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Monday Musings: Under The Radar

Nine years ago, while writing a similar column to this in a since defunct organ, I remember eulogising about a horse that must lay claim not just to having gone under the radar, but simply evading all attention, writes Tony Stafford.

By the time of his sixth successive victory, having won twice as a late-season juvenile, and at three, adding a Conditions race and a Listed event before collecting the 20-runner Prix du Jockey Club and the Prix Niel (Group 2), he went to the Arc unbeaten despite never having started favourite.

That’s right, even after gallantly holding Famous Name (eventual winner of 21 of 38 starts, all bar one at Group 2, 3 or Listed level) at Chantilly, he did not even head the market for his Arc trial. He won it only narrowly – his sole win at a mile and a half - so maybe fifth around three lengths behind Zarkava and one adrift of Youmzain and Soldier of Fortune was decent enough in a first defeat.

In four seasons’ racing he won ten of his 17 starts, collecting £2.5 million, bolstered by further Group 1’s, the Prix Ganay, a Prince of Wales and a Hong Kong Cup at Sha Tin. A son of dual Group 1 winner but equally unheralded Chichicastenango – what a great name – he would have been even more formidable had he truly stayed the Classic distance.

Vision d’Etat always showed a turn of foot, so when he retired to the Haras de Grandcamp at a fee of €6,000, there were plenty of takers. Among a numerous second crop, divided between Pur Sang (fully thoroughbred) and AQPS (effectively non-thoroughbred) mares was a filly out of the Saint des Saints mare Santa Bamba called De Bon Coeur.

Yesterday at Auteuil on the traditional closing day of their Autumn season and ridden by James Reveley, she made it eight wins in nine starts over hurdles (she fell when cantering clear in the other) in the Prix Renaud du Vivier, the 4yo Champion Hurdle.

Her maternal grand sire, the aforementioned Saint des Saints, never raced on the Flat and in a 14-race career competed exclusively at Auteuil. He won six of 12 hurdles and the first of two chases, being switched back to the smaller obstacles after falling in his next race over fences.

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As a sire he has excelled, notably with Willie Mullins’ top-class chaser Djakadam, but it is arguable whether he has produced anything with more potential than De Bon Coeur. In his racing days he three times had to give best to the great Marly River, including in this same 4yo championship race.

As in all her runs where I have found race comments, she has been allowed to sit in behind the leaders until mid-race when, as was the case yesterday, Reveley has taken her to the front. It took some believing to witness the way she carried herself clear of her field before the home turn without any obvious encouragement from the jockey and drew away to win untroubled by ten lengths from the best of her generation. Seven of her eight wins have been achieved by between seven and 12 lengths.

Two years ago Blue Dragon won the same race with equal authority and he remains at the top of France’s hurdling tree, even allowing for the fact that he has had some alarming late capitulations on occasion.

So far there is no sign that De Bon Coeur has similar frailties and yesterday’s times take as much believing as the raw visual impression of the race. There were two other races run over the same 3900 metres (just short of two and a half miles) trip.  She was nine seconds (maybe 150 yards) faster than the earlier Listed handicap won by a smart gelding and more than 13 seconds faster than a classy Martalane filly in another, worth 22K to the winner.

Vision d’Etat switched studs for this season to Haras du Treban where he stood at €2,800. I expect they will be busy next year and beyond!

There were a couple of striking performances at Navan yesterday, the Mullins five-year-old Footpad making a spectacular debut over fences suggesting he will be hard to leave out of Arkle Chase consideration next spring. Footpad, a French-bred, actually returned to his homeland for last year’s Prix Renaud du Vivier and was only narrowly beaten into second by the outsider Capivari. That race was run only four seconds faster than one of the handicaps.

The second smart performance came from another French import, Apple’s Jade, in the Lismullen Hurdle. Once with Mullins, she was moved, along with many of the Gigginstown House horses, to Gordon Elliott and the daughter of Saddler Maker will be competitive in all the big hurdles this winter.

If connections of Pallasator had expected (as I confess I did!) him to follow his charity race romp with a debut win over hurdles at Naas on Saturday, they were to be disappointed. The winner here was Next Destination, by an emphatic 13 lengths, in the happily once more visible Malcolm Denmark silks. He has run a few horses recently, still concentrating on long-term protege Mark Pitman, but this one is with Willie Mullins and was not far behind ill-fated Fayonagh in last season’s Cheltenham bumper.

That was the race where Denmark and Pitman enjoyed a 50-1 triumph together, one of eight wins from only ten starts by the brilliant Monsignor. That was his second win from four bumper runs when oddly three of his four riders - Brendan Powell senior, Timmy Murphy and Graham Lee - all won the Grand National, although the latter pair now ride only on the Flat.

Monsignor won all six races over hurdles the following winter beating triple Gold Cup hero Best Mate at Sandown and National winner Bindaree a couple of times including in the Royal and Sun Alliance hurdle at the Festival.

Norman Williamson rode the gelding in all six and will have been as frustrated as everyone in racing in the spring of 2000 when injury prevented his running ever again. Just how far he might have changed racing history must often exercise the minds of Messrs Denmark, Pitman and Williamson. It was nice to see him on show at Newbury races one day a couple of years back as an equine participant in the Retraining of Racehorses scheme and it would be appropriate if Next Destination reaches anywhere near his level.

Saturday in the UK belonged to that highly-efficient dual-purpose trainer Ian Williams. Having won the big handicap hurdle at Wincanton with his Cesarewitch runner-up London Prize, he was on hand at Doncaster to send out Saunter, a recent addition to the stable, to stroll home in the November Handicap.

In the way of such coincidences, Williams has another young horse, good enough to run second behind sadly-deceased Permian in the Listed Newmarket Stakes back in May and to canter away from his field in a Huntingdon juvenile hurdle just over a week ago. His name? Speedo Boy. His sire? Vision d’Etat. Do you feel a Triumph or more likely a Fred Winter coming on? I do.

2009 Prix De L’Arc De Triomphe: Race Trends

As promised, dear reader, today sees the start of a five part series over the coming weeks, looking at five big races around the globe between now and the beginning of November. The stalls open with the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.

In fact, of the five races, one will be held on the first Sunday in October, and the remaining four in the first week of November. So, in chronological order, I'll be previewing the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe; Breeders Cup Mile; Breeders Cup Turf; Breeders Cup Classic; and, the Melbourne Cup.

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With little more than a toy trumpet fanfare (played on a kazoo), then, let's begin...

The Arc is Europe's richest race with a prize of a back-pocket bulging four million euros (or £3,559,283 at the current rate of conversion). I shall be there for the race this year for only the second time, having attended in 1995 for the win of Lammtarra, as a wide-eyed 24 year old.

As you might expect for a race that is such a pinnacle of the entire European racing calendar, there are some very strong trends...

- nine of the last ten winners also won last time out. The one that didn't, Bago, was 3rd in the Prix Niel.

- the Prix Niel has been the prep race 'de choix' for six of the last ten winners. Add to that the fact that last year's superfilly winner, Zarkava, won the Group 1 Prix Vermeille on the same day, and those Arc trials are key. Indeed, all three who didn't run in the Prix Niel won a Group 1 race directly prior to their Arc 'victoire'.

- All of the last ten winners were Group 1 winners, so we can confidently exclude any horse which has failed to secure at least one top prize.

- 3yo's have won seven of the last ten runnings; 4yo's have two notches; and the five year old Marienbard makes up the role of honour from the last decade.

- the winners in the last ten years have been priced between 6/4 (Montjeu and Sinndar) and 16/1 (Marienbard), and nine of the ten winners were 10/1 or shorter.

- 9/10 winners had between four and seven runs that year prior to the Arc win and, if you excuse Rail Link's debut unseating of rider, 8/10 had either four or five seasonal spins before Longchamp in October

- All seven 3yo winners had between five and eight career runs before their big day

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So those are the numbers. Now let's apply them to the horseflesh... (It does sometimes feel a little surreal reducing hundreds of millions of pounds worth of equine racing and breeding stock down to a few statistics, but if they work, they work!)

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Sea The Stars - 3yo; won Group 1 last time out; will be the favourite (three have won in the last decade); had the optimum five runs this season (all Group 1's, all wins), and eight in his career.

Geegeez Verdict: On stats and on form, looks almost bombproof. Almost...

Fame And Glory - 3yo; beaten in a Group 1 last time out (not Prix Niel); five seasonal runs and seven in total ticks lots of boxes. But... he'd be the first to win having not won a G1 or run in Prix Niel last time.

Geegeez Verdict: Readily passed over. Could be a place lay. (Could be egg on my face...)

Conduit - 4yo; won Group 1 King George last time out stylishly; just three runs this year (fellow 4yo Sakhee had just two runs before his win in 2001); typical improving Stoute middle-distance type and must get closer to STS over this extra quarter mile, having been beaten five lengths in the Eclipse.

Geegeez Verdict: Some each way appeal.

Cavalryman - 3yo; won Prix Niel last time out; owned by Godolphin (won in 2001 and 2002); trained by Andre Fabre (SEVEN winners since 1986, including Rail Link in 2006); double course and distance winner including Group 1 Grand Prix de Paris (new French Derby); optimum five runs this season, seven in career.

Geegeez Verdict: Best each way play. The big danger to STS.

Stacelita - 3yo filly; bidding to emulate unbeaten Zarkava (seven runs, seven wins); won all six of her starts to date, including three Group 1's on the spin (Prix Saint-Alary, Prix de Diane - French Oaks, Prix Vermeille - awarded the race after Dar Re Mi's minor interference); had the right amount of runs but may not be up to these.

Geegeez Verdict: May have flattered to deceive and was certainly lucky to be awarded the Vermeille. Not for me.

Vision D'Etat - 4yo; 2nd in Prix Foy last time; clearly better suited by a mile and a quarter (as when winning the Prince of Wales' Stakes at Royal Ascot).

Geegeez Verdict: Not good enough. Trip too far. Beaten fifth last year when in better form (won Prix Niel beforehand). Non, merci.

Sariska - 3yo filly; Oaks winner; beaten by Dar Re Mi last time out at York (form franked since); optimum career runs; will love the trip; probably just not good enough against some of these boys.

Geegeez Verdict: Makes some appeal, but I think her race will be the Breeders Cup Filly & Mare Turf. At least, I hope that will be her race...

Dar Re Mi - 4yo filly; owned by Lord (Andrew) Lloyd-Webber; matured into arguably the best of her sex in Europe after wins in Prix Vermeille (albeit disqualified) and Yorkshire Oaks; got closest to Zarkava in last year's Vermeille as well.

Geegeez Verdict: Probably has the best chance of the girls this year, and could be an each way play on the Pari-Mutuel, assuming the locals overlook her...

Getaway - 6yo; won the Group 1 Grosser Preis von Baden last time (same as Marienbard); consistent level of top class form; too old?

Geegeez Verdict: Was given a shocker of a ride last year in the race, when carrying Geegeez shekels. His chance has surely been conceded to age now. Pity, because he should have been much closer in 2008 (only beaten five lengths having been set an impossible task).

Youmzain - 6yo; ultra-consistent to the point of serial frustration (one win in last fifteen races; TEN placed efforts!); runner-up in the last two Arcs

Geegeez Verdict: An exceptionally classy monkey, Mick Channon might roll out the old 'windmill' football celebration if Youmy could win. Alas, I suspect this is now tilting at windmills.

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So there you have it: Sea The Stars will probably win. But I can't back 6/4 shots in Arcs. So I'm going to go with the Prix Niel and Cavalryman. Connections know the time of day all right and, if there are any chinks in STS's armour (quite possibly not), it will be the Cavalryman that has the ammunition to win the battle (with apologies for a laboured military analogy).

At 12/1 with Ladbrokes, 16.5/1 Betfair, he looks a very strong each way bet and will carry my cash this year.

Conduit and Dar Re Mi look best of the rest.

Matt's Geegeez 1-2-3-4:

1st Cavalryman

2nd Sea The Stars

3rd Conduit

4th Dar Re Mi

Matt