Sunday Supplement: Tilting at Turf Windmills

Tony Stafford

Tony Stafford

Sunday supplement

By Tony Stafford

I make no apology for starting with a hurrah for Sam Sangster and his Decadent Racing group. They had the temerity to challenge John F Kennedy, rated in places as the new Australia, in the John Deere Juvenile Turf (Group 3) over a mile at Leopardstown on the opening day of Ireland’s Champions weekend and were rewarded when Faithful Creek collected a creditable third place.

OK, they were six lengths behind Ballydoyle’s embryo champion, the latest model from the seemingly endless Galileo production line, but in so doing almost certainly slotted in as the best son yet of the hitherto disappointing stallion Bushranger.

A smart performer for Coolmore on the track, Bushranger was expected to be among the leaders of the new sires when his first foals hit the ground just three years ago, but while his large crop faltered, others like Mastercraftsman thrived.

It is not too late for a major spurt for the Tally Ho stud inmate, though. Just look at how the same stud’s Kodiac has progressed from ordinary beginnings into almost the perfect sire of juveniles and then progressive sprinter-milers. No doubt Tony, Anne and Roger O’Callaghan have not given up.

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But I must return to the happy story of Faithful Creek . The initial disappointment surrounding Bushranger must have contributed to the fact that Johnny McKeever was able to secure him at the sales for 35,000gns last year and therefore brought him into the budget area of Sam and his men.

They collected Euro 7,500 for that Group 3 place, a win and you’re in qualifier, but after informal talks with the Breeders’ Cup officials, Sam’s been told they have excellent chances of getting a slot in the John Deere Juvenile Turf itself at Santa Anita over the first weekend in November.

Sam has his late father Robert’s appetite for a tilt against the odds, and Brian Meehan never takes much persuading to dust off his passport and head out west. He’s won over there, too, of course.

For St Leger Day, I had an almost surreal experience. Until 6.40 p.m. when I rolled into Wolverhampton with trusty Roger at the wheel to see Two Jabs’ third Flat run in three weeks, the only equine connections I’d had on the day, were the last furlong, on the phone of the Portland, BBC Radio 5’s grudging St Leger commentary and back on the phone, the almost indecipherable closing stages of John F Kennedy.

So I missed the St Leger for the first time since I was stranded in Kentucky in the wake of 9-11 13 years ago; to go with complete blanks for the first time since the 1970’s at Glorious Goodwood, York’s Ebor meeting and Doncaster.

Those unpardonable absences will not be repeated in 2015. For various reasons the 2014 calendar has had its disruptions, mostly unavoidable, but I repeat, no such excuses will be tolerated next year!

The latest hindrance was the fact I was offered a ticket to the Emirates for Arsenal – Manchester City and if you wanted action, skill and uncertainty, you got it in abundance. But from a mid-morning Overground ride the ten minutes from Hackney Wick to Highbury and Islington, to a stroll down to breakfast in the busiest cake shop in Holloway and a 12.45 p.m. start, so 2.40 p.m. finish, the whole day is pretty much gone by the time you get home.

So there I was, sweaty from the brisk(ish)walk to the station, already short of some of the best action from Donny, Bath, Chester and Lingfield and more so as I changed Shanks’s Pony for the car, neglecting even to take a quick shower and shirt change before the onward drive for the pick-up point in Newmarket.

As I drove north-east, the Chelsea – Swansea game came on, and just before arriving at Newmarket, Diego Costa chose the last minute of the first half to equalise, scoring the first of his three goals on the day. Among the deserved praise from the excellent Pat Nevin for the Brazilian-Spaniard was the news that he was the first player in Premier League history to score on each of his first four games since Micky Quinn in the early 1990’s for Coventry.

So it was rather disconcerting to say the least, when after fuelling the car, post St Leger and Faithful Creek, and drawing along to the traditional Newmarket parking zone outside Dave Simcock’s that a strange occurrence occurred.

I parked on the right, as Roger was already positioned, Le Mans style, for the departure. I’d left the left-side door wide open in advance of transferring a few items when a large vehicle approached. I held up my hand in apology, but still thinking there was room, when the car stopped and the driver wound down his window.

“How ya goin’ lads”, said the voice in deepest Liverpool brogue. You’ve got it, Micky Quinn. “Hiya Mick, we’re off to Wolverhampton.” “Oh, <wife> Karen’s there, we’re in the first”, said Mick, excused duties by virtue of his heavy Talk Sport Saturday morning stint. Needless to say, I wasn’t with it enough to tell him his distinction had been equalled by the Chelsea man. I bet he wonders how much money he might have been earning if he was born 20 years later.

So we eventually made it to Wolverhampton, where Roger always likes to sample the food in the Hotel restaurant. “These faggots are beautiful”, he announced to the waitress. “They’d be £50 in London.” She walked away in wonder at the excesses of the South.

It was there we watched Joseph O’Brien appear to mistake race riding for orienteering as he went six to eight wide all the way on Australia, leaving Ryan Moore to pick him off late on The Grey Gatsby. At the same time, Sam Sangster’s beloved Liverpool were getting stuffed by the Villa, much to Midlands glee, even in rival territory, but as he seemed just as interested in events at Stamford Bridge, maybe that’s one familial allegiance which is being tested.

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