Posts

Home fixture as Stradivarius eyes second Long Distance crown

John Gosden believes a return to a more conventional style of racing will help Stradivarius regain his title in the Qipco British Champions Long Distance Cup at Ascot.

His last two races have come in France over a mile and a half in the Prix Foy and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, and Gosden feels he is unsuited to the sprint finishes that invariably prevail across the Channel.

The champion stayer could never strike a blow when seventh to Sottsass in the big one, but Gosden is confident he will show his true colours back in a race he won in 2018 and has been placed in twice.

Gosden said: “The Arc was run very much in the manner of a typical French style race, where they went steady then quickened.

“Having spoken at length with Mr (Bjorn) Nielsen (owner), the plan next year is to go for a fourth Gold Cup – and as he won’t be running until May, here we are at the end of the season and we thought we would have a go at the Champions Day race.

“The ground at Royal Ascot (where Stradivarius won his third Gold Cup this summer) was what I would call ‘wet soft’, and this is going to be more ‘holding soft’.

“It has been very wet – and unless we get some rain overnight, it will be riding holding and a little bit sticky. I think the ground will worry a lot of people – because most horses like to get through it and they like it loose wet, rather than holding.

“Last year it was run on the inner track. He ran a great race. They (Stradivarius and Kew Gardens) crossed the line together, and he was beaten a nose. The year before, he and the jockey (Frankie Dettori) did a Houdini act in getting out of a box that had been nicely set up for them.”

Your first 30 days for just £1

Search For A Song takes on Stradivarius after winning the Irish St Leger for the second successive year
Search For A Song takes on Stradivarius after winning the Irish St Leger for the second successive year (PA)

Search For A Song, trained by Dermot Weld, is seen as Stradivarius’ biggest rival on Saturday – having completed back-to-back victories in the Irish St Leger on her latest start.

“It was great to win this race with Forgotten Rules (in 2014), and we’d love to win again, “ said Fiona Craig, of owners Moyglare Stud.

“Hopefully the ground isn’t too soft, because I’m not sure she’d want a bog.

“We’d rather not be taking on Stradivarius, obviously, but he did run in the Arc a couple of weeks ago. I know they’re saying he didn’t have a hard race, but he still ran a mile and a half in heavy ground.

Trainer Dermot Weld pats Search For A Song after her latest win in the Irish St Leger at the Curragh
Trainer Dermot Weld pats Search For A Song after her latest win in the Irish St Leger at the Curragh (PA)

“Our mare is going into it and good form, and she’s fresh and well, so we’ll what happens.”

Weld, seeking a third win in the race, said: “Search For A Song has never raced over further than a mile and six, but she wasn’t stopping at the end of the St Leger – and that’s what is giving me the encouragement to have a crack at it.”

Aidan O’Brien sent out Kew Gardens to just deny Stradivarius 12 months ago, and the Ballydoyle trainer has a team of three this time in Sovereign, Dawn Patrol and Broome.

“Sovereign was going for the Arc, and they all can’t run in the Champion Stakes. We always felt he would get further than a mile and a half,” he said.

Aidan O’Brien is three-handed in the Qipco British Champions Long Distance Cup at Ascot
Aidan O’Brien is three-handed in the Qipco British Champions Long Distance Cup at Ascot (PA)

“Broome hasn’t run in a long time, but we always felt he would stay further than a mile and a half, and he seems to be in good form.

“Dawn Patrol won a Group Three at the Curragh over two miles last time. He handles an ease in the ground, we think.

“He probably wants to be ridden a bit patiently, but he looks very comfortable over two miles. We were very happy with him the last day at the Curragh.

“Stradivarius is a great horse, and it will be a very competitive race.”

Andrew Balding has contrasting views on ground conditions for his two runners, Spanish Mission and Morando.

Trainer Andrew Balding runs Spanish Mission and Morando in Ascot's stamina test
Trainer Andrew Balding runs Spanish Mission and Morando in Ascot’s stamina test (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“Spanish Mission was very impressive in the Doncaster Cup last time. He’s a horse who historically has not wanted the ground too soft, so that’s a concern for him,” said Balding.

“Morando, on the other hand, loves it when the mud is flying. It’s a new venture going two miles with him, but the way he’s shaped in his races in the last two seasons suggests that two miles is well within his compass now – and he goes well at Ascot.”

William Haggas realises the task facing Monica Sheriff, who has yet to hit form this term after going through last season unbeaten in four races.

“She’s very well, but she’s got a lot to do. I’m hoping rather than anything else,” said the Newmarket trainer.

Stradivarius out to regain Long Distance crown

Stradivarius will face 12 rivals as he bids to regain the Qipco British Champions Long Distance Cup at Ascot.

Bjorn Nielsen’s brilliant stayer won the two-mile Group Two in 2018 but was touched off by Kew Gardens in a thrilling finish 12 months ago.

The six-year-old, trained by John Gosden, returns to a more familiar distance on Saturday after two attempts at a mile and a half in the Prix Foy and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

Kew Gardens’ trainer Aidan O’Brien has a team of three taking Stradivarius on, headed by last year’s Irish Derby winner Sovereign, alongside Broome and Dawn Patrol.

Supplementing the Irish challenge is Dermot Weld’s dual Irish St Leger heroine Search For A Song.

Doncaster Cup victor Spanish Mission, Fujaira Prince and Trueshan also feature in a fascinating opener on Qipco British Champions Day.

Haydock Sprint Cup scorer Dream Of Dreams is among a field of 17 declared for the Qipco British Champions Sprint Stakes.

Sir Michael Stoute’s six-year-old is re-opposed by runner-up Glen Shiel and the fourth home, Art Power.

Others in the mix include July Cup winner Oxted, triple Prix de la Foret victor One Master and the unbeaten Starman.

Wonderful Tonight will attempt to back up her Prix de Royallieu success for trainer David Menuisier in the Qipco British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes.

The Gosden-trained pair of Mehdaayih and Frankly Darling, Irish Oaks winner Even So and O’Brien’s duo of Laburnum and Passion are among others in a 12-strong field.

Ante-post favourite Raaeq heads a maximum 20 in the closing Balmoral Handicap.

Brian Meehan’s lightly-raced colt spread-eagled the opposition over seven furlongs on this course two weeks ago – incurring a 6lb penalty.

Raising Sand and Prince Eiji head the weights on 9st 10lb, while O’Brien’s Cork Listed winner Keats is an interesting contender.

Monday Musings: Arc Love Abounds

The betting will tell you that next Sunday’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe is a virtual match between 6-4 shot and dual fillies’ Classic winner Love and the Queen of world racing, Enable, who is available at 5-2 after just the 13 Group wins in an 18-race career over five seasons which has yielded 15 victories in all.

That two of them were in the Arc seems not to matter in the face of Love’s faultless campaign of 1,000 Guineas, Oaks and Yorkshire Oaks. The memory of an almost unthinkable defeat when going for the hat-trick at Longchamp last October when Waldgeist got up late to deny her, and another second place to Ghaiyyath in the Eclipse Stakes this summer have only slightly dented Enable’s air of invincibility.

The promise of rain in Paris this week will not shake the confidence of the Gosden-Dettori-Abdullah team, nor will the prospect of facing some of the best colts in Europe on Sunday. Those two elements have still to be addressed by Love, representing the Aidan O’Brien filly and her Coolmore owners. Their three-year-old will have a 6lb weight advantage against her revered rival, but obviously boasts a great deal less experience.

That said, Love did run seven times as a juvenile, winning three. Two of those victories last year were on good ground, the other on good to firm. When she was defeated, three of the four were on good to soft or yielding. All three of her Group 1 successes this year have also been officially on good. Add in that she has yet to meet a colt and, while the margins of her wins have been uniformly eye-opening, this represents a new and deeper test.

At this distance, the big two overseas squads (as far as the French are concerned) of Gosden and O’Brien are garnering high-class back-ups. Gosden can bring another six-year-old, the multiple champion stayer Stradivarius, who has shown on two occasions, admittedly in defeat behind Ghaiyyath and Anthony Van Dyck in the Coronation Cup and Anthony Van Dyck again in Longchamp’s Prix Foy, either side of a third Gold Cup at Ascot and fourth Goodwood Cup, that he is effective at a mile and a half. Soft ground or worse would only add to his competitiveness on Sunday.

He will have Olivier Peslier in the saddle this time as Frankie is understandably ever more welded to Enable. The third Gosden runner is anything but a lightweight too. Mishriff had not been considered one of the stable’s superstars when he travelled over to Chantilly for the French Derby (Prix Du Jockey Club) in July, but he won the 10.5 furlong Classic by a length and a quarter from The Summit. Next time out, in a four-horse field for a Deauville Group 2 over slightly further than 12 furlongs, he more than tripled his advantage over the same rival. No non-entity he!

Your first 30 days for just £1

The ground will finally determine which of the host of potential Aidan O’Brien contenders will form his back-up squad. Mogul is an obvious prime contender after his bounce back to form in the Grand Prix de Paris and the trainer was ready to forgive Japan’s lapses this season by pointing out that he has a good record around Parislongchamp, winning last year’s Grand Prix and finishing fourth to Waldgeist and Enable in the Arc. Derby winners Santiago and Serpentine would be possibles along with Anthony Van Dyck – less likely in the event of soft or heavy – and even Magical. I’m sure the mare herself, still on the upgrade at five, would relish the chance of another nip at Enable.

I think it could be a step too far for Pyledriver, but I feel Willie Muir’s three-year-old was unfairly condemned in many quarters as a non-stayer when third in the St Leger. Had he kept straight he could easily have been right there with Galileo Chrome and was getting back to the leaders again at the finish.

Recent Grand Prix de Deauville winner Telecaster will be aiming to complete his rehabilitation as a Group 1 performer without the services of Christophe Soumillon who guided him to a very easy success on soft ground that day at the conclusion of the August festival. That emphatic six and a half-length verdict on heavy ground at Group 2 level has encouraged Hughie Morrison and the Weinfeld family to take the plunge, with far less downside than the colt’s unfortunate Derby experience caused them last year.

A work-out over the full trip on the testing home gallop convinced Morrison that his four-year-old has the tools needed for a strongly-run Group 1 test and hopes it will keep raining. If Love or for that matter Enable can come through to beat that host of dangers on Sunday, she will deserve the highest accolade. But then, they both have been greatly acclaimed already. I take them in that order, LOVE to beat Enable and I’d be thrilled to see Telecaster get third.

*

Apart from the fact that the two horses I fancied for Saturday’s Cambridgeshire got impossible draws – one of them, Walhaan, won the race on his side and finished 13th of 27, I enjoyed the result. It was nice for Paul Hanagan that at the age of 40 – surely not - he was back in the big time after suffering such a bad injury from a fall at Newcastle when fracturing three vertebrae and having another – the sixth – badly crushed.

How he could come back from that I can barely imagine, but all he could do afterwards was thank everyone, especially Jack Berry House where he did most of his rehabilitation work, and long-term ally Richard Fahey who kept faith with him in the early stages of that recovery and continues to support the former champion jockey.

Now fully fit, and gratifyingly self-effacingly humble as ever, he teamed up with Paul and Olly Cole on Majestic Dawn and their lightly-raced four-year-old surged up the favoured stands rail to win by almost five lengths. This was only his second start of the year, after a last of ten around Kempton three weeks earlier.

At 40-1 it might have looked a forlorn hope, but Olly Cole certainly fancied Majestic Dawn’s chance as he had been fifth in the race last year behind Lord North. Cole junior has grown quickly into his role as co-trainer with his father and it is certain that all those earlier big race triumphs for Paul Cole can be remembered in the context of this revival in the yard’s fortunes.

Paul and Olly Cole were the first of the co-trainers to record a win, quicker even than Simon and Ed Crisford, who were operating under that banner earlier than their Berkshire-based counterparts. The Crisfords have had a brilliant season from their Newmarket yard and so have two much newer operations in the same town.

I remember a few years ago I discovered that George Scott, still working as assistant to Lady Jane Cecil at Warren Place, had a house in Newmarket where Ed Crisford, assistant to his father; James Ferguson, with Charlie Appleby for Godolphin; and George Boughey, Hugo Palmer’s assistant, were his house-mates.

In view of where they all are now, it’s interesting to ponder what they managed to talk about in the evenings when settling down to Coronation Street on the telly. Judging on Scott’s steady progress from his larger premises and support of father-in-law Bill Gredley, and the flying starts made by Ferguson and Boughey, the quartet probably did a little knowledge-exchanging about the business they are now adorning with so much promise.

Talking of promise, I wonder what will assail the ears of young Leo Sangster, christened last week by proud parents Sam and Maddy, over the next week or two. Sam is readying himself for another sales season with his thriving agency, but before that gets too demanding, the Sangsters and their co-owners have a date in Paris, where his late father Robert enjoyed three Arc successes in four years with Alleged (twice) and Detroit.

Sangster senior was one of the first owners that supported Nicolas Clement when he was compelled to take over the Chantilly stable of his father Miguel on his sudden death. Clement struck almost immediately in the 1990 Arc with Saumarez, ridden by Gerald Mosse (still going strong 30 years later) for owners Bruce McNall and Wayne Gretzky, the ice hockey legend, great friends of Robert Sangster.

Sam Sangster has already enjoyed Stakes success with horses trained by Nicolas Clement and they have high hopes of their bargain two-year-old Camelot filly, King’s Harlequin, bought for only €30,000, in the Group 1 Prix Marcel Boussac. King’s Harlequin won the Group 3 Prix d’Aumale, one of the customary trials for the Marcel Boussac, over the course and distance, in impressive all-the-way fashion last time and is sure to be a major contender on Sunday.

- TS

Peslier to ride Stradivarius in Arc

Olivier Peslier is thrilled to have picked up the ride on Stradivarius in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

The top stayer is on course to join fellow stable star Enable in Paris next Sunday, with the great mare bidding to become the first horse to claim a third victory in Europe’s premier middle-distance contest – under Frankie Dettori.

Having steered Stradivarius to win the Goodwood Cup on two occasions, Andrea Atzeni was due to be reunited with him.

However, he is expected to miss out because, under the current Covid-19 guidelines, he would have sit out the eight-day quarantine period on his return to Britain – and he is required to ride for retaining owner Sheik Mohammed Obaid at Newmarket the following week.

Olivier Peslier has been booked to partner Stradivarius
Olivier Peslier has been booked to partner Stradivarius (Steve Parsons/PA)

In his anticipated absence, Gosden has turned to veteran French jockey Peslier, who won the Arc three years running in the 1990s aboard Helissio, Peintre Celebre and Sagamix, before adding a fourth success aboard Solemia in 2012.

Your first 30 days for just £1

Peslier said: “It’s fantastic to pick up the ride – Stradivarius is a super horse.

“There are a lot of very good horses in the race, of course, but I think this week there is a lot of rain coming – and I don’t think it will be a problem for him.

“He is a stayer and a very famous horse.

“I have the experience and know the track well. I am very confident, and we need to fight for that (fifth Arc win).”

Triple Gold Cup hero Stradivarius is a general 14-1 shot for the Arc, with Aidan O’Brien’s Love the marginal favourite ahead of Enable.

Champion jockey Oisin Murphy has not given up hope, meanwhile, of making the trip to Paris – where his potential mounts include Telecaster in the Arc – without having to quarantine on his return.

He told Sky Sports Racing: “Ryan Moore and Frankie Dettori have been lobbying the BHA, and particularly Dr Jerry Hill, to get dispensation – like professional footballers – that if they passed a certain number of Covid tests leading up to next weekend, and after the weekend and they flew privately etcetera and came into contact with literally nobody, would it be possible not to participate in the quarantine?

“We don’t have a firm answer yet, but we’re certainly hopeful – and it would be fantastic if we were granted that privilege, because I feel like we wouldn’t be putting anybody at risk.”

Oisin Murphy could ride Telecaster in the Arc
Oisin Murphy could ride Telecaster in the Arc (Simon Cooper/PA)

A definitive response appears imminent, Murphy adding: “We’ll have a clearer picture tomorrow (Monday).

“I hope I’ll be part of it. There’s Deirdre (in the Prix de l’Opera) and Telecaster – I love Telecaster, but until we know, I can’t go to connections and say ‘I’d love to ride your horse’.

“I think we’ll know in the next day or two. We do (need to), because it’s unfair on connections if things are left up in the air.

“These are top races, and you want to be sorted and confirmed for certain horses.”

Enable in fine form ahead of historic Arc hat-trick bid

John Gosden gave an update on some of his stable stars during the first virtual Henry Cecil Open Weekend.

While the Newmarket event will not take place in its traditional format due to the coronavirus pandemic, several popular elements are being shown online to support Racing Welfare, British Racing School and the Racing Centre.

Gosden is one of many of Newmarket’s top trainers to feature, with visitors to www.thehenrycecilopenweekend.co.uk also able to enjoy free-to-view stable tours with William Haggas, James Fanshawe and Charlie Appleby, among others.

The undoubted equine star of the town is Enable, who Gosden reported firmly on track for her bid for a historic third victory in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in a fortnight’s time.

Gosden said: “Enable is very happy and well. She has been fine since the race at Kempton (September Stakes). She enjoyed that outing.

“It’s (the Arc) a massive task, a big mountain to climb again. If it had gone quite right last year, she obviously wouldn’t be trying to do it this year.

“It looks a fantastic race, Aidan O’Brien is fielding a wonderful filly in Love, who naturally being a three-year-old gets all the weight, which Enable benefited from when she won as a three-year-old, and there are some great older horses.

Your first 30 days for just £1

“It is very exciting – she is in great form to attempt the impossible. Frankie (Dettori) will hopefully be here next week to ride her in some work and help bring her up to the race.”

Enable is set to be joined in the Arc by illustrious stablemate Stradivarius.

The star stayer was narrowly beaten by Anthony Van Dyck in his recent Arc prep run in the Prix Foy.

Gosden added: “In the Prix Foy, Mickael Barzalona was riding Anthony Van Dyck and he went nice gentle fractions. In the French trials they do not like to overdo them, they come into the straight and then kick.

“I thought for a two-and-a-half-mile Ascot Gold Cup winner he showed great acceleration down the straight. The other horses behind never got to them. I thought both horses ran lovely races and he came up a neck short. I could not have been happier with him.”

Looking further ahead, the Clarehaven handler confirmed Palace Pier and Mishriff on course for Qipco British Champions Day at Ascot.

Palace Pier is another Gosden star
Palace Pier is another Gosden star (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Palace Pier will put his unbeaten record on the line in the QEII at Ascot, while Mishriff is bound for the Champion Stakes.

“We are very much looking at the QEII with Palace Pier. We were very happy with the Jacques le Marois – we wanted that straight mile for him. They did have an excessive amount of rain, so it was very soft, but he handled it well,” said Gosden.

“The form got franked strongly in the Prix du Moulin. It was always the plan to go to the QEII and we will stick with it. He is certainly giving us all the right signs at the moment.

“There is a strong possibility that he stays in training as a four-year-old, in which case it will probably be his last run of the season as we are getting deep into October.

“I didn’t really want to be whizzing him off to Hong Kong or America at this stage, maybe we will do that sort of thing next year. Hopefully he runs a big race in the QEII, and we will be waiting to run him again as a four-year-old.”

Of Mishriff, he added: “We thought about the Arc. We looked at the pedigree and to me, he is not fully furnished and strengthened yet. He is still improving and the Arc at this stage of his career could do more harm than good.

“We decided we will stay at a mile and a quarter and he will be going to the Champion Stakes. I’d expect him to put up a pretty big show.”

Gosden also provided a positive update on Logician following his recent successful comeback at Doncaster.

Last year’s St Leger winner had been sidelined for 12 months after suffering a life-threatening illness last winter, but proved he retains plenty of ability on Town Moor.

Gosden said: “He came back – it was a two-horse conditions race, but what a lovely way to come back at Doncaster, where he had won the St Leger the year before. He took the race well.

“I don’t think we will try to do anything too flash this autumn. I think if we stay sensible, something like the Group Three Cumberland Lodge Stakes at Ascot. Try to nurse him back up the ladder a little bit, then hope that he will be in good order for next year.”

Stradivarius denied in Prix Foy by Anthony Van Dyck

Stradivarius remains on course for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe despite being denied in the Prix Foy at ParisLongchamp, as Anthony Van Dyck claimed his first victory since landing last year’s Derby.

Trained by Aidan O’Brien, Anthony Van Dyck had finished a place ahead of Stradivarius when runner-up to Ghaiyyath in the Coronation Cup at Newmarket in early June.

However, having claimed his third victory in the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot and a record fourth Goodwood Cup, John Gosden’s superstar stayer was the 8-13 favourite to reverse the form in his prep race for next month’s big race back over the course and distance.

In what appeared a slowly-run affair, Mickael Barzalona set his own fractions in front aboard Anthony Van Dyck, with Stradivarius his closest pursuer throughout in the hands of Frankie Dettori.

The Italian was the first of the two to draw his whip – and Stradivarius responded to close the gap.

However, 3-1 Anthony Van Dyck refused to bend in front and repelled the late surge of the market leader in determined style.

Stradivarius was narrowly beaten in France
Stradivarius was narrowly beaten in France (Dan Abraham/PA)

But Gosden was far from disappointed by Stradivarius’ performance – and confirmed the Arc as his next target.

He said: “It was a very typical French trial – they didn’t go a great pace.

“In these races you can either make your own pace, run a pacemaker or just follow – I’ve known them go even slower than they did today, but they did go pretty steady.

“I was happy with the way he finished the race – his last furlong was his best furlong. In that respect he’s run a good trial for the Arc and that’s where he’ll be going.

“He’s travelled over there now and behaved himself pretty well. I’m happy with the run as a trial.”

Stradivarius is a best-priced 16-1 for the Arc, with the O’Brien-trianed Love the marginal favourite ahead of Gosden’s brilliant mare Enable, who will be bidding to win the great race for a third time.

Stradivarius puts Arc hopes to the test at ParisLongchamp

Stradivarius gets the opportunity to rubber-stamp his Arc claims in the Prix Foy at ParisLongchamp on Sunday.

John Gosden’s popular chestnut has dominated the staying scene over the past three seasons, with a hat-trick of wins in the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot and a record four Goodwood Cups meaning his status as a great of the division is already assured.

However, with Bjorn Nielsen keen on a tilt at the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe this year, Stradivarius drops back in distance in a recognised trial for Europe’s premier middle-distance contest over the same course and distance.

“He’s sharpened up as a stronger, more powerful horse. He’s not what I call a big, one-paced staying type at all – he’s got a lot of speed this horse, so we’re looking forward to running him over a mile and a half,” said Gosden.

“He’s in good form and I’m very happy with him. He’s worked nicely.”

Your first 30 days for just £1

Stradivarius proved he is capable of mixing it at the top level over a mile and a half when third behind Ghaiyyath in the Coronation Cup earlier in the season.

Frankie Dettori is on board this weekend, but is expected to partner stable companion Enable in the Arc as she goes in search of a historic third victory in the race.

Gosden has admitted to tweaking Stradivarius’ training ahead of his first trip across the Channel.

He added: “We don’t know how the race will be run – these French trials can just be run from the head of the straight. We’ll leave it to Frankie, but we couldn’t be more pleased with the horse.

“We have trained him to sharpen him a bit, but he’s wanted to and let us do it. He has sharpened in his work, which was very much the plan, but we haven’t done anything dramatically different because he rather likes the way he’s been trained.”

Among the five horses taking on Stradivarius is Aidan O’Brien’s Anthony Van Dyck, who was second in the Coronation Cup before finishing only fifth when favourite for the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot. Mickael Barzalona takes the ride.

The fillies get their chance to shine in the Prix Vermeille, for which Jean-Claude Rouget’s Raabihah is a hot favourite.

Dame Malliot lines up for the Prix Vermeille
Dame Malliot lines up for the Prix Vermeille (Francesca Altoft/PA)

Dermot Weld’s Tarnawa and the Ger Lyons-trained Irish Oaks winner Even So carry Irish hopes, while Ed Vaughan’s Dame Malliot and David Menuisier’s Wonderful Tonight represent Britain.

Dame Malliot impressed in the Group Two Princess of Wales’s Stakes at Newmarket in July before finishing third in a German Group One under Hollie Doyle. Dettori takes over in the saddle this weekend.

Vaughan said: “I’m delighted to have Frankie available to ride. He came and had a sit on her earlier in the week and I was very pleased.

“The filly seems in very good form. Hollie felt she didn’t handle the track that well in Germany and said the ground rode quite rough.

“They’re talking about good ground on Sunday, which will be fine, and a big, galloping track like Longchamp should suit.”

Monday Musings: Trouble’d Times

Last week I wrote in this space that I would not be trying to join the 5,000 racing optimists who were all set to travel to Goodwood for the test meeting set to confirm that the country is indeed coming out of the worst effects of the now almost five-month agony of the Coronavirus pandemic, writes Tony Stafford.

Barely 24 hours before this new departure for so many, the word came of the frustration for the 5,000, the feeding of which was not the matter of a Biblical “five loaves and two fishes” miracle. It was a major logistical exercise involving butchers, bakers and if not candlestick makers, certainly outside caterers who had worked night and day on menus, the provision of champagne, lobsters and smoked salmon as well as the beer, pies and burger vans that keep all us hungry racegoers happy.

My wife’s interest in racing is about as deep as that of Josephina, the Yorkshire terrier’s, but Boris’ statement did strike a nerve and possibly the beginning of a protest movement with the prospect of  ice skaters standing outside 10 Downing Street or as near as security will allow them, wearing their skates. She (not Josephina), in what was to be her first try-out of her repaired broken leg, had lessons booked for today, tomorrow and later in the week. But once again, with the rinks having gone to the expense of getting the ice prepared for action after all that time, they got the same two-week delay as beauty salons, bowling alleys and indoor theatres.

Coaches have lost their income but now, happy to be back had set up the initial appointments, which have now spun on for two more weeks. Champion skaters, those young kids who practice at crack of dawn before school every morning and then again straight after to try to do well enough to represent their country in international competition, often when they are among only a handful of people in the arena, have another fortnight at least to vegetate and try to keep the enthusiasm going. As she says, public sessions should be treated as a separate issue.

The ramifications, as with what happened to all that food prepared for Goodwood, are far-reaching. I hope the bulk of those choice provisions was able to be diverted to people who would have been grateful for it, but you have to wonder whether some was just chucked into a nearby bin with losses covered by insurance.

The cause of the delay was a “spike”, or an increase in parts of England in the mystical “R” figure. As I’ve been boring readers for months, I’ve kept a daily record of the numbers of new cases and deaths and every week since the peak on April 12, the number of deaths had been decreasing. Percentage-wise from the week of April 12th (incidentally in 2020 it would have been my dad’s 100th birthday, and how he would have celebrated Saturday’s Cup Final result!) it has gone down initially by 3%, then 11%, 14.6%, 28.8%, 18.4%, 22.4%, 21.4%, 5%, 28%, 19.2%, 11.5%, 16.2%, 10%, 20% and in the week to July 25th, another 7%.

From 6425 in the week to April 12th, deaths had dropped by 93%. Even though many more people had been tested as the weeks went on, new infections have continued to fall. The last week did show some modest increases on its immediate predecessors in new infections, but fatalities were almost static in the week of “new spikes” and an increased R number. Last week it was 452 and contrary to what we are being subliminally persuaded to believe, this week to yesterday it was still down, albeit by only three.

Your first 30 days for just £1

If the government thinks that bowling alleys, ice rinks and theatres are going to cause the much-feared second wave, then what about pubs where the boyos could watch the Cup Final in close contact with each other, or indeed Goodwood and Galway and celebrate backing a winner? Or the beaches, where in the near 90-degree heat of Friday and Saturday, the crowds were much in evidence again? Social distancing, where?

I’m just waiting, having stayed indoors to all intents and purposes since Cheltenham, to resume normal life, as no doubt we all are. As predicted, I enjoyed Goodwood and Galway, mostly for the amazing performance of Stradivarius, when I confidently expected the Irish Derby winner Santiago to take advantage of the 15lb weight-for-age allowance. The way Frankie Dettori extricated him from a typical Goodwood pocket was a measure of his enduring greatness as a jockey. I expect a big run from him in the Arc. Can he beat Enable and Love? Maybe!

Battaash emulated Strad’s four-timer in the Goodwood Cup with one of his own in the King George Qatar Stakes, but his task was far less onerous. Charlie Hills, a trainer who seems to get very little recognition for his skills - maybe it’s his mild, polite manner or just that he is his father’s son - has done wonders to concentrate all of Battaash’s once-wayward tendencies into track record-breaking brilliance.

**

In the 20 years since Betfair was launched onto an innocent market place many things have changed, especially in the horse racing world. Its arrival coincided with the last two of my 30 years at the Daily Telegraph and I remember writing in that publication that I believed anyone on the new exchange sites who laid horses should be required to be licenced as bookmakers– and pay for the privilege.

Nothing has changed that opinion, but what is different today is the degree to which Betfair Exchange odds lead running “industry” (as they are almost exclusively now) prices and influence SPs.

Another thing that hasn’t changed is that bookmakers do not give money away willingly. So when as happened in the 8.30 race at Thirsk on Wednesday, a horse that the owner had been backing, not excessively, but significantly all afternoon and at 8 p.m. or thereabouts was firm at around 10-1, could, by 8.20, just before the first show in the shops, be available briefly at 60-1 on Betfair, you knew something was probably “funny”.

The horse in question was Trouble Shooter, a five-time winner for owner Simon Lockyer in 2019 under trainer Shaun Keightley but now with Richard Guest. This was to be his debut for the Yorkshire-based trainer and in the build-up to this first run for seven months, expectations had been high. I’ve known Lockyer for just over a year and in the winter we met one of my friends who had been interested in buying into one of the owner’s horses. That didn’t happen but he obviously keeps a close eye on matters racing and betting and called at around 6.30 to say he’d seen that Trouble Shooter “has gone from 12’s to 7’s so presumably it’s fancied.”

I called Simon, and learned that yes they were more than hopeful, at the same time revealing that an associate connected to one of his horses had just called to ask him about Trouble Shooter’s chances.

“He said,” Lockyer began, “that he doesn’t like ringing to ask about another owner’s horses but would like to know if he thought it had a chance. He said he’d had a multiple bet, finding some long-priced winners and that if Trouble Shooter won, it would come to £300,000.”

Upon ending the call, I related that information to my friend and we haven’t discussed it since. Hopefully he didn’t rush to take the reduced price as he would have been no more shocked than me and of course Lockyer when the first show at the track was 25-1. That did prompt some modest mid-market support down to 12-1 but by the off he was out to 20-1 having touched 28’s according to the betting report. After at one time getting as close as fifth, around three lengths behind the leader, he eventually dropped away to finish eighth of the ten runners.

As I said earlier, bookmakers do not give money away. The trainer assured the owner that Trouble Shooter would run well, only reducing his assessment from ten out of ten to nine in the last hours before the race, but I’ve found over 50-odd years’ experience of talking to trainers that even the best of them have slightly diluted optimism as race-time approaches.

It is well known that Betfair have an open line to the BHA, one which has brought about suspensions of a number of jockeys and owners, who contrary to the rules had been found to have laid their horses on the Betfair Exchange. I trust - and I know Nick Rust sees these words every Monday - that Wednesday’s 8.30 race at Thirsk will feature in their deliberations. Not least identifying which bookmaker stood to lose £300k.

The consequences of what happened are still unravelling where Simon Lockyer is concerned, but I repeat someone must have known rather than suspected that Trouble Shooter would not win, and I was aware beforehand that one punter stood to win £300,000 if he did win, or to be Devil’s Advocate, claimed that he would. I think the lay bets should be investigated down to the minutest of transactions. I know at least one other person that could provide evidence of his actions (exclusively backing not laying!) that morning and afternoon.

How can a 7-1 shot (I think they took 10’s at 8 p.m.) open at 25-1? The Editor of this web site was interested as the former Chair of the Horseracing Bettors Forum. Since I originally wrote these words it was he that informed me that Trouble Shooter had never won previously off a layoff of more than 30 days; and that he had been ahead of the eventual winner, the favourite King’s Charisma, three furlongs out; and that he was running off a seven pounds career high mark.

Fair points, I agree, but I still contend that somebody KNEW Trouble Shooter would not be winning. It would be interesting to know who was so certain that he was prepared to offer 60-1 against it happening.

  • TS