By Tony Stafford
I bet three top-class jockeys in the early or mid-primes of their careers were woken with a jolt last week. Tom Queally, rider of Frankel, and a man always ready to praise the horse over himself; Ryan Moore, and William Buick, all learnt that from now on their turns in the Khalid Abdullah silks depend on the whim of James Doyle.
That’s right, James Doyle. Admittedly as with Queally and Frankel – and let’s face it, it could just as easily have been Eddie Ahern and Frankel – Doyle had the accidental good fortune of Steve Drowne’s vertigo problems and the resultant unlikely rise of Al Kazeem to thank for being propelled into the limelight.
Amazingly, though, in almost any other racing administration, rather than be remembered as the man who won the Eclipse on John Deer’s five-year-old, he would have been tagged “the man who threw away the Eclipse” after the way Al Kazeem lurched right and stopped the forward progress of Mukhadram, denying that horse’s owner Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum £45k (the difference between second and third prize).
All this “best horse in the race” tosh takes some stomaching. If the rules are transgressed, and one horse stopping another from gaining his best possible placing is just about the ultimate, then take the horse down.
Many years ago I took 25-1 about Nureyev for the 2,000 Guineas, a price that contracted immediately after his win in his Prix Djebel prep at Maisons-Laffitte. He came home clear by several lengths, only to be ruled out for some accidental interference to an also-ran around three furlongs from home. My bet was lost, and the beneficiary was none other than Khalid Abdullah, whose Known Fact became the winner.
So young master Doyle steps past Queally, Moore and Buick, at a time when the Prince is reviewing the size of his string – racing and breeding. Strong rumours suggest that the all-devouring Qataris are sniffing around the Juddmonte-Banstead Manor empire, while the indelicate removal of Tom Queally from his Warren Place rides – except when Doyle is riding elsewhere – puts a big question mark over whether Lady Cecil’s so far incredibly-assured tenure is to be short-lived.
Ryan Moore rode for my boss Raymond Tooth on Wednesday night at Kempton, in a race that was a must-win for Cousin Khee if he was going to get a weight high enough to ensure Cesarewitch participation. Ryan unfortunately got stuck in a melee near the inside while Tom Queally came wide and clear to win on an improving Lady Cecil inmate. The Cousin’s finishing run into second might have earned a couple of pounds more, so impressive had seemed the winner. From there, another 4lb extra for a small win somewhere could do the job.
It was obviously not within Lady C’s remit to protest the new arrangement, but by all accounts, John Gosden was pretty unchuffed by the passing over of his young ally William Buick, whose career rise I’ve had the privilege of watching from close at hand since his earliest apprentice days when he was so small he could hardly lift the saddle on the way back to weigh in. As for Sir Michael Stoute, there must have been some inner chuntering.
There was a time many years ago when I divided my time between working six nights a week at the Daily and Sunday Telegraph with three additional shifts, two mornings and Wednesday all day, editing a weekly paper called the Racehorse.
One week, watching a race, I referred to the riding of Greville Starkey on a Stoute horse, as “playing statues”. A few weeks later, on the occasion of a Stoute-trained winner somewhere, I introduced myself to the handler as “…of the Daily Telegraph.” Stoutie said: “I know who you are, but surely you mean of the Racehorse” and proceeded to dress me down with the explanation that the horse in question had to be ridden like that.
From that point, with one or two glaring exceptions, I’ve tended not to judge jockeyship too harshly. As someone, probably several someones, said to John McCririck, “How many winners have you ridden?”
The Racehorse was a short-cut to a lot of friendships, like Michael Dickinson who called me at the Telegraph every night during his late jockey days, on finishing at the sauna, to discuss the horses trained by his dad Tony.
Michael also spent probably even more time expanding his fertile brain talking to two other now veterans of the press room, Colin Russell and Walter Glynn, who was a contributor to the paper. For him I must leave the last word.
It concerns a hurdle race in the far north when Ron Barry was riding a horse for a big stable, and the decision had been made to give it an easy race. As the horses went to post, the market became so against the horse that connections could not resist backing him. It fell to the trainer’s son to run down to the start and inform Big Ron that the plans had changed. As Walter put it: “The huffing, puffing messenger…” and as Walter reminded me the other day, “.. was so out of breath, he couldn’t get the words out, and the starter said, “come on N…, out with it”. Then Big Ron joined in, “I know, he’s having a run!”
The Racehorse brought me into contact with the great Pippy, Prince Rajsinh of Rajpipla to you, and he was our on the spot Paris contact. He submitted hand-written spidery missives each week and every Christmas I still get a card in the same script, despatched from his pad In Park Lane, London, “for the family”.
One day at Longchamp, Pippy earwigged a conversation between Lester Piggott and trainer Maurice Zilber, who’d won the Prix Lupin with Youth (Yves Saint-Martin), the horse that went on to win the French Derby for Nelson Bunker Hunt.
Lester had finished third on the second string in the same colours and told Maurice he’d ride him at Epsom. Pippy called the next morning and we backed Empery at 33-1. If there was a more boring and worry-free winner of the Derby I’ve yet to see it, but it was nice.
Soon after, when Michael Dickinson said his father had suggested turning to New Zealand rather than Ireland to get new horses because of the cost, I asked what was wrong with France. Pippy introduced the Dickinsons to Malcolm Parrish, and the result was French Hollow, a brilliant novice hurdler and eventually the champion chaser in the US.
Michael went on to do many other things, and yesterday morning at Manton, I was able to admire for the umpteenth time, the majestic gallops that he re-constructed in his all-too-short term as private trainer to the late Robert Sangster.