By Tony Stafford
A week on, and it’s still hard to believe what I, and presumably everyone else, saw. You think I’m talking about Treve in the Arc. If I’d written a piece last Sunday rather than slink under the bedclothes for a rare lie in until 7 a.m. I would have declared my allegiance to her claims. I bet Frankie Dettori would have done similarly if he hadn’t injured his ankle just below the Nottingham box to which I’d just been invited to lunch by Lady Cecil a week or so earlier.
So, no doubt Treve would have been the lead in this article had I done the preview. How could any horse start so wide, run so freely on the wide outside, and then quicken away from such a decent – if not of Sea Bird II depth – field and win just like her illustrious predecessor from almost half a century ago?
She was great, but another filly, the five-year-old Moonlight Cloud, trained by Treve’s handler Criquette Head-Maarek’s little brother Freddy Head, was sublime. The family have long been associated with good fillies: Ma Biche, Ravinella, Three Troikas and more recently and most spectacularly, Goldikova, have been their major standard-bearers.
Alec, still amazingly active into his 90’s, rode a second, Le Paillon, in the 1947 Champion Hurdle, when I was one year old. He was from an English family, one of many that went across to France early in the 20th Century, and his father Willie was a jockey, then a highly-capable trainer.
To say “I have never seen…” about anything generally stretches credibility, but over the past week a few “I’ve nevers..” will have passed many lips. Like the five million guineas yearling filly at Tattersalls sales at Newmarket on Wednesday, bought in his joy of ultimate success by Treve’s owner Sheikh Joaan, who seems never to stray too far from Richard Hannon jnr and Ross Doyle, the joint emerging powerhouses as the Hannon empire nears its regenerative change.
Like the 3.6 million paid for another product of Galileo, this time a colt, which ended with Coolmore, bought by patriarch John Magnier, but the press comments were left to the increasingly visible and always assured M V Magnier, who carries the forenames of the greatest trainer of them all, his grandfather Vincent O’Brien.
Magnier Snr. was right in the act with his father-in-law and the late Robert Sangster when the Englishman was responsible for paying almost double the five million guineas when buying a yearling at Keeneland in the 1980’s for 13.1 million dollars, still the world record for a yearling.
But if I’ve ever seen anything so perfect and complete as Moonlight Cloud’s sensational – a word I hate, but this run deserves it – finishing effort from a long way behind to stroll past the estimable Gordon Lord Byron in the seven-furlong Prix de la Foret, I can’t remember it – maybe Sea Bird himself?.
Strangely enough, I didn’t watch it live, that afternoon having decided to stay in London rather than fly or even drive across, being sated with the clash of Arc day and two football matches, the latter involving my team, unlike the barren nothingness of this international week. So I saw it later and it needed as much a measure of suspending belief at her performance as was the almost contemporaneous vision of a 20-yard first-time strike for Jack Wilshere to earn a point at West Brom for the Gunners.
There is something about seven-furlong horses. Moonlight Cloud is the epitome of that specialist activity. Last year she almost caused a catastrophic upset when getting within a head – that name again – of the mighty Black Caviar, the nearest any other racehorse had managed in the Aussie mare’s impeccable 25-race career. That was over the insufficient six furlongs at Royal Ascot and owed much to the great mare’s rider’s over-confidence. At seven I’m sure Moonlight Cloud would have sailed by.
Immediately before the Foret, Moonlight Cloud won over a mile at Deauville – just the Jacques le Marois with Olympic Glory, Intello, Declaration of War, Dawn Approach and Elusive Kate in the line-up – but having shot clear and looking invincible 100 yards from home, she almost stopped as Olympic Glory charged at her.
At seven furlongs though, she’s astonishing, and Thierry Jarnet knows her so well that the large deficit on Sunday until 300 yards from home troubled him not a jot. True he’d just ridden Treve, re-uniting the partnership that had pertained until Frankie’s recent recruitment by Sheikh Joaan, and it would be good to know his thoughts on the two females’ relative abilities.
As with Goldikova, who just seemed to get better as she matured, so Moonlight Cloud at five years of age is still progressive.
One of the oddest stories of the year – showing once again the cyclic nature of racing at the top level – is the success of the US-based stallion War Front, a high-class US dirt performer who almost but not quite matched the physical frailties of his sire, the peerless Danzig.
War Front was foaled in 2002 when Danzig, sire of innumerable stallions most notably Danehill, was coming to the end of his amazing career. I first became aware of Danzig in the autumn of 1982 when I met his owner Henryk de Kwiatkowski at the November breeding stock sale at Keeneland. I got to know the Polish-born aircraft entrepreneur pretty well over the years and met his wife Barbara quite often too. He used to refer to her as Barbara Allen.
Then this summer at Goodwood, I met Joe Allen, Barbara’s former husband, whose manager Andy Smith has been a long-term adjunct to the top level of the bloodstock world. Joe was over to watch Declaration of War whom he shares with the Coolmore principals and his colours (in a similar syndicate)also adorn War Command, winner of Saturday’s Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket.
It was with great relish – sadly for no more than a few minutes – that we reminisced of Henryk, and the fact that War Command had been identified by John Magnier and his associates as a sire of the future did no damage to his prospects. Recently Michael (MV) Magnier paid 2.5 million dollars for one of his sons at Keeneland and the Danzig saga is set to continue just as Vincent O’Brien almost single-handed developed the Northern Dancer myth through his sons Nijinsky, Sadler’s Wells down to his greatest product Galileo, sire of Frankel.