Peter Ashmore and I stood hanging over the rail at the top end of the paddock adjacent to the saddling boxes before the opening race of Newmarket’s July Course season on Saturday, writes Tony Stafford. A big grey colt came by and we agreed: “It’s a giant! Surely he’s come in early before the following handicap!”
Further inspection revealed it was Visinari, a tall, leggy son of Dark Angel trained by Mark Johnston and ridden by an unusually-available Ryan Moore, taking some non-Coolmore mounts on home turf while Seamie and Donnacha shared a juvenile winner apiece at Navan.
A year before, Calyx – earlier in the week reported to have suffered an injury when losing for the first time at Doncaster which will put him out of Ascot’s Commonwealth Cup – won his debut in the corresponding six-furlong race by five lengths and six.
Thirty minutes later Gunmetal, rated 93, won the handicap in 1min 10.76sec, 1.80 sec faster than Calyx’s recording of 1min 12.56 sec on good to firm going. Gunmetal now has an official mark of 104. With the weight-for-age scale decreeing that in the first week of June, two-year-olds should receive 38lb from their elders, for Calyx to run within 1.80 sec (nine lengths) of a five-year-old was meritorious.
So how can one begin to explain what Visinari was about to show us after those few languid spins around the paddock? He was bought at Arqana as a yearling for €55,000, apparently breaking the mantra of Johnston buys requiring dams to be rated at least 90; but Visinada, a daughter of Derby winner Sinndar, has already produced two winning progeny exceeding that level.
It is so easy to forget. Sinndar dominated racing in 2000, winning all but one of his eight career races including the Derby, Irish Derby and Arc for his owner-breeder the Aga Khan. He brings to Visinari’s pedigree an obvious stamina influence, but his winning siblings both showed decent speed on the track.
Anyway, on debut and faced with a well-touted Godolphin colt with previous experience, the clearly well-schooled Visinari went off in front. Moore needed to push him out when Ottoman Court, a son of Shamardal tried to join him on the outside at around the two-furlong pole, and he responded to the tune of an always-extending three and a half lengths.
There were echoes of Calyx in the result as it was another ten back to the rest. Just to confirm what the eyes told us, half an hour later the four-year-old Flavius Titus, rated 95, won the all-aged handicap in a time 0.14 sec SLOWER than Visinari’s 1 min 10.41sec. Add the 32lb (four-year-olds get 6lb from their elders in the scale at this stage of the season) and Visinari has run to somewhere near 127! One can only surmise that with the official going both this year and last “good to firm” and a disparity of only 0.21 sec in the times of the two all-age handicaps, Visinari must be something special to be two seconds faster than Calyx.
Maybe it’s a freak result but looking at Visinari before and listening to what Charlie Johnston was saying afterwards: “He’s all legs and because he’s so big we kept delaying running him until after one more impressive gallop” or words to that effect. The clock doesn’t lie as I could hear Phil Bull saying and those days of yore were imprinted again on my mind in the middle of the night as I prepared to begin this epistle.
George Hill, who one must remember is younger than me, sent me four pages from different editions of the Racehorse from 1965 when he would have been 18 and I had only just left school, almost a decade before I edited the same weekly.
He wrote a couple of columns talking in one about trainer Earl Jones – someone he got to know very well 50 and more years ago – and his horse Honey End, who later finished an unlucky second as the favourite in Foinavon’s notorious Grand National.
Thanks for that Georgie, when will you start coming racing again?
But I digress. So what now for the grey giant? You can imagine Ryan saying in the de-brief: “Well really, he’s so big I’d give Royal Ascot a miss, give him time to mature and bring him back here for the July meeting.” Maybe they will, but you’d have to be thinking Coventry and a clash with the best of Ballydoyle.
Whether that would mean the winning Navan debutant Royal Lytham, a son of first-season sire Gleneagles, who among others had an odds-on stable-companion (by War Front) well beaten in fourth when causing a mild surprise at 10-1 on Saturday.
Thus he became the third winner by Gleneagles and first in Ireland for the dual Guineas-winning son of Galileo. It was always the hope that the king of Coolmore would produce top milers to go with the middle-distance and staying champions, and Gleneagles is the first in a plentiful pipeline hoped to bring precocity to the breed.
Gleneagles has won with three of nine runners so far, and the non-winners include Daily Times, a John Gosden-trained half-sister to the 2018 juvenile champion Newspaperofrecord who incidentally suffered a second defeat of the year at odds of 3-20 (1.15 in Betfair parlance) at Belmont Park on Thursday. Daily Times, the 9-2 second favourite, was fourth behind Visinari, just edged out for third after being prominent for most of the race.
Charlie Johnston spoke about the yard’s Royal Ascot team “taking shape” and referred to a number about to run with the possibility of aiming at the Chesham. That seven-furlong race is not until Saturday week, opening up the fifth day and requires sire or dam to have won at ten furlongs or above.
That qualification lets in Romsey, a daughter of the Coral-Eclipse winner Mukhadram, who opened her account with a smooth success second time out at Chelmsford on Saturday. Unlike the top-end home-breds and sales buys, Romsey started her public life in unprepossessing fashion.
Entered in Tattersalls Book 3 last October from Lavington Stud, she didn’t attract a bid and was recorded as “Vendor 800gns”, the minimum. She ended up with Hughie Morrison. After a promising debut third over six furlongs at Windsor, she went on to Chelmsford and upped to seven, won by four and a half lengths.
When I asked Hughie about the sales debacle, he said. “I went to see her at the stud during Goodwood last year with a bloodstock agent and we both told Al <Alasdair Macdonald-Buchanan> that she’d struggle at the sale as she was so weak.
“I must say, though, I don’t think I’ve ever had a two-year-old improve so much so quickly. Even allowing for her weakness, you must have expected some interest as she’s half-sister to two two-year-winners including Indian Viceroy who won twice for us last year.
“The Chesham might be an option. The alternative, carrying a 7lb penalty running for three grand against horses from top stables, is most unattractive.”
Hughie cheered up the Raymond Tooth team when bringing out Say Nothing for a much-improved run under 9st10lb at Haydock last week and she might turn out again at Sandown on Friday. Stable-companion Sod’s Law will definitely run there, stepping up to a mile and a quarter with P J McDonald’s endorsement after his running-on fourth over a mile on the firm at Leicester. Wish us luck. We need it.
But I can’t stop thinking about Visinari!