Posts

Monday Musings: Triskaidekaphilia?

The number 13 is supposed to have unlucky connotations, writes Tony Stafford. Events thirteen years ago next weekend were the reverse for me. As the tall, mid-European said having approached me with a yellowish-coloured ring between his fingers all those years ago: “It’s your lucky day!”

He could hardly have imagined that his theatrical display of stooping down a few yards in front of me as we progressed in opposite directions along Finchley Road near St John’s Wood Station and brandishing the item triumphantly would have such lasting repercussions.

Or indeed just how lucky it was to prove.
It led to my being introduced a few hours later at Kempton Park to Raymond Tooth by his friend Derek Hatter, who’d been asked to verify the authenticity of the ring as we bumped into each other at the track. Derek revealed a few days later that the jeweller tasked with that professional action declared the fact it went green very quickly was not encouraging.

Entirely encouraging was the meeting with Punjabi’s owner, after his Nicky Henderson-trained gelding had romped to a 19-length triumph in the Adonis Hurdle booking his place in the Triumph at the Cheltenham Festival the following month.

We hit it off and then another chance encounter with my good friend Tony Mullins, outside the Victor Chandler tent where we had all been based that Gold Cup day, led to a going-home 12-1 winner, Pedrobob, in the County Hurdle, which clearly sealed the deal as Raymond’s racing manager.

Now on Saturday, again a consequence of unlikely events, the Tooth colours of grey and pink will be in action in the same Kempton race with Waterproof. We had formulated a plan to try to get him qualified for the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle next month. That needed him to have had three runs over jumps and the third was to be either at Haydock in last Saturday’s Victor Ludorum or the back-up race suggested by Shaun Keightley at Market Rasen yesterday.

Your first 30 days for just £1

We didn’t fancy the heavy ground at Haydock, or the likelihood of having to face Goshen, pencilled in by Gary Moore for that race. A hard race on heavy would probably have caused his 127 rating to be vulnerable had Goshen run riot, but in the end he didn’t run at all. Nor did we as Storm Dennis washed out Market Rasen and most of the countryside everywhere else.

It’s doubtful that running this weekend will constitute qualification. Entries for the Boodles close tomorrow and at that stage he does not have the necessary three runs. The handicap is fixed next week but I fear it is probably too late, so we’re going to check. David Dickinson gave Waterproof 127 after his wide-margin Fakenham win, but he probably wouldn’t have won at all had Bran, who’d just taken it up, not fallen heavily at the last flight.
It had been a plan for some time, immediately after his promising debut third at Huntingdon, to get two placed runs into him and then run against older handicappers, taking advantage of the big age allowance for juveniles. The number 127 certainly didn’t enter calculations at that stage. Now the best way of dealing with it is to get the third run in so that entry in future valuable handicaps can be made. If he’s not good enough for the Goshens of this world – and no doubt he’ll be in the line-up at Kempton – then so be it.

Goshen’s latest win, by 11 lengths in a small field at Ascot, had the experienced Nordano in a respectful second. That Neil King-trained gelding had run six times before Saturday with a couple of wins in acquiring the same rating as Waterproof. I remember writing in this column that I thought Goshen could give twice the 17lb he’s officially rated above Waterproof and still beat him half the track, so not much confidence there for Saturday!

But when Nordano turned out back at Ascot in the mud last Saturday off 127 which translated to 10st bottom weight against his elders, I think my opinion of Goshen’s rating was borne out. Nordano and Aidan Coleman set off in front and, jumping fluently, strolled away in the straight to win the near two and a half miler by 16 lengths. Mr Dickinson will exact his revenge: I wonder if he might act retrospectively on Goshen’s mark?

A couple of the sport’s icons returned to action over the weekend. First Cyrname, reappearing after his King George blow-out and back on the scene of his earlier explosion of Altior’s unbeaten record, looked a much less formidable chaser than hitherto, already consigned to last of four in the attempt at a repeat in the Ascot Chase. Riders Onthe Storm also looked sure to be denied as long-absent Traffic Fluide loomed up dangerously.
His capsize, which was spectacular enough, did not carry anything like as much public concern as Cyrname’s and when the latter eventually rose, it was to a massive cheer of relief.

Even though Cyrname was a 4-11 shot, I didn’t fancy him one jot, unlike Nordano earlier. His defeat of Altior over a trip beyond anything previously attempted by the champ, would have taken a toll on both horses. While Nicky Henderson gave Altior until Newbury nine days ago for his comeback, Cyrname was asked to battle with stable-mate Clan Des Obeaux, again over a longer distance than he’d ever previously attempted.

I was told that Nicholls excused the defeat saying that Kempton was a stiff track, exactly contradicting anything he and many others including Nicky Henderson always say about it being “sharp”. The way Cyrname stopped almost to a walk in the King George could hardly have been encouragement for his winning a top-class race only five weeks later and so it proved, hopefully with no lasting after-effects.

A similar situation occurred two decades earlier when I was involved with the Thoroughbred Corporation whose Royal Anthem had just won the Group 1 Juddmonte International by eight lengths from a top-class field of 12. Just over three weeks later he went on to the Irish Champion Stakes, with the general in-house attitude: “He never had a race at York!” Winning a Group 1 race of that quality? Not much he did, and it showed with a 13-length fifth to Daylami at Leopardstown. Neither trainer, owner, US racing manager and UK manager were there. Just me, and it befell me on Dick Mulhall’s irate say-so from California to check with the racecourse vet whether he’d been got at! The answer was easy enough. He was knackered. It cost him Horse of the Year honours, too.

The second icon to appear this weekend was dual Grand National hero Tiger Roll, only fifth but far from disgraced in a  Boyne Hurdle run in appalling ground at Navan. He’d won the race the previous year as a 25-1 shot building up to the Cheltenham Cross-Country and second Aintree triumph. He’d run the previous November but this time after much-publicised training issues and even more public attempts to intimidate handicapper Martin Greenwood into handing him a penalty kick of a handicap mark for the hat-trick attempt, it’s now down to business.

Fifth place here in a very strong race, won by stable and owner-mate Cracking Smart at 16-1, was creditable, especially as Magic of Light, last year’s Grand National second and already a winner over both hurdles and fences this term, was last home. The fear for the Tiger Roll team, more than the weight itself, would be if this extreme wet weather should result in testing ground at Aintree. Then, I fear, something, probably a light-weight, will come along to deny the hat-trick attempt.

- TS

Monday Musings: Hughie Not So Sleepy with Aspirations

As I look out of my office window at 8 a.m. this Sunday morning with the pre-Christmas gloom and apparently endless belts of rain still sweeping across the land, it’s hard to believe that the days are getting longer again, writes Tony Stafford.

I’m writing this a day earlier than usual as nothing will be happening in the racing world before Boxing Day – four days of marking time, unless of course you are working in a racing yard.

Horses have to be fed, their boxes cleaned and their fitness regimes maintained, all for our delectation in the coming days, weeks and months. The new 2020 programme books, for the first time separated into Flat and Jumps have finally arrived but with conditions as they are – apparently Huntingdon had one of its periodic mini-floods this weekend – cancellations will be likely.
When I spoke to Hughie Morrison on Saturday morning he was full of gloom about the chances of Ascot’s going ahead. We were between inspections and, with Not So Sleepy due to contest the last race, that pessimism, admittedly a characteristic of the East Ilsley trainer, seemed justified.

Arriving at the foot of Ascot High Street at 11.45, at least the cars were still going up and in rather than down and out, signifying a positive outcome to the 11.30 ‘look’. That it was tempered with a “monitoring the situation race by race” could have had little mollifying effect on connections of the home-bred gelding.

Not So Sleepy has a deserved reputation for being “quirky” and when you consider that after his third career start, in the Dee Stakes at Chester – stopping point of Derby winners in the past – he had a flat-race rating of 107. In 35 subsequent starts on the flat, he has added only one more victory – on Oaks Day at Epsom, 2017 - but fourth of 30 in the Cesarewitch this October signalled some progress four and a half years after Chester.

In the meantime, he’d had three runs over hurdles, sandwiching a wide-margin all-the-way victory at Wincanton with hard-pulling 20-length defeats at Kempton and then on a return to the Somerset track. So when he turned up at Ascot last month in a handicap hurdle, necessitated by the abandonment of the November Handicap at flooded Doncaster, he was pretty much either a handicap snip on the correlation between flat (94) and jumps (122) ratings or a powder keg waiting to implode again.

He was allowed to set off in a clear lead and while a couple of his rivals eroded some of the advantage up the straight. Not So Sleepy never appeared likely to be caught.

Your first 30 days for just £1

I’d also spoken to Hughie before that race and the “handicap certainty, with a health warning” was our mutual assessment. Hughie didn’t have the extra bias of my high regard for Speed Company, an Ian Williams improver who had also been on schedule for the November Handicap. I’d caught him right at Chepstow; knew he’d go on the soft and he also had a reasonable jumps mark in relation to the flat. Two runners – trust me to go the wrong way.

Speed Company loitered at the back that day and was again disappointing last weekend at Doncaster, while Not So Sleepy returned to Ascot yesterday and was still on a detached bottom weight having been raised only 5lb for that previous win over course and distance. Many commentators believed he would struggle to get far ahead in a stronger and more highly-populated (13, or rather 16 with three ground defections) field.

Johnny Burke again got him off alertly and apparently settling better than hitherto, if understandably still a little novicey at some of the early obstacles – it was only his fifth hurdles start after all – he maintained a narrow advantage until the bend turning for home as the bunch tried to close.

It was soon evident though that nothing was going more comfortably and all the way up the straight the margin was extended, finally to a full nine lengths over Monsieur Lecoq at the line. He was in receipt of 23lb from the runner-up and no doubt the handicapper will be nowhere near as lenient next time. That eventuality is not worrying Morrison who has newly-ambitious plans for the seven-year-old.

Owner-breeder Lady Blyth had a major part in the decision to keep Not So Sleepy on the go over jumps and now the aim is for Champion Hurdle glory. Morrison went close with Marble Arch many years ago and Not So Sleepy is clearly capable of making steps towards that lofty ambition.

The ground was very testing – it caused the absence of Paisley Park, the one horse that many of the always large Ascot crowd had come to see. Yet Not So Sleepy’s winning time was less than three seconds slower than Mohaayed’s in the same race 12 months before. Mohaayed, back on the same mark as last year, was a long way back yesterday. All the other times were considerably slower – the best being the very smart Riders Onthe Storm, who comfortably beat On The Blind Side in the Betfair Exchange Graduation Chase. He was seven seconds slower than Kildisart’s 2018 time.

Even the real possibility that racing might not go ahead couldn’t deter a seasonal family attendance at a track which seems to hit the right note at every meeting during the year. As I’ve said many times here before, from Royal Ascot down to their humblest fixture, Ascot is unique and the punters just love going there. I do too.

***

One of the most eagerly-awaited moments in my household is the trademark three loud bangs on the door that heralds the annual arrival of the M & S Christmas hamper from the Editor of this publication. If you work for him and he doesn’t send one to you then sorry if I’ve caused envy, but maybe his generosity has something of the “he’s a poor old sod that needs some Christmas cheer” about it.

I rushed to the door and sure enough it was a “delivery for Stafford”. The big box duly came in and as I went to reach for the document to sign, he said: “There’s another one!” I took that in too, and it was in an apparently-identical container. These hampers, there are several to choose from, come in a wicker basket and by now we have accumulated a few and they adorn the lounge and among other things, conveniently house the Christmas decorations so they are readily at hand at tree-time.

I later called the boss and said he’d better check whether he’d paid twice. He came back with: “No, only once. Must be an M & S error, fill your boots!”, or sentiments to that effect.

Later, I was talking to Wilf Storey who I know is also customarily on the Geegeez hamper rota – he trains for them - and asked whether his had arrived. He answered in the affirmative, but when quizzed whether they were the same, confessed that far from containing a cross-section of Christmas victuals, his was purely of a liquid nature, with some exotic concoctions included.

Just as I was terminating the conversation, Wilf asked, “By the way, Brenda <Mrs S> wants to know if you received a parcel from her?”. Mystery almost over and when I finally found where to look for any message from the sender, one was indeed from the boss and the other from “Wilf, Brenda, Stella and all at Grange Farm”.

Of course it was identical. So as Mr Coincidence, I was able to add yet another unlikely tale to my lengthy litany of “can you believe it’s?”. Two people of widely differing backgrounds and age groups in two places almost 300 miles apart, simultaneously decided on sending the same person an identical item from M & S’s lengthy Christmas gift list, and they arrived in the same delivery. You couldn’t write it!
I hope the Festive season is as good for you as for Lady Blyth, the Morrisons and for me and mine!

-TS

Monday Musings: Broadcasting a potential Classic winner

Three weeks ago, following the first weekend of turf Flat racing in the UK in 2019, I could hardly contain myself, writes Tony Stafford. I’d witnessed what I’d believed to be a new star and suggested that Telecaster could go all the way to the top after his debut performance behind the clearly useful thrice-raced Bangkok.

It wasn’t that he got within a length of Bangkok in the 17-runner 10-furlong maiden race but rather the way he accompanied the winner in formation as the pair drew from one length to nine lengths clear of Noble Music in the last furlong without Charlie Bennett even brandishing the stick in the final stages. Silvestre De Sousa was rather more animated on the winner.

Behind Noble Music, an outsider from the Ralph Beckett stable, it was a couple of lengths to Dubai Instinct of whom Brian Meehan was very positive in the paddock before the race. Those observations were proved correct when Dubai Instinct made all in a Nottingham maiden on Saturday evening.

After him came two previously-unraced Frankel colts, both heavily-supported and from the stables respectively of Hugo Palmer (Ironclad, 9-2) and Charlie Appleby (5-2  shot Just You Wait, a half-brother to Teofilo).

Imagine my surprise on the Tuesday after Doncaster when I noticed the BHA handicapper had allowed Bangkok to remain unchanged on his initial rating of 88, achieved in three juvenile defeats at shorter distances.

If that were accurate, then Dubai Instinct would have run to a rating of perhaps 62 and the two Frankels would have been hard pushed to be competitive in a 0-60 classified stakes.

Not that Andrew Balding will be testing that rating – and tomorrow morning I’m sure Mr Handicapper will be having second thoughts – we’ll know at 7 a.m. I’ll be astonished if it’s less than 100 and even that would be conservative.

Last week, having gone along to Hughie Morrison’s Owners’ Day, I couldn’t resist a drive the following afternoon to Windsor. Telecaster looked resplendent as he paraded on Sunday and again by the Thames with both senior travelling lads, Hughie and Mary Morrison and assistant Olli Rix (son of the great Henry) all in attendance.

Your first 30 days for just £1

His physique is impressive, not just his size but also quality and all in proportion, while his coat gleamed. He looked a class apart from his 15 rivals – another big field, this time around a tricky track – yet was only narrowly preferred to another Frankel colt, the Sir Michael Stoute-trained Deal A Dollar ridden by Ryan Moore.

The in-the-know vibes had been strong about Deal A Dollar, runner-up at less than a length on his only start to the highly-regarded Roger Varian colt Kuzaam at Kempton in December, where there were another seven lengths back to the third.

As Ryan took his horse onto the track, he was heard saying: “I can’t believe we’re not favourite”. In the race, once Oisin Murphy had navigated Telecaster outside initial leader and previous winner Ginistrelli - yet another Frankel! – Telecaster made the rest of the running without ever being challenged.

Deal A Dollar belatedly put his head into second place after the two previous winners Ginistrelli and Ragnar had endeavoured to keep pace. At the line it was nine lengths to the running-on Stoute hope, half a length to another Ralph Beckett outsider Future Investment, while the rest trailed along some way behind.

An indication of how hard it is to win a maiden over this sort of trip in the spring can be shown by the identity of the sires. The winner is by New Approach, Derby winner and sire of the 2018 Epsom hero, Masar. After Deal A Dollar, the third to tenth home were respectively by Mount Nelson, Sea The Stars, Frankel, Motivator, See You Then, Toronado, Camelot and Australia, multiple Group 1 winners all and mostly Classic and even Derby heroes to boot.

You can bet there will be some decent animals in there but the Meon Valley Stud homebred simply annihilated them. No wonder the Dante Stakes was being mooted afterwards by Morrison and Mark Weinfeld who, with his sister Helena Ellingham, look after the family’s racing interests.

Luck often plays its part in racing and the fact that nobody wanted to bid above 180,000gns when Telecaster was presented at the 2017 yearling sales, meant he reverted to the family, which races their unsold colts as Castle Down Racing. The fillies of course run in the much more famous black with white spots of Helena Springfield Ltd.

The Weinfelds’ father, Egon, established the Hampshire-based Meon Valley Stud and made its name with the foundation mares Reprocolor, Home and Away, One in a Million and Odeon, all smart racehorses before embarking on their stellar breeding careers.

The level of their achievements is best explained by the home-bred Colorspin, dam of both King George and Queen Elizabeth Stakes winner Opera House and top stallion and perennial champion NH sire Kayf Tara, both by Sadler’s Wells. The stud also bred, having sold her, the Oaks winner Lady Carla.

Telecaster is a son of Oaks and Irish Oaks runner-up Shirocco Star, a direct descendent of Reprocolor, this colt’s sixth dam, if my accounting at 5 a.m. was correct. Part of the plan to win a maiden as soon as possible after the Doncaster eye-opener was to eliminate the obvious fear that Telecaster might inherit his dam’s propensity to finish second as well as her 112-rated ability. Those fears look unrealistic now.

When I spoke to a delighted Mark Weinfeld after the race I suggested he’ll think of nothing else but Telecaster for the rest of the year. Nor will everyone at Summerdown Stables, and indeed nor me. I’m totally smitten. No wonder then that the natural extension of winning (should he do so, of course) a Dante would be a spin around Epsom on June 1.

As Mark rather wistfully pointed out, Telecaster, as befits his pedigree, was entered in the Derby but was withdrawn at the March 5 stage, three weeks before his Doncaster debut. Now he will need a hefty £85,000 supplementary fee to be re-instated. The Dante prizemoney of £93,000 – the winning owner gets just short of 60% of that – almost makes up for it, but I’d question whether two weeks and a couple of days is an appealing or even manageable gap between two top races. Hughie Morrison will know better than anyone.

The style, size and sheer majesty of Telecaster suggest to my eye the Irish Derby, where if he was not entered already for the initial Euro2,500 entry fee, connections would have until May 22 to pay a realistic Euro20,000 and there would still be a last-gasp opportunity at Euro100,000 after the Derby itself.

Of all the considerations – which a spectacular win at York in the manner of Windsor would undoubtedly negate – the 16-day gap is what would nag at my brain. As they always say, there’s only one Derby but, as the late Robert Sangster proved after Pat Eddery’s Epsom lapse on El Gran Senor, beaten by Secreto, was corrected at The Curragh, the breeders rate the Irish Derby almost as highly.

- TS

Monday Musings: Tiger’s No Red Rum… Yet!

So they wound up the clockwork horse once again at Aintree on Saturday and it all went, well, like clockwork, for Tiger Roll, Davy Russell, Gordon Elliott and Michael O’Leary in the Randox Health Grand National, writes Tony Stafford.

Once we first caught proper sight of the tiny star on his bay forehead coming down to Becher’s first time round, there was an air of inevitability about his second win in the great race. Indeed there wasn’t even a frisson of tension unlike last year when Pleasant Company rallied late to get within a head of the diminutive winner.

That horse’s departure from the leading group when unseating his rider Paul Townend at the fourth-last fence took away just about the last potential threat to the reigning champ. Thus the Summerhill-trained nine-year-old was left with the unexpected challenge of the year-younger and sole mare in the 40-horse line-up, Magic of Light.

Her trainer Jessica Harrington will have been especially proud of Magic of Light, running in the colours of the late Ann and Alan Potts, but originally in the ownership of the trainer’s daughter Kate and briefly after the couple’s sad death a couple of years ago, the trainer herself.

Since late December Magic of Light has raced six times in all, including once at Fairyhouse when unseating Robbie Power in the Bobbyjo Chase won by Saturday’s third Rathvinden. The other five represented a tour of the UK respectively at Newbury, Ascot, Huntingdon and Cheltenham before Saturday. One trip encompassed two runs, victory in a Grade 2 mares’ hurdle at Ascot and six days later runner-up spot in a mares’ chase over an inadequate two and a half miles at Huntingdon behind Happy Diva. She spent the intervening days with Paul Webber I seem to remember.

Last week in a very brief footnote to the article I suggested that potential pitfalls of the Grand National course vintage late 2010’s are very few once the legendary Becher’s (no Brook these days for fallen jockeys to roll back into for refuge) is negotiated second time round.

That obstacle’s once problematic nature has been eroded, happily with equine safety and public sensibilities to consider. In three races over the three days of the meeting, started in horrible weather on Thursday for the Foxhunters, better for Friday’s Topham and in glorious spring sunshine for the big race, only one horse was victim to Becher’s.

That was in Thursday’s Foxhunters when the 12-year-old Seefood unseated his rider, Miss Charlotte Crane. He has been racing in hunter chases this season for Justin Landy. The once Dessie Hughes-trained chaser started favourite for last year’s Topham for Dr Richard Newland but fell having made an earlier mistake at Becher’s.

Race-day absentees meant there were 27 rather than 30 runners in the two races over the Grand National fences before Saturday.  Twelve completed in the Foxhunters, with none actually being recorded as falling; three unseated and the remaining dozen pulled up.

Your first 30 days for just £1

The stats were slightly different but in a way just as remarkable for the Topham. Twenty of the 27 completed the course, with three fallers, while two each unseated and pulled up.

The Grand National itself sadly did feature one fatality, the Willie Mullins-trained Up For Review, brought down when the much-fancied Vintage Clouds in the Trevor Hemmings colours, departed at the first fence. In the bad old days it was commonplace for approaching double figures to come down at that early stage.

The third fence also featured in multiple departures, but on the second circuit, as the 18th fence (normally 19th, but the 17th was by-passed because of the stricken Up For Review). Two of Gordon Elliott’s 11-strong team were eroded here, Jury Duty unseating and General Principle falling, bringing down Rock the Kasbah.

But 19 did complete, and of the remaining 21 only three actually fell, with two each unseating and being brought down and 14 pulling up.

It is easy, especially with only the statistics to draw upon, to mention Tiger Roll in the same breath as Red Rum, the first part of whose epic Aintree story was matched 45 years on with a second consecutive victory.

Starting at the same age as Rummy, he still has a fair way to go but the time also to achieve it. There can be little doubt that it will not be easy to gain a third victory next year even though the suggestion has been aired that he “would have won with another stone”, to which I offer the counter-claim “rubbish”.

Tiger Roll was relatively leniently treated by the handicappers. He won off 150 last year when he carried 10st 13lb. On Saturday he was 9lb higher on 159 but carried only 6lb more, 11st 5lb. After his second successive win in the Cheltenham Foxhunters last month, the UK chase handicapper said he would have put him up 8lb for that if the weights had not already been framed. So that will be the starting point before any extra massaging of his rating.

Red Rum’s first win in 1973 was achieved under a weight of 10st 5lb, relatively light in face of the opposition of the top-class two-miler, Crisp. He went agonisingly close after Richard Pitman took him miles clear all the way only to be foiled in the last 30 yards.

The following year Red Rum, like Tiger Roll flat-race-bred - he even dead-heated in a two-year-old race at Aintree six years before his initial National triumph - won under twelve stone top-weight, a demanding 23lb more than before.

One regard in which Tiger Roll has beaten Red Rum was in Saturday’s winning time of 9 min 1sec. Rummy’s fastest unsurprisingly came on his first attempt, but was 0.9 sec slower than Saturday’s time (though the start has of course moved forward in the interim). None of the four Nationals he featured in from 1974-7 was run slower than Tiger Roll’s 9min 40sec last year on heavy going. Twelve of 38 finished last year, the more testing conditions bringing six fallers, five unseated riders, two brought down and 13 horses pulled up.

Realistically it should be possible that faster times can be achieved nowadays with the demands of the old bigger, less forgiving fences with their exaggerated (especially Becher’s) drops on the landing side having been largely eliminated; and with the shortening of the run to the first fence.

Red Rum followed his second win with a gallant second in 1975 on very soft ground behind double Cheltenham Gold Cup winner L’Escargot, who still after almost half a century is my favourite racehorse; another runner-up spot to the very smart Rag Trade (Fred Rimell)  in 1976 and then his march to immortality the following April.

Trainer Ginger McCain had by now replaced Brian Fletcher, successful the first twice, with Tommy Stack, and the 12-year-old again carried top weight, though with only 11st 8lb in the saddle. My earlier reference to the relative demands of the fences was borne out by the fate of many of the 42 starters that day.

Eleven completed but seven departed (five falling, one unseating and another brought down) at the first; four fell at the third, the big ditch and three more fell at first Becher’s. That obstacle claimed five more (three falls, one pulled up and one refusal) second time and it was left to Churchtown Boy, carrying 10st to follow Rummy up the run-in in reverence, 25 lengths behind. Two days earlier Churchtown Boy had easily won the Topham.

Everyone loves a hero and in these days of social media, Tiger Roll is in danger of becoming an object of hyperbole if not hysteria. He’s great and he’s unique in his versatility – evidence his Graded hurdle win this year – but as yet he’s not Red Rum.

For a start to make it three he’ll have Magic of Light, now she’s shown her Aintree credentials, and my on-the-day each-way bet, fourth-placed Walk in the Mill, especially if it comes up soft, to worry about. Never mind what revenge the slighted handicapper will be planning. No wonder Michael O'Leary, his owner, is talking of retirement post-Cheltenham 2020.

What is not in doubt is the amazing popularity of the race, with ITV claiming an audience of ten million. Sorry ITV, I watched it on Racing TV and it was pretty good viewing there too!

- Tony Stafford

Monday Musings: Hong Kong? Phooey!

Why do people own horses? That’s a very good question in these days of high costs and, apart from at the top level, pretty ordinary prize money levels, writes Tony Stafford. In simple terms you have to love the game,  I assume, but some syndicates and racing clubs also manage to tap into social aspirations even for non- lovers.

At the higher level in that regard must be the Royal Ascot Racing Club which not only has the best facilities and catering standards available to its members, but the cachet of the Royal meeting itself to entice would-be adherents. They have also had a Derby winner, Motivator, run in their colours.

Not far behind, certainly for people of a certain vintage – and sadly perhaps racing still relies principally on that age-group – must be the Kingsclere Racing Club. This is run from Andrew Balding’s stable on the Hampshire-Berkshire borders and relies entirely on bloodstock bred by Kingsclere Stud.

Not the least of the appeal is that the Club is able to utilise the historic colours, black with a gold cross, worn by the wonderful Mill Reef, always referred to as among the top handful of thoroughbreds in the second half of the last century. Mill Reef was trained by Andrew’s father, Ian, for the colt’s American owner-breeder, Paul Mellon.

His 12 wins and two second places in 14 races included an impressive Epsom Derby success. His defeats were both at the very top level. As a juvenile he was edged out in a close finish by My Swallow, the champion European 1970 two-year-old, and then in the next year’s 2,000 Guineas when the equally brilliant Brigadier Gerard – who only ever lost once in 18 starts over three seasons’ racing – beat him and My Swallow in probably the greatest Guineas of all time.

Mill Reef would almost certainly have improved even on those figures bar a shattered leg sustained while being prepared for the 1972 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Happily, supreme care and rehabilitation meant he recovered well enough to fulfil a highly-meritorious stallion career at the National Stud in Newmarket.

Even after all these years the sight of those silks coming to the fore on the racecourse gives me a charge as it must the 25 shareholders (that’s the maximum Kingsclere Racing Club seeks according to their literature) when they appear on track.

For an interest in the stated 15 Flat horses – the odd one does run over jumps from time to time – each member pays £6,000 <hope that’s current> and in turn is entitled to one-fiftieth share of prize money, so the management keeps and underwrites at least one-half. In 2018, 14 individual Kingsclere Stud horses ran for a total of nine wins and around £180,000. I reckon that will boil down to around £110,000 of owners’ money after jockey, trainer, stable percentage and other Weatherbys deductions.

Your first 30 days for just £1

So it should still leave in excess of two  grand to each member from the six invested – a not-unreasonable return for the excitement of seeing 71 domestic and a few overseas runs during the year, especially with the social aspect and free admission to the top enclosure on track.

I’m not sure how many of the members – or even the trainer - fancied yesterday’s jaunt up to Newcastle for their four-year-old Seasearch, a son of Passing Glance who won twice last year and stepped up to two miles in 0-65 company. Sadly the jury will still be out on his stamina as he was a one-paced sixth of eight, but the travelling costs for the horse – if not the owners – will have been partially defrayed by prizemoney of £400 for all the also-rans.

The bulk of the 2018 earnings for Kingsclere Racing Club was shared between two horses. Brorocco, who despite failing to win in seven starts, collected most with almost £60,000 from place prizes. The three-year-old Urban Aspect, a son of Cityscape out of Casual Glance, a Kingsclere stalwart, won £53,000 from four runs. After a promising debut third, he won three times, culminating in victory from a big field in a mile handicap at the York Ebor meeting in August.

Four weeks after York, Urban Aspect was gelded and the next time he appeared in a race programme was yesterday morning when he was due to make his Hong Kong debut in the concluding Lung Kung Handicap, a Class 2 race over a mile and worth £111,000 to the winner.

My former Daily Telegraph colleague, Jim McGrath, busily mopping up assignments all around the globe in his lucrative later years, penned a piece about the card in yesterday’s Racing Post. He suggested the former Richard Hannon horse Tigre du Terre was the one to be on.

But in a very competitive field he could finish only ninth, failing to build on a promising debut run last month. If any Kingsclere Racing Club member is none the wiser, I am very sad for you. Clearly a substantial price was forthcoming for their former money-spinner. At that point no doubt any ongoing pecuniary benefit would have ended in the way Motivator’s sale as a stallion did not enrich Sir Clement Freud and the rest of the Royal Ascot RC membership. I’m sure the Balding family and the club officials have that element firmly defined. This seems a very well-run and highly-successful enterprise from where I’m looking.

In the manner of Hong Kong racing, the new proud owner, Mr Leng Shek Kong, chose a “lucky” name for his investment at which point La Ying Star was born. When I looked briefly down the list yesterday morning, I could not understand why a horse with three wins to his name should be available at outsider odds in that 9.45 a.m. race.

Later, having not been professional enough to watch live – and even Jim’s wise words when I saw them had already been overtaken by actual events – I saw that the 3111- form figure horse had indeed won. I’m sure that even after the BHA hike from 93 to 104 as a result of York his previous owners would not have been dissuaded from backing him again wherever he appeared after wins at 2-1, 8-11 and 5-1.

If they were aware of his new surroundings they would have been rewarded at 29-1. If it had been me, I’m sure I’d have missed the Hong Kong wedding but tucked in at the Geordie funeral!

There were three more UK imports in the field. Sixth home Charity Go (BHA106) was also ex-Balding and this was the third Hong Kong outing for the former Fortune’s Pearl. He was a Qatar Racing “discard” if you could ever refer to the high-price Hong Kong Derby turkey shoot in that way, such are the prices received.

Ninth over the line was Classic Beauty (BHA 103) and unraced since winning easily at Naas in June for Adrian Paul Keatley. That was his third try for the one-time London Icon in the Far East where his record stands at 10/9/9. Lastly Tigre du Terre, no name change here, won three of nine for Hannon in the colours of another great ownership entity, Middleham Park.

It would be nice to think that the 25 or however many members there were last year, and will be for the new team in 2019, had their brains on at 29-1. Almost better than having 2% of the £111k!

As for New Year resolutions, I have made one in particular. Here and especially now – maybe later – might not be the place to reveal the details of a financial difficulty that has appeared in the carrying out of my usual function. What I have promised myself is that having spent the first almost 50 years of my horse-racing-aware (so 1962 on) life knowing pretty much everything about what’s running and therefore might be capable of winning each day, and latterly slipped markedly into sloth, I’m not too old or tired out to renew full attention. As someone – more than one – says from time to time, “You can still find them!” I realise, though, you have to look first. I’m looking, mark my words, and now and then I’ll feel confident enough to pass them on! Have a Happy Punting New Year.

 

 

 

Monday Musings: Catholic Boys and Sales Season

So York is over for another year, and judged by the recent heavy rain all over the country, so is summer, writes Tony Stafford. For those owners and trainers whose campaigns have yet to ignite, the coming days will be filled with trepidation as the yearling sale season is upon us and decisions on which horses to retain and which to move on from the present inventory have urgently to be made.

Last week it was Arqana’s August Deauville Sale. Tomorrow signifies the start of three days of Goffs Ireland at Doncaster, the first two Premier, with the Silver sale on Thursday. One agent who should be approaching the coming days with optimism is Sam Sangster, especially where the 2018 season’s results with his new principal client Araam are concerned.

So far, four of six juveniles carrying the blue and purple livery have won, all from the Brian Meehan stable. Three of those won first time out, and Newbury scorer Athmad and last week’s Ffos Las successful debutant Palavecino have already performed at an above-average level in their sole starts to date.

In the old days, much of some bloodstock agents’ and indeed racehorse trainers’ work was carried out in the rarefied atmosphere of London’s West End, and I am sure that Sam’s revered late father Robert Sangster knew his way around the most salubrious establishments in that area.

I’ve often thought Sam was shaping up as the nearest approximation, personality-wise, to his father of the five Sangster boys, even more than the elder trio of Ben, Guy and Adam, the last-named who runs Swettenham stud in Australia, and indeed younger brother Max.

It seems that on one of his trips up west a year or so ago, Sam bumped into a chap who was connected to a Dubai businessman, Saeed Alghaith. It further seemed Mr Alghaith liked horses but was not interested in racehorses. Project forward to now and say hello to Araam.

Two of the six to run have shown special promise. Two weekends ago Athmad, a 92,000gns son of Olympic Glory, was sent to Newbury for a seven-furlong maiden race. Such events there in midsummer are never easily picked up, but Athmad gave a fair impression of doing so, making all and then going further away when gently encouraged by James Doyle. A little greenness causing him to veer right towards the stands rail did not disguise his raw promise and Meehan’s assistant, James Ferguson, confirmed the visual impression that he might well be a stakes horse.

When the Roger Charlton-trained Momkin won a similar event on the same track from a big field the previous month, he was given similarly lofty reports. Thus when he moved on to Ffos Las last week, ridden by Silvestre de Sousa, for a novice event, unsurprisingly he started at 7-1 on.

Your first 30 days for just £1

Thus, as Momkin came through in the last furlong to challenge the Araam newcomer Palavecino, who had set a decent pace from the start, the outcome seemed inevitable, but while Momkin probably got a whisker ahead at one stage, Palavecino rallied under Nicky Mackay for a decisive if narrow win. They had pulled six lengths clear of the rest.

To have two such promising colts from a smallish sample reflects very well on the buyer and also the trainer, who consults Sam on the purchases and who, it should be remembered, is generally regarded as somebody whose young horses are usually better for the run. Since Sangster and Meehan have pooled their brains at the yearling sales, the results have been impressive. I’m pretty sure that in Athmad and Palavecino, Saeed Alghaith could have two horses capable of challenging for some major prizes.

Also, having won first time out with both horses at such a strategically-staged moment in the season, it could be that Sam’s shopping trolley might have even more capacity this time around. He certainly deserves it.

                    *

Ballydoyle had a quiet York, but six winners at The Curragh’s two-day meeting and a much-improved performance back in the US by Mendelssohn in second behind Catholic Boy in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga, known colloquially as the Midsummer Derby, will have cheered up the troops with the autumn campaigns around the globe in mind.

While Catholic Boy was showing himself to be a potential future champion in a messy old year in North American racing, with Justify, the probable winner of that accolade after his Triple Crown exploits, now retired, momentous events were occurring in Ireland.

The most important Catholic boy of them all, Pope Francis, was visiting the country. The day before at York, Bjorn Neilsen’s home-bred four-year-old Stradivarius brought a £1 million bonus to his owner when winning the Weatherbys Hamilton Lonsdale Cup to complete a four-timer in the long-distance series.

Just by one day then, a double-double of Neilsen-Pope connections for me was foiled. Back in the 1990’s I used to speak quite often with Bjorn, having met the US-based financier on his visits to the UK. In 1992 his Assessor won the Lingfield Derby Trial and an Italian owner tried to tempt him with a £1 million bid. On reflection, he decided to keep the colt as he’d grown up in Epsom and wanted to try to win the Derby himself.

In the event Assessor was unable to go with Dr Devious and St Jovite, finishing 13th, but the decision to keep the son of Niniski proved correct as in a long career in the Cup races he won the Prix Royal Oak, the Yorkshire Cup, Doncaster Cup, Prix du Cadran and Italian St Leger. That success almost certainly fired Neilsen’s enthusiasm for staying races, so spectacularly sated by Stradivarius.

Whenever I called his office, as I’m sure I’ve said here before, his secretary called me “Robin Leach” after the “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” narrator on television – obviously he had a tone-less voice. After my sole visit to Neilsen’s Wall Street offices and a six-inch thick deli sandwich down the road, I set off for the excursion train from Grand Central Station to Belmont Park.

I had been staying for that October 1995 trip with Virginia Kraft Payson – St Jovite’s owner – at her house on Sand’s Point, Long Island, but had no idea of the potential travel pitfalls that awaited me that day. On arrival at the station, I discovered the trains for the track had already finished and had to stop halfway at Jamaica station.

Outside I got a taxi, driven by a man with almost no English, and when I said “Belmont Park” he glazed over but let me into the back of the rickety yellow vehicle. After about a mile he pointed to a green expanse to the left side of the road, saying: “park”. Totally disillusioned, I persuaded him to carry on until I saw a line of people waiting at a bus stop.

We stopped and I asked if anyone knew the way to Belmont Park. One lady said she did and she got into the cab explaining that she knew the way as her son was involved in the sport. She said she’d just left Aqueduct racecourse where she had seen Pope John Paul II give a blessing to a large crowd of New Yorkers, one of a number of Papal stopping points around the city that day.

On further acquaintance, the lady said her son Joe Lee worked in Dubai as an assistant trainer with Godolphin. It turned out that my own son, who had spent a six-month spell working with Sheikh Mohammed’s sons in his private sports club, knew Joe, who was a particular friend of Jeremy Noseda’s, as they had lived in the same apartment complex.

We got safely to Belmont, despite the driver but thanks to Joe Lee’s mum and the Pope! After Stradivarius on Friday I had a quick chat with Bjorn Neilsen and told him for the first time of that blessed encounter. It’s been a funny old life.

Monday Musings: Cut it out!

The clock was ticking on towards 3 p.m. last Wednesday, and the staff in Theatre 1 of Homerton University Hospital’s Day Stay Unit – I think that’s its correct description – prepared yet another patient for surgery, writes Tony Stafford.

Actually surgery is rather stretching the point for what was a minor procedure to excise a tumour from said patient’s forehead, except that the patient was your correspondent. An atmosphere of good-humoured professionalism pervaded, but then one of the female assistants to the surgeon confessed to being a little worse-for-wear after a long day at the battlefront between the NHS and the hordes of patients that make never-ending demands on its resources.

“I can’t wait to go home”, she said plaintively, to which her boss replied: “You’ve still got three hours to go.” “I know”, she sighed, adding: “But when I do get home, I’ll have a massage. I have a man to do that, just for the back”.

Already shrouded, in advance of anticipating the various agents of the surgeon’s trade, I couldn’t help but ask, to somebody I’d never actually seen: “Do you have another man for the front?” a question that got general mirth from the other female attendees, and an admission from the surgeon: “I was thinking that too, but didn’t dare say it!”

Having promised to show me the offending cancerous intruder, it was with a little disappointment when 45 minutes later, after the endless number of stitches was finally applied, I was advised to wait a while before swinging my legs off the bed. My first sight was of the surgeon, scrupulously honest with all my questions during the procedure, already walking away to his next appointment.

It could have been anything or anyone. In the initial stages after my 12.30 p.m. arrival at reception, with around nine others I was settled in a small, private cubicle awaiting the initial consultation. It was more than an hour later that one much younger man – in for a vasectomy, poor lad – was getting quite irritated that he might not be out in time to collect his car, as the parking time was up at 2.20 p.m. He was pushed forward a little, but was probably in for pain on more than one front.

Your first 30 days for just £1

The chap next to me, who I did see beforehand, was told by his surgeon – not mine – he would have the one on his (BCC like mine I assume) cheek removed, but he would have to wait until another time for them to do the one on his nose. “And hang on,” the doctor said, “You have others on your front. Could I look at your back? Wow, they’re all over. You’ll have to have them all biopsied!” In that moment I resolved to stay covered up for the rest of my life, just imagining what horrors awaited the poor man over the coming months.

After discharge, I was expected to wait two days for the dressing to come off, which it finally did on Friday night. My wife reminded me that the previous time, four years ago when a more substantial intruder was removed, it had been bleeding profusely as soon as I got home, and by 9 p.m. my head seemed to have swelled to almost one and a half times its normal size, requiring a drive back to the hospital and a night-long wait for attention.

This time there was no bleed, but on exposing the wound, I saw that there is a three-inch line, not too straight either, above the right eyebrow. Cosmetically the last one can hardly be noticed, even by the doctors, but this time I’m going to look more like a victim of the 1950’s gang wars of the West/East End of London.

Before signing off last week I did offer some racing intelligence, suggesting that Laxmi, owned in partnership by Raymond Tooth and his Star Sports Mayfair betting shop pals Shahpur Siddiqui and Dilip Sharma, would run a good first race at Windsor last Monday night. The filly, from the first crop of Coventry/ Dewhurst winner War Command, has Saturday’s Irish 2,000 Guineas runner-up US Navy Flag in the dam’s side of her pedigree.

The prediction proved well-founded, as after a slow exit and at least half a furlong to get organised, Laxmi came through fast and late and just failed on the line to get second behind impressive fellow-debutant Main Edition who is destined for the Albany Stakes. Despite being substantial punters, Messrs Siddiqui and Sharma had never previously tried ownership in the UK, but they have certainly entered into the spirit of their new pastime.

“Sharps” as Bobby (the Taxi) Gray, his constant companion when in the UK from his business base in Dubai, calls him, came alone (with Bobby). Dilip though had half a dozen friends and family with him. To say Dilip’s first contact with ownership was exciting was an under-statement. Both new owners posed for pictures in the winner’s enclosure afterwards and then the rest of Dilip’s entourage stepped in to record the moment, and were still there with the patient filly long after the “horses away” call.

That was probably the most encouraging aspect for a debutant. Calm before the race – her groom almost had to drag her around the paddock – she was equally relaxed after the exertions, never showing any sign of irritation at the succession of human celebrants. Bobby, whose brother Johnny, a one-time jockey with Brian Swift was also there to offer professional insight, reckoned when the filly runs again, Dilip will need 40 owners’ badges not six! My thought was if that’s how much they all enjoyed her finishing third imagine how they’ll be if and when she wins?

You always know from trainers’ entry patterns what they think of their horses, and the fact that Brian Meehan suggested Haydock on Wednesday fortnight as her next objective certainly filled me with excitement. He often runs his decent animals there, and won the corresponding Haydock race with Blue Bayou two years ago.

Talking of Bobby the Taxi, he was destined to meet for the first time at Windsor, Harry the Cab (Taylor to regular readers) and as ever prominent on the box as the coterie of Aiden O’Brien jockeys was instructed before yesterday’s Irish 1,000 Guineas.
Both are black cab drivers of long vintage, Harry being far senior, and they both live in Chigwell, on the north-east borders of Metropolitan Essex, just off the M11. It was strange that they had never met before as they have numerous mutual friends and acquaintances, most notably Maurice Manasseh, former County cricketer, businessman, racehorse owner and close friend of Michael Tabor for most of their adult lives.

I’ve no idea whether Maurice, back at base in Star Sports, joined in the each-way support of Laxmi, but I do know that nobody in the world would have cheered more loudly when Gareth Bale, a client of Maurice’s son David and partner Jonathan Barnett, bosses of the Stellar Group, smashed in the overhead kick to kill off Liverpool in the Champions League Final on Saturday night.

I did intend making my racecourse comeback at Lingfield tomorrow when Brian initially pencilled in Ray’s home-bred juvenile My Law for the maiden fillies’ race, but on second thoughts he has decided to wait for a race on turf.

My Law, a full-sister to the promising but as yet non-winning Sod’s Law, and half-sister to the useful handicappers Dutch Art Dealer and Dutch Law came into Manton several months after the sales intake last year. According to Meehan and especially assistant trainer James Ferguson, she is catching up fast.

Ferguson, son of John and until last year’s Godolphin upheaval, filling a similar position with Charlie Appleby, singled out Steve Gilbey, Ray’s right-hand man in the restaurant after Monday’s race and said: “My Law is going to surprise a lot of people.” I hope he’s right. Certainly, so far, our return to Manton where Ray had plenty of success in the past, has rekindled the boss’s enthusiasm. It helps greatly that he has two new partners who also happen to be friends, to keep up the optimism.

Monday Musings: RIP Bryn Crossley

Bryn Crossley, who sadly passed away this week

Bryn Crossley, who sadly passed away last week

Somebody died a week ago, writes Tony Stafford. It is not often one can say this, but the accident of our meeting made a bigger impact on the second part of my life than anything else. That person was Bryn Crossley, who was only 59 when he passed away in Spain following two seizures, the second of which proved fatal.

The news was relayed to the media by another important person in my life (and for considerably longer than Bryn), former jockey and trainer Vince Smith, who trained Richie Boy, the last horse to win in what were then mine but are now David Armstrong’s red and white colours.

Back in 1981, Geoff Huffer invited me to look after the rides for Bryn, who had joined his stable at what are now the Cheveley Park Stud premises in Newmarket. Crossley had joined the previous year after a spell with Robert Armstrong and was a 5lb claimer who could do light weights.

Very few jockeys at the time had agents but one notable exception was John Reid who had been managed by Steve Taylor of the Sporting Life for some time and with considerable success. Steve and me had two similarities, age (I believe he’s a little younger) and a North London-ish accent, as well as the newspaper connection.

One advantage for both of us was early access to information as the Press Association, my previous employer, sent out racecards for four days hence at teatime every day. We needed to prepare them by marking them up at that stage for when the overnights came through three days later, merely “knocking-out” the overnight absentees before sending them down to be “hot-metal” printed.

Having offered to find rides for the young Mr Crossley, I was dead keen to look through the Racing Calendar, which in those days came through every Thursday from Weatherbys, as it does now, but with a number of differences. Firstly, they covered races three weeks ahead and all the entries were made at that stage.

All the horses were listed and you could see from a long way off where certain trainers might well want to run. For my first look for Bryn, I targeted a race at Doncaster on the opening Saturday of the season – no all-weather in those days – and it was a three-year-old handicap. I settled on a horse trained by Ben Hanbury, called Marking Time, and had the effrontery to ring Ben that night asking if Bryn, who could do 7st3lb, could ride it if it ran. Amazingly he said it would and he could, and three weeks later it did and Bryn gave it a highly-competent winning ride.

Your first 30 days for just £1

That was the first of 45 wins in a season that would provide the cheerful young man from Prestatyn in North Wales the apprentice championship. The world should have been his oyster and after his wedding in November in Tunbridge Wells to Jaci, Monty Court wrote in the Sporting Life that he was a potential champion jockey. Sadly, that was not to be.

But merely the act of looking through that Racing Calendar and at that particular race was to have a much more telling effect on my life for the next decade at any rate.

The previous year I had got to know Sean Graham, the leading Irish bookmaker and, during a wonderful Sunday lunch at the Inn on the Park hotel at the bottom end of Park Lane and Piccadilly, he told me that he had entered an ownership venture with an up-and-coming Dublin-based trainer. Jim Bolger was the trainer and they had gone in 50-50 with ten horses. “He’s a very clever man and a brilliant trainer,” said Graham. “If you meet him, be sure to mention my name.”

Well at the foot of the handicap in which Marking Time was so well placed, there was another name, Lynconwise, trained J S Bolger, Ireland. I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw it had more than a stone less than the Hanbury horse.

Rapid investigation showed he had done very little for David Morley, but at the end of the 1980 season, transferred to Bolger, he appeared in two Irish maidens – we had the Irish form book at the Daily Telegraph, I doubt the English handicapper did – and was placed behind decent animals.

I took my life in my hands and called Jim Bolger. “Mr Bolger,” I started tentatively, “I was talking to Sean Graham and he said to mention his name if I talked to you. Well, I’ve been looking in the Racing Calendar and I think that if you were to bring your horse…” at which point I was interrupted.

“Before we go on, no names.” So obviously the old manual exchanges in Southern Ireland must have had a fair degree of leakage, enough to keep Bolger cautious. In the end we missed what was planned as a triple assault over Easter – Lynconwise had a setback, but he came for three runs over the Whitsun.

In the meanwhile I’d started speaking to Jim on a regular basis, and after his filly Condessa had run a highly-creditable race in the Lingfield Oaks Trial on Friday, I noticed later that evening that she was declared for York’s Musidora Stakes the following Tuesday. I called and asked where she was: “On the way to the ferry in Doug Francis’ wagon!” said Jim. I suggested she might be re-routed to York – “She can’t be out of the frame.” She went to York and beat the 1,000 Guineas winner Fairy Footsteps and Paul Kelleway’s good mare Madam Gay! We were pals for a while after that.

Lynconwise duly came over and went to Doncaster for a mile handicap on Whit Saturday. The weather was dreadful as I drove Bryn north from Newmarket, but as it often does, cleared ten miles from Sunny Donny. We were fourth and when Bolger called on our way back asking: “Should we bring him home?” I said “It’s pouring near Leicester, so it should be soft enough on Monday.”

Bryn was in the saddle and got down to 7st2lb – for the first of only two occasions, the other when runner-up on Harry Wragg’s three-year-old filly, Popaway, behind Lester and Popsi’s Joy in the Cesarewitch – and they careered home ten lengths clear in the bottomless ground, at 9-1!. The following day Mark Rimmer deputised as Bryn was ineligible to ride, and he won the apprentice handicap at the same track with almost equal ease under his penalty.

For the next decade, we had a great relationship with owners like Virginia Kraft Payson (St Jovite), Henryk de Kwiatkowski (owner of Danzig) and Paul Green coming Jim’s way. No doubt we would have stayed in close touch bar my capacity never to keep hold of any of the money that came into my possession, and the subsequent inability to clear a bank overdraft he had helped arrange for me.

The Bryn Crossley connection led to my contacting Huffer’s former secretary, Julia (“Tick”) Vergette, a couple of years later to enquire whether Fiefdom, which her father George trained, could be bought. He had lost his form and was miles behind in a selling hurdle over Easter immediately after my enquiry. After some negotiation with Tick, who was back home by then, I secured him for a song, sent him to Rod Simpson and he won twice after finishing fourth under Celia Radband in the Ladies race – then a non-handicap – at Ascot on King George Day.

Celia, a long-standing extra on Eastenders, recommended Fiefdom to her friends and fellow lady amateurs, Fiona and Stella Storey, as a potential jumper. This led to Wilf’s calling me one day asking if he could still be bought – another trainer had the chance but did not show with the money at the Telegraph office as arranged on the morning of his first win at Folkestone. Later, that trainer told all and sundry I’d reneged on the deal!

I told Wilf I’d be keeping him for now – he actually ran in the Ayr Gold Cup later that year, nice preparation for a jumper! – but that I would come back to him when ready. In the meantime, liking Wilf’s style and politeness, I sent him Santopadre after he was mucking about one morning on the Lambourn gallops. “Shoot him,” said Rod. He had won three times, all with plenty of office support, by the time I was ready to sell Fiefdom.

The price was reduced and later Wilf told me he had expected to receive a wreck as he’d been busy. In the end he was surprised to receive a fine, big horse, which could run off a lower jumps mark than his Flat rating rather than the more normal 40lb higher. First time he won by ten lengths from 10lb out of the handicap at Sedgefield under Kieren Teelan, well backed -  even by me - at 9-2! Afterwards the shrewd and sadly late Alan Amies said in Chaseform Note-Book – “a certainty on his recent Flat form”. Fiefdom went on to win three Ekbalco Hurdles and a host of other races for Wilf. We’ve been friends for more than 30 years since then.

As for Bryn, the catalyst for those two life-changing relationships, he and his new wife decided he didn’t need an agent – “waste of money” was the official reason – and he soon slipped into the mid-range of jockeys, despite winning the following year’s Lincoln on King’s Glory for Philip Mitchell. In all he rode 220 winners by the time he retired in 1993 to join the Godolphin work-riding team. His marriage didn’t last very long either, the first Mrs Crossley sadly soon transferring her allegiance elsewhere.

Monday Musings: David Cassidy and the Sundance Years

Why do so many things happen on a Tuesday?, writes Tony Stafford. It’s obvious, because I write this stuff on a Monday and quite often forget that it’s what I intended writing about and end up doing something else.

Late last night, I’d still forgotten and then something Mrs Stafford threw out in a conversation about nothing – she mentioned “time” – reminded me.

David Cassidy, the singer and actor in the Partridge Family series in the early 1970’s, died on Tuesday aged 67. He’d already retired from the show after which he became the subject of the sort of fan mania that followed the Beatles around in the 1960’s.

His teen heart-throb good looks were still in place when he replaced Cliff Richard in the musical “Time” co-written by Dave Clark, founder of the Dave Clark Five, an early rival band to the Beatles during the show’s two-year run at the Dominion Theatre in London’s West End.

By this period, I’d already been going to Kentucky for a while to the yearling and breeding stock sales and had seen Cassidy a few times at Lexington restaurants. He was a great friend of Barry Weisbord, publisher of the racing industry “bible”, Thoroughbred Daily News (TDN), which still appears in its European version every day at Tattersalls auctions.

On Derby Day 1987 I was surprised when I bumped into Cassidy a few minutes before the race behind the main stand. He asked where would be a good place to watch the race, and I took him up to the press box at the top of the old stand. He was delighted to get a great view of his friend Steve Cauthen winning easily on the Henry Cecil-trained and Louis Freedman-owned Reference Point.

Your first 30 days for just £1

Many people have said in the days following news of his death at 67, suffering from dementia, that he was a generous person. From minimal experience I can fully relate to that. After going off looking for Cauthen he organised tickets for the entire Stafford family – first wife and three kids – to the show and a visit to his dressing room afterwards.

Weisbord related in his TDN tribute to his friend that Cassidy, like him, loved horses and betting, breeding and owning possibly contributing to the fact that he did not end up with a shed-load of cash. I can relate to that too, although where there’s life there’s still hope.

I still bump into Weisbord from time to time and always remember that it was at one of his Matchmaker events in 1984 that I showed just what a useless punter I am. Sat next to Patrick Biancone at Keeneland on the Calumet Farm table, I couldn’t resist betting with Patrick on what the various lots at the auction would make.

The lots, or “hips” as they are known at American horse auctions because the number is put on the horses’ hip, were nominations for coverings by the various stallions. The idea and also commercial viability of the sale coincided with the height of the Robert Sangster – Sheikh Mohammed bidding frenzy when prices for yearlings rose to an unbelievable and never <never say never, Ed> to be repeated $13.1million.

I think we had around 15 bets on what each lot would fetch and I won once; and, as we were going at around 20 bucks a go, it was a very expensive “free” dinner. Calumet was going to stand Derby winner Secreto, owned by the Venezuelan businessman Luigi Miglietti. Secreto, trained by David O’Brien, Vincent’s son, beat his father’s El Gran Senor in a pulsating finish at Epsom which did not result in much similarity to the bonhomie when another O’Brien son beat his father in the Melbourne Cup – though these O’Briens are not genetically related to their predecessors except by geography and of course extreme talent.

Happily for all concerned, Secreto missed the Irish Derby allowing El Gran Senor to win and for Messrs O’Brien, Sangster and John Magnier, O’Brien’s son-in-law, to collect the multi-million stud fee that seemed to have gone by the board after Epsom.

The bloodstock world of 2017 continues to have echoes of its make-up of 30 years ago, and one of the biggest players these days is Peter Brant, owner of White Birch Farm and a New Yorker, like Weisbord and Joe Allen, owner of the last top-class Danzig colt, War Front, and Brant’s brother-in-law.

My first trip to Kentucky in November 1982 was arranged by David Hedges, founder of the International Racing Bureau, who organised my stay at Robin Scully’s Clovelly Farm in Lexington. On the Sunday before the sale we went to the Hyatt hotel for alcohol-free – Kentucky was “dry” on a Sunday in those days – drinks with Henryk de Kwiatkowski, Danzig’s owner, and Brant.

On hearing that I worked for the Daily Telegraph, Brant said: “If you could sort out the unions, British newspapers would make anyone a fortune”. I told him the Telegraph was for sale and he should make a bid. He didn’t and years later spent some time in jail.

During the sale, when I spent much of the time with de Kwiatkowski, we were in one of the bars, when the American owner Danny Schwartz called over. “Rick, we’ve bought a lovely colt”. When I looked at the sales returns I saw the horse had been knocked down to Sir Philip Payne-Gallway, agent to Stavros Niarchos, so in my article I speculated that Niarchos and Sangster had gone into partnership.

Imagine my frustration when I learned that a minor dispute with the print unions had prevented any of my offerings that week making the street. A year later, Niarchos, Magnier, Vincent O’Brien, Sangster and Schwartz were all listed as partners in Seattle Dancer, the $13.1 million colt who never lived up to his pedigree as half-brother by Northern Dancer to Triple Crown hero Seattle Slew.

I expect Barry Weisbord will be at the foal and mare sale this week and next which will conclude proceedings for the bloodstock year. The decent yearlings on sale today will be an aperitif to what is sure to be extravagant business at the later stages of the foals on Friday and Saturday and the early part of the broodmares next week when some choice lots will be eagerly-sought.

David Cassidy made a massive impact, especially on pre-pubescent girls in his heyday, as at least one article in the Daily Mail chronicled. A Grade 2 win for his filly Sweet Vendetta was probably enough to satisfy his yearning for racing success and there will always be others to follow in his footsteps. What could be better than owning a good horse, or even a not-so-good one that gets you into the winner’s enclosure? Not much, from where I stand.

Monday Musings: Travel Headaches

What’s an acceptable time for an aircraft delay, asks Tony Stafford. Mrs S is returning tonight from an unexpected but necessary trip to Moscow and her ETA at Heathrow Terminal 5 is approximately identical to the anticipated arrival through Tattersalls Park Paddocks sales ring of the boss’s Stanhope.

So is it better to wish for baggage handlers or flight controllers to contrive an hour’s go-slow or hope that the 114 horses already scheduled to miss their date with destiny at Newmarket before lot 410 struts his stuff are supplemented still further?

Transport problems have been a feature of the past 24 hours and the small plane taking a number of jockeys and other interested parties to Paris for the two Criterium Group 1 races at Saint-Cloud had a quicker turn-around than was initially feared when the meeting was delayed and then abandoned with just a single claiming race concluded.

Cambridge Airport does not permit landings after dark, so on this first day of GMT after the clocks went back, there were some anxious moments as jockeys anticipated landing at Stansted with their cars languishing in the Cambridge car park. Depending on your point of view, all was well in the end, apart from the French owners’ and trainers’ protest which halted the action.

In the Doncaster press room on Saturday, I had a chat with Marcus Townend of the Daily Mail and the Mirror’s Dave Yates, who both had as much intention of going to France as going to the Moon. “It has to be today”, said Yates, talking of the Bobby Frankel Group 1 record that Aidan O’Brien was to break later in the day. “Then it’ll be a great story. If it goes on until tomorrow, it’s just a footnote”. Wise words, Dave.

Of course, the two journalists will have been busy yesterday packing for that highly desirable journalistic “tick” in San Diego for next weekend’s Breeders’ Cup. Wish I could be there, lads. One friend, Andrew Pasfield, would have shared in the general irritation at the abandonment of the mile and a quarter Criterium de Saint-Cloud race. Luminate, the unbeaten Highclere-owned filly in which he has a share, was thought to be the one feasible impediment to another O’Brien win.

Your first 30 days for just £1

Andrew, who was also in the Melody syndicate years back, had asked in the days leading up to the race whether I knew what Aidan’s team was likely to be. When it became a strong-looking quartet including Nelson, Delano Roosevelt and Newmarket ten furlong winner Kew Gardens, he feared the worst, but the actual outcome was even more devastating.

Andrew was unable to be in Paris as his flight to San Diego was timed – in the manner of Mrs S’s inconvenient scheduling – to leave London as the horses were due to arrive at the start at Saint-Cloud.

The other Criterium, the International, has been cut to seven furlongs from the one mile trip over which the boss’s French Fifteen won six years ago. Highclere were out in force that day, too, cheering on Bonfire, who got going late and finished third. They and many observers thought themselves unlucky, but it was hard to deny the winner, who’d come from even further back under Thierry Thulliez.

There was an airport story involved there also as French Fifteen’s trainer Nicolas Clement had not expected to run the colt in the race when he arranged a promotional trip to China. So he was still in the departure lounge at the airport – not sure which city – prior to his return home when FF was galloping to victory.

My own travel plans that day were more than fraught. I’d arranged with my pal Roger Hales, Mr Reliable to you, to drive me and he was to meet me in the car park outside the house. At 5 a.m. I called to check he’d got there and received the rather unexpected news that he was 40 miles away on the side of the M11, broken down and with no credit on his phone – he was getting that corrected the following day!

So instead of having a bit of a snooze on the way over I had to drive and when we won, needed to enlist the help of a most obliging young lady from the Saint-Cloud office to lug the massive and very handsome trophy back to the car. Several hours and strictly no celebratory drinks later, said trophy was delivered to the boss’s house where it remains on proud display to this day.

French Fifteen, very sensibly, was sold a few days later and went on to finish inches behind Camelot in the following year’s 2,000 Guineas. He had his first crop runners this year and has had only a handful of winners, including one at the provincial track of Agen yesterday, over an extended nine furlongs.

It appears they share the characteristics of French Kiss, Ray’s home-bred colt and the only representative of his sire to have run in the UK – three runs unplaced with the maybe optimistic view that he might win next year, but clearly over a trip.

Camelot looked to have made a slow enough start to his stud career, but there’s been a flurry of talented winners lately. While the son of Montjeu might never be a Galileo, he’s certainly looking a more than decent prospect. How it must have irritated the Coolmore team when he came up just short in the St Leger- especially after the involvement of the winner Encke in the Godolphin “steroids” Al Zarooni scandal the following year. Otherwise he would have matched his illustrious Ballydoyle predecessor Nijinsky with a Triple Crown.

Maybe Saxon Warrior has the tools for such an achievement. He certainly showed all of speed, stamina and determination – the minimum triple requirement for mile, 12 and 14.6 furlong superiority – in winning the Racing Post Trophy on Saturday.

The timing of the turning back of the clocks gave Alan Spence the opportunity to win the first race of winter at Aintree with his £205k purchase On The Blind Side, who outbattled an 80-1 shot in a debut victory the owner described as “perfect”. The 2-1 about what the stable believed to be a certainty apparently was acceptable, too.

One of Alan’s more pressing decisions, following the multi-million sale of Profitable to Godolphin last year, was which of the many offers on the table to accept for Priceless, his other top Clive Cox-trained sprinter. The last I heard, he was favouring a possible foal-share deal involving Dubawi. With John Ferguson out of the picture, Darley better get a decent negotiator involved. Once Alan concludes that deal, he’ll be offering his services to Mrs May and David Davis to sort Brexit. They could do worse than take him up on it.

- TS

Monday Musings: On An Ascendant Arc

Well, in the end I got there after all, and very Happily I must say, writes Tony Stafford. A friend came up with a very cheap – on a par with that bargain basement price for a 3 a.m. Eurotunnel set-off time – flight so, while 6.55 a.m. from Luton was still early enough, there was a compensatory upscale journey home.

So I got to see Enable in her finest hour and at the same time could marvel at the continuing excellence of the Ballydoyle team. Michael Tabor never tires of saying: “You can’t beat pedigree”. It certainly helps, as with the Coolmore team, if you control most of the good broodmares.

Before the Arc but after the Grand Criterium Jean-Luc Lagardere, won by the filly Happily with a rare show of stamina to outbattle the boys, Aidan O’Brien explained the astonishing dominance of the 2014 and 2015 crop of females he has the privilege of training, saying: “Most of our best mares have been getting fillies. Once they start producing more colts, it will change again”.

Certainly Happily qualifies as coming from one of the “blue hen” mares. You’resothrilling won the Cherry Hinton Stakes at Newmarket’s July meeting, and as a daughter of Storm Cat provided a perfect accompaniment to the qualities of Galileo. Admittedly in horse breeding, such an outcome cannot be accurately predicted – at least until it happens. The “lads” have now brought five examples of the mating to the racetrack and Happily, the first filly to win the Grand Criterium for 30 years (unless my quick scan of the names since 1987 failed to unearth another), shares those genes with Classic winners Gleneagles and Marvellous. It cannot be long odds that Happily joins them in the Classic club.

There’s no question that 2017 will go down in racing history as the year of the female. Not only has Enable, in the manner of such developing greats as Sea the Stars and Golden Horn, continued to progress through the year, she reached her peak on the most important day in her career.

Yesterday at Chantilly also provided a reminder that in the early part of the season – the Epsom Classics come within seven weeks of the spiritual start of the Flat season at the Craven meeting – Enable was not a stand-out contender, outside of the Gosden stable at any rate, for Oaks success.

There, just as in the 1,000 Guineas, it was Rhododendron that carried most racegoers’ sentiment – and cash – and for the second time she failed, as behind Winter in the Newmarket race.

Your first 30 days for just £1

A mental replay of the Investec Oaks offers an image of Rhododendron and Enable coming clear but, at the ten furlong point, few observers would have been favouring the Gosden filly. Then the daughter of Nathaniel (son of Galileo, of course) kicked in with her stamina and within a few strides the balance was tilted.

That Oaks image might have served us well when, dropped to those same ten furlongs for the Prix de l’Opera, Rhododendron reasserted her juvenile superiority over stablemate Hydrangea at the Pari-Mutuel odds of 9.2-1. Odds on against Enable, yet she was allowed to go off at a massive price here. She’s come back from injury sustained in the French Oaks; coaxed to race fitness in the Matron under Beggy behind Hydrangea and now rehabilitated at the top of the “without Enable” hierarchy.

Watching her closely as she walked serenely in seemingly never-ending circles around the over-populated winner’s circle, it was impossible not to be struck by her beauty. But the Galileo’s also have that will to win, exemplified by both her and Hydrangea, and earlier by Happily, who looked only the third-most likely as she entered the final furlong yesterday.

The victories of Happily and Rhododendron added to the two Newmarket Group 1 victories the previous day of Clemmie (Cheveley Park) and US Navy Flag (Middle Park), bringing O’Brien to 22 Group 1 wins for the season, within an approachable three of the late Bobby Frankel’s record haul in a calendar year at the top level.

Clemmie, Churchill’s full-sister, is also from a Storm Cat mare, while US Navy Flag is a son of War Front out of one of the host of Galileo mares around the place.

War Front was intended to share that function with Scat Daddy, but the latter’s untimely death in the winter of 2015 balked that plan.

I believe Aidan regards Clemmie, going away at the end of the Cheveley Park, as the main 1,000 Guineas contender – until, like London buses another half dozen come along! – with Happily as the principal Oaks contender at this far-off stage.

One of the less-frequently mentioned, but a dual Group 1 heroine herself, is Roly Poly, and it seems as though she will be deputed to add to the tally in Saturday’s Sun Chariot Stakes at Newmarket. She was just ahead of Rhododendron, behind Hydrangea, in the Matron Stakes and that will have served to sharpen her after a short break following her midsummer exertions.

Arc Day reaffirmed that when his temperament, as at York, can be controlled then Battaash is a superlative sprinter as he showed with a dominant display in the Prix de l’Abbaye over the quirky Chantilly 1,000 meters which starts not far from the stands and concludes somewhere in the forest.

With Group 1 winners Marsha, the 2016 Abbaye champion, and Profitable leading home the rest, but miles behind, this was a run of the highest quality and, as a gelding, there’s no doubt he’ll be back for more next year, granted fitness and temperament holding up. We need a sprinter to rate as highly as the best of the milers and middle-distance horses.

It was an amazing day, when the French, with no winners, were completely obliterated by the British and Irish, and it ended with a memorable Foret triumph for Martin Meade and Aclaim.

The veteran Newmarket trainer, stallion and stud owner had provided the 50-1 winner Dolphin Vista and fourth home Chelsea Lad in a Betfred Cambridgeshire which showed why major bookmakers like putting their name to 35-runner handicaps.

The first three home on Saturday were allowed to start at 50-1, 100-1 and 50-1, combining for a 90,000-1 Trifecta. Just my luck, I had them the wrong way round… in my dreams!

Monday Musings: Tony The Greek

It’s funny how certain comments play on the subconscious, writes Tony Stafford. Many years ago, John O’Carroll, a Daily Telegraph racing desk colleague, with a touch of the gipsy about some of his early life in South Yorkshire, having offered to read my palm, looked at my right hand and refused to tell me what it told him. All he would say was: “You’ll live a long life”.

He’s well on the way to getting that right, as was the senior clerk in my first job at the National Provincial Bank on White Hart Lane, Tottenham, who habitually called me “Acorn Head”. When I recently had the wispy remains of a once-healthy head of hair trimmed off at the behest of ‘Er Indoors, that frivolous observation also showed an element of accuracy.

Then there was Richard Hannon senior, after one of my early appearances in what was to prove a short-lived TV career on the old Racing Channel. “You always look so uneasy,” he opined, and he was right. Uneasy it was, unlike R. Hannon junior, who is one of the more comfortable interviewees among racing people.

One of the less believable observations to my mind came from Derek Thompson, when, coming upon myself chatting with veteran owner-breeder Jack Panos, probably at the July Course, he declared: “You’re brothers!”

But Tommo was not as far offline as I thought. Jack, a Greek-Cypriot, does share a part similarity of heritage with me as my mother was Greek from Egypt where Dad met her during the war.  Jack’s family name is Panayiotou. My mother’s father’s surname was Meimaris, but uncannily, his half-brother’s was Panayiotou also. And I learned at the Raceform Reunion earlier this year from Willie Lefebve, who organised it – Tommo was there too – that I was always known as Tony the Greek. That WAS news to me.

Last year, the boss had his eye on a daughter of Helmet at Book 3 of the Newmarket sale and deputed me with Micky Quinn, who may have recommended her, to try to buy her. The bidding was relayed back to base, but a telephonic irregularity caused confusion and Mick stopped at 30 grand. “What happened?” roared the would-be owner. “It sold”, said Mick. “You …..! You’re both fired”.

It fell to me to pour emollient words onto the flames and remind the boss he’d been advised more than once of a Helmet filly available on the Mark Johnston site for a number of weeks since the trainer bought her at Doncaster. “You’d better go and see her tomorrow, then,” barked the boss.

Your first 30 days for just £1

As we had a runner – Harry Champion – at Redcar the next day, Middleham wasn’t an inconvenient stop-off point and they quickly organised bringing the filly in from the field. One of the things that appealed when she first appeared on the Johnston list was that she was a daughter of Anosti, a Jack Panos homebred who finished a good second when Ray’s Exclamation won the sales race at Newmarket nine years earlier.

The staff, headed by Jock Bennett, brought her in and apologised that she was hardly going to look like a sales entry with all the muck from the paddock. But Jock told me she’d already been through stalls and, a big filly, was around 460 kilos. Now sending me along to inspect a horse is rather like asking David Blunkett to judge a beauty contest, but having ascertained she was a well-developed filly with the requisite number of limbs (four), heads and tails (one of each), gave the go-ahead, in a rare example of Executive decision.

In the spring she came to hand quickly and when in mid to late April she galloped well with two other early types and beat them, all was serene. Then came the bombshell. “She pulled up lame after the gallop”, reported chief on-site vet John Martin, “and we discovered a chip in a joint in a hind leg.”

There was no messing. Within a couple of days, she’d been transported down to Newmarket Equine Hospital and operated on by Ian Wright, the renowned surgeon. Within days she was back walking – no box rest needed, thankfully – and was in faster work by last month.

Mark and Charlie Johnston were in Deauville on Monday last week, beginning the next cycle of sales acquisitions, when they pinpointed Goodwood as the possible starting point for the filly now called Tarnhelm. Ray Tooth has a bit of a classical musical bent and Tarnhelm is the name of the helmet in Wagner’s Ring Cycle, apparently.

Imagine my surprise 10 months after we bought Tarnhelm, I was about to leave York races on Thursday when the phone rang. “Tony, it’s Jack!” At first I didn’t recognise the voice or number and the line was ordinary, amid the after-racing hubbub. But then I twigged and started by saying how sorry I was about his son <George Michael>, to which Jack said he’d been crying for nine months, but is starting to get a little better.

I incorrectly thought he was in Cyprus, from what he said, and he added he’d like to come to Goodwood to see her. Still believing he was overseas, I said, “Look we’re not sure how she’ll go and she missed so much time. Why not wait to see how she does and if it’s good, come with me next time.”

Well, Tarnhelm ran an excellent second behind the Mick Channon-trained Tricksy Spirit, a Lethal Force filly with two runs behind her. Tarnhelm showed plenty of speed to make the running until inside the last furlong, and once the winner and John Egan swept past on the outside, she rallied under P J McDonald and comfortably secured runner-up spot.

Jack was on straight after the race, delighted at the run and revealed that the filly’s yearling half-brother, by Sepoy is in the sales in the coming weeks and there is also a full-sister to her back at the stud.

I had a day at Kinsale stud in Shropshire yesterday for the Open Day and Rachael and Richard Kempster had approaching 100 guests. It always amazes me how quickly the yearlings develop and Ray’s seven (colts by Pour Moi, Mayson and Mount Nelson and fillies by Nathaniel, Pour Moi, Mayson and Monsieur Bond) all looked in rude health. The next task is to allocate them to trainers.

Winners have been slow to arrive in 2017, and so far Stanhope is the only contributor. He ran his best race yet when runner-up to Andrew Balding’s revitalised Rely On Me at Newmarket, drawing three lengths clear of the rest and earning a highest-yet Timeform rating of 92.

Despite her spring setback, Tarnhelm was the first of the Class of ’17 to run, but Clive Cox has entered Nelson River (Mount Nelson – I Say) for Sandown on Friday and he’s jocked up on the BHA web site.

I took particular interest in Nelson River’s two Nathaniel siblings (yearling and foal) on my visit, being reminded as ever that I Say is by Eclipse winner Oratorio out of a Sadler’s Wells mare.  Enable, of course, is by Nathaniel out of a Sadler’s Wells mare.  You can dream, Ray.

Monday Musings: Fate’s Fickle Fingers

Sometimes when watching a televised race, some of the late action gets missed as producers hone in too tightly on the principals, writes Tony Stafford. On Saturday night, the Arlington Park coverage lingered on the winning line just long enough to catch a spectacular, but horrific, moment when a stricken Permian faltered and fell and William Buick was projected somersaulting over his head.

As I was switching forward and back to my normal Saturday night viewing of yet another overseas series – into its final stage – I didn’t keep up fully with the aftermath, save being pretty certain that the brave Permian’s career was at a tragic end. But until the following morning, I was unaware of Buick’s injury to a vertebra. I’ve known William and his father Walter for a long time and hope and trust that his recovery will be swift.

It befell Charlie Johnston to be on hand to accept family responsibility in the midst of a season of hitherto unparalleled success for the Middleham stable. Permian had been the standard bearer, winning the Dante and King Edward VII before failing by an agonising nose in the Group 1 Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud.

He’d only been uncompetitive previously in the Investec Derby, but for once not because of unsuitability to the track, over which he previously collected the Derby Trial. Here he was beaten a long way from home, the serious leg injury which caused the fall proving an undeserved and premature end to a brilliant career.

The Johnston stable has been in the midst of an exceptional run, most times getting somewhere around 18 wins in the fortnightly portions as reported daily in the Racing Post trainers’ feature.

Among the three most active stables – the others being Richard Fahey and Richard Hannon – Johnston has been winning at a considerably higher rate, both in percentage wins to run terms, and on the winners to horses standpoint.

Your first 30 days for just £1

So far 156 victories have been achieved from 914 runs, with 94 individual winners from 184 horses and a domestic prizemoney tally of £2,333,676. The stable’s best of 216 was managed in both 2009 and 2013, while the most prizemoney of £2,992,112 came in 2014. Both those optimum figures, wins and money, must be within reach given the overall well-being of the team.

To compare and contrast, Fahey stands on 127 wins from 1088 runs with 100 individual winners from 261 horses. His prizemoney of £2,834,692 has been swelled by the exploits of such as Ribchester.

Hannon’s 126 wins from 846 runs – 96 individual winners from 227 horses – and domestic earnings of £1,926,341 leaves him some way back in third among the three biggest strings. John Gosden always operates on a more selective level. His 78 wins have been earned from only 385 runs and from 62 individual horses of 153 to run. He has earned £3,137,442 and is in line to beat his previous best of £4,241,991 in 2014, given that more mammoth prizes are likely to fall to his champion middle-distance filly Enable.

A cursory look at the official handicap marks of the 84 horses at present in action in Gosden’s stable explains the high conversion rate from runners into cash. Of 84 with official marks, 20 are rated above 110; 20 more in the bracket 100-109. A further 22 are in the 90-99 category; 16 stand between 80 and 89, with only four in the 70’s and just two in the 60’s.

In the face of such an overall high standard from Gosden, and the greater numerical opposition from Fahey and Hannon, Johnston’s achievement of winning so many races already, with a stable of wide-ranging abilities, is outstanding.

The Raymond Tooth team can hardly claim 2017 to be a vintage year in either money or winning terms so far, but there was more than a chink of light from the Mick Quinn-trained Stanhope when he came right back to the form of his Newmarket late June win when a length runner-up to the progressive Dark Power at Leicester yesterday.

That was creditable as Stanhope had been raised to 82 (from 74) after beating the subsequent dual winner Hart Stopper by three lengths on the July Course. Fran Berry, in the saddle on both good efforts, had been unavailable when he trailed home last after losing a shoe in between the Berry runs. He thinks the gelding has another pay-day in him.

Berry was also on the Quinn team when Great Hall – once owned by the boss – fulfilled stable expectations (backed at 20-1 by the trainer in the week, by all accounts) in the Shergar Cup on Saturday, a first Ascot success for Quinny. I know Tony Hind, Berry’s agent had been hoping for a real run at the jockeys’ title this year, but the early-season breach from his retainer with Ralph Beckett – and Silvestre’s ridiculous run of success – disrupted those ambitions.

With Buick likely to be out of action for a while it will be interesting to see developments in the Charlie Appleby branch of Godolphin, but whoever gets the majority of those rides, big-race opportunities will spread further, and after enjoying the publicity of winning the Shergar Cup Saddle, Fran Berry will be in the frame for his share.

A disappointing Arlington Million meeting for the Aidan O’Brien – Ryan Moore team, headed up by Deauville’s close third in the big race, did not dampen spirits for long, as they collected a Curragh treble yesterday.

Sioux Nation, contesting favouritism with the Gordon Elliott-trained Beckford in the Phoenix Stakes, got home half a length in front to give the trainer his 16th win in the race – a clear case for a referral to the Irish Monopolies Commission.

That followed the encouraging first win of the $3million Keeneland yearling Mendelssohn, like Sioux Nation, a son of the late lamented Scat Daddy, the cost of whose early death at the start of the 2016 stud season, is being acutely realised. When Washington DC ended his run of near misses by taking the Group 3 sprint later in the card, he completed a rare O’Brien treble. Washington DC (by Zoffany) made it three wins in a day, not unusual, except that none of them was for a Galileo!

As for the Tooth team, at least four trainers are reporting imminent action from a hitherto unraced juvenile. I will probably have news of an intended debutant this time next week, but whether we can expect first-time success is quite another thing.

Monday Musing: Making Hayes

Today is not the first time I’ve felt obliged to moan about the difficulty I have in prising information out of the Racing Post statistics data bank, writes Tony Stafford. The new version has all but defeated my ham-fisted attempts. Bring back the old one, please.

Why today, you might ask? It’s all about an image from yesterday’s racing from Galway, which prompted me to undertake a little research. Trainer Brian Ellison and jockey Chris Hayes celebrated a second successive win for the Ellison-trained Dream Walker in the valuable Ahonoora Handicap, feature race on the Festival’s seventh and final day.

Ellison also employed Hayes on the horse for a similar last-gasp win a year ago, and was making it a personal four in a row as Baraweez, caught close home yesterday in an Ellison 1-2-3 completed by Be Kool, had won the two previous runnings, under respectively Donnacha O’Brien and Colm O’Donoghue.

At this point I wish to declare an interest. Back in early 2005, I was at the sales at Newmarket and sat down for an enjoyable coffee with former jockeys and, at the time, trainers Declan Gillespie and Charlie Swan. They both contended that Ruby Walsh was the best rider of either code they’d ever seen, but when I quizzed Declan, whom I’ve known well since his days as Jim Bolger’s stable jockey, as to who he rated the best young apprentice at that time, he had no hesitation in nominating Chris Hayes.

Hayes rode eight winners as a 16/17-year-old in 2004 after a successful pony racing career and was still short of his 18th birthday when he turned up at Hamilton station (if memory serves – it might have been Glasgow Central!) to await onward transportation to the track on April 25 2005.

His Irish weighing room nickname, then and now, was Chesney, as he had more than a passing facial similarity to actor Sam Aston, aged ten at the time and the face of Chesney Brown in Coronation Street. Hayes looked barely twelve when he rocked up in Scotland and first impressions were that it was unlikely he would fulfil Gillespie’s expectations - except that it was Declan.

We had two rides for him, the first on a filly named Ekaterina, named in honour of my future wife. The horse did not live up to even the modest expectations we had of her and after trailing home seventh of eight under Hayes, had only one more run before leaving Wilf Storey’s stable. Dimple Chad, once with Luca Cumani, performed a little better in fourth in his race, but again had no long-term future and was also soon on the way out.

Your first 30 days for just £1

The most significant part of that day, though, was a conversation I had with Brian Ellison, suggesting he might want to employ Chris Hayes when he needed a decent claimer. He watched his two rides and took the opportunity a couple of weeks later when Chris was coming over again to ride Wilf’s handicapper Singhalongtasveer in a Beverley claimer.

That was the second race on the card and Wilf’s horse ran an excellent close second to a Martin Pipe winning favourite, ridden by Alan Munro. By that time, though, Hayes had already been in the winner’s spot after partnering Ellison’s 50-1 shot Seifi to a battling success in the two-mile handicap, going unbacked in this disbelieving quarter.

Twelve years on, the pair still team up occasionally, but of Ellison’s nine Galway runners over the week, Hayes came in for just the ride on Dream Walker.

I’ve still yet to go to Galway because of its direct competition with Goodwood and I’m sure there would have been plenty of those at the normally Glorious Sussex track who would have traded places with their Irish counterparts.

Luckily, I missed Sussex Stakes day, just like Churchill, whose connections, wisely I believe, chose not to subject him to the deluge that turned the ground to heavy. Ribchester, odds-on in the O’Brien horse’s absence, will have had no knock to his reputation after his brave near miss against Jim and Fitri Hay’s veteran Here Comes When in the feature in what was a great week for trainer Andrew Balding.

Instead I was up at Redcar for the belated debut of the boss’s three-year-old filly Betty Grable, who started her career in a quite competitive maiden over seven furlongs. This daughter of Delegator was always immature when with Hugo Palmer as a juvenile, indeed the trainer told me more than once that she was the typical model of a backward horse, with the back end much higher than the front.

With that conformational issue came occasional minor lameness and when she left Newmarket for Kinsale stud, the prognoses were far from optimistic. Eventually she went the way of a long line of Ray Tooth under-achievers, up country to Muggleswick, and the rather rugged grasslands of Wilf’s sheep farm.

Luckily, the Storeys detected after a while she had gravel foot and once they released the stinky build-up of ancient blood from the hoof, she immediately came sound and has never had a lame step since. From minute one she showed talent up the demanding Storey hill, and her debut, returned to Ray’s colours – “she was too good for me to take”, said Wilf – resulted in a promising sixth, a couple of lengths off third.

Of the 13 fillies that took part last week, only two are eligible for another seven furlong maiden there this Saturday, a median auction with a £28,000 ceiling. The only other qualifier is the filly that finished a tailed-off last at 250-1 on Wednesday.

Hopefully Paul Mulrennan, who especially liked the fact that despite an eight-minute wait in the stalls while three recalcitrant rivals refused to go in - she stood stock still, never budging, yet came out running - will be available. She’ll probably get much further in time – she is half-sister to the decent two-miler Gabriel’s King – but this race was too enticing to miss.

For me the highlight of Goodwood was the performance of Winter in the Nassau Stakes. Coming as it did just 24 hours after the trauma of Churchill’s late withdrawal from his objective, it must have taken plenty of soul-searching on the part of Aidan and the owners to let her take her chance on what was pretty much heavy ground.

The fact that she came through it in her first attempt against her elders on that going and over a new extended trip, spoke volumes for her ability and constitution. Pre-race scrutiny revealed she has done very well physically for her short break following her earlier Group 1 treble exploits. Those big feet would have helped her cope with mud, too!

In winning both English and Irish 1,000 Guineas and then the Coronation Stakes, she already has a unique set of big-race wins. This latest triumph must make it easier for the boys to accept that Minding is no longer around to win more Group 1’s. I would not be surprised if Winter were to exceed Minding’s tally of seven by the time she finishes.

- Tony Stafford

Monday Musings: Almost Autumn, But First A Glorious Winter

Don’t look, but it’s August - or will be tomorrow, writes Tony Stafford. Darker mornings and what used to be Glorious Goodwood, but now is officially the Qatar Goodwood Festival, are upon us. I don’t believe Goodwood has ever started as late as August 1 and by the time we get to the weekend, autumn will almost be here.

It has been positively wintry the last few days, but there will not be a shred of discontent from the Coolmore/Ballydoyle contingent if Winter, the second-most predominant filly of her generation after the peerless Enable, should carry her successful run through Thursday’s Nassau Stakes.

Some people may be suited by the various switches to the Goodwood programme, but I fail to see why there is any benefit in moving the Nassau, a perfect counter-point to my mind to the cavalry charge of the Stewards’ Cup and the always-competitive consolation race which precedes it, to the Thursday.

The Goodwood Cup, traditionally staged on Thursday, goes forward a couple of days to the opening stage of the five days, but at least the Sussex Stakes remains on the Wednesday, so not too long to wait for Churchill’s attempt at rehabilitation against Barney Roy and Ribchester, a handy Godolphin double act.

It was hot enough when Churchill could finish only fourth behind his nearest 2,000 Guineas victim Barney Roy in Royal Ascot’s St James’s Palace Stakes – 93 degrees Fahrenheit to my recollection. People everywhere were complaining about the heat, so no wonder some of the horses might have under-performed and maybe that was Churchill’s major reason for a sub-standard effort.

I pass on a slightly amusing story. I was fortunate enough to be based in a box that day and, arriving early with Harry Taylor, had the chance of a leisurely cup of coffee in an otherwise deserted location. Coming inside, I suggested there was a nice breeze outside as I accepted the offer of a second cup. This was greeted with the news that I was sitting with a fan whirring full on right behind me.

The King George duly provided Enable with a third successive Group 1 romp after her Oaks and Irish Oaks successes and firmly propelled her to the top of all the middle-distance ratings, and rightly so. The irony of the result is that while everyone pointed to the fact that she was getting 14lb from the older colts, so success was always highly likely, only one other three-year-old, the Godolphin colt Benbatl, even tried to take advantage of that generous weight concession, in his case 11lb from his elders.

Your first 30 days for just £1

Benbatl had been fifth in the Derby behind the now retired Wings of Eagles and then narrowly won the Hampton Court Stakes at Royal Ascot in a close finish with the Aidan O’Brien-trained Orderofthegarter. His fifth place here was in keeping with those runs and suggested that others of his generation might also have made an impact.

O’Brien ran last year’s King George winner, Highland Reel, and that admirable horse’s full-brother Idaho, but the former was clearly – and as expected – hampered by the soft ground. Fourth place, some way behind his sibling and also Eclipse winner Ulysses, who was a gallant second, represented further testimony to his toughness in adverse conditions.

I also admired the fact that O’Brien apparently had no hesitation about running Highland Reel, never mind Idaho. The pair collected a joint £185,000 for their exertions after which Highland Reel can be rested for a time before more highly-remunerative world travel.

Enable was much too good for this group of colts and indeed the only time she has been beaten, it was her stable-mate Shutter Speed who crossed the line first at Newbury back in the spring. Shutter Speed is one of a handful of potentially-dangerous opponents for Winter on Thursday, as she returns for the first time since her close but weakening fourth in the Prix de Diane in June.

John Gosden also has So Mi Dar to make things interesting, while Nezwaat (who, like Enable, has a recent verdict over Rain Goddess), Queen’s Trust and Godolphin’s Wuheida are other likely runners.

Wuheida, unbeaten at two when she won the Prix Marcel Boussac on Arc day, made a spirited return to be runner-up to the tough Roly Poly at HQ, a performance which looks even better after that winner’s follow up in yesterday’s Prix Rothschild (Group 1) on the opening Sunday of Deauville’s summer meeting.

Last week, I put forward my friend Lew Day’s Raheen House as a potential St Leger winner. Whatever his fate there, Raheen House does have one unique distinction – he is the only male yet to finish ahead of Enable as he split the two Gosden fillies Shutter Speed and Enable in that Newbury race back in the spring.

The outstanding performance on the King George undercard was undoubtedly Nyaleti’s five-length demolition of the previously unbeaten Dance Diva in the Princess Margaret Juddmonte Stakes. Nyaleti had been comprehensively outrun, first by September in the Chesham Stakes at the Royal meeting and then, dropping back to six furlongs, by Clemmie in the Duchess of Cambridge Stakes at Newmarket’s July meeting, but got back on track here in devastating style.

Mark Johnston’s filly is clearly improving and as one pedigree student pointed out to me before and, with more energy after, the race, she probably benefited from the softer ground as her sire, Arch’s, and maternal grandsire Verglas’ produce are usually effective in the soft.

So one might think that the two Ballydoyle fillies that beat Nyaleti are the front-runners for next year’s 1,000 Guineas, but by all accounts you must think again. For hidden away last Thursday night in an otherwise anonymous Leopardstown card, which contained just the four Aidan O’Brien winners – all, incidentally, as Paul Smith might say : “In the purple and white” - was another juvenile who might be the best of the lot.

Running in the Group 3 Silver Flash Stakes, Happily, a full-sister to both Gleneagles and 2014 Irish 1,000 Guineas winner, Marvellous, stretched five lengths clear of her rivals and impressed Ryan Moore. As ever, the biggest task for the trainer will be to plan a path that maximises the potential of all these, and no doubt others to come later. Already it looks as though the English trainers will struggle to make much of an impact in the major juvenile fillies’ races, Johnston and Nyaleti apart.

One of the more interesting aspects of the still embryonic jumps season has been the fantastic run of form of the Dan Skelton stable, enjoyed in equal measure by his younger brother Harry. Both are already into the 40’s for the season and a treble at Uttoxeter on Sunday even had the distinction of achieving the almost impossible – beating an Olly Murphy favourite.

While still in his first month with a licence, Murphy, son of trainer Anabel and former assistant to Gordon Elliott, has won with eight of 15 jumps runners and three of nine on the Flat, for almost a 50% strike-rate.

If the BHA handicappers keep giving his horses ratings like the 47 (won off 50 even with Jamie Spencer’s 3lb overweight at Newcastle on Saturday) for Banff (100 jumps after his second at Stratford on his Murphy debut) or the 43 allotted to Gold Class (103 jumps after beating Banff in that race), then he’ll continue to thrive, even without the obvious ability he clearly has to call on. [In both cases, the mark was achieved before the horse arrived at Murphy’s yard – Ed.]