Monday Musings: A long trek north

It must be an optical illusion. Something to do with the placing of the cameras at Aintree, but I cannot work out what’s happened to Becher’s Brook, writes Tony Stafford. Obviously it isn’t anything like as spectacularly dangerous as it used to be with the big, sloping drop on the landing side almost guaranteed to catch out one or two in every circuit of the Grand National. Now there’s no sloping drop to draw fallen jockeys into the Brook – and maybe even no brook.

What I did notice, having flopped into Wilf Storey’s vacant guest armchair on Saturday afternoon too late for the Becher Chase but comfortably in time for the Sefton, was that they no longer seem to have to twist and turn left in mid-air to continue onto Valentine’s. In the Sefton, two miles five and a bit, they were, as commentator Mark Johnson announced, halfway at the latter fence, the 11th, and they seemed pretty much to have gone straight on at the fearsome fence at which Captain Becher of historic Aintree yore came to grief, leaving his name to adorn the obstacle in perpetuity.

The trip North was partly to renew my 35-year association with the Storey family – the old sausage is recovering from a painfully-injured left shoulder - and also to check in on Apres Le Deluge, on winter holidays at Hedgeholm stud in Co Durham.

I wonder whether the Captain would have approved of the safety measures that many old timers believe have “neutered” the course. I have no such harking after the good old days, but it looked that they went straight on rather than turn half-left. Skilful course management to limit the potential for interference and consequent grief that was always the accompaniment to races over the Grand National fences, especially at Becher’s, or an optical illusion by the latest television director?

We still got a fatality, at the first in the Sefton, and sadly for the France-based Louisa Carberry, wife of Philip and therefore daughter-in-law of L’Escargot’s brilliant jockey, the late Tommy, who rode out two epic finishes – one successful, one in vain – in the days when Red Rum ruled Aintree almost 50 years ago.

I loved L’Escargot and whenever the names of jumping greats come up, I have to point out that he’d won two Gold Cups at Cheltenham before Dan Moore turned his attentions in later life to the Grand National. He was a 12-year-old when he eventually won it under 11st3lb in 1974, two years Red Rum’s senior, and the wonderful story goes that Brian Fletcher, who’d won the previous twice on Red Rum, told Carberry at the last to “go on, it’s yours!” He did, and it was by a wide margin, the weights having turned around considerably from their previous encounters.

Philip Carberry’s elder brother Paul also won the race, on Bobbyjo in 1999, so it must have been an even more agonising moment for the Carberry family when It’s Jennifer, a triple winner in France, fell at the first fence with Felix de Giles and was fatally injured.

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There was a similarly shocking incident at Sandown, which would normally be my choice of venue on that particular weekend, when the London National, over three miles and five furlongs – the course and distance of the old Whitbread Gold Cup every April – ended in confusion and tragedy.

The race commentary in the Racing Post talks of “stricken horses” in the plural and involved a yellow flag-waving official being apparently noted by jockeys who seemed to hesitate before continuing on to the finish rather than obeying the instruction.

Seven were interviewed and given ten-day bans, the timing of which means all seven will miss the valuable Christmas period. Whether the proposed appeals are successful or not, according to a friend, Scott Ellis, who had already set off for the station across the course, it was chaotic with hordes of punters gathered in front of every bookmaker’s pitch awaiting reimbursement. He’d had a “losing” bet using his phone and it wasn’t until he got to the station platform that he learnt the race had ben voided. Again there was a fatality, this time the epic old warrior Houblon Des Obeaux, and the pressure groups who would have jump racing abolished in this country will have tucked these two incidents 200-odd miles apart in their armoury.

One race I had been particularly keen to listen to on the William Hill Radio commentary in another friend’s car – the whole way north, Aintree, Chepstow, Wetherby and Sandown offered wall-to-wall coverage – was Sammy Bill’s second run over fences. Even with a 14lb raise for his debut chase win at Kempton, the Oliver Sherwood trainee still received a handy 11lb from Charlie Mann’s Fixed Rate, who had been off the track for 13 months.

Fixed Rate, a Juddmonte-bred son of Oasis Dream, won his first two races over fences last year, having run 17 times over hurdles. In 26 career starts, Fixed Rate won twice six from six on the Flat for David Smaga and Khalid Abdullah in France, three times over hurdles and two chases for cheerful Charlie.

It took the highly-promising Sammy Bill a long time to get past Fixed Rate on Saturday and I’m sure there are a few big races that will fall to these two talented six-year-olds in the rest of the season. Fixed Rate’s versatility reminded me of a conversation I had last week at December Sales with James Underwood, whose Bloodstock Review of the Year, is such a feature of the Tattersall’s  December sale when he gives it out to all and sundry totally free and gratis. James said it would be his last. “I am 91!" he suggested, to which I offered: “So what!” I was showing him a picture in another free book I’d picked up, a directory of stallions for 2020, a two-page spread of the stallion Intrinsic, who stands at Hedgeholm Stud in Co Durham.

“Oh, Oasis Dream!” he exclaimed. <He’s Intrinsic’s sire> “That horse can do anything with any mare. Sprinters,  stayers or middle-distance horses. He works with the lot!”

Five days later I could have added chasers to that list, but it was uncanny when yesterday, while looking out for Apres Le Deluge, a big grey gelding happily palled up with a quintet of barren mares quite close to the farmhouse, awaiting his return to action next year, the name Oasis Dream kept cropping up.

“That’s going to Oasis Dream; that’s by Oasis Dream,” said Andrew.

My point to James Underwood is that certain stallions get no help in the headlong search for potential mates for mares at the top end of the market. Intrinsic is a case in point. Owned by Malih Al Basti he boasts a top Cheveley Park Stud pedigree and a very active family yet has had only a handful of mares and consequently runners in his first crop. One or two have been placed at ridiculously-long odds, one at 150-1, one at 100-1, and a single UK winner was the Sir Mark Prescott-trained Najm in Mr Al Basti’s colours.

After that Najm was sold privately to race in France, and a glance at the Racing Post shows he won a 10k claimer at Chantilly almost immediately on arrival in his new home. As we went muddily around the farm on Sunday, Andrew Spalding said Najm has actually won three times over there and on looking at the France Galop site this morning I discovered he has indeed had three more races since Chantilly. Initially he finished second before winning twice since, all over 1500 metres at Marseille.

He has met the same horse, Pic Cel, in all three claimers, being beaten by a nose first time, gaining revenge over that horse by half a length on November 18th and then two weeks later giving 4lb and having two and a half lengths in hand over Pic Cel and a dozen others. Like his sire he’s improving with racing.

Intrinsic’s racing career, ten runs in all, featured wins in succession, the first for Sir Michael Stoute and Cheveley Park and the last three, culminating in the Stewards’ Cup for Mr Al Basti and sprint maestro Robert Cowell. Intrinsic, a very good-looking and impeccably-behaved horse deserves more support, as so many stallions do.

The trip was great, but when I got home I looked back at some old videos of races over the Grand National Course and still wonder what happened to the sharp left turn after Becher’s? Did I imagine it?

- TS

Monday Musings: The Have’s and Have Not’s

We all know horse racing is about the haves and the have nots, writes Tony Stafford. Saturday’s epic King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes (sponsored by Qipco) was not so much the ultimate day out for the haves but also a contest after which everyone lucky enough to see it in the flesh, or even I would imagine on television, would have their enthusiasm for the sport at its purest rekindled.

Sir Mark Prescott came out in print recently saying that when riders transgress the whip rules, the horse they ride should be disqualified. That’s an opinion I share.

Often it’s in the most valuable races that those excesses proliferate, where two horses are going head to head as Crystal Ocean and his conqueror Enable did throughout the last couple of furlongs at Ascot on Saturday.

It is in such circumstances, the apologists for non-disqualification aver, that it is almost inevitable said jockeys would need to exceed the permitted levels, whatever they might be at the time.

I can’t really vouch for James Doyle who, on the rail with the whip in his right hand certainly made a number of such motions, pretty much hidden from the camera, but the impression was that it was in no way excessive.

Meanwhile Frankie Dettori on Enable was in full view from the stands and the cameras and held the whip in his left hand throughout. Technically, the “whip in wrong hand” accusation which was generally used in times gone by to indicate and possibly determine blame in the event of movement to left or right, applied to both jockeys in this case.

The fact that no question cropped up is because the brave Crystal Ocean and impossibly brave, talented, brilliant and durable Enable never deviated from the straight.

In a year where Dettori has been clocking up Group 1 wins for fun all around Europe for most of the summer, I wish to commend this as the ride of the season. Not for his strength in a long-drawn-out battle, but for his sympathetic steering. Enable was given a single – that’s right, just one – firm back-hander early in the tussle and then the Italian was content to use the whip solely as an agent for rhythm. Perfection!

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There was also an admirable performance in third by the Andre Fabre-trained Waldgeist who plugged on gallantly clear of the rest to be less than two lengths behind the principals, once again showing his quality for owners Gestut Ammerland and Newsells Park stud.

On this showing Messrs Gosden and Dettori, and Sir Michael Stoute and Doyle, offered nothing short of the ultimate in top-class competition.

Early last week, though, the Ayr stewards showed the one rule for the rich (the haves) and another for the poor (have-nots) is alive and well in less glamorous circles. After a lowly 46-65 mile handicap, the stewards investigated the riding of winning jockey Paul Hanagan on Rosemay and 7lb claimer Rhona Pindar on the neck runner-up Betty Grable.

Unfortunately, on the day there was a fault from the course which prevented any of the races being broadcast live either in betting shops or on Racing TV. They were shown later in the replay that evening and the following morning, but are still unavailable on the internet.

There was (and still is) little indication from either the post-race comments or analysis in Racing Post that anything was amiss, the winner  being  asked to make an effort two furlongs out and being driven out to win. The second led over one out, was headed, rallied and held close home.

But the stewards, in their wisdom, found that Ms Pindar, a veteran of just over one hundred career rides and nine wins, had not taken sufficient action to prevent her mount, a five-year-old mare, from drifting into another runner in the straight, awarding her a three-day ban, which Betty Grable’s trainer Wilf Storey described as excessive and somewhat petty.

For Hanagan’s part, he also picked up a ban, in his case only two days. Yet the reason for his ban was  that he had struck his horse throughout the final furlong from above the permitted height, possibly to my (and Wilf’s point of view) a more heinous crime even than numerical excess.

Hanagan, twice a champion jockey, has ridden 1,966 domestic winners. It seems there is a cosy assumption that the best-known are allowed plenty of leeway while those starting out on the difficult path of trying to emulate their heroes can expect to be treated with a lack of sympathy.

This needs to be addressed.

I think whenever young riders start out they should be shown the film of the finish to Saturday’s big race. Of course very few horses develop the willingness to battle as demonstrated so graphically by Enable.

Some questioned whether the race will have “bottomed” her but no outside agent will have contributed to any energy drain. The way she instantly quickened to join the leaders at the start of the straight having been left somewhat out on a limb after a sluggish start from a wide draw certainly got Simon Holt excited.

The now-veteran, a racecourse rather than TV commentator these days after his long stint on Channel Four, got more entranced by the contest as the line approached. “She’ll win her second King George. What a race! That was a horse race!” Holt said, his voice breaking with emotion.

Many recalled (mostly by repute) the Grundy/Bustino clash and their uncannily-similar King George epic from 1975. Holt remembers it and so did John Sexton, given leave of absence from the North Lancashire coast where he does some presenting work at Cartmel, for yesterday’s final stage of the extended Go Racing in Yorkshire week that ended at Pontefract.

Big John, one time President of the Horserace Writers and Photographers Association retains his love of the sport and he shared it with, among others, John Dyson, a close friend of Robin O’Ryan (brother of late lamented Tom) and a supporter of the Richard Fahey stable which won yesterday’s opener with Pop Dancer.

Dyson had been chatting with me before the first race and when the conversation on the table where we were having a coffee turned to football, he said his brother used to play for Spurs in their double year of 1960-61.

I resisted: “Still waiting”, instead learning that his brother, now 84 and living in Stevenage, is former winger Terry Dyson. The Dysons came from Malton and Terry, he told me, is one of only four surviving members of the double team and the only Spurs player ever to score a hat-trick against Arsenal in a League match.

- TS

Monday Musings: The Magician of Muggleswick

How easy is it to buy a winner? More specifically, how easy is it to go to a yearling sale, outbid all the other potential owners and their agents and have the satisfaction of winning a race with that horse long before most of the others in that sale have made the track?, asks Tony Stafford.

Maybe you need to prioritise? There’s Tattersall’s with its four volumes of the October sale; there’s Goff’s in Ireland and Doncaster, there’s Arqana and many more. Like finding if not a needle in a haystack, a gem in a bucket full of plain glass.

So let’s say we’re quite busy, we have a few quid to spend but as everyone will tell you, the cost of bloodstock especially in the UK, considering the low level of prize money - about to go even lower – is astronomical.

One owner who did choose to specialise last year was a certain A D Spence, still reasonably flush after the deal which took his top sprinter Profitable to Godolphin a few years ago. Alan restricted his yearling buying to the first two books of the Tatts October. Before the inevitable erosion in the build-up to last year’s sale, 517 yearlings were listed in Book 1 and 804 in Book 2. Alan, having as ever done his own sleuthing, ended up with a perfectly-symmetrical result, a colt and a filly each from both auctions.

The quartet was entrusted with his three principal Flat-race trainers; two with Profitable’s handler Clive Cox, and one each with Mark Johnston and Roger Varian. He retained 100% of two and is joined in the other pair by son Michael.

In a year when the average price for any of 392 eventually sold from Book 1 was just over 270,000gns, Alan went to 78,000gns for a son of first crop stallion and former sprint champion Muhaarar and then possibly “stole” an Australia colt from the family of Alexandra Goldrun for 37,000gns, which considering Coolmore’s fee for a cover this year is Euro 35k suggests value in extreme.

From Book 2, where the average for the eventual 631 sales was just under 77k, Alan’s two buys, a Dutch Art colt for 55k and a filly from the first crop of Golden Horn (95k) meant he spent roughly on par for that sale, averaging out the two.

In no way, though, were purchase prices on a par with the stallion averages. More than 20 of the Golden Horn’s realised more than 100k with a maximum half a million plus.

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What stands out, though, is that when West End Girl, trained by Johnston and owned in partnership by father and son, went to Haydock last week, she became her sire’s first winner. That workmanlike display, suggesting elements of Golden Horn’s own style of racing, immediately upgraded the stallion. The ability to get winning two-year-olds will increase his appeal at the next round of sales in the autumn.

Dutch Art has long been a horse capable of siring winners, but Cheveley Park Stud was having problems with his fertility earlier in the year. In Positive, though, the stallion has a young horse which could go to the top, if his debut run and trainer’s opinion have any relevance.

Touted before his Salisbury debut last month, Positive got messed about in his race, being carted almost the width of the track by a hanging rival before extricating himself. Once clear of trouble he galloped to a five-length win after which Cox suggested he was up there with the best of his.

The two Book 1 buys have yet to win: indeed Establish, by Australia, will not appear before August according to Roger Varian. Star In The Making, though, could be just that. The Muhaarar filly was an eye-catching second to a Godolphin newcomer at Windsor, in a race where a King Power runner who cost 600k as a yearling finished third.

It’s not as though Alan Spence got them for nothing, but for an investment of less than half the cost of King Power’s Kodiac filly, he could easily have acquired at least one horse capable of keeping him in competition at the top level.

Who’d have thought when I bought my first horse, Charlie Kilgour, from him 37 years ago – cost £1,000 and won and was sold two runs later! - he would have still been around. Clever man, is A D Spence and a very nice one.

Talking of nice men, I’ve yet to meet a better one than Wilf Storey, who I first encountered a year or two after the Charlie Kilgour episode.
I’ve related in this feature a time or two about his and my frustrations that the Racing Club we planned never got off the ground. Despite the help of this website’s owner, the aim to sell 20 shares in six horses at what even now looks a ridiculously cheap price proved impossible.

Two of the six were quickly passed on to Tony Carroll, who won three races (two hurdles) and collected a Triumph Hurdle fourth with Nelson River, while French Kiss also showed promise. Adrakhan was sold and Climax has had to be put down because of injury, but in deepest Durham something stirred.

Betty Grable, always thought to be decent by Stella Storey, has clicked this year with three wins and two second places, the last of them at Carlisle on Saturday night when Rhona Pindar told Wilf she didn’t enjoy the fast ground.

Down and out with owners near-enough impossible to attract – he even tried giving away half shares in Betty for FREE after her first win this year with no response – the gallop either washed away or under inches of snow, Wilf feared for the worst, especially when Stella, his right hand, needed hospital treatment.

It was a long slow road back. We’d advertised the sextet in the wake of Wilf’s best ever year after 40 years with a licence in terms of wins (11) and prize money. Last year it was down to two and half the money, seemingly a terminal decline.
But then came a mild winter, unlike last year when he and his older daughter Fiona were having daily to collect dead lambs with the ewes unable to cope with the extreme conditions. The gallop was still intermittently unusable, but by dancing delicately around it, and Stella restored to full health, the winners have started again.
Betty set the pace and then deservedly enjoyed a nice win with the still-developing Nearly There, not one of the Racing Club team. Maybe the most significant upturn of all came also at Carlisle on Saturday, in the shape of one of the most spectacular wins I’ve seen this year. If you don’t believe me look at the film.

Of course the Racing Post had to preface its comments with the observation this “very modest handicap” even though some of the also-rans had marks in the high 60’s. There are plenty of 0-55’s you can point to, Racing Post.

What was remarkable was that Tarnhelm, forced, with two other out-of-training fillies to vegetate in a snow-bound paddock for the first few months of last year, finally got her act together more than two years after running a highly-promising second at Goodwood in Ray Tooth’s colours for Mark Johnston.

On Saturday, with injury problems finally behind her and dropping back to six furlongs, she was very slowly away. Tarnhelm was still last inside the final two furlongs from which point she and Ms Pindar sluiced through the field, winning by more than two lengths at 20/1.
Now Wilf has five for the season, can hope for another with Tarnhelm back unpenalised at Carlisle on Thursday, and has a number of others in his seven-horse team primed to win. Who says he won’t beat his best? Nice guys can come out on top, it’s just never easy!

- TS

Monday Musings: Join The Racing Club

I know that at least 25 people see these ramblings every week – I send them to that number of friends and acquaintances and they get them, errors and all, without the benefit of the editor/proprietor’s editing, writes Tony Stafford.

We both – the prop and me - like to think that a fair number more see them on the website pages. [We have metrics for that, and I know they are! – Ed.] Two weeks ago, when I  saw fit to explain why I’d be missing the opening day of the Craven meeting, I was more than surprised at quite how many people outside that inner 25 wished me well for my forthcoming little bit of surgery to remove the latest BCC from my person.

This early morning, I’ve tried to calculate how many weekly offerings I’ve made and it appears that they’ve been going since at least May 8th 2012. Even that might not be the starting date as in that piece I referred to Matt Bisogno as though we’d already been associated for some time.

But at any rate, it’s at least 300 articles. When I start something I like to stick to it. A couple of years after my second marriage – coming up to ten years ago already – my wife suggested the fact that my first had lasted for more than 30 years had been a positive rather than negative recommendation. This time, hopefully, it will last!

But I have to admit, the lead-up to this article has been the hardest of all the 300. I’ve found it almost impossible to sleep lately, as for the past few months I have been the agent of causing an almost impossible situation for one of my longest-standing friends.

The wintry weather in the North of England has probably been an even more malign influence on the situation in which Wilf Storey finds himself. On the heels of his best-ever season, most wins and highest prize money, I came up with the idea of the Wilf Storey Racing Club and that’s where the problem started. But from early December, it’s been a case of rain washing out the gallop, before almost permafrost in January and February. Then it was snow, blown in drifts across the moors, so when it had cleared in the south it was still stacked four-feet deep in places behind the stone walls at Grange Farm, Muggleswick, while impassable roads often prevented staff getting in to work.

When it’s nice there, as it was two weekends ago on my latest visit with the sun shining with malicious deceit just 24 hours after the previous day-long deluge made the gallop unusable for the umpteenth time, it’s lovely. But, for Wilf and family, it was only a couple of days since the open-topped van came once more to collect the many dead new-born lambs too weak to withstand the rigours of the never-ending winter.

January to March had been the launchpad for Storey’s 2017 campaign, taking advantage of the newly-instigated Newcastle Tapeta to get the horses going. They didn’t all appreciate the surface, but its proximity, less than 40 minutes by horse-trailer, opened up a new opportunity. Previously the nearest all-weather surface was at Southwell, 150 miles away.

Wolverhampton is more like two hundred and, as when Nelson’s Bay ran an amazing race, finishing fast into third as a 20-1 outsider in the 8.45 finale one night in early December 2014, Wilf’s daughter and assistant trainer Stella was forced to stay behind with jockey Emma Sayer for at least an hour and a half before officialdom would release them after an inquiry as to whether the horse had tried or not. They made it back sometime after 2.30 a.m.

Emboldened by the 2017 results, we came up with the idea of the Wilf Storey Racing Club, not so much a club as a syndicate or partnership. We had the six horses, all sourced by me via Raymond Tooth, and all with form and handicap ratings. Only one of the six, Climax, had any soundness issues, having been injured when with Mark Johnston in the previous year, but now fully recovered. The other five - Adrakhan, Nelson River, French Kiss, Betty Grable and Tarnhelm - all ran regularly last year.

For the past 33 years, ever since he called out of the blue to the Daily Telegraph to ask whether  Fiefdom might be for sale, I’ve been struck by his honesty, loyalty, and the ability to get the best out of the animals in his care.

As a noted stockman Wilf always reared cattle and sheep; branded cattle, bought, trained and sold “flappers” and even raced greyhounds for a time. He could easily have won “One man and his dog” as his mastery of developing sheepdogs to control the herd of sheep which has more than subsidised the horse training business for years is peerless.

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Fiefdom, after a break, was eventually secured from me and in no time at all developed from a 0-75 miler to a staying hurdler in the high-120’s winning three Ekbalco Hurdles. As a result of the impression that single phone call made, in between those events, I reacted to being told by Rod Simpson to give away two of “my” horses – I hadn’t paid Malcolm Parrish for them, or the other eight yet! – as they had been “mucking about” on the gallops.

Asking whether he had anyone with “two grand for Santopadre”, Wilf replied, as he pretty much has every time I’ve asked the same question in the intervening decades: “No.” He went up there anyway and after an initial Musselburgh run where the grey showed unexpected talent in a seven-furlong race, Wilf schooled him over hurdles.

In those days I was buying quite a few horses for Terry Ramsden, and he was alerted when Santopadre – seriously unfit as originally I was hoping to set up a handicap coup of sorts on the Flat – lined up for his jumps debut at Hexham, in a selling hurdle.

Shortened up from 20-1 to 13-2, Santopadre got up on the line, and then followed up with two more wins. First he beat stablemate (a £500-odd Doncaster buy) Stars Delight - later rated in the high 150’s - in a Newcastle claimer, before winning a Wetherby novice under a double penalty by 15 lengths, after which Ramsden bought me out. Santopadre was fifth in that season’s Triumph Hurdle, not quite getting home after looking a threat to all going to the last.

It was at this time that Jockey Club security requested an informal meeting with me at Ascot racecourse. Their starting proposition was that this character Wilf Storey had suddenly started having heavily-backed winners and their “information” was that the horses were still actually being trained by Rod Simpson. I told them having known Rod, an excellent stable man, for many years, in my opinion, admittedly on much shorter acquaintance, Storey was the superior horseman. Their information, I told them, was nonsense.

The bargain theme continued with Great Easby, I forget whether it was £1,000 or £2,000 from the late Robert Sangster for the son of Caerleon who’d been totally devoid of pace and ability in training with Peter Chapple-Hyam at Manton. Wilf won Flat staying races at places like Goodwood, Haydock and Kempton as well as the 32-runner Gold Card Hurdle (now Pertemps) at the Cheltenham Festival with him.

The Sangster connection has a more recent chapter. In the days when I still went every week to watch Brian Meehan’s horses on gallops Thursdays, I was always struck by one horse whose work seemed unbelievably moderate compared to everything else. His name was Card High, and after a final humiliation, Guy and Ben Sangster were advised to “get rid of him” by the trainer. “I know someone who’ll take him,” I piped up, and off he went to Co Durham. It took time and TLC to turn the decently-bred animal into a racehorse, but as usual Wilf found the key and Card High had a great 2016, winning Catterick’s valuable mile and a half handicap in the autumn. Card High was off for a long time last year, but is one of two Storey stayers lined up to give the team their initial runner for several months on the same track on Wednesday.

The other is Mr Sundowner. As regular readers will know, I’ve often joked about the “only Scat Daddy in Muggleswick”. The last two-year-olds by that ill-starred stallion, who died two years ago, went through the ring at Tattersalls Craven Breeze-Up sale last week and fetched up to 900,000gns with several others from half a million upwards.

We paid 600 quid for Mr Sundowner and last year he followed Card High by winning the same Catterick race, among four handicaps Wilf won with the former Newmarket discard.

So now here we were. Wilf was telling me: “Stella says we’ve never had horses of the quality of these. They’re all well handicapped, eligible to run where they can win and the prizemoney situation is better than before”.

So the plan was set. “Make them as decent value as we can, and with affordable training fees.” I would speak to my contacts and friends. We needed 20 people  – 5% shares of £1,800 and training of just £240 a month, first two months up front  – working out about a third pro-rata of many of the syndicates advertised in the Racing Post and on sites like Racehorses for Sale.

We chose that medium, and the first day, a man from Liverpool said if he took six shares (30%), would he still have to pay two months in advance? I started life in a Council estate, so should have realised that Mr Liverpool might not be serious. He wasn’t.

Right at the start of this over-long ramble, I mentioned Matt B, and have to say that all through the months of would-be preparation, making the web site right and factually accurate and honest, Matt said, only one thing matters, getting the members over the line.

It’s slightly embarrassing to have a mentor three decades one’s junior, but that’s Matt to me. He was so right, and for the past 10 weeks, what I thought to be potential members have slipped through the fingers, each subsequent week putting Wilf in more serious financial strife.

I believe Betty Grable, trying a new more suitable longer trip, will run very well at Newcastle next week and seven-year-old Adrakhan, a winner over hurdles with Dan Skelton; twice successful on the Flat last year, and according to Stella still improving but rated only 48, will be out soon too.

The two big boys, Nelson River and French Kiss, are potential three-year-old stayers with the physique to go jumping later in the year. The fear is they will have to be sold to arrest the financial drain on Wilf, for which I will be eternally ashamed.

The luckless 25 who get this unadorned each week, will see these words. I hope the Editor, whose own syndicates have done so well, and on whose pro-forma our Agreement has been closely based, will allow this one try at publicising the awful situation into which I’ve placed Wilf Storey, his family and staff.

Wilf has no doubt that if we can get a few people in all will be well. The horses will do their own advertising once they get on the track. The sun’s been shining in Muggleswick for the past week – let’s hope it’s not just to mock the efforts of the most admirable person I’ve met in my long life. So one last plea: look at and see the pictures of the horses and the entirely truthful write-ups of them all. Thanks, and sorry to be so long-winded. It won’t happen again, I promise!

On a slightly different tack: after that unlucky run at Aintree, Theinval did indeed as predicted win at  Aintree, but naturally not on the Friday, which we knew about last Monday morning. He was unlucky again that day, landing slap bang on a faller. Of course, he turned out yet again the following day and won. Better late than never I suppose.

- Tony Stafford


Editor's side note: I have had horses with Wilf for four years. Not only is he great value in terms of training costs, but he is also one of those rare breeds who have forgotten more about stock than the likes of me will ever know. He's a humble gracious man and, most importantly in this context, a bloody good trainer! If you happen to live in Scotland or the north of England, it's a pound to a penny that you won't find a better opportunity to indulge your racing passion than this. With six horses running, the likelihood you'll have an option to go racing as an owner at least once most weeks through the flat season. I'm joining today - Matt

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.

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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: Trainers Old, Trainers New

The snag with writing anything with the following weekend in mind is that entries for most races are not revealed until after midday on Monday, writes Tony Stafford. This particular week, with Newmarket and Chantilly on Saturday and Arc Day in France on Sunday, the problem is particularly acute.

The decision whether or not to travel over to Chantilly on Sunday, with no obvious chance of scrounging a ride on a plane, was made for me when two potential colleagues on the early train from the Folkestone Eurotunnel terminal balked at the ungodly hour. I’m used to it, indeed I’m writing this at just such an hour.

Instead I’ll make do with ITV on Sunday for as long as it lasts, with the knowledge that it will be the first time I’ve watched the show since its arrival on the scene earlier this year. Until now I’ve been content with Racing UK and now I’ve got it on my phone – “Stafford lurches into 21st Century, exclusive”, Ed – it’s even more my Channel of Choice.

In a way it’s a relief, as I’ll be travelling to Beverley tomorrow, dropping down to Goodwood on Wednesday, thence to Newmarket Thursday, and depending on how the energy levels are being maintained, off up to Newcastle on Friday, all on Raymond Tooth business. Tarnhelm tomorrow is our best chance.

I’ve never bothered with the Saturday of Arc weekend and now Cambridgeshire Day is bolstered with three big two-year-old races, the Cheveley Park and Juddmonte Middle Park, both Group 1 over six furlongs, and the Juddmonte Royal Lodge over a mile, I wouldn’t dream of passing it by for the single Group 1 (Cadran, 20f) and quartet of Group 2 races that Chantilly for the second year is minding while Longchamp smartens itself up.

Sunday is different though, and I’d detected a train (with availability) that would have got us to Calais at 7.55 a.m. French time, so comfortably on schedule for an 11 a.m. arrival at the track, situated conveniently for road users 20 or so miles to the north of Paris. Return crossings were fully booked on Sunday night, but the one I did find (1.18 a.m. next Monday) would have allowed a few hours’ luxurious dining in Paris and a leisurely drive back north. The return fare for that package on Eurotunnel would have been £53 for the three of us. Wonder how they were going to get there, but I’m sure it will have cost them many times that.

Sunday’s card has six Group One races but all eyes with be on the Arc and Enable’s attempt to finish her stellar season with another procession. For a while earlier last week, Winter was being suggested as a possible late entry into the argument, but I hope Aidan O’Brien and the boys will be content with tackling the fillies and mares in the Prix de l’Opera. The temptation to find a filly to challenge Enable for one last time must be almost overwhelming, but there’s nothing wrong with adding the Opera to an escutcheon that already boasts the English and Irish 1,000 Guineas, Coronation Stakes and the Nassau.

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I would have liked to advance possible winners of the many other Group races that will decorate our TV screens (and my phone!) this weekend and beyond, but instead I’m going to put forward two young trainers who could have a big say in the destination of the Betfred Cambridgeshire. As Fred Done might well be saying: “Enjoy us - and it - while you can”.

With the backdrop of Betfred’s imminent withdrawal from pretty much all its sponsorship commitments (Ascot and his own track Chelmsford City apart) loads of race names are about to change. Luckily the Cambridgeshire part of this great handicap’s title has never succumbed to the wishes of many sponsors over the years to “absorb” heritage titles within the commercial name.

This year David Menuisier and Henry Spiller are two emerging handlers with decent chances of winning the race. Menuisier, a Frenchman whose accent is not too far removed from the Rene of ‘Allo ‘Allo vintage, overcame a debilitating viral problem in his stable – he is housed at the Harwoods’ Pulborough estate in Sussex – to make a decent show from mid- to late-summer on.

His Thundering Blue romped to a three-timer at Epsom (off 76), Newmarket’s July Course (83) and Sandown (87) with such good effect that it enticed Tony Hind to engage Ryan Moore for the mount. This much-improved son of Exchange Rate will need quite a few to come out to get a run, and Menuisier was adamant when I spoke to him in the paddock as the St Leger runners were pre-parading, that he would not be running in the Silver Cambridgeshire on Friday if he gets the Saturday guillotine.

Spiller and his five-year-old entire Leader Writer need only one horse to defect to make the cut, and Hind has again been on the ball, with Fran Berry lined up to continue the winning association going on from Ascot a couple of weeks back when Leader Writer won for the first time in the UK.

Decent in France where he honourably contested any number of Group 3 and Listed races, Leader Writer followed an excellent third in a Shergar Cup race, second time out for Spiller with a fluent success back at Ascot. The 4lb extra he earned not only should not equate to the measure of his win (the handicapper has upped him 6lb) but virtually ensures his place in the line-up.

Spiller is the son of Charlie, a long-term Maktoum employee who specialises in pedigree analysis and matings planning, and Henry got the benefit of that connection by learning his trade all around the world with some of the top trainers. Some might say that ending up in the stables occupied for many years by the utterly-shrewd Willie Musson might seem an odd choice, but there he is (with Willie watching on)  and a Cambridgeshire win would be a great boost. Leader Writer is my pick from Thundering Blue.

Last year, Spiller’s team was housed in one of the twin barns at Saffron House stables on the Hamilton Road in Newmarket. Alongside was another young man in a hurry. George Scott started and remains there for now, but on Saturday at Newbury he enjoyed his first Group race success with James Garfield, owned by new father-in-law, Bill Gredley.

With a move to a Gredley-owned renovated yard in the offing, this was a timely nudge to the new old man and there can be little doubt that young George is destined for great things, not least with James Garfield, a son of Exceed and Excel who always looked the winner of the Mill Reef Stakes.

The same afternoon, hot but sadly deceased stallion Scat Daddy recorded his 13th winner of 2017 in the UK. The sire of four Royal Ascot winners - Lady Aurelia, Caravaggio, Con Te Partiro and Sioux Nation - Scat Daddy has won races with ten different horses in this country this year, but only one has recorded more than a single victory.

Step forward Mr Sundowner, the Pride of Muggleswick. Shrewdly entered in a recent qualifying handicap at the track for Saturday’s Catterick 12 Furlong Series Final, thanks to the urgent ministrations of Stella Storey, assistant to trainer Wilf, Mr Sundowner overcame being 9lb wrong in the weights and carrying 1lb overweight to win at 16-1 under Sammy Jo Bell.

Travelling like a dream throughout, Sammy calmly brought him alongside hot favourite Je Suis Charlie and popped him in front close home. Regular readers will know Wilf has been inching towards his best Flat prizemoney tally in a four-decade career. The 12k winner’s prize put him a couple of grand past the four £50,000 plus yields in the years before the Millennium and his winner score of 11 easily eclipses his previous best of eight and with far fewer horses. What a year and what an operation!



Monday Musings: Expectation vs Reality

I fully expected to be writing here about a nice win for Tarnhelm at Chelmsford City on Saturday evening, but a bad bump from the opponent drawn immediately to her right in the stalls for the five-furlong four-runner contest, put her on the back foot from the outset and there she stayed, writes Tony Stafford.

Trainer Mark Johnston had flown himself back from the sales at Baden-Baden, taking two hours, forty minutes and said: “It’ll be another hour and a quarter to fly home”. He apparently agreed with most people’s expectation that she should win, conveying that opinion to Derek Thompson in a televised interview before the race.

On a night when Boyzone were responsible for a large influx from the environs of mid-Essex, Johnston still had a couple of winners, including a 1-2 in the most valuable handicap, the Betfred Chelmsford Cup to bring him to 174 for the season. Would have been nice if it were 175!

The good thing about racing, though, is that there’s usually another day. Take for example the American four-year-old Gun Runner, third behind at-the-time unbeaten Nyquist and the tough Exaggerator in the 20-runner Kentucky Derby in May of last year. Almost 11 months later he beat all bar Arrogate, the 2016 Travers and Breeders’ Cup Classic hero, in the Dubai World Cup.

It is extraordinary how few horses campaigned at the top level on dirt in the United States, stand the clichéd test of time. Nyquist turned up at the Preakness last year defending an eight-race sequence, but lost his Triple Crown chance when Exaggerator took his revenge at Pimlico. Neither horse ran in the Belmont, but they met again in late July in the Haskell when Exaggerator won again with Nyquist dropping back.

The defining day for the pair came next time out in the Pennsylvania Derby at Parx (Philadelphia Park) when they ran a tag team sixth and seventh back in Churchill Downs order behind Connect while Gun Runner was a battling second, half a length adrift of the winner. Both Classic heroes ended their track careers that day while the smart Bob Baffert-trained Cupid, a disappointing eighth there, has managed only a single run since for his Coolmore owners, admittedly a win in a Santa Anita Grade 1, on May 28. Connect has competed only twice since, again winning both times, in an Aqueduct Grade 1 in November last year, and in May this year in a Belmont Grade 3. Such inactivity suggests training issues for both colts.

The erosional aspect of dirt competition at the top level seems to have at least temporarily debilitated even Arrogate, beaten on both runs since Dubai, first embarrassingly tailed off, and the last time showing a lack of concentration before belatedly staying on for second to stablemate Collected in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar.

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Maybe the effects of that spectacular triumph at Meydan have stayed with him. It took a special performance to shrug off the very tardy start he made that day, and perhaps even more significantly, the effort of beating the battle-hardened California Chrome in the Breeders’ Cup Classic which possibly left a bigger mark than was expected at the time.

Meanwhile Gun Runner has put together a set of six excellent displays, with only Dubai on the negative side of the ledger, if it is possible to describe a second prize of £1.6 million a “negative”. Since Dubai, Gun Runner, a Steve Asmussen-trained son of Candy Ride, has secured three of North America’s most-prized  Grade 1 races: the Stephen Foster, at Churchill Downs by seven lengths; and two Saratoga highlights, the Whitney, and Saturday’s Woodford in progressively authoritative fashion.

The double-digits Woodward margin makes him my overwhelming pick for the Classic at Del Mar this autumn, whether Arrogate turns up or not. As they used to say about boxers: “They never come back” and I reckon it will take a character-transplant for Baffert to get Arrogate competitive enough to dent Gun Runner this time.

It is difficult to imagine much of a threat coming from this side of the Atlantic, such are the differing demands of dirt and turf. No doubt, though, the European challenge in the Breeders’ Cup turf races will be as strong as ever and the imminent Irish Champions weekend at Leopardstown and The Curragh will provide plenty of clues.

Before that there’s an interesting race at Ascot on Friday, for Team Tooth anyway, as the card features a sire-restricted event. The seven furlong two-year-old race is limited to horses sired by stallions that won over 10 furlongs or more and only 19 – compared with 50 in a race worth half the money over that trip at Sandown last week – are entered.

Raymond has a homebred colt by Mount Nelson, called Nelson River, in the line-up and hopefully he will take his chance. Three Frankels and two Nathaniels are among those set to take on Clive Cox’s well-grown colt so it will be a decent examination for sure.

Mark Johnston has one of them, Elarqam, a 1.6 million guineas buy for Hamdan Al Maktoum, who is by Frankel out of Mark’s multiple champion sprinter-miler, Attraction. When I quizzed him he said, in typically forthright manner: “The race is meant to give an opportunity to staying-bred horses, and Elarqam does not really fit that profile, being out of Attraction”, or words to that effect, without suggesting whether he might be “expected”.

As usual there’s a mix of lightly-raced promising types and well-connected debutants representing major stables, but Clive has been pleased with Nelson River’s progress and we hope he will give the proverbial “good account” if he turns up.

One former Tooth inmate, the Wilf Storey-trained Adrakhan, participated last week in an epic day for the Co. Durham trainer when sharing in a Musselburgh double initiated by Mr Sundowner, the only Scat Daddy ever to be sighted in Muggleswick .

Regular readers will know that I have had a connection with Wilf and his family for more than 30 years. He’d been training for quite a while before that and until this year, the most Flat winners he’d sent out in a single campaign was eight, achieved in 1996 and 1997. In those days he was more active in National Hunt, but the near-inevitability that one day most jumpers’ careers will end with some kind of injury persuaded him to change tack.

Adrakhan won one novice hurdle for Dan Skelton before losing his form and Wilf eventually acquired him. A number of Tooth “culls” had already taken that path and the sheep farmer, capably assisted by chief work-rider, box driver and parade-ring escort – daughter Stella – has eked out wins from has-beens that others would hardly bother with.

The two Musselburgh winners were both in Storey’s own colours, because as he says: “Nobody seems to want to have a horse with us nowadays. The other day I heard what some trainers are charging. What they want for a week’s keep will pay for nearly three weeks here!”

The double made it ten for the year, and with at least half a dozen potential winners still active, optimism is high in sheep-rearing country. “It’s made a big difference having the all-weather at Newcastle. It’s a brilliant track – all the other all-weathers are a long way from here – and we can get there in about half an hour. I wish they’d built it 20 years ago,” he says. Needless to say Storey can’t wait for the busy Newcastle winter programme where he hopes to add a few more to that total.

- Tony Stafford

Monday Musings: On Racing’s Transience

It’s my wife’s birthday today and we’re going to the Whitstable Oyster Festival down on the North Kent Coast, writes Tony Stafford. The last time I was there, I was strolling past the fishermen’s huts along the quay when the phone rang with a six-figure offer for the boss’s then three-year-old Fair Trade.

The offer, from agent Stuart Boman, was greeted by trainer David Elsworth, when reported to him by the owner, with the response: “Don’t take it. I’ll get you a lot more than that!”

Seven years and four trainers on from that memorable remark, I saw Fair Trade on Thursday morning in a field in Muggleswick, Co Durham, where he continues to waste his, and everyone else’s, time. Winner of a Newbury maiden race before finishing tenth in Makfi’s 2,000 Guineas, a run which brought an unnecessary 18lb hike in his rating, he never won again in conventional Flat races, but took a jumpers’ bumper and two hurdles when in the care of Alan King.

Two days earlier, I’d just dropped off Raymond Tooth at Heathrow on his way to a week’s holiday when the phone rang. Former jockey Tom Morgan told me the sad news that David Wintle had died at the age of 82. Tom is married to Dave’s daughter, Alison. I’ve not seen her or her brother James for a long time, but often bump into Dave’s other daughter Becky, who is married to another bloodstock agent, Stephen Hillen.

Becky always kept me aware of her father’s up and down health and then one day in the spring, she suggested I call him. We had a nice chat, reminiscing about horses he’d trained for me and how a Terry Ramsden gamble – I’d brought them together in the early 1980’s – led to Wintle’s losing his licence for a while.

Without that connection, I would never have met Wilf Storey, one of my longest-standing friends in racing, and custodian of the field in which Fair Trade idles the days away. I had a filly with Wintle, called Maid of Ireland, and managed to persuade Tick Vergette – later Saunders – who I’d known when she was Geoff Huffer’s secretary at Cheveley Park Stables (now Stud) to let me use the filly as a makeweight in a deal to buy Fiefdom. Originally he was to be a riding horse for a local girl.

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Once a useful handicapper with Bruce Hobbs – he was fifth as a three-year-old in the Cambridgeshire – Fiefdom flopped over hurdles for Tick’s father George, and after a dreadful final run for them over Easter, they were willing to let him go.

Relocated to Rod Simpson, he took a while to get fit, but then won twice in a week, at Folkestone and Lingfield, before running fourth in the ladies’ race at Ascot on King George Day. In those days it was a non-handicap, and the older horses gave lumps of weight to the three-year-olds.

Fiefdom was ridden there by Celia Radband, a very nice girl who made many appearances in Eastenders and other television shows. She recommended Fiefdom as a potential jumper to Wilf Storey’s daughters Fiona and Stella, against whom she competed in ladies’ races, as she knew I’d been trying to sell him immediately before the two wins.

Wilf’s polite and understanding reaction when I said that I’d changed my mind for now, struck a cord and so, soon after when I needed to off-load a couple of horses that had been misbehaving on the Lambourn gallops - “Give ‘em away!”, said Rod, I asked Wilf if he had anyone “with two grand”. He gave the same reply that he still does: “No”, but they went up to him anyway. One was a lunatic and had to be put down, but Santopadre won three in a row and was fifth in Solar Cloud’s Triumph Hurdle.

A couple of months later, I did sell Fiefdom, and fully primed, was able to enjoy a touch when he won a Sedgefield novice handicap hurdle by ten lengths from 10lb out of the handicap first time out. He won a load of races and yesterday at Redcar, Mr Sundowner, the only son of Scat Daddy ever sighted in Muggleswick, gave Wilf a career-equalling eighth Flat winner of 2017.

On Thursday night, I travelled south to Mark Johnston’s for a Friday gallop when Tarnhelm, a promising Helmet filly was making her first comeback gallop after sustaining a chip in her joint, days before her proposed first run in April. To everyone’s apparent surprise, she trailed her two companions up the gallop. Mark and son Charlie, who watched with me, pointed out it was her first gallop since her injury and advised waiting until she could have another go next week.

In racing and generally when watching sport, the disappointments exceed the successes as the recent Murray and McIlroy results again proved. After Tarnhelm, at least there was the expectation of a follow-up win for Stanhope, three weeks on from his course and distance romp in first time visors on the July Course at Newmarket.

They worked well enough the first time, but now he seemed not to want to go down to the start, and he came back even more reluctantly to finish a remote last of seven. “I wouldn’t put them on again,” helpfully suggested jockey Pat Cosgrave. I’m sure Mick Quinn agrees.

It doesn’t only happen to us. I bet trainer Bob Baffert approached Saturday night’s San Diego Handicap with supreme confidence that Arrogate, the world’s unchallenged top racehorse on official figures, would resume with another triumph after that Dubai World Cup master-class by putting away his five vastly-inferior rivals. The Racing Post even suggested that TV viewers should stay up until the off time of 2.10 a.m. BST to watch the “Best Horse in the World” live on At The Races.

In the event, starting at 1-20, he put in a dreadful display, finishing more than 15 lengths fifth behind the winner Accelerate. In the US, even five runner races have three places in the Show Pool, and pay a minimum dividend of 10 cents on a two dollar stake. Thus the value-thieves who lurk around American racing dive in, resulting in the Show Pool’s being at least as big as the Win, while the Place (1-2 in the US) is almost ignored.

Not for nothing is the term “Bridge Jumpers” used to describe them, as the practice, while more often than not profitable, in time and return terms far more favourable than US and UK interest rates, is hardly fool-proof. Usually it takes injury or some other mishap for such a negative outcome to occur. In this case, Arrogate, generously treated in the weights by the Del Mar handicapper, ran stones below his normal level, and no doubt some of the “jumpers” might well have been looking for the nearest bridge from which to propel themselves.

As I prepare for a trip down to the coast and some fresher-than-fresh sea food, I would like to pass on my best wishes to Ana O’Brien in her recovery from that horror fall at Killarney last Monday night. I saw it live and was so relieved that this wonderful young lady’s injuries were no worse than they are.

There can be no such relief for the family of Stephen Yarborough, the senior stalls handler killed at Haydock on Friday in a stalls accident. Both these unrelated incidents show just how dangerous the sport is for those who put on the show, while those who write about, watch or bet on it, are safe to pontificate about what far too many see as the shortcomings of the brave entertainers.

Monday Musings: Ferguson’s Royal Ascot Legacy

I saw John Ferguson in the stands at Ascot on Saturday, writes Tony Stafford. He said he wasn’t making any immediate plans, but that he’d keep me posted when he does. He should have been giving himself a big, silent, inner thumbs-up after the perceived revival of Godolphin’s fortunes – since his departure.

The irony is that the six wins for the Boys in Blue, equalling the six of Aidan O’Brien for Coolmore, were in large part of Ferguson’s making. Two home-breds, Benbatl in an outpouring of emotion for his trainer Saeed Bin Suroor after winning the Hampton Court Stakes; and Sound and Silence (Charlie Appleby) in the Windsor Castle, contributed to the score, but otherwise it was pretty much all Ferguson.

The other quartet included Ribchester, bought privately from David Armstrong and successful in the opening Queen Anne for Richard Fahey’s stable, and Barney Roy, acquired after initial promise for Richard Hannon, and now a Group 1 winner after turning 2,000 Guineas tables on Churchill.

In the handicaps, Rare Rhythm (Duke of Edinburgh), knocked down to Ferguson as a 2013 yearling for 650,000gns, was an example of Charlie Appleby’s skill, being brought back a year from his previous run in the corresponding race to win readily. Then later in the week, there was a convincing success for Atty Persse (King George V). He was a private buy from owner-breeder Bjorn Nielsen after a debut win for Roger Charlton last autumn, who prepared him for last week’s victory. It must have been great for Nielsen when another home-bred, Stradivarius, won the Queen’s Vase for him and John Gosden.

Ferguson could also point to the excellent Group 1 second places of his two recruits from Clive Cox: Profitable, second to Lady Aurelia in a brave bid to repeat last year’s King’s Stand success; and Harry Angel, who needed a flying Caravaggio to deny him and fellow Godolphin sprinter Blue Point (Appleby) in the Commonwealth Cup.

The sprawling Godolphin “empire” also of course informally extends to the satellite operations of Sheikh Mohammed’s friends such as Saeed Manana, and family members like his son Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed. Sheikh Hamdan’s Permian came back from Derby disappointment to show his Dante- winning quality for Mark Johnston in the King Edward VII over the Classic trip.

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They were screaming St Leger for the next three home in that race, and here I’ll declare an interest and suggest that my friend Lew (John Lewis to you) Day can win it with Raheen House. The Brian Meehan-trained Sea The Stars colt turned for home last of 12 and had to be switched outside, but in the last furlong he was going on much the best. He was less than three lengths behind the winner in fourth, making up a conservative six lengths in the straight, and this long-striding colt will love Doncaster’s long finishing straight. He was a close fourth in the Racing Post Trophy over a mile there last autumn.

If he were mine, I’d be tempted to have a look first at the Ebor, three weeks before the St Leger where the 10lb or thereabouts of his weight-for-age concession from his elders might be enticing even from his present mark of 109. That should not change much after this, as the top four in the King Edward were rated 113, 111, 110 and 109 before the race and a tape measure could not have been any more accurate.

Coolmore’s two major reverses were Churchill, out of fettle and never looking like getting into it when a sluggish fourth to Barney Roy, and Order of St George, just too late to get to grips with the ultra-determined Big Orange in his Gold Cup repeat attempt.

They more than redressed those disappointments with three performances of supreme quality. Winter headed home yet another Ballydoyle 1-2-3 in the Coronation Stakes to add to the English and Irish 1,000 Guineas while Caravaggio’s acceleration in the Commonwealth Cup was matched the following afternoon by pocket-rocket September in the Chesham. Until, if ever, her mini-stature inhibits her development, it’s hard to see what can stop her in the major races in 2018, given her stamina-laden pedigree as a daughter of Japan’s supreme stallion Deep Impact and multiple Group 1 winning mare Pepping Fawn.

At this point, I’d like to throw a compliment to one of the O’Brien supporting cast. Roly Poly was having her 12th career start and hasn’t missed a dance since making an early start to her career as a juvenile in April last year. She ran the following month, twice in June and again in July, August and September, by which time she had three wins on the board and second places in the Lowther (Group 2) and narrowly behind stable-companion Brave Anna in the Group 1 Cheveley Park.

Instead of running again in October, she headed over the Atlantic for the Breeders’ Cup, where she was the unplaced favourite on Nov 4. Back again in April, she was over to Newmarket for the Nell Gwyn, but was unplaced, as she was next time in the French 1,000 Guineas, sixth behind Precieuse. But she was back in the frame when runner-up to Winter in Ireland and on Friday harried Precieuse for the first part of the Coronation, seeing that filly off before rallying again to deny Rhododendron the runner-up spot.

There are few more desirable qualities than honesty, in people as much as horses, and you certainly get that from all the inmates, human and equine at Kingsley House, Middleham. Ascot’s a great place to bump into people – you don’t say, Ed! – and I saw Charlie Johnston after one of the stable’s fillies won at Newmarket. In response to my “well done”, he replied, “that’s three there today, but we could do with one here”.

They duly got one in the last race and it took a supreme effort and no shortage of courage from Oriental Fox to wrest back the initiative from Thomas Hobson after Tuesday’s Ascot Stakes hero looked sure to give Willie Mullins and the Ricci’s the meeting’s traditional marathon double. To repeat his 2015 win in the race, he also needed to see off the classy pair of US Army Ranger (rated 112) and Qewy (110). The last-named won races in Australia last winter, having been re-cycled from the Bloomfields jumping team operated under John Ferguson’s hands-on supervision.

Few mid 70-year-olds can have a more hands-on role than Wilf Storey, my friend of more than 30 years. A Co Durham (just inside the Northumberland border) sheep farmer, he had careers as stallion keeper for Arthur Stephenson and cattle brander before succumbing to the love of riding of his daughters Fiona and Stella, to take out a training permit.

I’ve known him for, as, I say, more than 30 years since he bought Fiefdom and Santopadre from me, turning both into prolific winners. That caused me to get a visit from Jockey Club Security who believed that far from being trained by the unknown Wilf, they’d heard they were actually still with Rod Simpson 300 miles further south.

Having put their man right on that score – we met funnily enough at Ascot racecourse – I’ve watched as Wilf struggled with the odd decent horse and a lot of lesser ones for all those seasons, often going a whole year without a winner.

Now the yard has fewer horses, but with Stella riding out every lot, feeding, driving them to the races and leading them around when they get there, with excellent help from some local lasses, the formula seems to work. On Saturday Ardakhan made it seven wins from fifty 2017 runs and Wilf needs just one more to equal his best full seasonal tally of eight, set in 1996 and 1997 when he had three times as many horses.  I’m betting on at least 10 this year, and if he gets there, nobody will deserve success more than him (and Stella). [Hear hear! Ed.]