Sunday Supplement: Runners Galore


Tony Stafford’s Sunday Supplement

Sunday supplement

By Tony Stafford

Where do I begin? Hang on, that’s a song title, theme tune of the film Love Story. Could have been written by Burt Bacharach, who is 85 today, but was irritatingly by someone else, Francis Lai in fact. I remember listening to Burt at one of the Tom Gentry Keeneland parties in the 1980’s when he sang solo to his own piano playing. He wrote all the Dionne Warwick songs of that era and was second only to Paul Anka as a brilliant Gentry performer.

Tom actually bred and sold Lester Piggott’s Breeders’ Cup winner Royal Academy, but would spend many thousands on his pre-sale party which featured helicopter rides around the sales complex, and it certainly worked until he (temporarily) went skint. His son Olin (same name as Tom’s father) was a big player for John Gaines, who dreamed up and started the whole Breeders’ Cup package.

Paul Anka, for instance, must have cost Tom a few quid (dollars). The writer of “Diana” and “My Way”, incidentally my own party piece on special occasions, was performing with his entire orchestra in Germany the night before his Lexington spot, played for two hours to the assembled horsemen and then packed up the entire ensemble back for the next night, again in Germany.

So let’s begin now and hope that the words appear on the site before they are overtaken by two of the day’s events. Sorry Richard Hannon and the Olympic Glory/ Havana Gold crowds, but I’m hoping that Nicolas Clement will win the French 2,000 Guineas this afternoon with Style Vendome.

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Winner of his last four, he impressed particularly with his latest win in the Prix Djebel. He won it far more easily than French Fifteen the year before and Nicolas reckons he’s a better horse than the colt who followed Camelot over the line, a neck behind in last year’s 2,000 Guineas. In a normal year that should be good enough for the Poulains.

I bumped into Amanda Skiffington (Brudenell) with her husband at Ascot yesterday and she reminded me that Havana Gold (which she bought as a yearling) almost certainly would have beaten Style Vendome at Deauville last summer but unluckily lost Ryan Moore late on when in a decent lead. Style Vendome, though, has been brought along steadily by his master trainer – have to say that he trains for my boss Raymond Tooth – and has a great draw in three.

Soon after that race, I’ll be at Kempton to hope that Fair Trade (3.20, race card here) can make amends for his unlucky (silly boy) fall at Wetherby when he looked sure to beat the decent pair Life and Soul and eventual runner-up Sea Lord, easy winner since at Southwell, by half the track.

That would have entailed a hike well above 123 and a place in yesterday’s Swinton Hurdle, He didn’t get in, but Alan King’s other entry Turn Over Sivola did, started joint-favourite but could not cope with the rain-softened ground. Neither would Fair Trade have done, and we are hoping that Kempton missed some of the heavy showers that accompanied Wigan’s great win at Wembley.

Rain would have been acceptable for Raymond’s I Say at Windsor tomorrow had William Haggas been able to get her there for her second run, but she’s not quite there yet for her seasonal return. If we were hoping for a lenient handicapping mark after a (for instance) small win somewhere, the performance of the one horse that beat her on her Newbury debut last October didn’t help.
That filly was Secret Gesture, who had previous experience when beating I Say at Newbury, and on her first start since, won the Lingfield Oaks Trial by ten lengths. Thanks Ralph Beckett!

Funnily enough, Ralph (pronounced Rafe) comes into this litany again in the shape of Motion Lass, who was ninth for us in the decent Newbury maiden last month won by subsequent Cheshire Oaks winner Banoffee, trained by Hughie Morrison, more of whom later. Rafe (Ralph) has Motion Lass in a 0-70 at Beverley on Tuesday. It’s been my luckiest track – ask David Loder – ever since I had my first winner as an owner in the now David Armstrong colours of Mayson et al with Charlie Kilgour more than 30 years ago. You wouldn’t think he’s old enough, but I gave Alan Spence a grand – last time I had that much in one go! – for him. Alan, always the nicest man, has Black Spirit (Nicky Henderson) to worry us at Kempton today.

If the ground is OK, I’ll know in an hour (8.43, writing slowly this morning) I’ll be high-tailing it north, if not it’ll be the Eurotunnel on the 7.00 a.m. train to get to Chantilly in time for the debut of Lower Lake. M. Clement bought him as a yearling at the same sale where the Doyles acquired Olympic Glory, and he starts in a seven-runner newcomers’ race over nine furlongs. Funnily enough Amanda was the under-bidder, and as she also buys for Raymond – I Say was one of hers – it made us pretty confident of having him.

Late developer is a phrase dreaded by owners and their agents, but in his case, it might not mean moderate and we will await the second at Chantilly, either in person or via the betting shop at Beverley. Nice if he got in the first five – prize money (and premium of 65 per cent) right down to fifth.

Rafe got off the mark for us with Lewisham the other day at Kempton, having found a lovely race to break his maiden after some heavy-duty tasks against Group horses last year. He had Gale Force Ten, one of the Aiden O’Brien runners in the French 2,000, behind him in the July Stakes, when he was a fast-finishing second, but it is fair to say that before we bought him out of Noel Quinlan’s yard, his form was gradually deteriorating.

Two runs in maidens have brought a nose second at Doncaster and then a facile victory at 1-20 before and after which pundit and mate Dave Nevison apparently told viewers (according to Stella Storey, trainer’s daughter and assistant) beforehand that he should win as far as he could and we should get on the phone to the US to get out of a horse with no future, and afterwards was just as negative. Incidentally, Noel was also on hand, and reckoned Lewisham looked great and was moving better than at any time during his juvenile days.

The following night, by now in the Sky studio, Dave waxed lyrical about a Mrs Karl Burke horse that pulled for much of the six furlongs and then, with five strong back-handers administered by Luke Morris drew away for a three and a half length win, pushed right out to within yards of the line.

I was interested in the times, as Lewisham had sauntered home the day before (Jim Crowley said he does more at home) in as near to identical conditions as one could envisage, so expected a big differential. It was actually just 0.11 seconds faster, but clearly Lewisham could have gone a fair bit quicker if needed. Our view is that Rafe is getting a tune out of the horse, building confidence, and crucially for a potential sprint handicapper, has solved with Gary Widdeford’s help, the secret of getting him quickly out of the stalls.

Time’s up (9.00) I fear, so I can’t tell you about Cousin Khee, York Wednesday for Hughie; Great Hall, Brian Meehan, Newmarket, Thursday; following work morning at Manton; and maybe Fair Trade again at Aintree on Friday night if all goes well today. I’ll be reporting back next week, if I get that far!

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