By Tony Stafford
It was always going to be a big weekend with the football returning. No, I won’t be kicking off here with that unexpected home defeat which will have gutted my man Steve. Yes, I’m afraid Thurrock’s 1-0 reverse in the Isthmian League North ends their 100 per cent start.
No, I’m going to tell a tale which illustrates just as starkly how one man’s delight in sport can often be another’s poison, in this case almost literally. Sam Sangster, principally through his video company Sirecam, but also his ownership syndicates under the umbrella name Decadent Racing, is already living up to the family tradition while still only in his mid-20’s.
Based at the family’s (for now at any rate) Manton Estate, Sam is exhibiting strong signs of following in dad Robert’s footsteps, even to the extent of exploring new markets for unearthing equine talent. For the old man it was Kentucky and the products of Northern Dancer that tickled his, Vincent O’Brien and John Magnier’s fancy in the 1980’s.
Sam stayed nearer home for his voyage into the semi-unknown, coupling his contract to video yearlings offered at the 2012 Baden-Baden auction with a bargain buy, prompted by emerging trainer Hugo Palmer, whose Newmarket yard Sam’s company has sponsored since it opened a couple of years back.
Hugo sought out Sam at the sale telling him he’d seen a nice High Chaparral colt. Sam asked him how much it had been as a foal and when he told me the story yesterday morning, he recalled Hugo had said “25 <thousand, of course> Euros”. Sam said he replied “if you could get him for 30, I might be able to find some owners for him.”
So the horse came into the ring and Sam duly got stuck into bidding, which was admittedly sticky. “At 16k,” Sam recalls, “there was a pause and then he was knocked down to me”.
“As I was about to sign for him, a little Russian guy – I think he was Russian – came running up and said: “It’s my horse, I bought him!” to which the sales official said: “No, this man, Mr Sangster” to which the Russian dissolved into what could only be described as life-fearing panic”.
It seems the actual owner was possibly an oligarch or something more sinister, and the gentleman – presumably not the well-known Ronald Rauscher, the agent named in the catalogue as the consignor – was clearly terrified at the thought of having to explain the loss of nine grand in cold blood, not to mention the horse and the year’s costs since his acquisition in the same ring a year earlier.
Applications by Sam – a sensitive soul – to name the horse Mafia Boss were rejected by the BHA, but they allowed Knife Point (GER) and it was under that monicker that the now gelding, trained by Hugo, won at Catterick on Friday, making it five winners from the seven horses Sam has run this year under his Decadent Racing partnerships.
Knife Point was quite an interesting name, and maybe more than somewhat as Damon Runyon might say, as in actual fact the original foal price was not €25k but €30k! Wonder if the little guy still has his breeding tackle?
Sam just sent me through this year’s catalogue for the auction, which takes place at the beginning of next month, and if the action on yesterday’s first part of Deauville’s August sale is anything to go by, yearlings will be harder than ever to acquire.
Two years ago, my boss Ray Tooth bought a couple from the October Arqana sale. One, a filly called Laughing Water won on her second start for Nicolas Clement, while the other has turned up as a handsome three-year-old called Adrakhan in Dan Skelton’s showplace yard close to Stratford-on-Avon.
As with Sam, Dan is showing that it’s a young man’s game, and having not known him at all before yesterday, I’m now finding it easy to believe he’ll go right to the top. The genes were pretty favourable. As a son of Nick Skelton, just about Britain’s most famed show jumper of all time and a Gold medal hero from the London 2012 Olympics, he had a decent enough start.
His schooling for the job, apart from all those years with horses around him, was polished in his role as Paul Nicholls’ assistant and as he went through all the qualities of the horses in his now second-season yard at Saturday’s open day, he showed a combination of easy self-deprecation and copious knowledge of the 40 or so we saw, a good few paraded by brother Harry, the stable jockey.
Dan’s young wife Grace also plays a big part on the organisational side with dad no doubt seeing to the financials. Certainly a nice few bob has gone into the operation, but the fact that he was able to bring out so many owners on a Saturday afternoon – it meant they (and I) missed the Arsenal – Palace game – was a surprise, it seemed, even to him.
Having watched him working the crowd and handling the microphone, I’m far from surprised. It was nice that he was so complimentary about Adrakhan, Ray’s Martaline gelding. As Dan says, “We had quite a few Martalines at Paul’s and I always liked them”. I do too, with such as Dynaste to point to as examples of his ability to pass on the genes, which in Adrakhan’s case extend to five winning siblings, four over jumps.
The Skeltons have the main ingredient that characterises many of the top dynasties in racing. Early on I mentioned the Sangsters, and you could easily extend that to Aidan O’Brien’s family with four young children (two sons, two daughters) all now riding regularly on the tracks of Ireland, or the Moores.
Former and probably imminent champion Ryan was in Chicago last night, riding a double which included Adelaide for Aidan in the Secretariat Stakes and Euro Charline for Marco Botti (he, of the Italian training dynasty) in the lavishly-endowed Beverley D Stakes.
Joseph, too big for the 8st7lb Ryan managed on Adelaide, was comfortable enough on Magician in the Arlington Million, but the boys had to give best to 10-1 shot Hardest Cove. Third here was globe-trotter Side Glance, Andrew Balding’s veteran whose path to a £60k payoff was eased by the absence of his regular sparring partner Mull of Killough who had finished well ahead of him at Ascot on their previous encounter.
As I said, being on my way to deepest Warwickshire limited my grasp of world events, at the Oval, Newbury, Newmarket and on the football fields of England. I was just about able to glean that Joe Root is on the way to another century in England’s latest romp against India, while one of the two big boys who played on opening day won and another lost, unexpectedly. No doubt Man U made a winning start for the Dutch guy with the strange face/neck, while that grumpy Frenchman will have had another disappointing opening afternoon. When I wake up properly, I’ll check it out.