby than the other trials. We often need a bit more time than that.

“It could be the Dante, but it’s not decided yet.

“He needs one run, and he’s ready for it now. We could have left him in the Guineas, but we have four others.”