I remember back in May when the BHA and the more influential trainers were hoping for a resumption of racing during that month, I was thinking that because the weather can be less wintry during October and November, maybe Flat racing could extend a few weeks longer to help restore some of the losses of fixtures during the spring closure, writes Tony Stafford.
Fortunately the BHA are not so stupid, and the end of turf racing will be at Doncaster on November 7 when hopefully the Bombardier British Hopped Amber Beer November Handicap – if not simply so that the commentator can try that on for size – can be staged, unlike last year.
Last year, not only the end of season card but also the two scheduled turf meetings at Doncaster and Newbury equivalent to last weekend were washed out. The Vertem Futurity, the last UK Group 1 two-year-old race, was switched to Newcastle’s Tapeta the following Friday and won by Kameko, who went on to 2,000 Guineas success seven months later on the first Saturday after the restart.
This year’s Vertem Futurity went ahead at the normal venue. The Doncaster going, officially described as heavy and deemed too testing for Wembley, left the Ballydoyle team with a rare blank in the contest. It was won by the Jim Bolger-trained and -bred Mac Swiney and while the race didn’t have a single son (or daughter) of Galileo on hand, Mac Swiney is by Galileo’s son New Approach out of a mare by Teofilo, also by Galileo so is closely in-bred to the great champion.
Both Teofilo and New Approach were bred and raced initially by Bolger and went unbeaten through their juvenile campaigns, each winning five out of five, culminating in the Dewhurst and being awarded two-year-old champion status.
Teofilo retired after that single season, being the first juvenile champion for the sire, but New Approach went on to win the Derby at Epsom, the Irish Champion Stakes and the Champion Stakes by an overwhelming six lengths. Narrow defeats in the 2,000 Guineas and then the Irish equivalent briefly tarnished his reputation as did a sole third place in the Juddmonte, switched to Newmarket when York closed for a year. His overall record stands the closest inspection.
Not content with a track career, he was sent to stud and immediately produced Dawn Approach, yet another unbeaten juvenile champion that collected the Dewhurst as his rite of passage and then the 2,000 Guineas and St James’s Palace Stakes for good measure. The family has done Mr Bolger proud, just as gentleman Jim was fundamental in the early years to help along the Galileo legend.
But back to the going, and certainly Mac Swiney’s combination of speed and power through soft ground – it was barely heavy according to the times on Saturday – will serve him well when sure as night follows day he turns up for the Classics on one side of the Irish Sea or other, possibly both.
It was definitely heavy at Newbury and looking at those seven times I wager that the racecourse authorities there must be relieved they can turn their attention to the separate jumps course which will not have been watered during the dry months while racing was off, unlike the Flat strip where the recent deluges have rendered it virtually unraceable.
The least excessively slow time was the 10.22 sec above standard it took to run the second race, a six-furlong fillies’ nursery. Everything else, including the Radley and St Simon, the two Group races on the card, were almost two seconds per furlong slow, unconscionably so for Flat races. The finale, an amateur handicap, took almost 30 seconds more than standard to run a mile and a half.
With rain seemingly about all over the country it will be more interesting to see which of the remaining nine scheduled turf Flat fixtures can go ahead. Leicester (heavy) and Redcar (soft) are planned for today and are expected to survive. Then we have Catterick tomorrow (soft/heavy), Nottingham Wednesday (soft), and Newmarket on Friday and Saturday for the season finale again on soft ground. Next week Redcar and Nottingham on Wednesday and Thursday respectively and that Doncaster date on Saturday week bring matters to a damp conclusion.
Last weekend featured, as ever, three of only 13 Group 1 juvenile races to be run all year in Europe. Ireland’s three are run earlier than the five each of the UK and France. This year the 6f Phoenix Stakes in August and both the Moyglare and National Stakes the following month were staged on decent ground and run in acceptable times.
The first four juvenile Group 1 races in England were all staged at Newmarket. The Royal Lodge, Middle Park and Cheveley Park are the triple centre-pieces of Future Champions Day and the Rowley Mile on that September afternoon was blessed with fastish ground and quick times. It was also satisfactory for the Dewhurst won by St Mark’s Basilica early this month. Interestingly, before their Group 1 victories, both colts had run in the National Stakes behind Thunder Moon, St Mark’s Basilica finishing third and Mac Swiney eighth. Immediately before that, they each won on the same card again at the Curragh, the O’Brien colt in a maiden and Mac Swiney as a 28-1 shocker in a Group 2.
But it’s the French who are most often a hostage to fortune, seeing that their only pre-October Group 1 race is the Prix Morny close to the end of the Deauville summer festival. Wesley Ward and Frankie Dettori won that this year with the filly Campanelle and, while the ground was officially soft, the winning time of only a second slower than standard argues with that.
For the remainder, there are two races on Arc Day, the Jean-Luc Lagardere over 7f for colts and fillies, and the one-mile Marcel Boussac for fillies only. Heavy was the designation, and times of plus 3.49 and 5.73 suggests the description may be a shade exaggerated. When you get to heavy, after that, there’s probably only treacle. Of the year’s last two G1 races, one is the Criterium International, a race I remember fondly because of French Fifteen. That, over a mile, is the shorter while the Criterium de Saint-Cloud is a gut-busting 10 furlongs.
They were run on the Paris track on Saturday and heavy really did mean heavy. The Aidan O’Brien-trained Van Gogh, by American Pharoah, was an emphatic four-length winner but took 10.71 sec longer than he normally should have done. The Mark Johnston-trained Gear Up, making it three wins in four starts, relished the ground and with a show of great determination saw off a challenging quintet of would-be top-level winners at 27-1 under James Doyle. His time was more than 18 seconds slower than standard.
That race’s scheduled off time was only five minutes after the Vertem Futurity and you could call it an acceptable few minutes in the 78-year life of Jim Bolger as Gear Up, by Teofilo, was also bred by the trainer/breeder. The dam Gearanai, by Toccet, was of little account in racing terms but has been a brilliant mate for Teofilo producing four decent winners as well as another by New Approach. Sold as a yearling for €52,000 at Goffs just over a year ago, Gear Up has brought fantastic enjoyment to Teme Valley 2 and the Johnstons.
Having collected the final French juvenile Group 1 race of the year, Mark also had the last word by winning not only France’s final Group 1 of any age but also Europe’s concluding Group 1 of all at Longchamp yesterday. His three-year-old, Subjectivist, who faded into seventh behind Galileo Chrome after setting the pace in what is turning out to have been a high-quality St Leger, kept going to the finish to win the Prix Royal-Oak against his elders. Tony Mullins’ mare Princess Zoe, attempting to follow her Prix Du Cadran win over the Arc weekend, could get no nearer than fourth over the half-mile shorter trip.
The ground was pretty slow too for both Cheltenham on Saturday and Aintree yesterday as the jumps season finally got into its stride. I also watched one early race at Hexham where 14 set off for a 14-runner handicap hurdle and with half a mile to go basically two were galloping, one plodding and the rest crying enough. It was heavy for much of last winter and trainers will be dreading similar conditions this winter having had the last season so cruelly ended before Aintree and the other important spring fixtures could be concluded.
Aintree yesterday gave a couple of indications that the Skelton team was getting into full stride. Their summer activity, a feature of Dan’s early training career, is almost negligible in comparison nowadays, but the smart horses are coming out now. Two from yesterday (from a sample of 13 winners during an accelerating two-week period) that advertised the team’s well-being and the trainer’s skill, were debutant Real Stone, a comfortable 50-1 winner of the competitive maiden hurdle which opened the card and bumper winner Elle Est Belle, also a newcomer who swamped previous winner Windswept Girl in the finale.
She is a daughter of Fame And Glory, whose early demise – he was just 11 having raced until six winning 14 times – was such a loss to Coolmore’s jump stallions. After this stylish win Elle Est Belle would be an early contender for the Cheltenham and Aintree Festival bumpers if Dan and owner Mrs Suzanne Lawrence can wait that long.
It was a frustrating few days for the Geegeez.co.uk colours as Windswept Girl’s stable-companion Coquelicot was a beaten favourite at Fontwell, where her jumping on hurdles debut was open to a deal of improvement. Both talented females carry high hopes into their second season with Anthony Honeyball and, don’t worry Matt and co, I reckon you have days of success and enjoyment to look forward to.