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Monday Musing: Dream Season

As we get within a month or so of Cheltenham, the familiar forces are gathering, writes Tony Stafford. Over here the Nicholls and Henderson pulses quicken as expeditionary representatives travel far and wide to put down markers. In Ireland, the 1-14 shots that are Douvan and the rest toddle around to collect the odd €20k prize without breaking sweat on the way to Festival glory next month.

We’ve seen most of it before, so when something totally out of kilter with the norm confronts our vision, it is all the more enjoyable.

In Ireland, jumping especially is mostly about the Mullinses and the Walshes, leavened with increasing vigour by Gordon Elliott. All of the above were typically among the winners at Punchestown yesterday.

The scale of Willie Mullins’ and Elliott’s stable power must constantly frustrate would-be challengers for the major prizes, so when one of the lesser lights beats them at their own game, the satisfaction must be all the greater.

That sort of pleasure was clearly evident in the body language between rider Katy Walsh and trainer Ross O’Sullivan after Ruby’s sister made all with an enterprising and powerful ride aboard Baie Des Iles in the three and a half mile Grand National Trial. I would go so far as to say I reckon it was one of the best front-running rides I’ve ever seen in a long-distance chase, given depth of opposition and testing ground conditions.

The historical fact is that O’Sullivan, who happens to be Katy’s husband, was winning his third race of the season. His French-bred six-year-old mare is already building up a decent record, this being a second Irish victory following a Punchestown three-miler last season before a good second behind Bonny Kate in this event a year ago.

Ruby Walsh rode her that time, but yesterday was required for Sambremont, trained by Willie. That gelding stayed on late to pass Bonny Kate for second close home, but for almost the entire trip, Baie Des Iles, jumping boldly and accurately, led a nice few lengths clear of her old rival, with the remainder of the 15 runners, all geldings, miles behind.

Ross O’Sullivan’s best score to date has been four, two seasons ago. In seven campaigns over jumps (latest first) his scores are 3, 3, 4, 0, 3, 0 and 0. On the Flat it’s 2, 2, 0, 1, 0. Both last year’s Flat wins came with the veteran Doonard Prince, who collected consecutive autumn sprints at their local track, the Curragh, in fields of 27 and 23!

This though was at the other end of the stamina spectrum and considering Baie Des Iles’ relative youth, the fact she stays so well explains the trainer’s relish for a challenge for Newcastle’s four-mile Eider Chase next month. She’s already been sixth to Rogue Trader in the Irish Grand National and fifth behind Gold Cup candidate Native River in the Welsh Grand National, in each case as the only five-year-old in either race.

Yesterday’s win will have earned the daughter of Barastraight – unfashionable in France where he stands - a hike towards the 150 mark, but seemingly the prospect of soft ground on the tough Newcastle track offers the potential of perfect components for Baie Des Iles and her determined ally in the saddle.

I often get a reminder of the Eider Chase and two or three other now otherwise fading memories of an old former Daily Telegraph colleague, especially when, as on Friday, I see Grand National-winning jockey Graham Thorner at the sales, where he has become a bit of an ace in picking up unexposed hitherto under-achievers from the big yards.

He regularly turns £2k ugly ducklings into nice jumping prospects, but there’s always time for a reminder, as on Friday, of the day at Kempton when he rode a winner for Noel Blunt’s father-in-law. My Mate won by 25 lengths and the next day, recounting the tale, Blunty added proudly that of course he had given the jockey, who’d become a bit of a pal to him and his wife, a present. “Yes,” said Noel, “I gave him two quid!” I don’t think Thorner ever declared it to the tax people.

Noel eventually went on to the Sporting Life as chief sub-editor and there enjoyed cult status with such headlines as “Scaling the Eider” and “The Hanging Baskets of Babylon” actually appearing in the paper. Even before he so helpfully engineered my recruitment to the DT when a racing desk member died suddenly, the funniest of all was the Kruggerand episode when John Oaksey mentioned the gold South African coins in his Sunday article. Scratching of heads all round, until Noel had a brainwave. “Ask Tony <I was doing minor sports results on the next desk>. “He knows Latin!” Still miss you mate.

This is the time of year that my week quickens with young horses getting going on the gallops and mares preparing to foal. Ray Tooth has one on the board already from Lawyers Choice who has a nice big colt by Garswood, whose foals made up to £75k despite his modest initial stud fee of around £6,000 (£4,000 this year).

Garswood, of course, is a Group 1 winning son of Dutch Art, who produced two nice winners from Lawyers Choice – Dutch Art Dealer and Dutch Law, the latter who did so well for us last year. Their brother, Highway Robber, is the likely favourite for a race at Newcastle tomorrow.

His trainer, Wilf Storey, won with Table Manners on the same track on Saturday night, so she became the third dual winner for her dam, Nine Red, who is about to produce to consistent Yorkshire-based sire, Monsieur Bond.

As Tattersalls’ newly expanded two-day sale showed, demand for British and Irish bloodstock remains high, and Ray’s policy of producing his own horses rather than pay what’s needed at auction with so much high-powered overseas investment has to be our way forward.

To that end, I got to see a nicely-made son of Equiano out of flying filly Catfish, who we still maintain might have carried the accolade “the world’s fastest racehorse” had her saddle not slipped at the start of her Vodafone Dash attempt at Epsom a few years back. She finished third behind the John Best-trained Stone of Folca in the fastest electronically timed five furlongs, so, mated with a fast stallion, could well produce a decent juvenile. Chris Wall likes what he’s seen of him so far.

In all there are eight juveniles (seven home-bred) going into training and no doubt I’ll be boring you with all the minor excitements as their training regimes proceed. After all, Flat racing on turf returns next month. What happened to the winter? We didn’t get one, just daily Festival updates from November onwards.

Many Clouds, and Two of the Best in the World

I finally got to see the entire ITV4 coverage on Saturday – in a pub - and considering the understandable outpouring of grief after Many Clouds’ collapse following his gallant defeat of Thistlecrack in the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham, I thought they did rather well, writes Tony Stafford.

Luke Harvey is warming to his job alongside Mick FitzGerald and assured anchor Ed Chamberlain and, while they all gave suitable reverence to the horrific conclusion to an epic race, they left the tears for Oliver Sherwood’s close friends Warren Greatrex and Nicky Henderson.

Maybe they would have wanted to be a shade more emotional, but the races kept coming and there was Unowhatimeanharry on hand to register his claims as Thistlecrack’s probable successor as World (now reverting to Stayers’) Hurdle champion.

The snag with ITV (or indeed ITV4) is that they still miss a few races at the start of the meeting so the Triumph Hurdle Trial had long since been contested before the cameras rolled for live coverage.

Most people on the other side of the betting battleground find it hard ever to be sympathetic to the bookmakers, but in this they got a rare-old pants-down experience. Two J P McManus horses, Charli Parcs, set to be ridden by Barry Geraghty, and Defi du Seuil (Richard Johnson) were equal favourites in the morning, with the possible understanding that if one was to be withdrawn, it would probably be Johnson’s mount.

In the event, Defi du Seuil, the Chepstow Christmas winner, for all his erratic late course and iffy jumping that day might have made him vulnerable here, was the chosen one, ridden by retained rider Geraghty, and he dotted up. The evens that shrewdies took translated to 1-5 at the off, whereas Rule 4 designates a much smaller cut in such circumstances.

On a weekend when the Willie Mullins hordes were so diminished, Faugheen and Annie Power both taken out of races and Nicholls Canyon falling – Ruby Walsh has been having a few of those - it was amusing to hear Rich Ricci quoted as saying: “We’re running out of horses!” Never mind Rich, you can send your man off to France and buy a wagon-load more.

What was remarkable on this particular weekend, was that both the outstanding American dirt horse and the supreme French trotting horse enhanced their already stellar reputations.

Ever since I fluked seeing Arrogate’s Travers Stakes romp – 13.5 lengths – last August, I have had no doubt that Bob Baffert’s now four-year-old is the best in the world. He beat the only feasible contender to the crown, California Chrome, in the Breeders’ Cup Classic last autumn, coming with a powerful late run to win by half a length.

That pair were always going to be the prime factors in the inaugural running of the $12 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational over nine furlongs at Gulfstream Park; and Arrogate (Mike Smith) always had the jump on Chrome, who faded – possibly injured – into the pack as his rival cantered to a near five-length win. The dropdown in form may have been a case of Arrogate’s looking Chrome in the eye late last year and telling him: “I’m best”: it was after eyeballing his foe down the back straight here that Victor Espinoza’s mount wilted.

Before Gulfstream, Baffert was sounding very negative about following on with the $10 million Dubai World Cup in two months’ time, but less so after this performance when presumably he considered how little risk and indeed opposition there is likely to be to his champion, outside the usual shipping/feed/track conditions concerns.

California Chrome retires with record earnings of $17m and Arrogate, beaten only on debut in a wonderful upwardly mobile career, is within $6m and surely will go to Dubai now to pinch the bit he needs to match his old rival.

The Pegasus Cup was an interesting exercise, 12 ownership groups contributing $1m each to have the right to run. Several, like Coolmore with nothing good enough to take the pair on, traded the slots, unsurprising in view of the fact the big two were both close to evens, and no doubt, there was a bit of a discount in some cases. Every horse got a pot, the numbers four to 12 collecting $250,000 while they were all promised a share in associated revenues.

If Arrogate is supreme in world dirt racing, the French trotter Bold Eagle is just as pre-eminent in his sphere, and he won his second successive Prix d’Amerique with a display of great superiority. He was a 3-5 shot in a 17-horse field and apart from a slightly sluggish start, was never questioned as he travelled up to the leaders in the straight and went well clear.

Bold Eagle, a six-year-old entire, was not the highest money-earner in the field. That distinction belonged to the 10-year-old Timoko before his 91st and last race and he certainly made a decent show, leading for the first mile of the 13-furlong distance before dropping away.

This was Bold Eagle’s second consecutive Prix d’Amerique win, and the champion could have four more attempts as trotters can run until the age of 10. The last dual winner was his sire, Ready Cash, in 2011 and 2012, interestingly after Bold Eagle was conceived. This was Bold Eagle’s 31st win in 35 starts and the French experts find it hard to see what can beat him going forward, like Arrogate. If he wins next year he will equal the achievements of the brilliant Ourasi, the best French trotter in the latter part of the last century.

Returning to Saturday, another of the Mullins hot-shots, Vroum Vroum Mag, was absolutely all out to win the mares’ race at Doncaster. Beforehand, with the Annie Power/ Faugheen issues in mind, the assumption was that Mag could step in for the Champion Hurdle, but it would take a big leap of faith to project forward from what was an ordinary performance.

Monday Musing: The Rust Is Settling…

Blame it on the cricket yesterday morning, writes Tony Stafford (pictured), but without it I would have seen more of the very entertaining Attheraces Sunday Forum, hosted by the eminently sensible Sean Boyce with guests BHA Chief Executive Nick Rust and journalists Peter Thomas and Chris Cook, all three firmly on my racing A List.

Slightly flummoxed by attempting to plot the course of the white ball in Kolkata, I switched over and thought I was seeing something. The vision was of a white shirt on a big frame, red tie and up close, a sleeked back fair mane. What’s President Trump doing over here? But no, that was first Mr Rust’s white shirt and red tie, Mr Thomas’s blond locks. Meanwhile Mr Cook on the end had an even more luxuriant haircut than even the Donald, but clearly the wrong colour.

The main topic I managed to see was the errors made in the lead up to the original Jim Best disciplinary hearing and stiff sentence, and the internal soul-searching before the recent independent re-hearing and its perceived feeble penalty.

Even now the journalists seem to struggle with the concept that Nick Rust has been fundamental in ensuring correct procedure after the Matthew Lohn fiasco. And, to his credit, Rust held his ground in face of persistent but respectful journalistic prodding in the absence of a McCririck presumably. Obviously Rust is still luxuriating in the wake of the agreed (by Government) Levy Replacement scheme starting on April 1 which should safeguard racing’s finances and bodes well for future prizemoney levels.

Whether or not the issue of Kempton’s possible closure in 2021 was discussed [it was, Ed.], I heard an interesting side-bar on its replacement as an all-weather track by Newmarket. Apparently there is just as much opposition to the idea of taking lesser horses a few furlongs down the road to run on all-weather as to slog round the M25 to go the 100 miles each way with the even-money chance of long, irritating delays to Sunbury.

My horse whisperer passed on the news that John Berry, small stable Newmarket trainer and former mayor of the town, is apparently strongly against the idea. He (my correspondent) then reminded me of the general opinion of the Newmarket trainers when Newcastle, 240 miles distant, announced it would replace its turf Flat-race track with a Tapeta surface. They were strongly against that scheme, but as he says, since its inception, the town’s horseboxes have been making the odyssey in droves for most meetings, especially to farm the maiden races.

It doesn’t seem to matter either that rewards can be skimpy bearing in mind that expenses for horsebox travel these days are so stringent.
I remember when I was first just about old enough (so 1964) to go into betting shops there was a trainer based quite close to Newmarket in Ingatestone called Peter Poston, or P J as the formal racecards of the day billed him.

He had a two-year-old filly in his care called Pidgeon Toes and his practice was to load her up in his converted meat van – he supplied meat to Smithfield Market - usually with two or three other no-hopers and collected a travel allowance for them all.

Hence they would be sighted in Carlisle and especially Hamilton Park. Pidgeon Toes almost always was second or third favourite in weakly-contested affairs and was always a bet to nothing each way against the normal odds-on shot for a place, which in those days was a third the odds for five to seven runners. She ran up a sequence of seconds and thirds, I think with the odd win.

It was largely the realisation that the travel allowance was more important to P J than the prospect of some prize money and it ended soon after he did – his fault basically. No wonder the French owners love the fact that their runners in PMU-covered meetings get travel allowances, although each horse nowadays seems to have a limit against its name on the France Galop site.

An article in the Guardian in 1968 by the late (Sir) Clement Freud called Poston the £120 man – presumably that was the allowance. I found the small print on the Internet coverage too testing for my eyes, but strangely in the same publication 43 years later, Chris Cook also spoke about the man.
Elsewhere there is a report about Poston’s best horse, Heathfield, apparently the 25-length winner of Ayr’s Tennant Trophy after a series of wins and another carries the fact that he died in 1991, soon after the Racing Post’s arrival. Sadly the nearly-complete set of form books which weighed down the loft of my house in Hertfordshire until early in the last decade did not come with me to my reduced circumstances in East London. But the odd glimmer of those old days 50-odd years away remains in the back of the brain.

If I don’t go racing soon – this last weekend makes it four weeks in a row for various reasons - I’ll go mad, for all the excellence of the coverage by the three Channels. But the Tooth team will resume action with the Mick Quinn-trained Circuit at Lingfield on Wednesday, and the newly ramped-up RCA red tape permitting, I’ll be there to cheer her home (or somewhere near it).

The cold weather in the South stopped Ascot on Saturday and what seemed an excellent card might have persuaded me to make the effort other than a certain event in Tallinn, Estonia, which I could watch on my computer screen in its entirety.

It was called the Juna Cup, for adult ice skaters and it attracted competitors from many European countries, especially Sweden, Finland, Russia, Italy and Great Britain. My wife has been skating for just over three years, so it was with a mixture of pride and disbelief that I watched her win her class (Bronze1 – the level goes up to Silver, Gold and Masters) by a clear 11 points. Not bad for a first overseas tilt and now it will be all systems go for the British Adult Championships at Sheffield in May.

- Tony Stafford

Monday Musing: On Passing Kempton…

 

You’d better hurry. If you want to go to Kempton Park before the bulldozers move in as planned in 2021, there are only around 300 chances, writes Tony Stafford. If it’s jumping you want to see rather than all-weather, floodlit or otherwise, it’s somewhere around 45 meetings, based on the present fixture list.

It’s a funny thing about Kempton. While it’s going along in an untroubled, unspectacular manner, almost nobody loves it, but the minute its future is threatened, the over-my-dead-body brigade sharpen their metaphorical pencils.

Unless there are feet of snow or temperatures at around minus 5 Centigrade, meetings are rarely even threatened to be abandoned on the turf track, while during the now almost 11 years of its life as a Polytrack Flat circuit, it has become the venue for decent younger horses on the way up the ladder even if nobody is there to see them. Decent telly and bookmaker fodder nonetheless.

Now, though, the one-time Kempton Manor, first enclosed in the 13th Century and a racecourse since the 1870’s , is to be sold (the OMDB brigade notwithstanding) for housing. The overall 210-acre site is expected to realise around £100 million and initial plans are for 3,000 homes to be built.

Kempton’s owners, Jockey Club Racecourses, want to build, as replacement, an all-weather track at Newmarket as part of a £500 million group future investment. Unsurprisingly, the plans have brought extremes of opinion, with the OMDBs the more vociferous so far.

Anyone reading these notes will be aware that one of my main obsessions is with time. For instance, it has always intrigued me that if I project back the 87 years of age of my great-grandmother (who died when I was 11) before her birth in 1870, we’d get to 1783!

I first went to Kempton, on the old Hackney-based Fallowfield & Britten coach, picking up at Clapton Pond. The firm were actually taken over by George Ewer (Grey-Green Coaches) in 1952, but kept the old livery for a while. We certainly were regulars at the Easter meeting by the late 1950’s and the main recollection is crawling along in a great crocodile of coaches beside the retaining wall that goes all the way from the old Jubilee start 10 furlongs from home.

Another memory of those days is viewing from the stand at the top of the straight, a full three furlongs out and watching them flash by, then shaking my head when the end result was nothing like the order when they passed us.

That fixture featured both the 1,000 and 2,000 Guineas Trials, and one name that has stuck is that of the 1964 1,000 Trial winner, Gwen (maybe Jack Jarvis and Lord Rosebery), who beat subsequent 1,000 Guineas heroine, Pourparler, to my great delight. Winding back the near 60 years from my first visit there – we went to Newmarket in 1952! – you get to 1900. To think that 70 years from now it’ll be 2087.

It seems strange enough that there are two courses as close together as Kempton and Sandown Park, which is likely to be the main beneficiary of any Kempton closure as the expectation is for the King George VI Chase to be transferred there.

When you drive the seven miles from Kempton to Sandown, you pass within a short walk of another well-known track, the now defunct Hurst Park, which closed in 1962. Hurst Park was built on part of the old Hampton Court Racecourse (closed in the 1880’s) plus some extra land and staged the Victoria Cup, now at Ascot. I believe I saw the last running of that race, and for many years always told whoever would listen that I backed the winner, King of Saba. I did back it, but I found out recently it finished second.

The differences in the make-up of the two tracks – Kempton is Pancake flat, Sandown tight around the bends but stiff uphill at the finish – bother some observers who believe that the King George’s traditional nature will be lost.

A major bug-bear for me over the years has been the insistence, even among leading trainers, especially Nicky Henderson, Kempton’s major spokesperson, that Kempton is a notably sharp course. Non-stayers rarely win three-mile races there as they are usually truly-run, while the King George itself, with a high-class field and winter going is always a true stamina test.

I’ve had a lot of luck at Kempton, most notably with a horse called Tangognat. He lined up for his second start under Rod Simpson’s care for the three-year-old maiden on Easter Monday April 8 1985 after finishing third on debut in a Leicester claimer.

Starting 20-1 in a field of 10, he swept to the front two furlongs out and won by 20 lengths from Fire of Life, later winner of the Italian St Leger for Ian Balding. Four days later we went back to the track for a conditions race and won by 15 lengths, each time loving the rare (for Kempton) heavy going. After two flops on faster ground, he went on to win a couple of nice juvenile hurdles around Cheltenham before fast ground in the Triumph effectively ended his career.

In more recent times, Kempton has been a good winning venue for Ray Tooth’s horses, Fair Trade winning both over hurdles and in a jumpers’ bumper, in which now abandoned category, Cousin Khee was also successful. I can still picture Skeleton’s rocketing home, passing almost the entire field in the last furlong under Silvestre De Sousa while an always fond memory is of Lawyers Choice.

The late Pat Eddery trained this filly to win twice, at 16’s at Wolverhampton and then at 25-1 at Kempton in my first year on the Tooth team. She has since proved a diamond as dam of both Dutch Art Dealer and Dutch Law, the latter sold for 150k last autumn after a four-year-old campaign when he won £80,000 for his owner-breeder.

Dutch Art Dealer, now six, raced for the Paul Cole stable until changing hands for an almost unbelievable 3,000gns last backend. He had his first run for new trainer Ivan Furtado at Newcastle recently and bolted up off 80 and I reckon that even though 6lb higher, he can follow up back at Kempton tomorrow night.

I think of Chelmsford and Newmarket almost as my local tracks, but it is 45 miles to the old Essex Showground and 60 to HQ. Kempton, if I go the direct (thus traffic-strangling) route through Central London, is barely 20 miles away, and that was always the balancing factor as I strove to get there each night meeting a few years back when I was lucky enough to host the evening entertainment in the Panoramic Restaurant.

Kempton featured some talented performers in those days, along with excellent food and one of the regular and most admired singers had been a contemporary of Kate Winslet’s at stage school. She recalled the future star of Titanic was just “OK at singing and dancing, and a little better at acting”. Not much different from attitudes in racing among trainers and their relative abilities.

Those evenings were a highlight in my later incarnation. From those days, so many of the Kempton personnel have gone on to bigger and better things in Jockey Club Racecourses, notably Paul Fisher, who signed me up, and Amy Starkey, now the boss at Newmarket. Good luck to them. I’m sure they’ll shed a collective tear, like me, if and when their alma mater goes.

Monday Musing: Channel Hopping and Interrupted Airwaves

No Bank Holiday this week? Then I’d better crack on, writes Tony Stafford. There has been an unreal feel to the past fortnight, but everyone should be getting back to work, unless they travel on London Underground, that is, where I understand there’s a strike today; or Southern Railway, where there usually is.

One good friend, Prince Pippy, called yesterday for his tri-monthly catch-up and our chat touched on those travel difficulties which often prevent his sister’s managing to reach London from Brighton. Of more concern to him was the damaging stand-off between the Arena Racing Company (ARC) and several major bookmaking chains over the broadcasting of pictures from the 15 tracks they control – those of the original Arena Leisure group and Northern Racing tracks formerly owned by the late Sir Stanley Clarke.

William Hill, whose yearly results are due this morning when the City are anticipating the green shoots of recovery <nice cliché, Ed>, and Paddy Power are in the “in” corner, having agreed, along with a sizeable number of independents, to pay ARC for their pictures. Ladbrokes and Coral, their merged main rivals for supremacy, and Betfred, staunchly refuse to join them.

I didn’t plan to visit a betting shop later today, and if I did it would almost certainly be to a William Hill outlet as they have almost a monopoly around here. And, more critically, it’s possible to park for free nearby – a rarity in the London Borough of Hackney.

I’ve had a bit of an Internet look at the William Hill situation, whereby it appears they have been attempting to find a suitable successor to James Henderson, their last Chief Executive, who resigned last year apparently because of the “digital decline of its online verticals”. If, like me, you are still mystified, look it up on the net.

But to return to Pippy, as he suggested, Ladbrokes and their allies in this dispute will be unable to show action from any of the three fixtures from Doncaster, Lingfield and Wolverhampton, all ARC tracks. I first got wind of this last week, when another pal, Roger, called from Yarmouth asking if I was watching the racing at home.

I was, and then he said: “are they near the start?” “Where are you?” I replied. “In Ladbrokes, but there’s no pictures, can you give me a commentary?” Apparently someone had had a decent bet and was shocked that he couldn’t see what was happening. Needless to say, the horse lost. They always do when you can’t see it. And when you can.

According to Charlie Brooks, writing in the Daily Telegraph, Ladbrokes intend relaying an in-house commentary, without pictures, from an employee watching in an office at their HQ. There are also plans for the firm to offer their shop punters an app (getting the hang of this techno talk!) enabling them to get the pictures on their mobile phones.

As usual it’s all about price, as with the always-contentious Betting Levy which Sports Minister Tracey Crouch has recommended should be based at ten per cent of gross profits from both retail and online bookmakers in the Levy replacement scheme to be implemented by April 1.

The Sports Minister, born in Ashford, Kent, and an old girl of Folkestone School for Girls and the University of Hull, might sometimes rue the fact that her local course, Folkestone, also under the ARC banner, remains frustratingly closed. Could she not intervene?

The chat is mostly about televising of racing in these early days of 2017. The much-heralded hand-over of terrestrial free broadcasting of racing from Channel Four to ITV has brought varying degrees of approval, presumably on the grounds of previously-held opinions on the broadcasters that have found their way onto the “new” team.

I did switch over during Saturday’s racing from Sandown a couple of times, but remain more attuned to Racing UK. The one thing I found grating was the repeated screaming of Luke Harvey that Finian’s Oscar was “a champion” after his 32 Red Tolworth Novice Hurdle win, when runner-up Capitaine was brought to a complete standstill by a mistake at a crucial part of the race. The fact Capitaine recovered to take second, five lengths behind the admittedly easy winner, up the run-in makes Luke’s insistence somewhat questionable.

Harvey has history. On Attheraces he portrays himself basically as a buffoon. His tipping skills are negligible as is the blatantly off-the-cuff manner in which he has historically arrived at them on his two-man show with Jason Weaver. To his new audience, though, he is presented as an expert. Time will tell. One of the many critiques of the new team I’ve seen reckoned that, in their initial broadcast, four people seemed to be talking at the same time. That’s Luke.

It was with some surprise that I discovered that what goes for terrestrial television may not be what it seems. One pensioner – she must be old, she’s my age! – down in Cornwall is in an area which cannot receive ITV4, on which subsidiary channel most if not all the new team’s output will be restricted until the Cheltenham Festival.

Even though ITV4 is on Freeview, it is unavailable in certain outposts of the country, including where that particular pensioner lives. She’s a big fan of racing. If there’s a Ladbrokes anywhere near, she can go there today and listen to the commentaries, but she won’t see too much! <Or she could get the internet or use her phone, Ed>

It appears ITV is unlikely to get any better in recognising Jack Quinlan’s talents in the saddle than the other broadcasting outlets. After he rode an exemplary race to win on the Amy Murphy-trained Mercian Prince, coming late and strong up the final hill in a competitive handicap chase, trainer and her father Paul, the owner-breeder, along with the horse, got all the plaudits. Naturally he didn’t get a mention at all in the Racing Post the following day – what’s new?

We’ve had no action with the Raymond Tooth horses since well before Christmas, but the home-bred juveniles are now all but one – hang on a bit longer Mick Channon, he’s been gelded – with their intended trainers.

It was planned to have a runner at Wolverhampton on Friday, but Mick Quinn decided against running Circuit – hope he enjoyed Liverpool’s gallant draw with Plymouth yesterday. In the event, it was slightly irritating in that Camaradorie, the horse which finished third at 100-1 and should have won the race with any luck in running, was a place behind Circuit when Ray’s filly made her debut at Chelmsford.

Mick has one of the two-year-olds, a daughter of Mayson and the Dubawi mare Grass Green, but he was especially happy to take renewed charge of six-times-placed Stanhope, who returned from Shropshire having dropped two stones, but has rather more than that to shed after his grass-gorging break. The trainer and owner will be disappointed if he doesn’t get that first win on the board pretty soon.

 

 

 

 

 

Monday Musing: New Beginnings

You can take a horse to water, the saying goes, but you can’t make him drink, writes Tony Stafford. You can put racing back on ITV for the first time in 32 years, but if Racing UK and Attheraces start showing races before the new team’s 1 p.m. New Year’s Day opening time, you can’t make us switch over.

So my appreciation of the first offering from the totally “new” team of Ed Chamberlain, Luke Harvey and Sir A P McCoy can only be derived from other people’s appraisals. To think I missed both Luke and Matt Chapman! Now I’ll have to wait until the Festival to see them on ITV proper, as they’ll be on ITV4, while the main channel is apparently showing some compelling 32-year-old movies.

I was, though, able to see the arrival onto the Cheltenham scene of new trainer Samuel (as the racecard says) Drinkwater, at 26 the same age as his better known sporting namesake, Danny, the driving force behind Leicester City’s unlikely Premier League title in 2015-16.

Sam Drinkwater started out as a teenage amateur attached to the Nigel Twiston-Davies yard at a time when both Sam and Willy were at a similar stage in life. In eight seasons’ riding he managed 14 wins from 166 rides under Rules, of which 14 unsuccessful efforts for Nige were presented to him at a time when the trainer averaged around 600 runners per season. Hard to get in there!

He operated mainly in points and hunter chases and in the latter sphere collected three of his wins at Cheltenham, all for Fergal O’Brien. Bradley, 16-1, Dammam 14-1 and the 2-1 favourite Creevytennant were the Prestbury Park triumphant triumvirate from very limited rides for the O’Brien stable.

Sam’s been training pointers for a couple of years now and one of them, the now 15-year-old Working Title gave him an initial success when strolling home at Sedgefield on Boxing Day, having been backed from 20-1 overnight to 5’s, ridden by the trainer’s brother Joe, 20.

Joe Drinkwater had won nine points on the one-time Nicky Henderson horse – rated 142 as a young hurdler – between December 2013 and last March and now was in the plate as he took full advantage of the purely guess-mark of 99, which will no doubt be upgraded tomorrow.

Working Title won pretty much all his pointing starts, apart that is when the trainer stepped in twice, and more publicly and dramatically less successfully when Victoria Pendleton failed to get round on her two acquaintances with the old boy.

Victoria, of course, is another of the new ITV team, and I think she should be made aware that there will be plenty of people trying to get her to buy another “great prospect” or two for between the flags as she maintains her horsey obsession.

But Sam Drinkwater will always be remembered in that his first Cheltenham training success came with a 50-1 shot, recently recruited from the Twiston-Davies stable. He was multiple winner Tour Des Champs, who stayed on bravely to beat Doctor Harper and Tom Scudamore by a short head in the long-distance handicap chase.

Luck seems to stick with the same people and the signs are that young Sam is going to be a chosen one. But for the fact that his licence had not come through when entries for the Coral Welsh Grand National were made, his gelding would no doubt have been admiring Native River from behind as he soared to victory. Thus this target was selected instead.

There are 50-1 chances and then Sam Drinkwater 50-1’s. The local Gloucestershire Live issue of December 30 featured an article saying that while the family celebrated the trainer’s first winner, they were looking forward to Cheltenham and the stable debut of Tour Des Champs.

Sam is quoted as saying that: “Tour Des Champs is a big, stuffy horse, but he’s done twice as much work as our winner”. He goes on to say he trains in a yard with access to 1,000 acres with woods and lakes to keep the horses happy. He has 11 inmates with room for nine more. It won’t take him long to fill them up if he carries on like this.

Raymond Mould’s widow Caroline wanted to sell on a couple of her Twiston-Davies horses, but her daughter Katy suggested offering him to Sam rather than sell him at a sale. Seems like a great idea all round.

When you look in the BHA site, Sam Drinkwater’s only horse with an official rating is Tour Des Champs, the Working Title entry just missing the December 20 deadline. We’ll all be looking closely at anything else he runs, starting with Working Title again at Hereford on Wednesday. He would be carrying 12st5lb, including a 7lb penalty, but the trainer has until the morning to see whether to wait for the new mark.

Willy Twiston-Davies has, unlike his elder brother, been confining his talents to the Flat over the past five seasons, clocking up 189 wins, but the unequal task of keeping his weight down seems to have been lost. Before switching to the Flat aged 18, he’d ridden only eight jumps winners, including once on Tour des Champs.

Yesterday his recent return to jumping brought its first win, with Cogry from whom his previous regular rider, and Willie’s best friend, Ryan Hatch suffered a serious leg injury when falling in a chase over the course last month. Twiston-Davies senior sent him back over hurdles for a confidence boost, which will also have provided Willy with optimism for the immediate future.

With brother Sam fully occupied in his role as Paul Nicholls’ number one, Willy could well have a good few weeks until Hatch comes back.

Another with an optimistic slant on life after a New Year double was Lizzie Kelly, who said afterwards that the stable had been in a miserable phase, with them expecting the horses to run moderately when they did go to the track. So let’s hope for better luck for the very talented Lizzie and the Williams/Kelly family in 2017.

That wish goes out for all trainers, jockeys and owners, although as we know for most it’s an uphill battle. I just had to break off from this for a while for a call from a trainer friend, who can often come up with a witticism.

He was relating why he prefers not to use a particular jockey, whom he says he’s so laid back it’s as though he couldn’t care less. “Don’t get me wrong, he’s a lovely lad, but he just never follows instructions. He often comes back and says, ‘You know what, he’d have run much better if I’d have done what you told me!’”

 

 

Tony Stafford’s Extra Mince Pie…

So I ate an extra mince pie rather than keep to the schedule, writes Tony Stafford. If apologies are in order, then sorry, but I’m sure you had something better to do rather than read about horseracing, at least my sometimes oblique slant on it. It was probably also that I knew I would be having a bit of a rant.

A few hours’ sleep would mellow me a little, I thought, but all night long, visions of something I hadn’t fully believed at the time, intruded on some fitful slumber. It’s all too easy to criticise a jockey – in the country’s 8,809 (March 2016) betting shops, people who watch every day will show you how with a vengeance – but I rarely notice, which suggests they (jockeys) might be generally competent.

But once in a while a ride is so out of kilter with the norm that even my customary lethargy is disturbed. Such a ride was perpetrated at Kempton Park on Boxing Day by Daryl Jacob, and I’m sure that after Might Bite’s last-fence fall when as the Racing Post reported, he was 18 lengths clear, trainer Nicky Henderson and owners The Knot Again Partnership will have been looking for an explanation of the latter portion of the ride.

Lining up for the two and a half mile Grade 1 Kauto Star Novice Chase, Might Bite was rightly one of the leading contenders, having won four of his eight career starts over three seasons and one of his two novice chases, for each of which he’d started 2-1 on favourite.

Firstly on chase debut at Newbury in November he was rallying under Nico de Boinville, his hitherto regular partner, when a blunder at the last fence resulted in a half-length defeat. Then earlier this month at Doncaster, with Jacob replacing the injured de Boinville, he made all, was left clear at the tenth, hit two out and then allowed to coast home.

Yesterday, once again Might Bite was ridden prominently, and after some initial skirmishes, went clear readily from the fourth-last fence. By the straight it seemed only a fall would prevent connections from collecting the £40,000 first prize. At the second-last he was well clear, whereupon Jacob had a look round at his toiling rivals, but unlike at Doncaster, for some reason he decided to go for broke.

He could hardly have detected danger from behind, but he proceeded to administer three strong left-hand blows with the whip and as they stretched ever further clear, kept riding vigorously and hurled him at the final obstacle. I must say I fully expected the outcome, a heavy fall, and there has been nothing since to convince me that a more measured performance from two out would have given the team a more than adequate winning margin.

Had he got over the last, he’d have won by an official “distance”. Instead it was left to Royal Vacation, at 33-1, to collect the trophy and the accolades for the seemingly-blessed Colin Tizzard stable. While Henderson was in the process of enduring a most un-Henderson-like Kempton Boxing Day – he had two minor winners elsewhere – Tizzard was enjoying the benefits of unworldly stable riches. As he said later, once Thistlecrack – yes I’ve finally got round to him – was aimed at the King George and a clash with Cue Card, then he was looking around for “something for the novice” and the solid, dependable and now top-flight winner Royal Vacation fitted the bill.

You’ll read plenty about Thistlecrack elsewhere, and his exemplary performance in just his fourth chase, beating Cue Card and a rallying Silviniaco Conti – unwilling to adhere to his unflattering 20-1 odds - with great authority.

So he’s a general 5-4 shot for the Cheltenham Gold Cup with the likelihood of a second novice winner of the race in three runnings after a 41-year gap between Captain Christy, whose victory I’ve just reprised on the internet, remembering my winning bet, and Coneygree last year, who had previously run over fences only three times.

In that regard Thistlecrack will have an experience edge on his predecessor, and will also, at nine next week, be a year older than the Bradstock family horse was when he won the Gold Cup. Coneygree missed Kempton, having chased home Cue Card at Haydock last month, but could well be in attendance at Prestbury Park in March having missed the race in 2016.

There might not seem, at first sight, to be too many similarities in the breeding of these two outstanding stayers. Coneygree, winner of nine of his 12 career starts, is by the multiple Group 3 winning miler/10 furlong performer Karinga Bay. John Oaksey, looking for a mate for Coneygree’s mother Plaid Maid settled on Karinga Bay because he was a son of the Noble Lord’s favourite horse, Ardross.

By contrast, Thistlecrack is a son of Kayf Tara, twice winner of both the Gold Cup at Ascot and the Irish St Leger and the perennial champion jumps stallion based in the UK. He is now 22 and will stand for a private fee at Overbury Stud next year.

But then the plot thickens. Ardross, also a dual Gold Cup winner, appears in Thistlecrack’s pedigree, as the maternal grand sire and father of the Tizzard champion’s dam, Ardstown. So they both have pedigrees packed with stamina. If anything, Thistlecrack carries a double dose of staying power and with 13 wins in 18 starts so far, it looks as though he’s just getting going.

For his first ten outings, he was beaten, then won, five times in a row, explaining perhaps why in his eighth start, in the long distance novice hurdle at Aintree in April last year, he started 25-1. The margin of success might have been less than the eventual 13 lengths had the weakening Alpha Des Obeaux not fallen late on. Beaten next time in Ireland, he has since won nine in a row in his last 19 months’ action.

It is interesting to delve further into the respective abilities of the two broodmares. Both raced over fences – Ardstown exclusively, collecting three pointing wins for the Knipes, who bred Thistlecrack, and four over fences from 23 career starts.

Plaid Maid won once over hurdles, and like her counterpart, four times over fences under rules in 19 career outings. She was a year younger than Ardstown, and eerily the pair met on the racecourse at Newbury on March 24 2001 in a decent 12-runner field which also included the former Champion Hurdler, Collier Bay.

The then 10-year-old Ardstown had been confined to hunter chases in both 2000 and the early part of 2001, but trainer Venetia Williams, considering the lightly-made mare unsuited hefting big weights, found her a suitable race over the three-mile trip. She was 4lb wrong in the weights, meaning her official 107 rating was swollen to 111 for the race.

Plaid Maid was conceding 7lb and at the finish Ardstown and Norman Williamson had a six-length margin over her and A P McCoy. That equates to an almost identical level of ability for the pair. Ardstown never won again, whereas Plaid Maid had one more payday next time out, before they both went on to their real purpose in life – producing jump racing legends.

Monday Musings: Murphy’s Law Alright for Jack

Is it better to be a small fish in a big pond or the only fish swimming around a puddle? Few are better qualified to make that judgment than Jack Quinlan, possibly the only remaining authentic jump jockey in the surprisingly underused National Hunt location of Newmarket, writes Tony Stafford.

Home for thousands of choicely-bred and often highly-priced Flat racers, all but a handful of horses are kept to that discipline. The occasional jumper has the chance to use the excellent facilities of the Links, close to the centre of town where they are more than likely to share the parking areas with golfers, often jockeys, at the local club.

Until a couple of years ago Neil King’s team was the best equipped to win jumps prizes and Trevor Whelan took the lion’s share of his boss’s mounts. Now they are plying their trade in Wiltshire at a yard close to namesake but un-related Alan King at Barbury Castle.

Unsurprisingly, when Whelan was in town, he and Jack often found themselves in demand for schooling horses, but as son of former HQ trainer Noel, Jack’s lucky break came when John Ferguson began overseeing the training of some of the Godolphin overflow stayers over jumps up the road at Cowlinge in a property once owned by the Mintons.

At first it seemed to outsiders that Fergie would probably be playing at it, a sop by his employer Sheikh Mohammed to Ferguson’s original wish to be a trainer. He, like Simon Crisford, started out as a young assistant, in his case to Sir Michael Stoute until switching to his long-term role with the boys in blue.

Firstly as an amateur and then as a conditional, Jack got onto the Ferguson team riding nine winners in 2010-11 and a career best 27 the following year. But then, ironically he was a sufferer from the success of the Bloomfields project – the Godolphin jumpers run in that corporate entity – as increasingly the top jockeys were employed as the stakes rose.

Initially Denis O’Regan, then Tony McCoy and latterly Aidan Coleman got pretty much all the rides, but even those relative riches for HQ riders ebbed away early this year when John Ferguson reverted to a more central role as Godolphin’s supremo, closing down the jumping operation.

Many of the horses were either sold or transferred to Godolphin’s Flat-race handlers, so even the odd winner that Quinlan still got had disappeared by the start of this season. He’d collected 10, then 19, 16 and 18 in subsequent seasons but often must have thought he should have listened to the suggestions of many friends that maybe he should re-locate outside Newmarket.

The snag for young Master Quinlan – he’s still in his mid-20’s - is that he comes from a close-knit family, with two sisters and a younger brother all steeped in the business. Noel still retains his old contacts and does some trading and preparing horses while his mother Jo spent many years taking the kids to various shows around East Anglia and beyond and training the family’s point-to-pointers.

In mid-summer, Jack’s hopes revolved around some largely unexpected opportunities for Robin Dickin and that West Midlands trainer has supplied Jack three winners from 15 rides, usually when stable jockey Charlie Poste is otherwise engaged. But that, apart from his riding the dribs and drabs of jumpers from around 20 Flat-race operators in the town, seemed to be that. And then along came Amy.

Amy Murphy, that is, daughter of owner Paul, who had plenty of success with among others Charlie Longsdon. His mare Kalane once ran third to Annie Power at the Punchestown Festival but now is probably team leader for Ms Murphy at the stable she occupies in Michael Wigham’s Hamilton stables in the Hamilton Road.

That accident of location – Noel in also based there – meant Jack would be an obvious choice for picking up schooling duties in what is beginning to look like becoming a bit of a powerhouse.

Amy can’t be too slow. As recently as November 3 she went along to Tattersalls Ireland Ascot sale and for the princely sum of £3,500 came away with a dual winning five-year-old out of Gordon Elliott’s burgeoning yard.

I’d be surprised if Gordon’s even noticed he’s no longer there. A couple of weeks earlier he’d taken two runners to a four-horse claiming hurdle at Stratford and came away with a 1-2. The runner-up Tajseer was the better fancied and was claimed afterwards by an owner of Phil York’s for £5,000. The winner, maybe because nobody could get anywhere near to pronounce his name, was left alone after a two and a quarter length success under Gordon’s much-respected amateur, Lisa O’Neill.

Lisa was the highly-proficient rider of Wrath of Titans, the ill-fated Kerry National winner in the autumn from six Elliott runners. On the same day that Shan Dun na NGall won the claimer at Stratford, she was also successful on the heavily-backed Presenting Julio, owned and trained by Liam Lennon. Her only other UK ride this season brought an unlucky unseated from a David Pipe horse at Cheltenham’s Open meeting.

The Stratford victory encouraged the jumping handicappers to give Shan, you know the rest, a rating of 117. The Racing Post analysis suggested 110, his mark before race, would be testing enough, but Amy did not waste too much time in deciding his future.

Four weeks to the day since his purchase at Ascot, old Dunny was sent to Chelmsford for a 13 furlong Flat-race handicap, from what now looks a gift mark of 48, almost 70lb less than his jumps figure – so probably 25lb too little. Starting 16-1 and ridden by Lemos de Souza, a Brazilian like namesake of former champ Sylvestre, he bolted in.

The official reaction was to adjust him 4lb to 52, and last Saturday he made it two out of two for Amy, her partner Lemos (and owner Mr Melo) by running away from his opposition over two miles at Newcastle.

If it was a red-letter day for the couple, they couldn’t keep JQ out of it, as three hours previously at Doncaster, he’d steered Kalane to a 17-length win over the Doncaster fences – her first chase success and Jack’s second win for the trainer after ex-French Mercian Prince’s easy victory at Southwell in late November.

After a couple of months with a licence, Amy Murphy has already reached five wins, two from seven on the level and three from 14 in her main sphere of operation. I’ve never met the trainer or her father, but a good friend bumped into them at the stable recently and says there’s plenty to come from some classy, unexposed horses. Clearly this looks like a project that could come to fruition probably sooner than even Amy and her two “boys”, Lemos and Jack, could have believed possible. Maybe Newmarket’s jumping pond is going to get a little bigger!

Monday Musings: A Weekend Roundup

The Elliott bandwagon continued to roll with Apple's Jade usurping her former guv'nor, Willie Mullins

The Apple of Elliott's eye

I’ve promised not to stray far outside the confines of horse racing for these musings, but how can I talk about the two people that head up this week’s offering without a mention of Arsenal and Chelsea football clubs?, writes Tony Stafford.

The pair concerned are linked even more closely than my own emotional allegiance to the former. The first, Neal Wilkins, sadly died last week after a long, debilitating illness. The other, Alan Spence, was yesterday celebrating a fine win for Josses Hill in Huntingdon’s Peterborough Chase the day after Chelsea’s confirmation at the top of the Premier League.

Many in racing will have known Neal, with whom I worked for a couple of years at the Press Association where he was a typist, but one always destined for higher things. Later he was the public face of Victor Chandler as their on-course rep, always getting in his ante-post television quotes with the same alacrity as Mike Dillon for Ladbrokes.

As another contemporary, Geoff Lester, said in last week’s story that recorded his death in the Racing Post, “Neal was always first to the bar and last to go home”. He certainly enjoyed a glass of wine as well as he stoically endured what he, like many Arsenal fans, regarded as under-achievement by his team.

Alan Spence was once a director of Chelsea in the Ken Bates days and remains an honorary Vice President – often promoted to Chairman by Derek Thompson when his horses go to post. My boss Raymond Tooth’s Tommo handle is “the most expensive divorce lawyer in the country” – maybe I should ask him if that’s true?

During the Flat season, Spence’s horses, including a few shared with son Michael and friend Peter Hargreaves, won more than 20 races, with Profitable collecting the Group 1 King’s Stand Stakes for the Clive Cox stable. Profitable will not now appear in the Godolphin colours in next Sunday’s Longines Hong Kong Sprint after a deal was announced last week, but few horses will have better lived up to their name.

I met Neal Wilkins soon after a brief association at the Press Association with Claude Duval, whose recent retirement was accompanied by a bit of a shirty send-off in these parts. Claude had a fair old name to live up to – the 17th Century version is described as the “most gallant and courteous rogue” who earned his money robbing stagecoaches on the approach to London, in Holloway, between Highgate and Islington, in other words, outside the Emirates stadium.

While unable to resist the repetition of a one-time unflattering headline, I sent Duval off by ridiculing his final scoop, scoffing at the suggestion that Paul Hanagan was to lose his job with Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum. Well now he has, so hats off to the most courteous and dashing of journalists, whose retirement should be rather happier than his predecessor’s – he was hanged in Tyburn in 1670!

Alan Spence will have no more than four horses to jump in the winter – Soldier in Action will aim at the Triumph with Nicky - but obviously Josses Hill will be the focal point with possibilities of Cheltenham Festival success after placed efforts behind recently-deceased Vautour (Supreme) and Un de Sceaux (Arkle) in 2014 and the following year. He’ll want to avoid the latter, probably running in the Ryanair over 2m5f,  but just a cursory look at yesterday’s action at Fairyhouse shows just how strong the Mullins and Elliott teams will be next March.

Un de Sceaux showed a different side to his always-evident talent when forsaking the customary early lead under Ruby Walsh in Saturday’s Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown, leaving that role to Gary Moore’s speedy Ar Mad.

Once that horse’s exuberance had been pricked in his first run after a layoff, Un de Sceaux settled down for a battle with Sire de Grugy up the final hill and over the last, coming out narrowly on top. With Sprinter Sacre – on parade again – out of the equation, the pair will be among the major contenders for the Queen Mother Champion Chase. They may only be keeping the seat warm, though, for Altior. Nicky Henderson’s gelding remains a hotpot for the Arkle after a second workmanlike novice chase win in the Henry VIII Novice Chase. Altior beat Charbel by six lengths in a rare case of two Irish- and Flat-bred animals contesting a major jumps race.

There were still more than enough French imports on show on either side of the Irish Sea. Aintree’s two big chases, the Becher and Grand Sefton, over the National fences, went respectively to Vieux Lion Rouge and As de Mee, both French-breds. Vieux Lion Rouge, seventh in this year’s Aintree spectacular, came late and fast under Tom Scudamore to get the Becher on the line for the David Pipe team.

As de Mee, ridden by Sean Bowen for Paul Nicholls, is jointly owned by the Stewart family of Big Buck’s fame and Dame Judy Dench, who when work allows, likes an evening at Sandown. I’m sure the next time she goes to Esher, she’ll love the newly-enlarged and improved owners’ room, just in time for Peter Jensen’s takeover as Chairman.

The best story from Aintree though was the excellent first post-wind-op effort of Many Clouds who impressed in the Betfred-sponsored Listed Chase over 3m1f. He was well on top at the finish and the Oliver Sherwood-trained 2015 National winner will be the one to beat again next April.

In Ireland yesterday, the potential state of things to come where Willie Mullins is concerned was brutally revealed when Apple’s Jade, his wide-margin Aintree Juvenile Hurdle winner, now with Elliott, brought to an end the winning run of 2016 Mares’ Hurdle champion, Vroum Vroum Mag. In ten previous starts for Mullins, shared between hurdles and fences, Mag had been unbeaten, but Apple’s Jade showed great resilience to hold her off by a short head in the Hattons Grace Hurdle.

Other notable winners there were Landofhopeandglory, completing a hat-trick for Joseph O’Brien in the Juvenile Hurdle; and Airlie Beach, who made it seven out of seven for Mullins in the Royal Bond Hurdle, in which Ruby Walsh chose fourth-placed Penhill. Airlie Beach won once last year in a bumper. He made his hurdles debut in mid-July and less than five months later has made it six-in-a-row over jumps with this smart performance. Bapaume, second to Landofhopeandglory in the Juvenile Hurdle, looks one to follow.

Amanda Perrett is one of Alan Spence’s trainers and she supplied him with three 2016 successes with the handicapper Frozen Force. Amanda and husband Mark, a high-class and stylish jockey in his riding days, always enjoy the occasional foray over jumps and at Huntingdon they sent out the former Juddmonte-owned Glaring to win first time at 33-1.

Glaring’s 2016 campaign on the Flat since his 50,000gns acquisition from Prince Khalid Abdullah, a long-standing owner with the stable, was modest. But considering he started with a rating of 108 based on French placed form in Group company, dropping to 93, it seems hard to understand his price of 33-1 in a novice hurdle. Spencey was there and I bet he backed it: after all it was his weekend!

Monday Musings: Noteworthy Gallic Raiders

Thirty-six Mondays ago, I was thinking about giving Dan Skelton a call, writes Tony Stafford. At the time, Raymond Tooth had a couple of pretty ordinary jumpers in the yard and they were both being prepared for a return after a midwinter break. In the end I decided not to.

Later that afternoon I was looking through the results and noticed that he’d sent two horses totally unheralded to Enghien – his first runners as a trainer in France – and they had both won. A case of lightning striking twice, you might say. The fact that one, a three-year-old debutante called Mont Lachaud could start at almost 19-1 and win a €24k first prize by 14 lengths was extraordinary.

But then the more experienced Shelford, having his first run almost a year on from his fifth place in the 2015 County Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, also collected a big pot – in his case €28,800. To do so, and by 20 lengths at more than 14-1, defied belief.

A fiver double would have been nice – around £1,500 – but the fact that Dan, Harry and everyone at Lodge Farm could even countenance such a spectacularly successful raid, was the most impressive element to my mind. It ranks up there with Gordon Elliott’s first Grand National winner when he’d hardly even had a runner in his native Ireland. That was before dad Nick Skelton’s Rio gold medal, too.

Shelford might have been sent on to a second County Hurdle attempt carrying the penalty if he’d had the misfortune of being in a different yard, but instead he went back to Enghien 44 days later and won again, this time less extravagantly in terms of distance and odds, but with €40,800 in the bank. It came almost as a shock when in a third French foray, he and Harry Skelton were foiled by a nose at Auteuil in late June, €20,400 providing reasonable consolation.

Mont Lachaux has also undergone a return trip, again to Auteuil, where he met some of the better early domestic juveniles, finishing a close third in a well-contested affair.

Why, you ask, do I choose today to rehash all that rigmarole? Well, if you believe in lightning striking twice, twice, then go along to your local betting shop – or maybe Racing UK or Attheraces will be up to speed - and watch the 1.25 (local 2.25) and 2.25 (local 3.25) races from Enghien. I’ll be taking close attention at Newmarket sales.

Dan Skelton has sent back both March’s winners for today’s fixture. Their three aggregate victories all came on officially “very soft” ground. Today, they will encounter “collant a lourd” – holding to heavy, which should be right up their boulevard.

Each is aiming at a Grade 3 prize of €60k to the winner and runs again over the identical distance, just under two miles for the juvenile; two miles, three furlongs for Shelford. Expectations for the latter will not have been diminished by the excellent fettle of the stable’s other high-class hurdlers, North Hill Harvey collecting £56k in Cheltenham’s Greatwood Hurdle on Sunday last week and Ch’Tibello earning £61k in Haydock’s Betfair Price Rush Hurdle on Saturday.

**

Saturday’s big prize at Haydock, run on much heavier ground than might have been expected a couple of weeks back when trainers were crying out for rain, provided an ideal comeback opportunity for 2015 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, Coneygree. Coincidentally, because of his helpful pacemaking under Richard Johnson, it brought an equally satisfactory third Betfair Chase success for the seemingly evergreen and ever-improving Cue Card for the unstoppable Tizzards.

While not quite in the Gordon Elliott or Willie Mullins situation of having multiple options for almost every major race, especially in Ireland, Colin Tizzard could have one impossible choice to make, almost in the “which is your favourite child” degree of difficulty.

Cue Card’s winning at Haydock means all he’ll need to do to qualify for the available £1 million bonus is to add Kempton’s King George VI Chase and the Cheltenham Gold Cup. As trainer’s son, Joe, said at Ascot on Saturday, “no one else can win it!” The snag is that if the bonus is still on come March, one of the bigger obstacles for Cue Card’s winning it is the stable’s own Thistlecrack, more likely to go there than challenge for a second World Hurdle, but possibly more likely to run in the RSA than either of those.

A few years back, one now defunct betting exchange formulated a similar bonus for three equivalent major hurdle races, the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle, the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton and the Champion Hurdle. Punjabi won the first of them – rerouted to Wetherby – but fell when looking the probable winner two out at Kempton. Had he stood up, his Champion Hurdle chance, when clearly less fancied than stablemate Binocular, might have been taken more seriously.

Of course, had he won at Kempton, would he then have gone on to Wincanton’s Kingwell Hurdle, when frankly he disappointed and possibly been less fit and prepared for the big day? When I saw Punjabi in his paddock in Shropshire the other week, he was still reminding us that it was he that won the big one almost eight years ago.

They don’t often come back, so it was great to see Sire De Grugy collect another big prize off top weight at Ascot. It was almost as though Gary Moore had whispered into his ear that Sprinter Sacre was out of the way, so maybe it was time for him to come to the fore again.

Cue Card, Sire De Grugy and to a lesser extent Coneygree, served notice last weekend that the enthusiasts who follow jumping in preference to the comparatively ephemeral Flat racing code of the sport, have more familiar names to latch on to every winter than their counterparts.

All three senior pros, interestingly, are with connections and indeed stables not totally in the top bracket, although Gary Moore could hardly have more influence on the sport than through his family with Ryan, Jamie, Josh and their media-involved sister Hayley, while Tizzard is rapidly moving towards the top six jumping stables in the UK, helped by some new bigger investors.

Some of the big Irish cards are worth watching, often on Sundays, but with smallish fields at Punchestown yesterday when there were three Gigginstown horses in each of the first two Graded races (five and then six runners) and three more for Mullins in the five-runner Grade 1 Morgiana Hurdle, it’s sometimes hard to match the enthusiasm of the Attheraces presenters. Yesterday’s fog at the track which blotted out much of the action, didn’t help the entertainment value either.

Meanwhile at Cork, the other Irish meeting yesterday, the weather was contrastingly lovely but everyone else had to scrap for the left-overs with fields of 24, 15, 14, 12 and 18 lining up for the first five events. If they think it is hard now competing against Mullins, Elliott, Meade and the rest, imagine how tough it will become when Joseph Patrick O’Brien fully gets his feet under the jumping table.

Monday Musings: The Globetrotters

When I reluctantly trudged into the office even earlier than usual this morning – clocks-back sleep lag – my idea of the lead topic was the victory first time out of the Sam Sangster-owned Giovanni Battistta (John the Baptist to you) at Newmarket on Friday.

The son of Clodovil – probably named after the Brazilian fashion designer, then television presenter and politician – showed great raw talent in outpointing a well-backed Godolphin newcomer with the rest five lengths and more away.

Where was Sam? He was admirably taking his mum to lunch in London and smiling away while he did, at the anticipation of all those bids from Hong Kong. He’s truly his father’s son.

But I’ll leave Sam with his picture of HK dollars, especially with a devalued pound, and reflect once again on the Cesarewitch, the form of which is working out amazingly well. Did you notice that Star Rider, eighth at Newmarket three weeks earlier, came back there on Friday and easily won the two-mile handicap by four lengths at 9-2 for Sweet Selection’s trainer Hughie Morrison?

On Saturday it was the turn of Tony Martin’s Golden Spear, a fast-finishing fifth at HQ who went on to win the ultra-competitive Leopardstown October Handicap, also two miles, at 7-1. The same day Ian Williams’ Blue Rambler, sixth in the Cesarewitch, easily won a handicap hurdle at Wetherby after being well backed into 11-8 favouritism to do so.

Martin will be supplying one of the best-fancied European challengers for tomorrow morning’s lavishly-endowed Emirates Melbourne Cup. His Heartbreak City, four-length winner of the Ebor back in August and, typically for the trainer, unraced since, receives 7lb from joint-top weight Big Orange and must be a big threat.

Among his closest victims that August afternoon were Shrewd, Martin stablemate Quick Jack (a big winner since at Leopardstown), Oriental Fox (won at Pontefract) and Godolphin’s Oceanographer, who was seventh.

Oceanographer is one of three Charlie Appleby stayers to win in Australia in recent weeks. He has made the cut, in part thanks to a 3lb penalty for his victory in the Lexus Stakes over a mile and a half of the Cup course at Flemington. That was only his second run since the Ebor and followed hard on his effort ten days earlier in the Geelong Cup, third behind stable-companion Qewy, whose 2lb extra for that win also secured his Melbourne Cup slot.

Francis of Assisi meanwhile was victorious in the Bendigo Cup, but does not appear in the final 24. Wicklow Brave, whose trainer Willie Mullins was second last year with Max Dynamite, is here fresh from his Irish St Leger defeat of Order of St George and the Godolphin hordes are further bolstered by the Saeed bin Suroor pair, Beautiful Romance and Secret Number, the latter winner of the Doonside Cup at Ayr on his only start of the season.

So there’s plenty for John Ferguson and his son James, who has been holding the fort Down Under in the build-up to the race, to enthuse about. Ferguson senior’s promise to shake up Godolphin in his new role brought as much sceptical amusement as conviction from this quarter, but when you consider carefully what he’s done over the past few years, you have to admire his energy, enthusiasm and above all professionalism.

A year ago he was well into the early part of his last – few knew at the time – season training jumpers for Bloomfields (Godolphin’s winter wear).  While no Cheltenham Festival winner was forthcoming, many important wins were achieved and the objective of giving once decent stayers another career-stretching option was in large part fulfilled. Then, when Ferguson revealed early in the year a reverse strategy whereby some of the better jumpers would be sent to Charlie Appleby, the head-shaking resumed.

Yet those three Australian wins included two ex-Ferguson inmates, Qewy and Francis of Assisi and, while the latter cannot figure, victory for any of the five blue-clad runners would be a resounding triumph for Sheikh Mohammed’s right hand man.

Soon after the announcement of the change in direction, 46 Ferguson inmates were catalogued for the Tattersall’s Ireland sale at Cheltenham on April 24 and in a masterpiece of preparation, all 46 turned up at Cheltenham and every one found a new owner. No reserves; no fiddles and no complaints afterwards. They sold for sums between 95,000gns for the once-raced Wenyerreadyfreddie (bought by Fergie for 41,000 Euro two years earlier) and in a single case a paltry 800gns, but mostly in the 10,000-50,000 bracket.

Commissioned, bought by Nick Bradley for 65,000gns, won the Queen Alexandra Stakes for Gordon Elliott less than two months later, while most recently Ian Williams, who bought three from the dispersal, has won twice with London Prize, for whom he paid 70k, as well as Blue Rambler who cost 48,000gns.

Four days on from Melbourne, the ever-dwindling band of UK-trained runners at the Breeders’ Cup will be flexing their muscles against the home team. Naturally Aidan O’Brien is sending plenty and it is probable that Europe’s sole venture into the uneven playing field of the dirt track will be his Arc heroine Found, in a career-defining attempt at the Classic and its big prize. The also-engaged Highland Reel is the main Ballydoyle hope in the mile and a half Turf race.

Sir Michael Stoute’s excellent season gets a couple of late chances for further lustre, but outside the O’Brien challenge, bolstered by one for Joseph, and a couple of runners for David O’Meara, it’s slim pickings.

Trainers know that there’s no point in looking at the money on offer in preference to the likelihood of bringing any home. Simon Crisford and Ralph Beckett have one each in the Juvenile Turf, Hugo Palmer has two options, Turf Sprint and Turf Mile, for Home oOf The Brave while Charlie Hills and Henry Candy (Limato) also look to the Mile race.

Tattersall’s at Newmarket have concluded business on the autumn part of their sales season and there was excellent trade at last week’s Horses in Training auction over four days, despite the ever-irritating and seemingly ever-increasing number of withdrawals.

Much of the success of this sale is that it attracts so many overseas buyers. It always frustrates when a horse you want to buy is withdrawn. The list of withdrawals is kept meticulously up to date by Tatts, but many of these happen after a trip from afar has already been funded.

My boss Ray Tooth said goodbye to Dutch Law (150,000gns) and Harry Champion (31,000gns), nice money for two home-bred geldings who’d also each won races both last year and this. Hughie Morrison and Hugo Palmer both deserve hearty thanks for their excellent handling of their careers and we hope the horses will do well in the next phase of their active lives.

Ray also made an acquisition, going along with Steve Gilbey’s hunch about Eve Johnson Houghton’s Cape Cross four-year-old gelding, Starcrossed. We were pleased to get the 13 furlong Flat winner for just 10,000gns and he has joined Dan Skelton, who described him as: “a lovely, big sort who should enjoy jumping”. Hope he’s right.

Monday Musings: “Come off it, Fraud!”

Sorry if this appears half an hour or so later than usual. I’ve promised the editor not to dwell on interests outside racing, but as my 5 a.m. alarm coincided with the start of the crucial final day of the Test match in Chittagong, I had to tune in, writes Tony Stafford.

Twenty-two minutes later, Ben Stokes had taken the two wickets needed to beat Bangladesh and I could proceed to the keyboard. I wonder if Claude Duval had made a similarly early start, after all, he doesn’t need to worry about his job at the Sun any more.

Yes the self-styled Punter’s Pal has finally ended his 47-year tenure as that newspaper’s racing correspondent, a role he has held since day one of the country’s best-selling newspaper. Apart from the owner Rupert Murdoch he was the last man standing from the original staff roster.

Luck comes into it of course. Just as my own entry into writing about racing came about by a fluke – I was unhappy on my first local paper and in desperation phoned the Greyhound Express to see if they had a job. Unknown to me, they were advertising in that same day’s paper, and I duly got the post.

Almost three years on, in 1969, Claude Duval was working on his local newspaper in Crawley, Sussex, and as was the practise of young journalists in those days, attempted to supplement his paltry earnings with some Fleet Street part-time sub-editing.

By then I was Chief Reporter and Claude came in on the three-man subs desk alongside Alan Cameron and Harry Lloyd for busy evenings. Then with another large stroke of luck I got a job on the horseracing desk at the Press Association across the way at the bottom of Fleet Street.

After a couple of days there I decided to revisit the old place, and was greeted with a general “are you coming to gloat?” reaction from everyone. They’d just heard the paper was to close, but for three of them, deputy editor John Bathe, John Hardie and new-boy Claude, there were jobs beckoning on the new national daily.

Nobody could have predicted the soaraway nature of the Sun, with its Page Three and famed headlines like Gotcha! during the Falklands War and once Claude managed to get into the top racing spot, there was no stopping him.

In the early days, the phone would ring at 85 Fleet Street and a voice would ask: “Tony, what do you know about…?” But it wasn’t long before he was self-sufficient and 47 years later he was signing off with the suggestion that Paul Hanagan is going to be replaced by James Doyle as Hamdan Al Maktoum’s jockey.

Claude never worried that the facts might spoil a good story and as a Sussex 2nd XI cricketer for many years rarely bothered with Saturday racing, fair enough as the paper did not appear on Sundays in those days.

One afternoon when he was nominally on duty – either at Goodwood or Sandown – I’m not sure at which local venue, he called – no mobiles in those days – just to check all was well. The voice at the other end enquired where he was, and of course the answer was “in the press box”. “That’s funny,” he heard, “there’s a bomb scare and they’ve cleared the course!” No doubt he told them how many wickets he’d claimed with his off spin.

Another masterpiece was his “totally independent” prediction of the likely Grand National weights on the morning of their announcement in London. The Sun were sponsoring the race in those days, and blow me down if Claude didn’t get them almost entirely correct with a pound or two at most either way.

I suppose it was churlish for me in my own part-time extra job as editor of the Racehorse – I was still in my early days at the Daily Telegraph – to headline my piece in that weekly: “Come off it, Fraud!” but I couldn’t help myself.

Back in 1969, Lester Piggott was about to win his sixth in succession, and seventh of a total eleven, jockeys’ titles. Forty-seven years on, at Doncaster on Saturday, Piggott was part of the four-man Starship Partnership – the others are breeder Des Scott, Mrs John Magnier and Michael Tabor - which won the Racing Port Trophy with the William Haggas-trained Rivet.

Piggott won the race five times as a jockey, twice for the late Sir Henry Cecil, whose own ten wins in the race began with Approval in 1969. Henry took out his first licence earlier that year, and again, who could have predicted his amazing future success?

The Flat season’s end almost exactly coincides with Piggott’s birthday, and Guy Fawkes Day next week will be his 81st. Jockeys cannot take a ride until their 16th birthday nowadays, but Lester was 12 when The Chase gave him his first winner at Haydock in the summer of 1950.

Lester missed Doncaster on Saturday - maybe he was a guest at the wedding in Cap Ferrat of M V Magnier – but looked in good form when present at the Legends race there back at the St Leger meeting last month.

The irony of Rivet’s win is that it prevented Magnier, Tabor and Derrick Smith, along with the Niarchos family, in whose colours Yucatan ran, from recording yet another Aidan O’Brien-trained Group 1 winner.

Rivet and Andrea Atzeni – the latter winning the race for the fourth year in succession – stayed on too well for a one-paced Yucatan. Salouen, trained by Sylvester Kirk was a fast-finishing neck away third, just pipping Raheen House, a similar distance away in fourth.

For Raheen House that represented a massive improvement – 20lb in Racing Post Ratings – and fully justified Brian Meehan’s decision to run him. For owner Lew Day it has been quite a season as the only other horse he has in training is Cambridgeshire winner, Spark Plug. When he met Meehan, he said he wanted: “a horse that I wouldn’t be ashamed to tell my friends about”. The trainer certainly accommodated that wish and expects further improvement again from this imposing son of Sea The Stars next year.

Never having gone the pace in the finale under the latest champion, Jim Crowley, Dutch Law goes to the sales on Wednesday after a stellar year handled beautifully by Hughie Morrison. It will be a sad day if he finds a buyer and Ray Tooth will be there to watch. Sam Sangster’s Sirecam operation has made a video displaying his present well-being back in the stables, so if you want to look, log into the Tattersalls site. Come on Claude, here’s a proper horse on which you might like to spend your savings.

 

The Best Jean-Claude Since van Damme?

ASCOT 15-10-2016. The Queen Elizabeth Stakes. MINDING and Ryan Moore wins for trainer Aidan O'Brien from RIBCHESTER. Photo HEALY RACING.

MINDING and Ryan Moore wins for trainer Aidan O'Brien from RIBCHESTER.
Photo HEALY RACING.

What did you know about Jean-Claude Rouget: before Saturday, probably not a lot? Until this year I’m sure not too many were even aware of the 63-year-old Frenchman, especially in Ireland, writes Tony Stafford. Until September 10th and the Curragh end of Irish Champions weekend, according to the usually accurate Racing Post stats, he’d never had a runner in that country before Almanzor and Qemah pitched up.

Forays from his base in Pau, down in the southwest of France, were much more frequent to the US with his best horses and considering he’d been challenging and then passing Andre Fabre in recent years domestically, only sporadically had he ventured across the Channel.

He had his first English runner, Pinson, in 2005. Two years later, was busier, as Rouget collected the Champion Stakes with Literato, beating the Coolmore-owned Eagle Mountain in a photo-finish. That year the Danzig colt US Ranger, carrying the dark blue colours of the Coolmore team in partnership with his breeder Joe Allen of War Front fame, was seventh in Cockney Rebel’s 2000 Guineas and third in the Jersey at Royal Ascot.

Those same Racing Post statistics list 150 or so major wins, quite a few in the US and with many repeats. Yet in the seven seasons between Literato and last year when Ervedya won the Coronation Stakes, only 18 further Rouget runners and six places were recorded. Then, memorably each time at Ascot, France’s top trainer was to repeat earlier triumphs, with Qemah in the Coronation and Almanzor in the re-modelled Champion Stakes, from just five English runs.

I think he’s warming to us a bit though, even if when interviewed he’s still a bit more Yves Montand than Johnny G. He must be, why else would he still be looking at yearlings at Book 3 of last week’s Tattersall’s October Sale?

Then again, having 265 horses listed in Horses in Training for 2016 and having run a healthy proportion, 178 of them in France this year, he is as near in terms of home dominance as Aidan O’Brien has been as a Group 1 trainer all over Europe.

His horses have run in 622 races in France, for 157 wins and win and place money of Euro 6,523,465, bolstered by just over Euro 3million in owners’ premiums for French-breds. In comparison, O’Brien’s raids in France, with just 15 horses and 16 runs have brought two wins, seven places and Euro 5,142,970, with just some chump change (23k) in premiums – not many Galileo’s are French-bred!

Rouget’s day out in Ireland brought the equivalent of £547,059 – Almanzor winning the Irish Champion from Found and Minding, and Qemah was third in the Matron Stakes behind Alice Springs. Almanzor propelled him to £1,071,670, healthy enough, while Found’s second to the Rouget star and Minding’s superb display in the Mile, took their trainer to beyond £8million here.

We can add to that just the 98 O’Brien winners from 495 in his day job in Ireland and win and place earnings of £3,367,689, although with the weakness of the pound, we’d need to add a bit to that.

If Almanzor was the obvious star of the show, Minding’s versatility and class were the bright point of a slightly disappointing day for Ballydoyle, with Order of St George, back at staying trips and Seventh Heaven, in the fillies and mares race, both looking a little sluggish as they tried in vain to overcome modest starts.

In winning a seventh Group 1 race by the age of three, she shares that distinction with the great French filly Miesque, who went on to win three more races at the top level at four years of age in 1988. With records there to be beaten, Minding, whose 2016 winning programme of 1,000 Guineas, Oaks, Pretty Polly, Nassau and Champions Mile might have been even better without the bang she sustained to the head when leaving the stalls for the Irish 1,000, when beaten by Jet Setting – an unplaced 33-1 shot behind her on Saturday.

In the end Ribchester got to within half a length of her with a strong late effort, but there was never any prospect of her forfeiting the lead she took under Ryan Moore at the two furlong pole. Indeed had the race been over six furlongs, Minding would almost certainly have won it. An Oaks winner fast enough to sprint [against milers, Ed.], the mind boggles.

I spent most of Champions Day moaning about the fact that, as predicted here last week, Dutch Law didn’t get into the Balmoral Handicap. He needed two to come out by 1 p.m. on Friday and none did, hardly surprising as all 45 confirmations from the Monday, were declared to run.

Equally unsurprisingly, one did come out after that deadline, Instant Attraction’s defection making it totally annoying for the Saeed bin Suroor stable, their Silent Attack denied a run by a rule that should be changed. Why it is deemed impossible to allow changes until the 45 minute declaration time? The rules of that particular race – worth a handsome £155,000 to the winner – permit three reserves, so why can’t they be just that, on the premises in case of absentees.

It was good to see Jim Crowley and Josephine Gordon receive their well-earned awards for champion jockey and apprentice, but a little bird tells me that gentleman Jim might have a fight on his hands to retain the title, as someone quite close to agent Tony Hind has reportedly had a bit of a punt on Fran Berry for next year. He or she might well be working on charming the super-agent to concentrate on Ralph Beckett’s stable jockey.

It was less sensible that Godolphin, 131 wins and £4,681,091, should get the award for champion Flat owner. Most of the £8 million collected by O’Brien, comes from the Magnier, Tabor, Smith triumvirate, but for the table’s purposes, Smith, Magnier, Tabor is a different owner from Smith, Tabor, Magnier. One Smith part of the team also got into the £4 million plus bracket thanks to Minding and King George winner Highland Reel’s exploits, but then again if they had won it (under different rules) they’d have had to cut the trophy into thirds.

They’ve still got a fast-improving and relatively fresh Alice Springs, so dominant in the Sun Chariot, and Arc runner-up Highland Reel, among a good few more to go to war with at Santa Anita with an extra couple of weeks to recover from recent exploits.

Doncaster on Saturday could offer another obvious chance for such as Capri in the Racing Post Trophy, but I’ll be surprised if Raheen House passes up the attraction of that race after winning nicely at York for Brian Meehan and owner Lew Day.

I doubt if Lew will be there, but just as after the Cambridgeshire and Spark Plug, I’ll be offering my services as trophy collector, should this promising son of Sea the Stars step up. It will be even better if Dutch Law can take the finale as consolation for last week’s Balmoral frustration for Raymond Tooth.

Monday Musings: Champions and Sweet Selections

 

Churchill and Ryan Moore after winning The Dubai Dewhurst Stakes Newmarket 8.10.16 Photo HEALY RACING.

Churchill and Ryan Moore after winning The Dubai Dewhurst Stakes

Even before the metaphorical ink was dry and last week’s offering was on its way to you and the world via the mysterious ether, I was off and up the M11/A14/A1 to Pontefract, writes Tony Stafford.

This 4 a.m. lark doesn’t get any easier - <not impressed, Ed> - but after a short pause I was into a decent rhythm, making the track mid-meeting for the late running of the three-year-old mile and a half handicap featuring Harry Champion.

Two runs previously, five minutes after Dutch Law’s big win at Ascot, he’d looked a bit of a snail around seven furlongs of Kempton, nowhere near the sort of ability level Hugo Palmer and staff felt he had as a juvenile.

The big, almost desperate decision was taken to step him up, initially to ten furlongs at Redcar. After a sleepy, over-relaxed beginning there, he (as the comments said) plodded home in sixth, but more significantly, “it took until the end of the back straight to pull him up” according to jockey Marc Monaghan.

The obvious response was another extra quarter mile up the stiff Pontefract hill and Harry and Marc navigated it with flying colours, nabbing Mark Johnston’s pacemaking Kelvin Hall, to whom he conceded 10lb, less 3lb apprentice allowance, in the last five strides.

Hill, trip and softish ground all seemed not to bother this powerful gelding who previously had appeared a one-trick (all-weather) pony but not now. He’s in Tattersall’s Horses in Training sale and another winning effort back at Redcar (14 furlongs) on Friday, twice as far as Kempton, would either make him a target for jump trainers at Park Paddocks, or persuade Ray Tooth to retain him in the hopes of getting another Punjabi.

When that horse appeared at Tatts in October 2006, he’d run 14 times with three wins for Geraldine Rees, whose father Capt. Jimmy Wilson owned and bred him. The last of them came off 69 over a mile at Ayr, the longest distance he tried and at the sale he was rated 73. Harry has run 11 times for two wins, one last year, and I reckon in tomorrow’s new ratings he’ll be either 73 or 74.

Ten years on, why shouldn’t Ray think that particular type of Champion Hurdle-winning lightning could strike twice? Harry Champion appears sure to stay two miles over jumps. Cockney Rebel, his sire, has an excellent record with jumpers from an admittedly small sample, the ill-fated but talented duo Cockney Sparrow and Seedling leading the way.

So, Redcar it is, or is it? He’s the highest rated – 76, old rating of 70 plus 6lb penalty – of the 37 entered, unsurprisingly as this is a 0-75, but it’s not that straight-forward. Eighteen of them are three-year-olds, who even this late in the season have a 9lb weight-for-age allowance.

All through the late summer, trainers of older staying handicappers are routinely frustrated by the apparent leniency in weight terms for the younger brigade. The snag here though is that Redcar’s 14 furlongs can accommodate only 12 horses and even though there are very few races at longer distances to find around the country, Redcar sees fit not to divide, favouring sprints for that treatment, where 20 (therefore 40) can run.

Ten older horses have ratings above 67, so carry more weight than Harry. Five others are slap bang on 67, therefore equal with him. In those cases, a ballot is held at the BHA’s Weatherbys base before the confirmed list is published at noon the day after entries and sure enough, Harry came out bottom of the six.

I say sure enough advisedly. Mr Tooth has only two horses above two years old in action this autumn, the other being Dutch Law. Both at Ascot in the valuable Totesport race on Oct 1 and next Saturday’s Balmoral Handicap there, he shared (and shares) a critical borderline mark with other horses. From memory, I think it was three last time and there are four this week and he’s bottom of the draw every time.

Just as my conclusions about Galileo’s possible future eminence were more a function of arithmetic than equine knowledge – eight runners from his first bunch of three-year-olds on a single Royal Ascot afternoon – so my suspicions have to be aroused by an unlikely 71-1 treble, 3 x 4 x 6 to be bottom of the pile.

With only 12 getting in, there is actually a chance that a 0-75 race for three-year-olds and upwards could have none of 18 representatives of the younger group in the field, surely not the intention when the race was framed. Sir Mark Prescott could well be foiled of running any of his five candidates of that age, but my calculation is that Harry will be just about all right – never mind the others: sorry, Sir Mark.

His Cesarewitch favourite, St Michel, duly scraped into Saturday’s field, but faded late on as Sweet Selection probably surprised herself and maybe Hughie Morrison by living up to my lofty prediction on her behalf in the closing lines of last week’s offering.

I cannot believe that when people take facts like “17lb well in”, as she was on official handicap terms, they then fail to translate them to the distance of the race. A sprinter with a nominal 17lb in hand has approximately six lengths to work with. A slow start, gaps closing and progressive opponents could trim and even eradicate that advantage.

Over a distance like the two miles, two furlongs of the Cesarewitch, I reckon six lengths becomes more like 18, so it is much more probable that such a horse will take advantage. St Michel was almost as well favoured, as in the winner’s case, from the same Doncaster Cup form, but his tendency to hang was always a potential downside.

On Saturday I saw Malcolm Caine, owner with Gareth Bale’s agent Jonathan Barnett of Curbyourenthusiasm, who was sixth in the Doncaster Cup, almost four lengths behind fifth-placed Sweet Selection. Curb is rated 107, so actually it would have been quite in order for Sweet Selection to be awarded 108, especially as higher-rated Clever Cookie and Clondaw Warrior were further back. That would have placed her not level with top-weight Fun Mac on Saturday, but 4lb higher! She was indeed some certainty, but they still need the constitution to carry it off.

When you look back on what you’ve written over the years, there are always things you wish you hadn’t, and that goes for me, too. However, the person who started out the “Aidan O’Brien will be booted out of Ballydoyle in favour of up-and-coming David O’Meara” claptrap - was it last spring? - must be pleased with himself.

Maybe he’ll be writing, whoever and wherever he is, that the Coolmore partners were furious with O’Brien that he didn’t run a third horse in either the Fillies’ Mile, behind Rhododendron and Hydrangea, or the Dewhurst, Churchill and Lancaster Bomber, to equal the stable’s clean sweep of the Arc.

The part I liked the best about Newmarket on Saturday was that 66-1 shot and pacemaker Lancaster Bomber could collect a six-figure pay-out for "the lads", also helping Aidan past £7m in Britain this year. Colm O’Donoghue came back and said: “He’s improving”. You couldn’t write it.

Monday Musings: £23k per second

What, if anything, are your memories of Royal Ascot 2006? A slightly incongruous question seeing that it’s almost ten and a half years ago, but a few elements of the fixture are indelibly stamped on the admittedly-failing memory, writes Tony Stafford.

The first concerns Royal Hunt Cup day, the Wednesday, when the race winners included Soviet Song (in the recently instituted Windsor Forest Stakes), Ouija Board (Prince of Wales), and Red Evie, thrillingly with a late trademark run under Jamie Spencer in the Sandringham Handicap.

That was her fifth of seven successive victories for owner Terry Neill and the Michael Bell stable and a winning bet for your correspondent. Two days later, arriving early, I sat for some time with the late George Ward, getting around eventually to breeding. I suggested he should try to book any suitable mares as soon as possible for the following year to Derby winner Galileo as I was sure Coolmore would be putting up his covering fee.

George said that the in my mind bargain figure was still way beyond his reach for the type of mares he owned. After I finished my drink and left, I moved along the second floor of the main stand to Coolmore’s box. I knocked at the door and asked the attendant whether I could have a quick word with John Magnier.

I was told he was speaking to his daughter so could I wait a moment, and then was ushered in, through a packed throng of people just finishing lunch. I can picture exactly where we exchanged the few words, which after introductions were to the effect: “Hello John, I’m not sure you realise what you’ve got with Galileo. He has eight runners, all three-year-olds, on this card today, from his first crop. That must be almost a mathematical impossibility.” He probably did, but I felt I had to mention it.

None of the eight managed to win that day, although Red Rocks and Sixties Icon, second and third in the King Edward VII Stakes for Brian Meehan and Jeremy Noseda, and The Last Drop, 17th of 19 in the King George V Handicap, were to fill the first three places in the St Leger three months later, Sixties Icon turning the form around at York – Doncaster was closed that year.

Red Rocks, third at York, went on to win the Breeders’ Cup Turf that autumn. In all there were five sons of Galileo in that St Leger along with two more by his sire Sadler’s Wells, two by Montjeu and one each by Desert Prince and Lomitas. Of the eight, only one was in the care of O’Brien, but that soon changed, as did the stud fee, quadrupled from the €37,500 in 2006 to €150,000 the following year. The 2006 St Leger 1-2-3 obviously helped, but the dramatic acceleration was made inevitable by the subsequent unbeaten juvenile season of second-crop colt Teofilo who did not make his debut until the following month.

Returning to Red Evie, after a couple more wins the following year, she was offered at the December Sale, but was led out unsold at a million guineas. Coolmore later acquired her privately and whatever figure Terry Neill eventually secured, it was clearly a fair profit on the 58,000gns he paid for her as a yearling to Timmy Hyde’s Camas Park Stud. Since then Red Evie has been routinely covered by Galileo and her third produce turned out to be Found, long regarded by Ryan Moore as a potential champion.

Yesterday at Chantilly, Found confirmed that status with an emphatic triumph as she led home an extraordinary 1-2-3 for O’Brien and Galileo four-year-olds with fellow multiple Group 1 winners Highland Reel and Order of St George filling the places. Major owners often take plenty of criticism for their policy of prematurely packing star three-year-olds off to stud, but this trio and other predecessors like St Nicholas Abbey show this operation is much more selective.

When, as with The Gurkha this year, injury interrupts a stellar career, stud is the only option, but the riches available in the major international races mean more and more top animals will be staying in training at four and above. Multiple entries in big races is nothing new for O’Brien or the sire, but for once Galileo had fewer challengers for Europe’s showpiece than Dubawi, his great but now well-held rival, who was responsible for four.

I’ve been unsuccessful in my admittedly sparing attempts to find track records for Chantilly, but Found’s time of just inside 2min 24 sec seems fast as it’s a shade under 12 seconds per furlong. The Juliet Rose won the previous day’s Group 2 for Nicolas Clement in seven seconds more!
Earlier in the summer I pointed out here that Aidan O’Brien’s British exploits in the week between the King George (Highland Reel) and Goodwood’s Nassau Stakes (Minding) brought more prizemoney than any English trainer had earned for his patrons in the entire year.

Yesterday, the O’Brien Trifecta brought a total of £3.36m, again more than any English trainer has so far earned in the UK, none having yet broken the £3m barrier. For the Coolmore partners, this was representing a prizemoney return of more than £23,000 per second for the 2min23.61sec (more than five seconds faster than the Racing Post standard time).

O’Brien now has 18 Group or Grade 1 wins worldwide, with nine in the UK, three in France, five in Ireland and Deauville’s Belmont Derby win in the US. More seem certain to follow, starting possibly with Churchill in the Dewhurst next weekend; several obvious chances on Champions Day and the guarantee of a major challenge at the Breeders’ Cup in Santa Anita next month.

At the moment it’s at least £15million and counting and yet the trainer consistently attaches most of the credit to everyone at Ballydoyle and Coolmore, not least: “The owners, who send me such lovely horses to train.”

Only four of the seven other trainers who supplied Galileo colts (and one filly) that 2006 Royal Ascot day are still active, but I’m sure Messrs Meehan, Noseda, Channon and Weld must be wishing that Coolmore did not have quite such a stranglehold on the best of them.

I missed Newmarket on Saturday where Alice Springs (Galileo) made yet another step up the O’Brien in-house ratings with a fluent success in the Sun Chariot Stakes, instead favouring Ascot, where the highlight was Shalaa’s successful comeback after being off since winning last year’s Middle Park Stakes.

He’ll be back for the big sprint on Champions Day where John Gosden is equipped to clinch second place in the trainers’ title. We’ll be back there too for the Balmoral Handicap with Ray Tooth’s homebred, Dutch Law, despite his slightly disappointing close-up 11th in Saturday’s Totesport-sponsored handicap after looking a real contender two out.

Yesterday, Hughie Morrison reckoned: “Charlie <Bennett> got a little excited, but he’ll have to be more patient over a mile. Dutch Law looked great this morning and I’d love to run him. When do you get the chance to run for a share of £250,000?” In the case of Aidan and the team, Hughie, pretty much every day of the week. By the way, if Morrison’s Sweet Selection gets in the Cesarewitch on Saturday, I reckon she’s a handicap certainty.