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Sunday Supplement: The Everyday World by Numbers

Sunday supplement

Any regular reader of this weekly triviality will be aware that I am a man of many obsessions. Last week I did the age thing; in a slightly different way, I can also reveal a fixation with time and numbers, all types of them.

Thus whenever I climb the stairs at home, or have to cross a railway line via a bridge, I always count the number of steps, just as when I walked for any meaningful distance, I would count off the hundreds and be irritated when I lost track as any other less important matter slipped into my subconscious.

On one holiday in some Spanish resort or other, I use to take a solo morning, post breakfast stroll on a prescribed route and be shocked if the step-count varied by more than a dozen in 2,000 or so taken.

Another variation was the practice when I wasn’t the slowest walker on the racecourse - so in my late teens - that I would target someone walking ahead and aim a point where I intended to overtake.

I had a school friend who lived in Muswell Hill, just up the hill from Ally Pally racecourse, and it was quite a walk back to the bus stop from his house. I’d have races with horse names attributed to myself and the “adversary”, and I remember I was Stem Turn to my rival’s Corn Cockle in a Triumph Hurdle trial and Thames Trader against Operatic Society in the battle of the veteran Flat stayers.

If I ever failed to get up it would be a case of self-mortification and I’d sometimes even break into an illegal gallop, from which Prix d’Amerique trotters or Olympic walkers like Don ‘Mighty Mouse’ Thompson, would quickly earn disqualification.

Counting the steps is one thing. Twice every year I bore anyone within earshot that every day from the shortest gets three minutes longer before and after, until by June 20, we have 540 extra minutes (nine hours) of daylight. Then back the other way.

Already today, it won’t be dark until 5 p.m. and the week after Cheltenham, when the clocks go forward, it’ll be 7.30 p.m. The other part of the useless information thing is that whatever day it is, like Feb 7, I like to project back the same number of days before the darkest and say, for instance: “It’s as light today as it was on Firework Night!”

The back step procedure was also a vital part in my appreciation of history. I used to say (when I was 30) that going the other way we’d be in the middle of the First World War. Additionally, my great-grandmother who I knew up to 11 when she died aged 87, was born that number of years away from 1783.

In that year, the famed English landscape gardener Capability Brown died and the American writer Washington Irving and the Two Headed Boy of Bengal – he suffered from an affliction called Cranopagus parasiticus - were born. They say time flies and that we are here but for a flicker and then go. Too true.

One thing I do know, there’s only five weeks to go to Cheltenham, and just one more for the mixed turf/all-weather delights of Good Friday’s big opening to the 2016 Flat season proper at Musselburgh and Lingfield.

Yesterday was not just the day when Leicester and Tottenham yet again won to take the first two places in the table. It was also the day for Cheltenham trials especially at Leopardstown where Willie Mullins, naturally, won four races.

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I always reckon the punters in Ireland must be bored stiff to see a succession of short-priced winners, in order of likelihood carrying the colours of Gigginstown stud, Suzannah Ricci, J P McManus, Barry Connell, the Wylies and not much else.

The Giggs and JP show was in full flow and was attended by JP’s former rider Sir AP, but in actual fact the punters had something much worse than boredom to contend with as most of the Grade 1 action went to outsiders. Down the card the winners were priced at 14-1 (Mullins), 12-1, 11-1 (Mullins/McManus), 13-8 fav (Mullins again), 9-2 Mullins, 20-1 (McManus), 9-1 and 100-30. In most cases, the winners were second or even third choice for stables/owners.

Odds-on shot Ivanovich Gorbatov, the hot Triumph favourite handled by Joseph O’Brien in his role as his father’s assistant, disappeared without trace, like the ante-post vouchers in his name and there was also a costly defeat for one of England’s few alternatives to Mullins in the Champion Hurdle market.

Peace and Co, so impressive when leading home a Nicky Henderson 1-2-3 in last year’s juvenile championship, was almost uncontrollable when making a feeble comeback at Cheltenham. It would seem that the over-exuberance has been addressed, but sadly that has also resulted in what looked an unwillingness to try as he failed to quicken, finishing third in an ordinary four-horse race at Sandown.

We’ve had an eventful week. Ray Tooth’s April Dusk held every chance when coming to the last upsides the eventual winner of his novice chase at Leicester, where he came down. You lose one, you gain two, and we did with a colt by Mount Nelson and a filly by Mayson coming into being over the next two days at Kinsale stud.

Two more of the team, jumpers Notnowsam and Adrakhan, went back south to Dan Skelton in Warwickshire, buoyed by a break and some great outdoor air and grazing, while Ray’s Champion Hurdler Punjabi continued the early stages of his dressage retraining, with Rachael Kempster doing the day-to-day exercise. His next two appointments will be the Cheltenham parade at the Festival (with a nervy Rachael) and a first introductory competition a month later.

The sales season is up and running, and having recently mentioned the fact that I’d never met him, but liked his ideas, I bumped into Nick Rust of the BHA at Tattersalls on Thursday.

It was one of my principals of motion that brought about our collision. At Newmarket, I tend to stay close to the buffet- as against posh-dining room - counter in company with notably John Hancock, the insurance doyen, and a few other regulars in a constantly moving feast and cups of tea.

My theory is that if you keep going around the sale, you’ll meet more people, but generally they’ll either be talking to someone else and you need to loiter nearby, testing out their preparedness to break their conversations in favour of a word with yourself.

By sitting still, they can either see you, pretend they haven’t and go past, or stop for a while. It’s amazing how many do. That’s how we found Mark Johnston as one of our trainers at October sales, although it’s not infallible, as another of Ray’s new men, George Scott, was far too busy to stop or even acknowledge me on Wednesday.

As to Nick Rust, he was exactly the reverse and it was quite uncanny for this fully mature gentleman, 47, recalling that when he came home from school every day, he got to read his dad’s Daily Telegraph and read my column. From little acorns!

Sunday Supplement: The Press Room, Wullie and the Foxes

Sunday supplement

By Tony Stafford

“Don’t you ever wish you still had a proper job?” I’m sometimes asked, and as I loitered yesterday in the Ascot press room for the handsome slabs of carrot and chocolate cake to be released by the ever-efficient and ultra-friendly custodians of the food, I sort of did.

There they all were, the present and in some cases the previous generation of pressmen, intent on revealing to a Sunday morning readership the implications of another Willie Mullins Saturday smash-and-grab raid.

I had to say, it didn’t seem quite as cliquey as in the old days, the present-day crowd having to address the issue of immediacy. Not for them the luxury of taking their time, the words need to be out there for the on-line editions.

I wonder how such luminaries as the late John Oaksey, or the great Hugh McIlvanney, happily still in full flow, would have coped. The beloved Lord, who sadly missed seeing the Gold Cup triumph last year of his home-bred Coneygree by a couple of years, liked to fashion his copy if not at leisure, certainly with a degree of care.

I loved knocking out the first edition from Aintree every year for the Sunday Telegraph for Ireland and Scotland while John took a more considered view for the rest and the majority of the readership. He had maybe an hour and a half to do that. One year coming back on the sponsored train, possibly paid for by the Tote, I was across the aisle from McIlvanney as he checked with his office, still effectively re-writing to make sure the words were exactly as he intended. By then we were not too far from arriving back in London! Perfectionist indeed.

There was a bit of that about Lord Oaksey, despite the affable exterior, after all he’d watched his father, a great lawyer, in action as chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials of the Nazi war criminals when at an impressionable age.

That affability was certainly tested when a certain gentleman, newly-arrived on the Telegraph racing desk, was given the task of “subbing” John’s report from one of the far-flung racecourses of the kingdom. This was the first big story he’d been entrusted with, and he apparently took exception at the sometimes flowery language, and when he finished it could easily have been written by you or Jamie Redknapp.

I won’t reveal his name, but suffice to say, he’ll probably be reading these lines and smiling at the recollection.

I settled on the carrot cake, delicious and it was a fine complement to the Cumberland sausage and mash consumed three hours earlier. Tough work in those press rooms you know.

None of that, though, got me any nearer to the subject of this piece and you’ll realise by now that many times in the middle of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning I’ve no idea what I’m going to ramble on about. But then today we’ve got the Test in South Africa and Arsenal – Chelsea, but without Mourinho, although the snarling former Chelsea manager will never be far away from the thoughts of his adherents.

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Now if Chelsea were to beat Arsenal, as they well could especially if Costa stays on the right side of the officials and Hazard comes back to life, the talk will be that as well as Costa-ing Arsenal the title they’d also be in with a chance of the Champions League. The former would be much more likely.

Also of greater probability is the apparently absurd thought that the aforesaid Mr Mullins might actually swoop past Nicholls and Hobbs, not to mention a reviving Skelton, and becalmed John Ferguson to win the jumps trainers’ title.

I think I saw even money as his earnings in the UK this season from nine winners ticked over the £400,000 mark thanks to bloodless triumphs for Ruby on Un de Sceaux and Vroum Vroum Mag. Unfortunately from the point of view of his customary Festival blow-swopper Nicky Henderson, that put Mullins barely £200,000 short of the master of Seven Barrows, who will have been irritated that as his string seems to be coming into form, lost meetings are conspiring against him.

The other day, Newbury succumbed to the elements on an afternoon when he had three obvious favourites. Stuck as he is on 51 for the season and with just 13 weeks to go, as of yesterday, time is running out, as it has for Chelsea.

In the seven previous campaigns, Henderson had 129 (last season), 124, 125, 167, 153, 136 and 115. Even to get anywhere near the lowest of those, he requires around five wins every week. That’s possible, with a little pot-hunting around the country, but probably unlikely. The prizemoney stats are even more worrying, as only last season of those seven, did his stable earnings drop below £2 million and then only by £100k.

The recent steady decline in chase wins may have been slightly addressed. Last time only 15 of the 129 winners came in chases, but this term chasers have provided 13 of 51 overall victories. No wonder he’s looking to Peace and Co and My Tent or Yours to challenge Mullins in the Champion Hurdle, but with the former showing such damaging over-exuberance on his Cheltenham comeback and My Tent confined to barracks for two years, the task for either will be extravagant.

So what about Mullins and the title? If he were to repeat last season’s first-day Festival exploits – four wins and even in the one race where his first string Annie Power fell at the last, saving bookmakers from that four-timer pay-out, he collected with Glens Melody – he would amass almost 600k in one daily swoop. That would put him close to a million and the repetition of 2015’s four later winners and a further £230,000 – never mind places - would take him past Nicholls’ present haul, though of course he’s still accumulating too.

In terms of probability, Nicholls should continue to click away and given even a reasonable Cheltenham, he and to a lesser extent Philip Hobbs should stave off the voracious Irishman. But with at least 10 ante-post Festival favourites and the likelihood of another Champion Hurdle 1-2-3 and the £350,000 that goes with that, the top two stables and the bookies who laid him at long odds, will be sweating.

The League title chase is just as compelling. While Manchester’s two gargantuan clubs struggle, it seems that the only time Leicester or Tottenham lose is when they play each other. Both are great to watch and in Leicester’s case, top position and with just the 15 remaining League games to be played, the Tinkerman can continue to use his resources in a sensible way.

Unlike them, Arsenal and Manchester City, along with out of touch Chelsea start their Champions League phase next month, while Manchester United, Spurs and Liverpool have the delights of the two-legged last 32 ties in the Europa League and debilitating Thursday-Sunday action. Add to that, Liverpool and City are in the semi-finals (second legs this week) of the Capital One Cup and the big teams’ FA Cup responsibilities – all six unlike Leicester are still in – and you can see why Leicester at around 11-1 might not be such a silly bet.

- Tony Stafford

Sunday Supplement: A Trio of Expiry Dates

Sunday supplement

By Tony Stafford

As regular readers of these words will be well aware, the issue of mortality is ever-present. David Bowie and Alan Rickman had achieved the same age as me when they passed on last week, although Ed ‘Stewpot’ Stewart was four years older when he expired. Happily, the news pages were speaking in the present where another character of the last century was concerned.

Back in the 1990’s I spent quite a bit of time in the company and at the various establishments, equine and domestic, of Mrs Virginia Kraft Payson, owner among many others of St Jovite. Indeed it was my chance decision to ask one of her friends and fellow Lexington, Kentucky, breeders, Alice Chandler, if I could see Diesis, her recent acquisition to her Mill Ridge Farm that threw us in regular touch for several years.

Virginia had started life as a journalist, spending at least 30 years from its first issue working as a writer on Sports Illustrated, for which her specialist subject could be termed the great outdoors. Before revealing how I got to be there, one of my most indelible memories was of a highly lifelike tiger in full spring in the middle of her spacious office at her winter home on Jupiter Island in Florida.

“What’s the story about him”? I asked. “Well that’s the last thing I saw as he came towards me before I shot him”. So whether hunting with, among many, the old Shah of Persia – pre-Ayatollah Iran – big-game fishing and husky sled driving, she knew the outdoors all around the world. And she wrote about it all, too, in the magazine.

So it was after viewing and gushingly admiring Diesis, who was after all a brother to the even greater Kris – and you know how much I know about horses’ conformation! – I was invited to a party that was happening on the same evening during Keeneland sales.

Soon after arriving at Mill Ridge, Alice called me over to meet this very elegant lady. She said: I’m sure you’ll get on, since you are both journalists.” We did, and so I did with her son, Dean Grimm. Years after, he got more seriously into the bloodstock game in his own right as well as supporting his mother’s extensive interests and we became great mates.

Dean had this ability to secure the best looking young lady in the company, not an easy thing in Lexington, and among his business partners in mares and young stock was the actor Woody Harrelson.  I met Woody one day, via Dean’s arrangement, at a bar in Knightsbridge, and was disappointed on several fronts, not least his pallid skin and revelation that all the clothes he was wearing were made from hemp. I thought that was something those actor types smoked rather than wore. I suppose if he ever ran out, he could smoke his jacket.

Soon after our initial encounter, Virginia, who has a lovely farm, Payson Stud on the Paris Pike, met Jim Bolger and asked him to train among others her home-bred colt, St Jovite.

After a promising first season St Jovite just missed out in the Derby – second to Dr Devious, but gained his revenge when beating the Peter Chapple-Hyam colt 12 lengths in record time in the Irish Derby. His six length romp in the 1992 King George a month after Ireland, was wonderful but guaranteed to annoy me for ages as the BBC compilation, trotted out every year before the race, never included St Jovite, but always featured the 1993 victory of Opera House who was only third as a four-year-old behind Virginia’s star.

That night, we went along to San Lorenzo, Princess Diana’s favourite restaurant round the corner from Harrods, managing to get a last-minute table when we promised to bring the trophy along to be in full view throughout the meal.

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Virginia wanted to stand St Jovite at her stud, so moved him across to the US in the hope of making him into a top dirt performer, but he never ran in that country. Among his first foals was a colt called Indiscreet, trained by David Loder, but he never lived up to the promise of an impressive debut win at York as a juvenile.

His classiest runner in Europe was a Godolphin homebred called Equerry, but big-race winners were few and far between – the best being US-trained Amerique, winner of the San Juan Capistrano. Several years ago he moved to Ireland and has had a number of winners over jumps, Pull the Chord being the best, since standing at Greentree stud, where he died last week at the age of 27.

That demise was noted in the Racing Post a couple of days after a report on the first day of Keeneland’s  January Horses of all ages sale, which detailed how Virginia had been stocking up with some choicely-bred mares. She always had a high regard for the late Gerald Leigh’s breeding operation and bought three of the top four lots in Monday’s sale, all from the dispersal of Leigh’s daughter Sarah Jane, who died last year.

I’m delighted Virginia’s still going strong as she’s a “shade” senior to me. No doubt the Racing Post will reveal by how much the next time her birthday comes around. Suffice to say, this was the first time she had been active at the sales as a buyer over the past 30 years rather than a highly-successful vendor. I hope her new intake breeds something to recall St Jovite’s incredible highs.

The racing has been necessarily mundane since the big Christmas – New Year period, and with the cold snap coming, we can expect a few more abandonments. One BHA employee who will not mind the odd day off is Steve Taylor, former jump jockey and long-term starter.

He and his wife Carol are also the parents of England cricketer James Taylor, who at just 5ft 4in offers a sometimes comical counterpoint in the field to giant fast bowlers Stuart Broad and Steven Finn, both of whom are around 16in taller.

I always reckon only professional boxers need to be fitter and braver than jockeys. Bravery certainly comes big rather than small in the case of James Taylor, who collected two amazing short-leg catches, one off each of the big boys, in South Africa’s second innings capitulation in Johannesburg yesterday.

When I watch cricket on TV, I sometimes wonder why they bother to put a bat-pad man in short on the leg side as whenever a batsman shapes to hit to leg, the first impulse if to turn away. Not young James, who watches the ball right off the bat, and twice memorably yesterday, into his hands.

At his height, and with his strong but still trim frame, he could easily have been a jockey like dad, who revealed in an interview a few years back that James always rode ponies as a kid, but loved football, hence his education at Shrewsbury college, a noted soccer school.

The Taylors live in Leicestershire, where James made his first steps in county cricket before going on to Nottinghamshire, his present county. No doubt the prominence of the local football team this season will have the younger Taylor wondering whether like another notably versatile sportsman Philip Neville, a talented England under-19 cricketer before going on to Old Trafford and Man U, he might have made the wrong choice. After a day like yesterday, though, nothing could be further from James’s mind.

 

Sunday Supplement: Foxy and the Very Large Pianist

With the rain raining down incessantly on Britain’s racecourses, the football pundits are providing us with plenty of alternative entertainment in our time of need, with Talksport, Sky and Mail Online – often they seem totally homogeneous - offering some interesting food for thought.

I missed most of yesterday’s early-morning wisdom on the Micky Quinn – Georgie Bingham show, but just caught the last few contributors to their phone-in. The final caller, one of several Manchester City fans on the programme, sounded reasonable enough at first – not for him the Jamie Carragher opinion that Arsenal “have to win the title this year or they won’t for the next ten” – but ended with an interesting view.

He said; “City really ought to be 20 points clear”, a considered appreciation of the first 20 games in a 38-match season. I’m sure I heard Mr Quinn say “I agree”, but maybe it was Ms Bingham. I’ll tell you what, if they had actually got the 62 points they should have from the maximum 60 on offer, they would have been very hard for anyone to catch!

The FA Cup 3rd Round should have helped presenters and phone-in callers alike the chance to hone their arithmetical skills, and Sam Allerdyce, who reckoned Sunderland gave it away at the Emirates in losing 3-1 to the Cup holders of the last two seasons also needs to get out his maths primer if he ever had one.

Sunderland, struggling in the League, did well throughout, did even better to take the lead and in all had 11 shots of which three were on target. The hosts, meanwhile, had 25 shots, 13 of which were on target, so it was probably a decent game to watch.

It’s hard for me not to mention football, but if my article includes mention of Micky who trains what we all hope will turn out to be a nice two-year-old filly for the boss, I pretty much have to.

In earlier years, Raymond Tooth’s arrival at Tattersalls yearling sale had been the cause of excitement among some trainers and agents. Once a whiff of his entrance to the restaurant at Park Paddocks for a hearty breakfast was registered, the prospective developers of the raw talent that was about to go through the ring, swarmed around him.

His presence was never measured beyond a few hours, work demands ever paramount, but long enough for half a dozen or so happy practitioners to persuade him to try to get one or more of the choice offerings. He’s less of a Pied Piper these days, and last October’s visit which brought three Book 3 purchases was achieved in an almost anonymous manner.

The first two were acquired without earlier recourse to outside help. The third, chosen by him, after a little prior research and a chat to Chris Harper of Whitsbury Manor stud, was bought by the aforesaid Mr Quinn for 4,000gns, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she were the cheapest yearling Ray ever got through the ring.

She’s a daughter of Foxwedge, an Australian Group 1 winning sprinter and son of the amazing Fastnet Rock, who shuttles between his land of his birth and Whitsbury, where his fee of £7,500 compares favourably with the $40,000 back home.

In that context, 4,000gns looks derisory and when I had a look back at the pedigree on my midweek trip to an almost-waterlogged Kinsale stud, where no doubt she’ll go to produce her own foals later on, I could only marvel at what a bargain he might have.

The dam, Lady Circe, a daughter of Spinning World, won three races in Italy at two and three years of age. The sale catalogue revealed she’d had two runners so far, one winner Donosti, while the juvenile Baroja was unraced.

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Baroja, a son of Bushranger, had gone through the sale the previous October for just 1.000gns, and that looked insulting enough even before his first-time third in France a few days before the Foxwedge filly’s sales appearance.

Within a month, the first four from that race were all winners, including Baroja, who won a decent maiden (Euro 8K to the winner) next time before his good second to a Rouget hotpot at Pau last week.

That perusal of the pedigree reminded the Kempsters and me that Lady Circe is actually half-sister to a Japan Cup winner, from stakes-winning second dam Chesa Plana. If she can run, everyone will be in clover, so it’s over to you Micky and Karen Quinn.

Their Newmarket counterparts Luca and Sarah Cumani have been in Australia at the Magic Millions sale, along with daughter Francesca, helping son Matt fill up his Aussie training barn for his initial stage of following in father’s footsteps. Among his buys was a Foxwedge filly, which was, in reverse Dell Boy order, not 4k, not 40k, but 105k, even if it is only in Aussie money.

My Saturday was spent at Kempton where the highlight was Triolo D’Alene’s return to action in the Listed William Hill Chase. There were just three runners, one of which the veteran Wishfull Thinking was never travelling, but there was still sufficient excitement for the punters with the Nicky Henderson-trained and market-neglected winner and odds-on shot P’tit Zig going at it from the start.

The 2013 Hennessy winner Triolo D’Alene was a remote also-ran in Pineau de Re’s Grand National the following April, but the way he jumped in the Kempton mud offered a great deal of encouragement that next spring could be his big chance. He ran off 150 here and if the handicapper is kind – P’tit Zig departed when getting rid of Sam Twiston-Davies two out – and leaves him anything like unchanged, he’ll go to the top of my National list. Maybe he’ll give Seven Barrows that elusive first win in the great race.

Also at Kempton I bumped into the subject of my favourite occasional racecourse quiz question. It goes: “Guess what that very tall bespectacled gentleman does for a living? The clue, his profession was the name of a good horse he had something to do with years ago.”
Nobody’s ever got it, and until we went up to said tall gentleman, I had no recollection of his name, just that he was and still is a Concert Pianist. He was always around when the horse of that name, trained by Peter Winkworth, won three soft-ground novice hurdles in a row in the 2000-1 season at Warwick (11 lengths), Chepstow, 14, and Ascot, the last by six lengths from a decent Henderson novice to whom he conceded the double penalty.

Next time he was fourth to the mighty Baracouda in Fontwell’s National Spirit Hurdle, finishing well after tailing himself off in the early stages.

Usually, my greetings with the concert pianist are restricted to: “How are you?” but this time I thought I’d better put some flesh on the bones of my routine. I managed to find out that he’s called Ian and after further probing, Ian Fountain and yes he’s still working all around Europe combined with “some teaching at the Royal Academy of Music”.

In the old days that would have been that. But also logging in my ever-dwindling memory bank his mention that “my manager owned the horse”, I had a look at Google and there he was, with pictures aplenty.

It listed his accomplishments, which began with his being the youngest-ever winner of the Artur Rubenstein Piano Masters Competition in Tel Aviv at the age of 19. His “I do a bit of teaching at the RA” slightly underplays his status as Piano Professor there and now a judge at the same Competition. Looking at his profile, it seems me and my pal Pete spent some time in the company of one of the world’s leading pianists. You never know who you’ll meet. As John McCririck used to say, “Come racing!” He was dead right on that point.

Sunday Supplement: Mysterious Goings On At The Bridge

Sunday supplement

By Tony Stafford

After a month of agonising about events at The Bridge, we finally got to know who was revealed as the culprit. Red herrings were duly accepted and then rejected by the gullible audience over time, but in the end we found out that it was Emil Larsson, acting out his frustrations from his time in a Swedish orphanage, who had been on that killing spree.

Didn’t I tell you? My Saturday night BBC 4 detective mystery addiction has for the last month been sated by the Swedish-Danish-German co-production called The Bridge, revolving around a co-operative investigation by Swedish and Danish Police.

The cities of Malmo (Sweden) and Copenhagen, Denmark’s capital, are linked by the 16-kilometre-long Oresund Bridge and detectives Saga Noren (Swedish) and Henrik Suboa (Danish) travel back and forth across the 52 Euro a time structure in their quest for the truth, often finding themselves in the same bed. Those Scandinavian prices make the M6 Toll road – the world’s greatest stretch of tarmac - look cheap.

For much of the past fortnight – two hour-long episodes a week made missing the start of Match of the Day inevitable – we were led by the nose thinking Claes Sandberg and Annika Melander, owner of a funeral business with the hots for businessman Claes, were united in the killings, but they too were innocent, if like everyone else, flawed characters.

The final scene, where Saga and Henrik sat opposite each other searching through years-old documents concerning the disappearance of Henrik’s two young daughters – his wife’s remains were discovered late into this the third series – missed the first two, typical – leaving the door obviously open for a fourth lot of Saturday night delight next year.

There was little disguising who were the culprits according to the crowd at the other Bridge in West London. Eden Hazard, Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa were named on several impromptu and rather scruffy posters, reinforced when the latter pair was roundly booed as they were substituted during Chelsea’s 3-1 win over Sunderland at a Jose-free Stamford Bridge, Hazard being off games after his not-off “injury” last week.

So Mourinho is off again, routinely it seems. After all, he completed his usual “wash” cycle whereby he goes into an already major club, puts in the powder for a first bedding-in season, cleans up with the fabric softener to win the domestic double before winding down with a spin-phase whimper and out the door clutching another multi-million pound pay-off.

Usually that coincides with another major club pathologically failing. Now there’s both Manchester United and Real Madrid in a slump, as two more of the inner circle of top-level managers, van Gaal and Benitez, are being exposed as unable to motivate the present-day crop of multi-millionaire young players. Sterile tactics and inflexible man management are shown to be less effective than say the relaxed outlook of Leicester City’s Claudio Ranieri.

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But hang on. As Leicester enters the January transfer period atop the Premier League, it will come under incessant media pressure to buy and “strengthen” the squad. At the same time, the clamour will push the so-far refreshingly-uncomplicated club and its football style to “secure the futures” of its star players with improved contracts, making them more like the prima donnas on display so obviously everywhere else.

Most observers – including the bookmakers - are taking Manchester City and Arsenal as favourites for the first two places. Unless Manchester United wakes up they must be questionable for the top four. At present rate of progress, while I’ve been entranced by The Bridge, they’ve collected five points from their last five games. At that rate they’ll take nine to match Leicester’s 38 points and who knows how many more the King Power boys will have collected by then?

Tottenham and Crystal Palace are level with Manchester United on 29 and Watford (25) and Liverpool (24) would still be at least 10 and 11 points respectively adrift of Leicester if either wins today’s clash at Vicarage Road. If you think Leicester won’t be in the Champions League next year, think again.

Now The Bridge has finished I can get back to racing, football and of course England’s cricketers in South Africa, although Raymond Tooth’s action for 2015 ended when Harry Champion just failed to win his first handicap at Wolverhampton on Friday night. We have to wait until Wetherby on Jan 8 for the promising April Dusk’s next run.

I always enjoy Ascot’s pre-Christmas meeting with the usual big crowd entering into the seasonal jollities in suitably-freezing temperatures.

Except that it was 16 degrees Celcius, which sounds hot enough, but not as hot as 61 degrees Fahrenheit. Dan Skelton, hotfoot from Haydock where he had a winner, sported a lounge suit and new haircut and winter coats were hard to spot. Bet you Guus Hiddink was wearing his, though, at Stamford Bridge as he scrutinised the small print on his short-term contract. Surely not, Chelsea, he’s as old as me (actually eight months younger)!

Thistlecrack ran away with the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot, no mean achievement as it required ending Reve de Sivola’s stranglehold on the race. Colin Tizzard has handled that emerging staying star with sure steps and will be hoping that the revitalised Cue Card can win Boxing Day’s King George VI Chase at Kempton.

In between there’s the Arsenal –Manchester City clash on Monday night, involving two more of that inner circle of management veteran top-earners. One, the always-gracious Manuel Pellegrini, seems to be endlessly on the brink of being usurped whenever his team shows the slightest sign of faltering, and Arsene Wenger, Mourinho’s favourite target for insults, personal and professional.

The one thing Mourinho did get right about the man who has found it impossible to beat him in Chelsea – Arsenal League matches, is that he’s probably the only manager who is guaranteed not to be sacked. Right so far, Jose, but I reckon Ranieri and Bournemouth’s Eddie Howe are not far short of inviolable either.

Sunday Supplement: The Khee to the Cousin

Sunday supplement

By Tony Stafford

Jumping’s great at the minute, with such as Vautour edging home from a determined P’tit Zig at Ascot; and Cue Card, Silviniano Conti and Dynaste battling out the Betfair Chase at Haydock yesterday.

For good measure we also had a Harry Fry treble at Ascot featuring a 12th career victory for the 10-year-old former Champion Hurdler Rock on Ruby. His tale is a remarkable one, winning his title under the banner of Paul Nicholls even though the actual training was carried out more than a few miles from Ditcheat by Fry, who was designated only as assistant. He took out a licence for the following 2012-13 season.

For me and the boss it will quicken up again tomorrow at Kempton when Cousin Khee, aged eight rising nine and with 10 career wins from 43 appearances in a range of disciplines behind him, breaks new ground in a novice chase at Kempton.

It was just over four years ago now that Hughie Morrison called to ask if Raymond Tooth might be interested in buying him. He’d run three times in bumpers, winning first time at Exeter in Hughie’s junior “benefit” and then twice unplaced at Cheltenham, although eighth of 24 in the Festival bumper represented a good effort for a four-year-old.

A deal was quickly struck and since then he has won further races over hurdles (three), jumpers’ bumpers (two), all-weather Flat (two) and Turf Flat, also two.

Of his 23 rivals in that Cheltenham bumper, only 21st home Felix Yonger has done markedly better. A 66-1 shot that day for the Wylies and previous trainer Howard Johnson, he has since moved to Willie Mullins and has a tally of ten wins in 21 starts with a rating of 160. Six of the wins have come in 12 chases.

All the contestants in that Festival bumper won at least one race and the next best tally is the eight from 34 of Dark Glacier. He was 11th of the 24 that day and is the winner of four races each for original trainer Chris Grant and present handler Peter Bowen.

It’s fair to say that Cousin Khee enjoyed the good fortune of winning a couple of jumpers’ bumpers when bad winter weather caused multiple abandonments of jumps cards a couple of seasons ago. Equally Morrison was sharp enough to take advantage where others didn’t. Critics, especially among the media, regard him as inconsistent and Mark Winstanley offered that opinion when I bumped into him at Ascot yesterday.

On consideration, I think it’s a fair assessment. Over time Hughie and the jockeys have worked out that he doesn’t like being crowded and that tendency contributed to his poor position turning for home in the November Handicap at Doncaster last time. When he got clear, miles behind, on the wide outside turning for home, he rallied past 12 horses. If he’d had another furlong to go, he’d have been close to the frame, although nowhere near brilliant winner Litigant.

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It’s interesting to look at the figures for the Betfair Chase, in which four of the five runners were aged nine and Holywell a year younger. Cue Card, who also announced his arrival in a Festival Bumper – he won it as a four-year-old the year before Cousin Khee’s run - is now winner of 12 of his 27 starts, eight of 20 since going chasing. Silviniano Conti has been even more productive with 15 wins from 28 – ten of 20 in chases. Five of Dynaste’s seven victories have come over fences in a career spanning 26 starts, while Holywell has seven from 23 (five chases) and Ballynagour, badly outrun yesterday, has three chase wins in his tally of five wins in 23.

Nicholls went close with P’tit Zig – overall eight from 20 – behind Vautour, won collected his ninth win from 12 runs and these highly-progressive six-year-olds have time to get near the Silviniano Conti and Cue Card heights.

But if Cousin Khee shows the same liking for fences as he has schooling under Tom O’Brien at home, who’s to say what he can eventually do? At time of writing the declarations for Kempton are unknown, but lurking among the 14 entries lie a number of dangerous-looking opponents with Dan Skelton particularly liking the chance of his mare Stephanie Frances.

When Cousin Khee ran in the November, Emily Weber, one of the most experienced of their form experts pointed out he had recorded his best Racing Post Rating (RPR) for each of all-weather Flat (sixth, beaten less than three lengths) in Lingfield’s All-Weather Marathon Championship race, Flat turf and Hurdles this year. Hughie, whose Alcazar won a French Group 1 aged ten, thinks he might have a squeak in next year’s Cesarewitch!

We had a great trip up to Shropshire on Monday, principally for Ray to see his three home-bred yearlings before they departed to their trainers later in the week. Rachael and Richard Kempster and all at Kinsale Farm got full marks for preparation when Hughie, Hugo Palmer and our new man George Scott (until now Lady Cecil’s assistant) took charge of yearlings respectively by Stormy River, Mount Nelson (filly) and Equiano.

Quite a few of Ray’s under-performers have found new owners with my long-time friend Wilf Storey in darkest Co. Durham. Two of his home-breds, Nelson’s Bay and Nonagon, have been among Wilf’s seven winners in 2015.

Sadly, Wilf recently slipped on a wet concrete slope collecting two footballers’ injuries in one go, rupturing the tendons behind each knee. He’s been on his back since but with daughter Stella now doing the work of six men instead of five, the show goes on as Wilf recovers in hospital.

[Get well soon, Wilf – Ed.]

Their best season since 2000 in number of winners and 1997 for prizemoney has come from just seven horses and 203rd in the trainers’ table – 499 listed – represented dizzy heights for the old boy. He’ll have three more to work on (well Stella will anyway) next year and he’s hoping that his daughter’s super-human efforts over many years – riding, box-driving, feeding, mucking out and leading up at the races – might get her one of the Godolphin awards this winter. I hope so, too.

 

Sunday Supplement: A Great Start to the Season

Sunday supplement

By Tony Stafford

A week’s travel around the nation encompassed visits to four of its eminently-varied racecourses. Doncaster, Huntingdon, Cheltenham and Uttoxeter provide a decent example of that variety and, in my case, attending on behalf of the boss Raymond Tooth, a batch of creditable runs, one from each of his jumping strength.

Cousin Khee, as you and indeed Keith Dawes will have noted last week – it always amazes me when complete strangers have managed to find these ramblings – was unplaced in the November Handicap at Doncaster. That eighth place still represented a decent effort as he ran past around a dozen or so up the straight.

I bumped into Hughie Morrison at Cheltenham on Friday in the record crowd for the meeting and he reported that the old boy didn’t allow himself to have a hard race after getting narked with the initial crowding that the younger whipper-snappers involved him in during the first half of the contest. Much more to his liking was the untrammelled wide course that Oisin Murphy managed to secure for him late on.

So rather than need days to recover, he was put to good use back jumping hurdles, an exercise which clearly kick-started his career in recent months, partnering a young novice on his initial steps. “Then it’ll be schooling over fences on Monday,” said Hughie, who, like owner and retinue cannot wait to see whether his jumping ability, liking for soft ground, and an above-average turn of foot make him a decent prospect as he embarks on yet another discipline after ten wins already.

Tuesday and Huntingdon was the next stop for the caravan. The rains might have relented a bit but the ground was still on the soft side, so not ideal for the four-year-old Notnowsam as he made his third attempt over fences after a win and second.

For much of the way, following a fast pace, he looked the likeliest winner, but was stung by the better speed and overall greater experience of Raven’s Tower, who picked him up at the last and bolted up as Sam made his one mistake at that point.

Dan Skelton was happy enough as was Ben Pauling, trainer of the winner, who is getting going after a steady start following his departure from a job as joint assistant trainer to Nicky Henderson, along with Tom Symonds.

In the Punjabi days, Ben was always something of a rival to Tom, who championed Punjabi, when much of the stable, including the trainer and Corky Brown were in the Binocular camp. Indeed the pictures I saw from home – in detached retina recovery mode – saw the triumph on Tom’s face while Nicky looked like he’d dropped a £50 note and picked up a tanner, until he realised he’d actually trained the winner of another Champion Hurdle!

As we waited in the paddock on Friday while the officials decided whether to turn the novice handicap hurdle – Dan’s ambitious target for Adrakhan since last winter – into a glorified Flat race, which they eventually did, I moved across to Ben.

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I asked him whether he was going to serve it up to us again, to which he replied with a nervous laugh. No wonder. Raven’s Tower had been a well-backed 20-1 shot on the Tuesday and now he was waiting for A Hare’s Breath, off for 600-plus days but with good runs behind Irving and Josses’s Hill on his scabbard for a former trainer. On Thursday he was 25-1. Now he was down to 6’s and despite having to beat a Tony Martin-trained, Ruby Walsh-ridden special, it never looked in the race that he could be beaten and he wasn’t.

We were delighted with Adrakhan’s staying on sixth, Dan still doubting he hadn’t been strong enough to get up the Cheltenham hill, but rider Harry disagreeing with his elder brother saying: “He stayed well. There’s a good one in him.” Harry was more concerned with the effect of the setting sun on this race reckoning “it was downright dangerous. All the way up the straight you couldn’t see anything, and I was standing up to try to see over the top.” What with that and the narrowing of the track at various points to go around the eliminated jumps, it was certainly a rough race and sixth of 20 represented another forward step for the inexperienced four-year-old.

I travelled up on Friday with a team of friends, Steve, Kevin and Phil from Billericay, and when they realised Raymond’s April Dusk was making his seasonal return to action at Uttoxeter, they happily switched away from day two at Cheltenham as this was one of the tracks they’d never visited.

As soon as we got there, the rain set in, but the overnight stop at Worcester was fortuitous as it reduced the travel time to just over one and a half hours. Warren Greatrex had found a nice race – the opposition melted away rather than face a 125-rated hurdler in a maiden. The event was uneventful and brought a satisfactory victory as, Derek Thompson – on the mic all day long, why do we keep finding him? – must have said: “as an odds-on favourite should.”

The key was his jumping, combining scope with accuracy, but Warren and Gavin Sheehan have sights on bigger and better exploits over fences. “Gavin thought it would be a good idea to get him a win before going over fences, and he was actually a bit short for this – he’s a big horse. He’s had plenty of schooling over fences and will now go straight to chasing.” A time note, this apparently uncompetitive affair was run in 13 seconds faster for the two and a half miles than the later hotly-contested handicap.

So from four runs, we had one win and three good performances. Already this season it’s five wins from ten appearances, with three places. This represents Ray’s numerically best jumps tally since the 1991-2 season when he had six wins, but obviously we’re nowhere near matching 2008-9 when Punjabi won that epic Champion Hurdle from Celestial Halo and Binocular.

We’ll be seeing the 12-year-old Punjabi tomorrow morning at Kinsale Farm and from pictures I’ve seen of his galloping around his paddock, there’s plenty of the old zest left. Their summer spells there didn’t do much harm for Notnowsam, Adrakhan and April Dusk, and we’re hoping Dutch Law’s break will be just as beneficial when he returns to Hughie in the New Year.

Ray is particularly keep to run the eye over the three home-bred yearlings – by Mount Nelson, Equiano and (in France) Stormy River – before they join their trainers later in the week, the Equiano colt bound for  new trainer George Scott, who had been Lady Cecil’s assistant until her recent retirement.

 

Then there’s Ray’s six home-bred foals and eight in-foal mares to inspect. His busy work schedule does not allow many such excursions, but this one is coming at a perfect time. Just can’t wait to get on the Chester train with Ray and Steve Gilbey in the morning.

Sunday Supplement: Chapple-Hyam on the up once more…

Sunday supplement

By Tony Stafford

Time telescopes in the memory. Peter Chapple-Hyam at 52, has for almost half his life so far been a licenced trainer, from 1991 to the end of the millennium at Manton, and 2004 onwards in Newmarket. In between he had four character-building if not totally successful years in Hong Kong.

Yesterday at Doncaster he returned to the big time with a third Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster courtesy of the 33-1 chance Marcel, in the process denting the reputation of John Gosden’s previously unbeaten Foundation, who finished third, admittedly with a troubled run.

Marcel gave Andrea Atzeni a third successive win in the race and was the middle leg of a Town Moor treble. I know one leading trainer told a friend he didn’t regard Atzeni as a top jockey. The way he steered Marcel clear of trouble round the outside as his countryman Frankie Dettori got stuck behind a wall (small wall in a seven-runner race!) made that comment look silly.

Throughout his lengthy career, Chapple-Hyam has had the knack of winning big races, often at long prices. For instance his 2008 Derby winner Authorized stepped up from a debut third in maiden company to win the same Group 1 juvenile (switched to Newbury) race at 25-1. He also won it years before with Commander Collins.

Chapple-Hyam does not regard Marcel, a son of Lawman out of the Marju mare Mauresmo – presumably named after Andy Murray’s French coach – as a potential Derby winner, hoping he might be competitive in the shorter French Derby – Prix du Jockey Club.

Marcel does not hold the Derby entry, but neither did Golden Horn, and if in his early three-year-old races Paul Hancock’s colt, who cost the princely sum of 26,000gns as a yearling, shows hitherto unexpected stamina, do not be surprised if he turns up at Epsom.

When the Barry Hills assistant took over from his mentor as Robert Sangster’s private trainer – Barry went back to his original stables in Lambourn – the success was immediate. Rodrigo de Triano and Dr Devious both collected a string of juvenile wins before even bigger success in their Classic year of 1992.

It probably helped his cause that while the son of a Birmingham greengrocer and West Brom fan was making his way up the ranks at Manton, he paired up with Jane Peacock, Sangster’s daughter-in-law. I doubt if even the demanding Mr Sangster could have expected him to make such a success right from the start.

Sangster’s purchase of Manton in 1988 was meant to be the showcase both of the owner’s wonderful home-bred stock and the undoubted training talents of Michael Dickinson, switching to the Flat after his amazing jumping exploits. His Famous Five Gold Cup, when he saddled the first five home, and a dozen wins on a single Boxing Day gave him legendary status.

Obviously Sangster’s biggest successes had already come in the Vincent O’Brien days a decade or more earlier, with the influence and great success of the Northern Dancer line which still dominates racing in Europe.

But Dickinson, whose re-modelling of the old Wiltshire gallops earned universal approval, had just four sparse wins in his only season there. This prompted a Sangster re-think and Dickinson’s departure for the US where he won a couple of Breeders’ Cups and later developed his Tapeta racing surface.

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Barry Hills moved across for a short time before returning home, having done a solid job in upping the success rate, but it was during the Chapple-Hyam years when Manton was at its height.

Dr Devious won three races before changing hands during his juvenile season, Pete’s first in charge, and ended with a clear win in the Dewhurst for his new owner Luciano Gaucci. By the time he ran and won the 1992 Derby – from St Jovite – he was in the colours of Sidney Craig, whose wife Jenny ran the foremost diet business in the States, which she sold to Nestle in 2006 for $600 million.

St Jovite turned the tables emphatically in the Irish Derby, but it was Dr Devious again in a desperate conclusion to the Irish Champion Stakes when he had St Jovite, who easily won the King George in between, inches behind in second.

Dr Devious was a yearling buy for Sangster, but Rodrigo de Triano was a home-bred who won all five races at two and then after losing the unbeaten record in his trial, had 55-year-old Lester Piggott on his back for the first time when winning the 2,000 Guineas with Dr Devious back in fourth.

Piggott then kept the mount for the rest of the colt’s career, collecting the Irish 2,000, the Juddmonte International and Champion Stakes, but finishing unplaced when his stamina ran out behind his stablemate at Epsom. Rodrigo de Triano was sold to stand in Japan as a stallion.

When the big wins eventually dwindled down to a relative trickle, Pete decided on a try at Hong Kong, but it is fair to say that his temperament probably did suit him too much to sitting down with local owners intent on landing gambles.

So back he came to a new life in Newmarket. Within a couple of years he was guiding Authorized to his Derby and Juddmonte triumphs for Saleh Al Homaizi and Imad Al Sagar and then attracting Qatar Racing’s Sheikh Fahad Al-Thani to his methods.

This year Arod has done very well for the Skeikh, but the much-hyped Hydrogen, bought for 2.5 million guineas, proved a flop. However with owners like Jim and Fitri Hay, for whom Chapple-Hyam sent out Buckstay for a big handicap win at Ascot, as well as Homeizi, Sagar and Sheikh Fahad, his career should take another upward turn. Certainly if talent has any bearing, there’ll be plenty of big days to come.

I haven’t been at a Breeders’ Cup for a few years, and I’ll be watching at home again on Friday and Saturday, with Legatissimo my idea of a banker for the Aidan O’Brien- Coolmore team in the Filly and Mare Turf race. The other race I can’t wait to see is the clash between American Pharoah, Bob Baffert-trained but Ashford Stud bound, and Gleneagles in the Classic on Dirt.

Wednesday offers my boss Ray Tooth the chance of keeping his good recent run going with Cousin Khee back on the level at Nottingham, while the football world will be wondering what further sanction awaits Jose Mourinho after yesterday’s Chelsea meltdown.

It seems to me that he spends far too much time worrying about Arsene Wenger. I’d hate to think what will happen to Jose’s mental state if his favourite “failure” wins the Premier League title this season.

Sunday Supplement: The Power of a Good Rest…

Sunday supplement

By Tony Stafford

As I tried to edge out of slumber early this morning to frame the path of this week’s offering, the phrase “bring me your tired, your weak, your huddled masses”, came into mind. As you all know – if like me you’ve just checked where you knew it from on Google– it is part of a poem by the American writer Emma Lazarus and adorns the Statue of Liberty in New York harbour.

As the tired, weak and huddled masses gather in Calais trying new ways to get into the UK, maybe they should invoke that sentiment, not that they’ll get much of a response. As ever I’m beginning to mire myself in inconsequential thoughts. All I wanted to say was: “What can an owner do when his horses are tired from a hard season, poor (at least showing the effects of that hard season in a physical way) and ready for a break?”

Trainers often say after a less than expected performance, that the horse could do with a break. In the case of Raymond Tooth’s ‘huddled masses’, step forward Rachael and Richard Kempster of Kinsale stud in Shropshire.

Their 300-plus acres of choice, former dairy farmland near Oswestry, offers solitude and nutrition for the mares, young stock and resting out-of-training thoroughbreds, quite a number of which belong to Mr T. Any trainer can tell you the trick is to be able to move from field to field as they get shorn of quality grass, but as Rachael said the other day: “After the nice weather of the past couple of weeks, the grass is still growing!”

Good news indeed for Dutch Law as he came back after two straight years with Hughie Morrison, where he developed into a lightly-raced 85-ish performer, winning a nice handicap at Newmarket, then second at Ascot before a slight down-turn in form persuaded Hughie that maybe a break was what he wanted.

So there he was in midweek, a little wired after the long box ride north with a fellow traveller, but happy to be back at the place where he spent the first 18 months of his life. He was led to his stall, checked where he knew the food was supposed to be, and shouted for it. When that dissatisfaction was put right, he duly cleaned up and promptly went to sleep!

Until you have such decisions to make, in conjunction with a trainer, you probably do not think of the possible consequences of getting it wrong. Just chucking them in a field with minimal supervision is much worse an idea than just keeping them in a quiet regime within the trainer’s ambit.

But given the right balance, as we know they have at Kinsale, and of course many other excellent farms around the country, a horse can come back refreshed, bigger and stronger giving the trainer plenty to work on. And if additionally it’s back to a place he knows and trusts, like Dutch Law, he can get straight on with the relaxation.

In the summer so stealthily but emphatically taken away from us by the sudden change in temperatures over the past week, I remember going out to see three holidaying jumpers enjoying their time at grass.

Promising stayer and Irish point winner, April Dusk, had just been gelded since taking his break from his first session with Warren Greatrex, while the Dan Skelton pair, Notnowsam and Adrakhan, were also refuelling, the former after a win over hurdles for Noel Quinlan before he handed in his licence over Easter, and a chase for Skelton at Warwick. Adrakhan came in a while before his stablemate after three runs, including a nice second to Chatez at Warwick.

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All three thrived and got a universal thumbs-up from their trainers on their return. April Dusk will probably be off and running next month, but the other pair were in action for the first time over the past five days and they both showed the benefits of that interruption of their training with impressive returns.

First, Notnowsam, off 122 for that chase debut win, tackled Class 3 company at Wetherby and jumping superbly for such a young horse, only gave best to a more experienced and hard-fit rival in the last 150 yards.

Then yesterday, Adrakhan, bought by Ray’s shrewd French trainer Nicolas Clement – he handled French Fifteen for us – as a yearling, paid back Nicolas’ original patient handling of a big, raw horse. He ran out a promising winner at Market Rasen, with your correspondent showing a dereliction of duty by watching the stars of Flat racing at Ascot the best part of 180 miles away.

They’d already run three of the six races there, including the sprint won so convincingly by Muhaarar, trained by the admirable Charlie Hills, when Adrakhan stepped out with the trainer telling us to expect a good run, but that there would be more to come.

The way he and Harry Skelton got to work after the last to hold on to their advantage was a happy augury of what might be to come for both of them. If there’s a more improved jumps jockey riding than Harry I’ve yet to see him.

Both horses had returned to Lodge Hill brimming with health and without too much flab to have to work off before getting going. That’s the benefit of an establishment like Kinsale, which is run basically like a training yard except they are not in training, save the odd go on the walker.

The Kempsters are readying three of Ray’s homebred yearlings, colts by Stormy River and Equiano and a Mount Nelson filly to go into training, a trio supplemented by fillies by Acclamation (for Mark Johnston), Delegator (Hugo Palmer) and Foxwedge (the great Micky Quinn). That will be our biggest team of juveniles since the Hannon, Elsworth, Meehan et al days.

The six foals, though, are what particularly make Richard smile every morning, and his eyes keep going back to I Say and her colt foal by Mount Nelson. Mum was runner-up on debut in a big field of Newbury maidens behind Secret Gesture, and look what happened to her. If the foal is eventually a decent runner, we won’t be able to contain expectations of the next one – she’s in foal to Nathanial.

The early finish at Ascot which was absolutely mobbed by a very happy, albeit mostly non-racing crowd, meant I could keep abreast of events at Vicarage Road, which turned out fine. What’s not quite so fine is the situation with vendors at the yearling sale. Tattersall’s last half of Book 3 on Friday, had at least three – we hope – pearls, but for the most part, yearlings bringing generally loss-making situations for their breeders.

One of them, Julian Wilson, who with his wife runs a small, but successful in terms of on-course results, operation near Newmarket revealed he had taken home two of three horses he’d consigned. He told me: “Julian Richmond-Watson <Chairman TBS> says we need 1,000 more horses to go into training. Fair enough, but where are the owners to pay for them to be trained?” Keep plugging away, Julians both.

 

Sunday Supplement: Stallion Season

Sunday supplement

By Tony Stafford

At this stage of the 2014 season, we’d had the Arc and all the major domestic two-year-old action including the Dewhurst, won by Belardo – whatever happened to him? Golden Horn, the best of the three-year-olds hadn’t even been sighted at that stage apart from on the gallops, his Nottingham debut win coming this week a year ago.

Gleneagles, harshly demoted from the Lagardere, has done nothing wrong since, winning a 2,000 Guineas that might have translated into even more than the Irish 2,000 and St James’s Palace. He, though, has been as unlucky with the ground conditions for his later possible objectives as Golden Horn has been favoured with the elements and by the Leopardstown stewards.

That said, Golden Horn’s catalogue of wins and John Gosden’s handling of them makes impressive reading – enough to deserve Horse of the Year status. If Gleneagles wins on Saturday at Ascot then maybe the perceived margin between the pair might be narrowed for purposes of historic record.

As you all know, I like a lengthy preamble, and often it disguises the actual tenor of what I’m saying. I’m just glad I waited till Monday for the Arc stuff, as events over the past two days at Newmarket, and before that three days of Book 1 of the Tattersall’s October yearling sales, have been a reaffirmation of the established order.

On Friday Minding (by Galileo), who previously beat Ballydoyle and Alice Springs, both also by the king of sires, in the Moyglare (Group 1) at the Curragh, romped away with the Fillies’ Mile prompting Ryan Moore, not only to smile, but afford Lydia Hislop a walking post-race interview which gave away his excitement of what he’d just experienced.

Whisper it, but it seems Ryan thinks Minding the best filly he’d ever ridden. Twenty-four hours later, watching from Chepstow where Cousin Khee’s troublesome feet spoiled the day, Ryan was again to the fore, this time on Air Force Blue. Later, trainer Aidan O’Brien suggested the War Front colt was the best two-year-old they’d ever had after this Dewhurst explosion.

Meanwhile Emotionless, trying to track the winner from the back half of the select field, trailed home last. Two cantering lower-grade wins did not really match up to Air Force Blue’s dual Group 1 credentials, and while one horse sprinted through the final furlong, the other tamely ebbed away.

It’s often best to allow horses a single defeat, but this looked almost capitulation, and it’s difficult to see how he can come back, especially with the high expectations held before the race. The obvious conclusion is that it will be hard to stop another Guineas double for Ireland next spring, and while David Wachman and Legatissimo were needed to step up to secure the 1,000 in Michael Tabor’s colours this time round, Aiden looks to have his name back on the trophies again.

It’s more than 40 years now since the youthful John Magnier accompanied his father-in-law, the late great Vincent O’Brien and the Ballydoyle stable’s biggest owner Robert Sangster as they tried to corner the market in prime examples of the wonderful, but albeit unfashionably small – 15.2hh - Northern Dancer from the Keeneland sales in Kentucky.

Among those that ended up in Europe were Lyphard, who raced for the Head family, and Nureyev, for Greek ship owner Stavros Niarchos, both in France, and the Ballydoyle trio Nijinsky, Storm Bird and Sadler’s Wells.

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Of the quintet, Nijinsky, the last Triple Crown winner before Golden Horn this year, was the best and possibly in terms of racecourse ability, Sadler’s Wells the least talented, but as the sire who won a record 14 British sire championships, he has had the most influence on the breed as father above all of Galileo among many others.

Galileo in turn produced Teofilo, New Approach and Frankel and as usual dominated events at Park Paddocks during the week, although the unbeaten Frankel’s first crop took plenty of attention. The up and down nature of the prices paid for his sons and daughters indicated less than 100 per cent approval from the always-vigilant insiders.

Danzig, another son of Northern Dancer, is right up there as a top-class producer of stallions. His son Danehill started out with the expectation of being a potential provider of sprinter/milers, but the inspired buying into him by Coolmore during the 1990’s took him into the elite Derby-winning sire club when mated with smart stamina-laden Coolmore mares.

Recently-deceased Green Desert is another towering example of Danzig sires influencing the breed with such as Oasis Dream. But it was from what I believe was Danzig’s final crop that the horse who will possibly become best of all his many sons at stud was born.

Step up War Front. Like his sire soundness problems limited his achievements, although he did win four times in a 12-race career including at Grade 2. Danzig won all three of his races for Henryk de Kwiatkowski without running outside allowance company before knee problems ended his track career.

It was in the November before his first crop took to the track that I uttered the fateful words “I don’t have one”. This reply was to the suggestion by Henryk, who was at Keeneland buying mares to mate with his Horse of the Year Conquistador Cielo, a flop as a stallion: “I have another stallion, Danzig. If you have a mare, you can send her to him for free!” It was probably the silliest answer I’ve ever provided in a long life of might-have-beens.

As with Danehill, John Magnier and presumably his ever more influential son MV – no naming accident there – identified War Front’s potential and got in just about on the ground floor. Already twice sire of a Dewhurst winner – War Command preceded Air Force Blue two years ago - he now has two sons on the Coolmore roster, War Command and Declaration of War. They help provide an extra element in that farm’s “all-kinds-of-stallion-for-all-kinds-of-people” policy, even if they haven’t quite expressed it that way in their promotional literature.

Until Air Force Blue, the sons of War Front had been characterised as needing fast ground, but both at The Curragh when he collected the National Stakes, possibly to Aidan’s slight surprise, and at Newmarket, he has consigned the going issue to history, albeit with the expectation of better to come on fast ground.

Now we have to consider where the potential threats will come next spring. Godolphin are the perennial adversaries, and their aggressive buying last week shows they are still fighting valiantly to stem the Ballydoyle hordes. But John Ferguson will have been shocked when Coolmore stepped in to pinch from under their noses the daughter of their prime stallion Dubawi out of the unraced Sadler’s Wells mare Loveisallyouneed for 2.1 million guineas.

No Dubawi produce was listed in the 2015 Horses in Training schedule of Aiden O’Brien horses and it’s possible he’s never handled one. But he certainly trained Loveisallyouneed’s sisters Yesterday and Quarter Moon, the latter mother of Diamonsandrubies among many in the wonderful extended family. Who’s to say she won’t be rubbing the noses of some of the girls in blue and their management team come the 2017 Classics?

 

Sunday Supplement: “Blown”

Sunday supplement

By Tony Stafford

In those seemingly far-off days when I used to help David Loder place his horses in the early phase of his career, my favourite homily to the great man used to be “never be happy with one win when you can make it two” or words to that effect.

The skilled author Jamie Reid unwittingly adapted that thought process when making two brilliant books out of an original idea. Not too long ago he published the engaging “Doped”, an excellent reminder of the days in the post-World War II era when doping gangs roamed the stables of Great Britain to enable unscrupulous gamblers and bookmakers to profit from horses’ mistreatment.

But as he reveals in Blown, published recently in hardback by Racing Post, £20, and the William Hill Sports Book of the Year winner,  some of the Doped research led him to the largely-unknown story of John Goldsmith, a prominent trainer in the same Post War era, but more notably one of the true heroes of that same war.

Goldsmith, who was born in Paris of English stock, and was the son of a horse dealer, became an amateur jockey and then trainer in the land of his birth. In 1933 he was enticed to England to set up a small stable at Sparsholt, near Wantage. He was soon turning out the winners, a Wolverhampton treble later that year advertising his talent.

When war broke out six years later, Goldsmith wanted to serve his country, but opportunities for 31-year-olds were limited, the services being the natural preserve of the generation of late teens and early 20’s. Instead he found his way into Special Operations Executive (SOE), one of the more obscure secret groups viewed sceptically by MI5 and MI6.

After training under the auspices of Major Roger de Wesselow, a former Guards officer and later the founder of The Racehorse weekly paper, of which for several years in the 1970’s I was lucky enough to be Editor, Goldsmith undertook extremely dangerous missions in France, emerging unscathed before resuming the training with great success after the ending of hostilities.

Few authors, given the compelling material that Jamie Reid unearthed via Goldsmith’s autobiography, completed shortly before his death in 1972, and also in consultation with daughters Gaie Johnson Houghton, wife of Fulke and mother of Eve, and Gisele Steele, would manage to sustain the tension as he has.

Any further comment on the detail of the book would spoil the impact, so please buy it and be transported back to the war – I was born the year after it ended – and also to the period after it when the country, stuck in the rigours of rationing, was ironically overflowing with black market cash, much of which turned up on the racecourse.

Goldsmith was a brilliant gamble-lander of a trainer, in contrast to his son-in-law Fulke Johnson Houghton, whose list of best horses, many handled before his mid-30’s, would satisfy any aspiring trainer.

Before the death of his father-in-law, Fulke had already trained such as Habitat, the brothers Ribocco and Ribero, while later came such as Hot Grove, King George winner Ile de Bourbon and sprint filly Parsimony – pronounced Paris Money by my former Daily Telegraph colleague, the late Noel Blunt.

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Fulke trained notably for Charles Engelhard, owner of Nijinsky, last winner of the English Triple Crown 45 years ago. That great horse’s trainer was Vincent O’Brien and the only handler to get close since was another O’Brien, Aidan: no relation, but operating from the same Ballydoyle stables in Ireland. The younger O’Brien just missed with Camelot, foiled only by Encke in the St Leger after winning the 2,000 Guineas and Derby three years ago.

Encke was one of the Godolphin horses later caught up in the Jockey Club Security swoop on Godolphin which led to the embarrassing dismissal of Mohammed al Zarooni in the aftermath of traces of steroids being detected in the Leger winner among others.

al Zarooni has disappeared into the ether, but his then assistant, Charlie Appleby, is going ever onward and upward as Godolphin shows no sign of decline; while Simon Crisford, the long-time racing manager for Sheikh Mohammed has shown a sure touch in his first year as a trainer outside the immediate ambit of the sprawling Darley operation.

Encke’s story didn’t go quite as far. Unraced throughout 2013 by which time the ban on the horses found to have been steroid-users had ended, he came back for three unsuccessful runs last year, but the Racing Post states baldly that he “died as a five-year-old”.

Coolmore might have made more of the fact that the horse that denied Camelot his Triple Crown right was of besmirched character, even if his test after the 2012 St Leger must have been clear. Whatever, he was an almost unconsidered outsider on the day.

Three years later, the St Leger again caused disappointment to Coolmore. After the appeal in London this week, which restored the original result - overturning the on-course stewards’ verdict to disqualify Simple Verse in favour of Bondi Beach - Coolmore were characteristically sporting.

That seemed to contrast with both the tenor of the protests by winning connections at the time, and the fulsome public celebration of the renewed verdict in Qatar Racing and Ralph Beckett’s favour after what must always be a panel’s opinion rather than hard fact.

The three verdicts of the St Leger, before it the Great Voltigeur which also went against Bondi Beach, and the Irish Champion Stakes, in which I still believe Golden Horn should have been demoted, show just how much of a lottery the machinations of groups of three people can be.

I must say, I much prefer the “you win some, you lose some”, attitude of Messrs Magnier, Tabor, Smith and Aidan O’Brien. By the way, word is that Camelot’s foals are pretty special. If I can dig up 50k from somewhere – he can’t, Ed – I’ll take a look at December sales.

Glad that’s finished, now I can go back and read “Blown” again, and hopefully a little more of Jamie Reid’s outstanding work will stick in this increasingly feeble brain.

Blown is available on Amazon for £13.60. You can read more about it here.

Sunday Supplement: Fahey Ascends the Trainer Tree

Richard Fahey: plenty to smile about

Richard Fahey: plenty to smile about

Sunday supplement

By Tony Stafford

Richard Fahey’s is the busiest stable right now, the Yorkshire-based trainer having sent out a total of 276 horses for upwards of 1,300 races in 2015 <the imprecision is because the Flat trainers’ Championship runs from November to November>.

Amazingly, he operates on an even higher level numerically than either Richard Hannon or Mark Johnston, and the usual weekend glut of winners has pushed him almost to the 200 mark for the season.

I guess in the interests of accuracy, I should have slobbered around the late 2014 results to check on how many of the 192 he was credited with on Saturday morning had been on the all-weather in the period between Nov 9 and Dec 31, but if the referee at Stamford Bridge couldn’t be bothered to get it right, why should I? [Ed – it was five winners from 67 runners]

Anyway what I can be sure of is that Fahey won six races on the day and hardly easy ones either. Ayr’s Western Meeting is one of the most competitive of the season but Fahey had a winner on Thursday’s opening day and three on Friday.

Yesterday he added another four, collecting almost 10 grand for a Class 3 handicap, 12 plus for the opening Class 2 nursery, and both the Ayr Silver and Ayr Gold Cups. Talitsu collected 31k for winning the Silver from stablemate George Bowen (another 9) while unbeaten Don’t Touch earned his lucky owner £112,000 to go with the 60k his first four wins yielded.

You have to wonder what more he can do? That nominal 192 wins already matched his 2013 best, and exceeded by five last year’s tally. But in reply to that rhetorical question, you’d have to say plenty, or rather in a single word – Godolphin.

Because away from his beloved north – he also collected a little prize for a Catterick nursery – he was spreading his wings further south. Two Frankie Dettori favourites at HQ might not have added to Nimr’s near 10 grand for fourth in the Tatts sales race at HQ, but it was a different story at Newbury.

There the recently-acquired Ribchester, previously a twice-raced maiden for David W Armstrong, for whom Fahey won £122,000 when taking the Weatherbys Super Sprint there with Lathom, had his first run for the Boys in Blue. Ridden by James Doyle he comfortably beat another of their mid-term buys Log Out Island in the Dubai Duty Free Mill Reef (Group 2). Having also sourced and done well with Armstrong’s Birkdale, there will almost certainly be a few more shopping trips, and copping days from and for the Fahey team.

The £232,410 (that’s right, I think) earned yesterday, will put R Fahey, Malton on to the £3 million mark, domestically – never mind his highly-acceptable £118,000 from two wins from 11 Irish runs – again his best for ages and many potential winners still to go.

John Gosden will still be fairly sanguine – more than when making his one-race Newmarket guest commentator stint, along with Haggas, Fellowes, Palmer, Simcock, Wadham and Sir Michael Stoute - with a clear £1 million advantage, but I doubt whether the Hannons will like the thought of dropping down to number three, which must be a possibility.

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It was a nice, untroubling afternoon at Newmarket where the afore-mentioned Hugo Palmer barely resisted the temptation to throw in a Henry Blofeld cricket weather, bird-spotting and bus report during the two miles of the Cesarewitch Trial, while Sir Michael took the imaginative and wholly illegal, morally, course of action to bring in Ryan Moore for some guest comments during the next longest race, the fillies’ maiden over a mile and a half.

Ryan as ever showed more than a hint of the understated humour that the press’s intrusive natures make sure he suppresses. On the theme of press intrusion, I wonder what’s in store for Mr Corbyn over the weeks and months. Wonder what he’ll do at the Cenotaph on Armistice Day, for example?

Moving swiftly on, many of Newmarket’s top yards will be open to the public today and Hugo gave me the office to slip in for a quick visit in the morning to see Ray Tooth’s Harry Champion before setting off for Uttoxeter. Harry’s had a break since Windsor in midsummer, but is coming along nicely he says.

Cousin Khee, an easy winner on his return from more than two and a half years since his last jumps run, flipped fluently around Stratford on Monday and needs to run off a penalty as the handicapper may well take exception to that performance. Only five take him on and we’ll be disappointed if he doesn’t follow up.

His stablemate, Dutch Law, Ray’s home-bred three-year-old, has had more than two months since a good second at Ascot following success at Newmarket. He goes to Kempton the following day and by all accounts has thrived during his break. If they both win it’ll have been a nice week. Big if.

One element of Newmarket’s sidebar attractions – a food fair and several demonstrations – left a bit of a sour taste, certainly for me and even more so for the couple I was with, both horse lovers who have kept their former racehorse for the past five years simply for once-a-week riding near Newmarket and at considerable cost to themselves.

The source of their irritation was the commentary by “horse whisperer” Gary Witheford which accompanied his and his son’s demonstration, understandably rudimentary, of the skills needed to persuade a horse to enter and depart from stalls.

Gary has long been admired for his skills – even though about seven years ago a horse of the boss’s he had re-schooled refused to enter the stalls at Bath – and as a result has had plenty of favourable attention, including a feature piece on Racing UK in recent weeks.

But here, when calling for a volunteer to illustrate a point, he singled out a young woman – first checking “is your boyfriend here” and going on from there. There was a comment about “if you were blonde” and then he asked whether she would allow him to lead her around on a rope as though she was a horse. After getting her agreement and parading her around, he twice saw fit to comment favourably on her prospects of finding a husband.

Some of the few dozen people sitting on the bales of sawdust around the arena might have found it funny, but honestly Gary, if that’s your idea of entertainment, stick to the day job. For me and my friends it was one of the most embarrassing things we’ve seen in years.

 

Sunday Supplement: Strange Decisions…

Rueful: Ralph's filly was 'taken down'

Rueful: Ralph's filly was 'taken down'

Sunday supplement

By Tony Stafford

You have to be careful what you wish for. For example, do you want Jose Mourinho to get the sack? If you were to take a rational view of his recent performances in front of the unforgiving, indeed crowing, media after his team’s recent lapses and factor in his latest unkempt rag and bone man appearance, you’d have to deduce he wants out.

But then, that’s the style in the 2015 world of instant gratification when the fact of winning rather than the manner and style of success is the be all and end all.

For instance Manchester United won and their new man, Tony Marshall (Anthony Martial to everyone else), did his fair instant impression of Terry (Thierry to everyone else) Henry as they all predicted he would to trump Christian Benteke’s outrageous overhead kick.

Manchester City got a last-gasp winner from an unknown 18-year-old Nigerian who had been on the pitch for two minutes to maintain their 100 per cent start, while Arsenal kept (almost) in touch and raised their percentage of goals scored by their strikers (as against two own goals) to three from just short of 90 attempts.

But those three won; Liverpool and Chelsea lost and that’s all that matters and the media have a field day whoever wins. Alone among observers I said during the summer that Wenger would not buy anyone after he got Cech to save shots. Nice to be right about something, but if I’ve altered what was going to be the theme of this piece, I’m sorry – it was just too good a chance to gloat at Mourinho’s predicament.

There was also a small voice somewhere wanting to get out as Ralph (Rafe to you) Beckett celebrated the immediate aftermath of Simple Verse’s narrow defeat of Bondi Beach in the Ladbrokes St Leger at Doncaster. “She was easily the best”, he declared in that euphoric moment we have when hyperbole rules.

Unfortunately, as she was prepared for her final run by Andrea Atzeni, she collided with Bondi Beach inside the last two furlongs as the pair got to Fields Of Athenry and set off to chase new leader, Storm the Stars. They continued their joint attack, passing the weakening Storm the Stars together before Simple Verse gave the eventual runner-up another bump in the closing stages.

There is no question that in relation to what happens every day on British racecourses, Simple Verse was unlucky to lose the race. What must have been even more galling for Rafe and owner Sheikh (slim-look) Fahad, testing the latter’s oft-stated love of British racing, was the identical fate of the same connections’ Secret Gesture after coming home first in the Beverley D (Grade 1) at Arlington Park, Chicago last month.

That day some prime US jockey-acting by third-placed Stephanie’s Kitten’s rider, Irad Ortiz Jnr., got the comfortable five-year-old winner thrown out and placed third behind her alleged interfered-with victim. That was a far more contentious verdict, but US, and for that matter French, rules on interference allow for such apparent injustice.

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You have to wonder whether Doncaster’s stewarding panel, and their supervising stipe, Paul Barton, had in mind the fact that just three weeks earlier, Bondi Beach got the wrong end of another inquiry in Yorkshire involving Storm the Stars in the Great Voltigeur at York.

That day I thought disqualification of the William Haggas horse had to be inevitable as he had twice bumped Bondi Beach while carrying him left almost the whole way across the Knavesmire in the closing stages while Pat Cosgrave continued to use the whip in the right (therefore incorrect) hand. Many others disagreed and they were proved right – Haggas losing a race in Yorkshire, God forbid! Was there an element of “we can’t do this to them again” about yesterday’s verdict, which once more proved my expectation of the likely outcome to be mistaken?

I was just as perplexed by the attitude of Jason Weaver on Attheraces as he suggested Dermot Weld’s Free Eagle had contributed to the almighty right-handed smack he got from Derby winner Golden Horn in the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown by edging a little left into his rival’s path.

Well, the Derby winner’s swerve was as abrupt as it was unexpected and the head on showed Golden Horn continued on in the same direction so that the pair (who did not touch again) finished close to the stands rail. Yet nobody seemed to think there was much chance of a change and the announcement of “placings remain unaltered” came soon enough. Apparently the Irish rules on interference are pretty inflexible and the prospect of giving the race to runner-up Found, and thereby two Coolmore Group 1 promoted winners on the same day, was a step too far to entertain given those rules.

But to bring a challenging horse almost to a dead stop by such an abrupt change of direction surely deserved disqualification? Wrong again. Meanwhile Gleneagles sat out one more dance leaving many of us to think back to the small nudge which cost him victory in last year’s Lagardere on Arc Day, allowing an undeserving second to step up. Will there be another chance for him?

I started, after the football, with the St Leger and Rafe. That taking down (as the Americans say) of Simple Verse could not disguise the skill in developing fillies and mares that Beckett has exhibited in what is still a relatively short career.

The Racing Post lists big race winners for trainers and Beckett’s roll of honour takes in 15 races – should have been 16 – and 13 have gone to his fillies or mares. He’s won four Fred Darlings, two Investec Oaks (Look Here and Talent, with Secret Verse also second to the latter in 2013) while the staying theme continues with Cubanita’s successive wins in the 2013 St Simon and last year’s John Porter at Newbury.

Simple Verse, bred by one of Coolmore’s most productive nurseries, David and Diane Nagel’s Barronstown Stud, is a daughter of Duke of Marmalade, a multiple Group 1 winner who has now been sold to the Drakenstein stud in South Africa. Simple Verse cost 240,000gns as a yearling, one of the highest prices for a Duke of Marmalade, and benefited from Rafe’s style of steady progression in a stayer’s career.

She won at the third time of asking, as recently as April this year, her Lingfield maiden success earning her a modest rating of 72, lenient enough when you consider she had the 67-rated Yorkindredspirit 15 lengths back in third.

A near miss at Goodwood was followed by a hard-fought Salisbury handicap win off 82, and she was only on 88 when tackling the Group 3 Lillie Langtry over a mile and a half at Glorious Goodwood. She won with a determined finish which brought another 20lb hike and a St Leger challenge.  Beckett was so confident of his filly’s progress in the month since Goodwood that he persuaded Sheikh Fahad to stump up the £50,000 supplementary fee, and that looked a fair decision as the new mark gave her only 5lb and 4lb to find with the Voltigeur principals.

That she could go past the post in front was ample justification of his decision. Beckett’s immediate response that he will appeal was understandable and I think he must have a fair chance of being successful, but as I pointed out above, I rarely get it right where stewards’ are concerned.

Sunday Supplement: When Micky beat Criqui…

Suuuumooooo!

Suuuumooooo!

Sunday Supplement

By Tony Stafford

In a week when two major racing figures announced their imminent retirement for reasons not solely to do with advancing age – Hayley Turner, 32 and Clive Brittain, 81 – another giant of the Turf could well be winding down.

In the 2004 edition of Directory of the Turf, the great Christiane (Criquette to all in racing) Head-Maarek , 66, was listed as having 180 horses at her stables in Chantilly. Eleven years on, according to France Galop, there are just 67 in her care.

Meanwhile Mick Quinn, who in his Coventry days scored a hat-trick against Arsenal and ate all the pies, has morphed into a Talk Sport legend and, for a good deal longer, a racehorse trainer in conjunction with his wife, Karen.

So far in 2015, Criquette has won five races with 42 horses from 96 runs and Quinny has won six with five. Khalid Abdullah (19), the Head family’s Haras du Quesnay (17) and Al Shaqab, Treve’s owners with eight, are the major patrons of the first named. Many in the stables are home-breds and well-connected too.

Micky’s five horses include just one not to have won this year – Anfield, named for his home town football club’s ground and rated just 40 before her much-improved run in second which brought a latest rise to 48. Otherwise he has won with World Record and also Refuse Colette, the mare adding to five Yarmouth wins last year with a six-furlong Nottingham victory last month. “She’s been waiting for Yarmouth to get going,” says Mick, “We’ll be looking to get her there ASAP”, he says.

Colette is a six-year-old mare owned by the YNWA Partnership, who in company with Juddmonte and Haras du Quesnay clearly believe in the efficacy of families. They also have two of Refuse Colette’s younger siblings, the four-year-old Rockie Road and Racing Angel, who is three. Both have won twice since switching to Quinn, and have made Brighton their preferred battle ground in that other seaside venue’s inactivity.

When the season started, Criquette must have anticipated a better return than the five paltry wins, even if Treve’s two were at Group 2 and then Group 1 level, entertaining hopes that she can complete the unprecedented Arc hat-trick next month. Her wins were in the Prix Corrida (May 28, against females) and on June 29th in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud, both over one and a half miles on the Paris track named-dropped in that latter contest.

In her second run, she easily held the challenge of Flintshire and when Andre Fabre sent him over to Saratoga last weekend for the Grade 1 Sword Dancer, worth £342,000 to the winner, he made the Americans look pedestrian, paying Treve an extravagant compliment.

But there could be a snag. The Grand Prix in late June was Criquette’s last winner. One other older horse, the four-year-old Greenstreet, won a minor race In February and the three-year-olds Clariden and Queen Winner are the only representatives from the Classic age group to win. Greenstreet scored at Longchamp in May, while the filly won in Dieppe the following month. So far four juveniles (of 29) have run, of which one was placed.

While the Racing Post does not include results from the smaller tracks, it does list runners over the past fortnight for French trainers on those courses. For instance, our (Raymond Tooth’s) French trainer, Nicolas Clement, has run quite a few on the major tracks recently, but, as the Post reveals, also one in the provinces at Saint-Malo in that period. Criquette has had no runner anywhere in the past fortnight, but she has declared Fontanelice to run in the Listed Prix de la Cochere over a mile at Longchamp today (Sunday) and has left in three including the unraced juvenile Pyretos at home course Chantilly on Tuesday.

No doubt the French racing public will be watching closely to detect whether there are grounds for concern in regard to Treve’s prospects.  It cannot help confidence that Full Mast, the beneficiary of Gleneagles’ disqualification in the Group 1 Prix Jean Lagardere last Arc Day, has raced just twice since, second in a Group 3 and then finishing only seventh in the Group 1 Prix Jean Prat, a too-bad-to-be-true 19 lengths behind Territories.

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Epicuris, like Full Mast a Group 1 winner at two for Khalid Abdullah, has been placed in two domestic Group races below the top level, either side of his 12-length fifth behind Golden Horn when a tongue-tied 20-1 shot in the Derby. He has been the trainer’s sole English runner this year, and Treve, when unsuited by the going at Royal Ascot last year, was her only other UK runner over the past five seasons.

This indicates, as does the fall-off in numbers, much less activity than hitherto at the top level for the supreme handler, especially of fillies. Her record with such as Three Troikas, Sigy, Ma Biche, Maximova and the great Ravinella, as well as top colts Bering and Anabaa, places her as the unrivalled female trainer, arguably, in the history of racing. UK Group 1 races, especially the 1,000 Guineas and Cheveley Park, were apparently hers for the taking in those days in the 80’s and 90’s, but that history will mean nothing if there’s anything amiss at Longchamp in early October. I hope there isn’t, but 7-4 looks too skinny and risky enough.

It is always good news when a small stable does well, especially when it has struggled to attract owners. Peter Charalambous is a hard-working example of that type of trainer, always finding bargains that punch well above their weight.

Over the years since moving to Newmarket, he has been frustrated by the lack of support from mainstream owners, so had to own and train them almost entirely by himself with the help mainly of his partner Trudie and some owners generally taking small shares with him.

Now the stable has a “proper” horse, as Theydon Grey, a two-year-old son of Champs Elysees (an Abdullah-raced and –owned stallion)  bolted up, well backed, in the Chelmsford maiden on Thursday, clocking a track record one and a half seconds inside the previous best figure.

Pete’s canny eye spotted him at the sales and he paid what now looks the truly ridiculous figure of 9,000gns from Tattersalls Book 3. Peter shares the horse with Eamonn O’Riordan, a resident of Theydon Bois who knew the late Roy Street, subject of last week’s article. This could be the horse that puts Peter up to the next tier among trainers, making all the work and sacrifice for the sport he loves more viable financially.

Peter always liked the colt, but as he says “when he came up the gallops well clear giving two stone to Boonga Roogeta <6yo mare rated 81 after 11 wins> I knew he was special”.  Do I detect a Godolphin or a Qatari on the horizon? Guaranteed!

**

The same ever-acquisitive interests were immediately circling the next afternoon when my mate Alan Spence enjoyed a wide-margin Haydock success with the previously-unraced Priceless. The Clive Cox-trained daughter of Exceed and Excel clocked a time 1.3 seconds faster than an Al Shaqab newcomer trained by Richard Hannon in the first division of the same maiden race. It was also a tick faster than eight-year-old 83-rated Gramercy’s time in a hard-fought win in the following handicap.

I’ve known Alan a long time, and I still have a picture in my lounge of my first winner Charlie Kilgour, for whom I paid Alan £1,000, coming back to unsaddle at my lucky track Beverley 31 years ago! To look at him now, you’d have thought Alan must have been in his teens then, but he wasn’t.

We were talking the day before the race when he had just touched down at Baden-Baden in advance of a buying trip at the yearling sales. He told me that he thought he had a big chance with his first-time filly at Haydock and two of his five runners around the country on Saturday. Once I forgot the first, I could hardly worry about the ones at Thirsk and Wolverhampton, could I?

Alan was mainly interested in the first-crop yearlings of his multiple Group-winning stayer Jukebox Jury, who dead-heated for the 2011 Irish St Leger with Duncan – Fame and Glory 8-13 fourth – and more importantly for German breeders, the 2009 Preis von Europa. He now stands in Germany for Euro 5,500 and Mark Johnston, the grey’s trainer, bought two for Alan, both at Euro 34,000.

As to Priceless, the would-be purchasers would find that Alan neither needs nor wishes to sell. So if Chelsea, where he is Vice-President, has a crap season, he’ll still have at least one thing to smile about over the winter.

Sunday Supplement: Roy’s Legacy

M11 carnage

M11 carnage

Sunday supplement

By Tony Stafford

Travelling around the country’s motorways nowadays can be as frustrating a pastime as one could imagine. Living as I do within minutes of Redbridge roundabout, an easy access point for the M11, I’m almost exactly one hour from Newmarket, a few minutes less if it’s the July Course rather than the Rowley Mile or Warren Hill gallops.

Yesterday it took more than three hours, thanks to some heavy roadworks at Redbridge which will prevent any northbound access to the motorway for the next three weeks. I get on the A12 going down to Redbridge, near the Olympic Velodrome, and the first notification of the imminent difficulty was cleverly delayed by the road authorities until just after I’d passed the final possible avoiding point at Leytonstone’s Green Man.

Fifty minutes later, I was on said roundabout with no option but to continue east rather than north. OK, so what? you might say, but I’ll continue, because once again I had a similar eerie instance of uncanny coincidence awaiting me.

My revised route took me to Barkingside and on to Chigwell, where Harry Taylor lives, past Theydon Bois, home of Roy Street, up Epping High Street and through to the M11 at Harlow. Five miles later I came to another virtual dead stop and after limping to the Stansted Airport turn, went east again into rural Essex, turning at Dunmow, then collecting Thaxted, Saffron Walden and Linton, passing the entrance to the Zoo there , before getting back on track at Four Went Ways.

Another so what? Well I’ll tell you what. It was just after Saffron Walden that Harry Taylor called. He said: “Roy died yesterday. His wife just phoned to tell me. The poor man’s heart just gave out”.

Since Harry moved from Loughton last year, I’ve often picked him up from home, frequently then collecting Roy after he strode purposefully along to the green at Theydon Bois. Roy knew everyone there, and also at Newmarket, where one of his greatest friends Alan Bailey was shocked to hear the news, relayed from another mate Roger Hales, whom I’d told a few minutes before I got to the track.

Alan’s shock was followed by “you never know when it’s your time to go”, to which Roger replied: “my uncle did. He knew the day and exact time that he would leave this world, and that’s exactly when they hanged him!” Rather irreverent, but Roger was probably still elated that Yarmouth, his local track and another well-known to Roy, resumes operation today after almost a year off the roster.

It’s probably against all the rules of writing a news item to talk about Roy in this rambling way. He should have been the subject in the first sentence, and despite myself I know the rule is still “who, what, when, where and why”.  To those who knew his story, he was one of those rare people who had a tale, or rather many tales to tell of his days as a film stunt man, with the emphasis on his great skill and knowledge of riding horses.

This started more than 70 years ago in the rustic setting of Theydon Bois, developing after serving in the forces into competing in point-to-points, where his enthusiasm and hard work got him rides on horses from the field while wealthier young men would get on the potential winners.

But there was no hint of bitterness as he reminisced about those days, still lauding the Bloom and Turner families that dominated the sport in East Anglia for all the post war era up until relatively recent times.

The stunt work – he was a stunt arranger and choreographer (officially co-ordinator) on many major films – also teaching stunt riding and demonstrating his own talent around the country in jousting events of which he was often part-promoter.

He described some of the stunts, daring instances of great courage and almost foolhardy timing as he would somersault off the back off a galloping animal or run across a marauding vehicle or apparently-bolting horses, mini-seconds before being involved in the inevitable fatal crash, hoping the cameraman had got the shot.

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He’d been off the main stunt circuit for the past few years as he entered his 70’s and lately Harry had shown his concerns, saying: “Roy’s not coming today, you know, I don’t think he’s right.” Yesterday he returned to that theme, almost sorry he’d voiced those thoughts.

That winding down did not prevent a couple of what must have been highly-taxing demands on his strength, something of which Roy was rightly proud, even if it led him to occasional difficulties as he’d never back down from a challenge. First he spent days careering down the centre of an escalator at an abandoned London Underground station in one of the latest Bond films and then he drove a truck incessantly back and forth through the Mersey Tunnel avoiding crashes every few yards for one of the Fast and Furious series.

He let me in on one movie-making secret. “It’s simple really. You think it’s all happening at 70 mph, but it’s more like 30 and they speed it up in the editing suite. That’s not to say it’s not dangerous enough.”

I’ll restrict myself to a couple of little reminisces of Roy, one involving a car journey back from Newmarket after no doubt chatting to Bailey and Jack Banks, another great pal and hosts of others that have enjoyed his company over many years; the other an example of his idiosyncratic attitude to racing and some of its major protagonists.

Roy loved his cars, usually was a Mercedes, and often after racing he would say: “I’ll drive back”. This day, having done a few taxing journeys up and down the country in the previous week, I took him up on the offer.

I generally doze off when in the passenger seat – ask Roger – but this time, underneath the serenity, I got the feeling that something was a little ‘off’. I looked across at the speedometer and said: “Roy, slow down, you’re doing nearly 110!” “Sorry, it felt more like 80,” to which figure he eased at once.

Minutes later we were back at 110 – didn’t know the VW Golf could go that fast – and neither did Roy, so another admonition was needed. Off the motorway down the little windy roads past David Sullivan’s house and the fields where he’d first developed his love and skill for and with horses, he was up to 70 in a 30 limit. Careering past a camera, he said: “Don’t worry, there’s no film in them.” That’s what Harry says, too, until he gets done in one of the new 20mph zones around London, but Roy was right that time anyway and he won’t be wrong ever again!

For someone with so much experience of racing, Roy had the betting shop punter mentality to the end, straight-facedly accusing runners in Group 1 races of being non-triers despite the contrary evidence of the fact that those will be the races where everyone’s ‘off’ for his life.

He was less than charitable to what he perceived (sometimes unfairly) as jockey error and my favourite concerns JP Magnier, son of John. He always referred to JP as “an amateur amateur”, not that he was too deficient in talent.

Anyway one day JP was on a Nicky Henderson short-priced favourite in the dark blue Magnier silks in the concluding bumper at Kempton. Roy backed it – putting all his winnings from what had been a successful afternoon, on the steed.

At the start, JP was manoeuvring towards a final circle when the starter let them go, JP turning off to the right, while the rest of them were going left onto the track. Master Magnier was unable to get back into the race, leaving Roy, and no doubt thousands of others fuming.

After venting his spleen to us, Roy said: “I’m going to tell him what I think of him” and as the riders came back to weigh in he called across to one young man, telling him with a fair bit of invective that he was an adjectival you know what.

The gentleman in question waited for the tirade to peter out and clearly distressed by the verbal assault, plaintively said: “I wasn’t riding it.” That was Roy, but there will be hundreds, among some of the biggest stars in the film industry, and horsemen in many countries around the world who’ll miss the tall, strong and totally independent man we knew.