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Monday Musings: Never Say No Nay Never

I happened to call Wesley Ward on Friday, writes Tony Stafford. The California-based Royal Ascot juvenile specialist trainer was typically bullish about having a half-sister of his brilliant Queen Mary/ King’s Stand speedball Lady Aurelia ready to make the trip to the meeting in June.

Indeed, after Lady Pauline’s near 10-length debut Keeneland win on dirt a week before our chat, he is even considering aiming the Munnings filly at the newly-branded Trials Day at Ascot on May 1. A £9,000 winner’s prize for the five-furlong conditions race might not be much of a financial draw but the chance to give this precocious filly a sight of the track is something he is trying to sell to connections.

Wesley was also understandably bullish about No Nay Never, his easy 2013 Norfolk Stakes winner at the meeting. Few horses better illustrate the topsy-turvy world of international bloodstock than No Nay Never, originally sold as a foal at Keeneland for $170,000 on 11/11/11 (any significance there?) but picked up at the same venue the following September for only $95,000.

Since then it’s been a case of an upward course all the way. Ward raced him only six times in all, going unbeaten at two at Keeneland, Ascot and in the Group 1 Prix Morny at Deauville. He stayed in the US at three, winning a Grade 3 at Keeneland in between second places at Gulfstream Park (Grade 2) and in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) when Frankie Dettori joined forces with the trainer.

Dettori, associated with around half of Lady Aurelia’s career, John Velazquez stepping in when the Italian had to miss Ascot in 2017, will be hoping to jump up on Lady Pauline. Lady Aurelia had a similar winning juvenile start as No Nay Never, at Keeneland, Royal Ascot (Queen Mary, by seven lengths!) and the Morny.

No Nay Never’s first-season exploits as a Coolmore stallion were so exceptional that his stud fee for 2019 has been quadrupled to €100,000, from €25,000 last year, and Wesley, who has an interest in the stallion, is understandably delighted that the colt he put on the path to the top has done so well.

There was a non-Coolmore No Nay Never colt on view in the Naas opener on Saturday and it would not have upset Ireland’s premier stud that Ming Warrior, a €75,000 yearling, bred incidentally by Anne-Marie O’Brien and trained by the talented Michael O’Callaghan, could fare no better than second.

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The winner, ridden by Ryan Moore, was the Aidan-trained and Coolmore (plus Peter Brant)-owned Monarch Of Egypt, the first son of US Triple Crown winner American Pharoah to make the track. The winning margin for the odds-on chance was close to three lengths.

The name of the game is producing stallions so the fact that American Pharoah was off the bat straight away will have been a source of much joy. Equally the Lads would not have minded that when Highland Chief, Gleneagles’ initial runner, also won on debut at Newbury the previous day, it was in Mrs Fitri Hay’s colours, especially as the Hays are well-established associates of the team.

Highland Chief’s SP of 16-1, despite his being in the care of Paul Cole, one of the all-time skilled handlers of juveniles was a big surprise. I realise it’s a long time ago, but when Cole gets a good horse he exploits its talents to the full. I well remember when he won three major two-year-old races at the 1991 Royal meeting all for the late Prince Fahd Salman. Magic Ring won the Norfolk, Dilum the Coventry and Fair Cop the Chesham. The last-named obviously has no connection with the filly of the same name that runs this afternoon at Windsor for Andrew Balding. She could well win.

Another more than shrewd participant in various areas of the industry is the veteran jockey John Egan, now 50 but well-established as a pin-hooker par excellence as well as father of the brilliant young rider David Egan.

Egan Sr. has been honing the talents of his US-bred pin-hooks, colts by American Pharoah and War Front (this one out of Coolmore notable, Quarter Moon) in preparation for this week’s Tattersalls Craven Breeze-Up and his investments of respectively $350,000 and $400,000 could well be lavishly repaid, with many of the big hitters expected to be around.

He was justifiably thrilled that Monarch Of Egypt has already made it to the track, emphasising a potential precocity in the breed, a remark that goes too for the progeny of Gleneagles when they turn up at Breeze-Up sales this spring and early summer.

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There was a nice result in the Coral Scottish National on Saturday when the Nicky Richards-trained Takingrisks won the £122,000 first prize under Sean Quinlan by four lengths from Crosspark. Before the race Richards had pointed out that his 10-year-old had form on good ground – even though his preceding win at Carlisle had been on heavy! – and that he would get the four-mile trip.

With five non-runners from the original 28-horse acceptance because of the fast surface, it was something of a surprise that Takingrisks started at as big a price as he did, and for the last mile of the marathon he was always going like the probable winner.

Richards afterwards spoke emotionally about the fact that there are trainers in the north of England perfectly capable of competing with their relatively better-off southern counterparts and with some pride that Takingrisks’ owner, Frank Bird, is based down the road from Richards’ Greystoke stables in Cumbria.

I do a daily early-morning job (needs must!) compiling the thoughts of around a dozen trainers on a web site and Nicky is one of them. Apart from being unbelievably frank and accurate about his horses, he can come up with the funniest remarks. I could not have been happier when Takingrisks won, although I must admit to having a small each-way bet while at Newbury on seventh-placed 40-1 shot Red Infantry. Hill’s paid each-way first six. Plus ca change! (sorry no cedilla!)

To give an illustration of Richards’ frankness, I recall his comments about Glinger Flame before that horse’s recent handicap debut at Hexham. The horse had been beaten a couple of times when “expected” for decent novices while appearing not to go through fully with his effort. Nicky said “I never like to call a horse ungenuine…” leaving little doubt that he feared internally he might be.

Different tactics were employed, along with first-time cheek-pieces, in an attempt to find the key and Glinger Flame won by 18 lengths. Wisely Nicky is not letting him back into another handicap, for which he would be 16lb higher after that romp, but instead allows him to carry a penalty in the opener there today. Wise indeed. No wonder he’s long odds-on despite the 13-runner field.

- Tony Stafford

Monday Musings: Defending the Royal Castle

It is unusual in my experience for Michael Bell, the long-serving and usually affable Royal trainer, to stick his head above any particular parapet, writes Tony Stafford. Last week, though, he saw fit to take Ascot to task for allowing Wesley Ward to work his Royal meeting candidates on the course.

Bell, who has ten horses in the Queen’s ownership – only Sir Michael Stoute and William Haggas (11 each) have more – reckoned it gave the American an unfair advantage. This theme was followed up by Sheiklh Fahad Al Thani, the boss of Qatar Racing and David Redvers, the Sheikh’s senior advisor who runs Tweenhills Stud.

Nick Smith, the Royal meeting’s main overseas talent-sourcer for many years, replied that Ascot have always allowed overseas challengers to get to know the track. He says this mirrors the situation for British and other overseas challengers on US tracks who have the opportunity to work their horses on turf, whereas the home team cannot.

Maybe the Qatar Racing gripe stems from the fact that a recent acquisition, the Ivor Furtado-trained Marchingontogether will line up in tomorrow’s Windsor Castle Stakes against not just one, but two of Ward’s flying juveniles.

I stopped off at Leicester one night last month, before continuing on to Chester, and while taking advantage of the new owner food facility – well done Nick Lees! – had a minute bet on said Furtado horse, who duly won on debut at 14-1. The fact that Silvestre De Sousa was her jockey assisted my pin on its way down the card.

Until that day, Marchingontogether had been a financial flop for her breeder Whatcote Farm Stud. From the first crop of Havana Gold, one of Qatar Racing’s stallions at Tweenhills, she would have cost her breeders a fee of £8,500 to be covered, but went through the ring as a foal around 18 months later for just 1,000gns.

Her temporary new owner re-presented her almost a year later at Doncaster’s Goffs sale and her price dropped again to £800. Early indications are that Havana Gold has a future and Marchingontogether is one of six individual winners from the stallion, headed by Havana Grey, winner of Sandown’s Listed National Stakes last month for the Karl Burke stable.

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When Michael Bell (and his brother Rupert on TalkSport, and possibly Rupert’s son Olly, on the telly), speak of unfairness, they might think of Whatcote Farm Stud and the interim temporary custodian of the filly and what they think is fair as they watch their former property line up in the Sheikh’s maroon. At the same time, the lucky recipients of Marchingontogether once Furtado had added her to his string – she is one of just two juveniles listed for him in Horses in Training 2017 – namely Bgc Racing & Partner, will be laughing all the way to the bank.

The two Wesley Ward adversaries to Marchingontogether, both owned by Hat Creek Racing, have single wins on their record and coincidentally both beat the filly CJS Suzie Byu. Nootka Sound, a daughter of Australian-born stallion Lonhro, was first in to bat, winning by more than five lengths over four and a half furlongs at Keeneland in late April.

Four weeks later, the Goffs Ireland recruit Elizabeth Darcy, by Camacho, started out at Indiana Grand. She was the even-money favourite and had almost eight lengths to spare over CJS Suzie Byu, despite that filly’s connections’ hopes for better as the 7-5 starting price suggested.

As ever the Windsor Castle will take plenty of winning with representatives of Charlie Appleby’s almost invincible juvenile team and one-time Coolmore Coventry Stakes contender Declarationofpeace (by War Front) aiming to add to last year’s win by Washington DC in the same race.

Rather than Hat Creek Racing, there is a better known ownership group on what is probably Wesley Ward’s best juvenile contender of the day, Arawak, a son of Uncle Mo, and winner by seven lengths on his Belmont debut last month.

Arawak is due to wear blinkers and carry the colours of Derrick Smith, while Aidan O’Brien’s pair, first-choice Murillo and US Navy Flag will be similarly attired. It will be interesting to see which of the three is entrusted with the first-choice cap.

Wesley’s biggest fish of the entire week, though, will almost certainly be Lady Aurelia, the dominating Queen Mary Stakes winner from last year and later on more workmanlike at Deauville before her third place behind Brave Anna in the Cheveley Park Stakes. She returned with an emphatic victory at Keeneland last month and is the favourite for tomorrow’s King’s Stand Stakes ahead of Marsha and French-trained Signs of Blessing.

Lady Aurelia gets a 6lb allowance from her older filly rivals, including Marsha and Temple Stakes heroine Priceless, whom Alan Spence will be half shouting for, seeing he will get another big chunk from Godolphin if their acquisition Profitable follows last year’s success when in his red, white and blue livery.

The re-match between Churchill and Barney Roy from the 2,000 Guineas, and for that matter Churchill and Thunder Snow from the Irish 2,000, will go a long way towards whether Aidan O’Brien and “the Lads” dominate another Royal meeting.

Churchill starts off in the St James’s Palace in a week when Order of St George (Thursday’s Gold Cup) and the Friday pair of Caravaggio (Commonwealth Cup) and Winter (Coronation Stakes) are all overwhelming favourites. No doubt there will be considerable liabilities for ante-post bookmakers linking the quartet and the layers will be hoping for an Annie Power-type reprieve from at least one of them.

Today’ Racing Post was embellished by news of a gamble on the Jeremy Noseda-trained Abe Lincoln, out of action on the track since a possibly unlucky second place in the Britannia Stakes 12 months ago. Most of the principals in that race find a home immediately afterwards, often for massive money in Hong Kong, but Paul Roy has stayed faithful to the now four-year-old and will be hoping for another win in the race he and Noseda took with Forgotten Voice in 2009.

The Post also tried to link the Abe Lincoln challenge with the background to the Wokingham Stakes success of Jeremy with Laddies Poker Two the following year, in her case after two years off the track. Noseda said the two situations were different. He is correct on one score, Abe Lincoln will certainly not be responsible for producing a dual Classic winner, unlike Laddies Poker Two, dam of Winter.

As to my idea of the handicap bet of the week, it’s another from the Noseda/Roy team, Sixties Groove, who can win Friday’s finale, the Duke of Edinburgh Stakes, after a nice run round on his comeback at Epsom the other day.

- Tony Stafford

Monday Musings: A Royal Villa Thriller

Monday meander

By Tony Stafford

After five consecutive days’ driving around the M25, I spent all yesterday morning wondering why I wasn’t doing the same again until realising Royal Ascot was over for another year. The presence of some Druid-like people around Woodford on my way home from a family barbecue where my children and all bar one of the grandchildren attended, reminded me that, from today, the nights are getting longer again.
Almost half a century of Royal meetings must have offered up plenty of spectacular performances, but Lady Aurelia in the Queen Mary Stakes on Wednesday almost defied belief. She streaked clear in the last furlong, having already set a fast pace, and stopped the clock at a time two seconds and change better than Profitable – told you – on the opening afternoon.

We always learned in the time/lengths equation that at five furlongs, a length is worth 3lb and five lengths represent a second. So Lady Aurelia, winning by seven lengths and up from her rivals, was a full 21lb superior to French-trained runner-up Al Johrah, and two stone and more better than the remainder.

Lady Aurelia was the latest Wesley Ward speedster to grace Ascot and, like Acapulco, last year’s sensation, and No Nay Never, is by the late Scat Daddy who would have been covering his mares at Coolmore’s Ashford Stud in Kentucky this year at $100,000 but for his much-regretted death late last year soon after the fee announcement.

I was lucky enough to bump into Wesley Ward a couple of times after Lady Aurelia’s victory and he contented himself with a measured reaction to the win. “Yes, she’s special” was as far as he wanted to go, but having gone a full second – 15lb - faster than Friday’s Norfolk field he could have been excused for a little more extravagance.

Wednesday was the chosen day for Mrs S to accompany me to Berkshire and naturally we had to endure the showers as we traditionally waited on the front row outside the far side of the paddock for the other (and first) procession of the day.

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This was a very hot contest. In the first of four carriages there was the Queen and Prince Philip, in the second Charles and his Duchess. Edward and Sophie were in the third, and after a clearly staged gap, the eagerly-awaited Prince William and Kate saved the best for last.

Magically, as with everything that’s happened in the year of the Queen’s 90th, the weather cleared minutes before the coaches turned under the stands and bright sunlight accompanied their arrival. For the first time, the boss didn’t have her proper camera, contenting herself with a phone, like the rest of Ascot, on which she recorded the event on video.

The result was a nice moment, captured on the above still of William reacting to some good-natured calls from a couple of Brummies just behind us. “Up the Villa!” can just be heard on the You Tube clip before a louder repetition from his mate caught Wills’s ear, whereupon he grinned, turned round and pointed to the pair.


[Photo and video credit: Ekaterina Stafford Photography]

I thought it was encouraging that a future monarch can be relaxed enough to confirm his affection for his football club – even if Aston Villa were relegated. On Saturday I took the chance to congratulate Claudio Ranieri for his achievements with champions Leicester adding that “we’re Arsenal fans and so is Ryan <Moore>”. To which he replied: “He told me!”

Wednesday involved a quick departure to get home in time for the viewing of boss Ray Tooth’s Acclamation filly Climax’s debut at Ripon and she ran a blinder, three-parts of a length second to more-experienced Rosebride. Mark Johnston expects her to go one better very soon.
Friday also involved an abbreviated stay, this time a mid-afternoon, three-hour limp up to Newmarket for Dutch Law in a seven-furlong 0-95 handicap. He looked sure to win what was the best race he’s contended yet until nabbed on the line by a filly that since her winning debut had never previously raced in anything other than Listed or Group 3 class.

Last time, over a mile and a half in a Haydock Group 3,she was fifth of seven, highly-creditable considering all her opponents, including the pair she beat comfortably, were (and still are!) rated in the 100’s. The handicapper’s reaction was to drop her 1lb, allowing her in this race. If it had been anywhere but on his local track, trainer James Tate might not have entered her at the absurdly-shorter trip of seven furlongs, but he did and Namhroodah did the business battling to a last-stride win.

Jockey Luke Morris was at his strongest and it was not until the last stride that William Twiston-Davies was denied. Willie, delighted with his Ascot win, was a late and very effective replacement for Jamie Spencer, who failed to get to HQ after his helicopter, also due to transport Messrs Moore and Dettori, was unable to take off. They should have used the M25/A1 like the rest of us!

I wonder how long the Goffs London sale will continue. It’s lovely to partake of champers and canapes in the grounds of Kensington Palace the night before Royal Ascot opens, but quite how long can the punters be found to pay what is always a hefty premium for runners at the meeting?
Jet Setting, the 12k Julie Wood cull from Richard Hannon’s stable last October, was the obvious star of the show. Trainer Adrian Keatley transformed her over the winter and spring into a three-year-old capable of beating Minding, later impressive in the Oaks, in the Irish 1,000 Guineas.

Adrian was bullish going into the week with Jet Setting apparently guaranteed the type of easy ground she encountered at The Curragh, so it was no surprise when the China Horse Club coughed up £1.3 million for her. The Coronation Stakes did not bring an immediate return for the new owners, though, as while the celebrating syndicate were popping the corks on Friday, Jet Setting could do no better than a share of sixth place.

There were a few horses around the place for the first of so far three auctions in Kensington, but this time just one in-foal mare gave evidence this was something to do with horses. I probably would still have gone along if the weather hadn’t been so awful on Monday, but I bet most of those who bought horses with Ascot entries that night will be wishing they hadn’t bothered.

This week will be steady until Friday when the boss potentially has three to run, possibly Climax at Doncaster, newcomer Stanhope, a home-bred two-year-old Equiano colt trained by Mick Quinn at Yarmouth and Harry Champion at Newmarket on Friday night.

Later today I’ll find out if Cousin Khee is likely to get in the second half of the Northumberland Plate on Saturday. The old boy has not been on all-weather since running a close sixth in last year’s Lingfield Marathon or on the level since his staying-on eighth of 22 in the November Handicap. Hughie’s trained him for it, but we need 12 of the 51 above him to come out. As more than 20 of them ran principally at Ascot last week, there’s a chance they might not be in shape for another stamina test so soon after slogging through the Berkshire mud.