By Tony Stafford
Morning all! Do you have that glow of watching a wonderful FA Cup Final, the first since Sepp’s fifth winning election? I didn’t watch it, but it was good enough to listen as I enjoyed a clear run home down the M6 from Chester. Two Jabs didn’t win, but Arsenal’s four jabs ensured a record 12th triumph in the competition for the club and also a Fergie-beating sixth win for the much-maligned M. Wenger.
I’ll say no more on that save that I hope he buys nobody for next season. As the champagne picture shows, there were 29 players in view, and with five others on loan, he already will have regular opportunities to upset plenty of them before every game – check out poor Tomas Rosicky’s look.
Normally going into the Derby, in recent years in any case, the Coolmore team have also had a question, if not whom to leave out, but more which of their contenders should be the mount of their number one jockey.
Now that Ryan Moore rather than the dignified Joseph O’Brien – no “I want a transfer” moans from him – gets the call, he’ll be wondering whether it’s going to be Kilimanjaro or Hans Holbein of the two trial winners, or one of the two “wild cards”.
Plenty of 2,000 Guineas winners used to try the Derby in the old days, so it is not impossible that Gleneagles, for all the “he’s a miler” and “the St James’s Palace is next” chat, could turn up. For my part I’d love to see him try to stretch class into distance, but for Coolmore the succession is all, and Gleneagles seems to be the anointed one to supplant his own sire Galileo at the forefront of the world’s pre-eminent bloodstock breeding organisation.
Alternatively, they can go to left field and supplement (that’s right for the Derby they have a Monday Supplement nowadays) Found, their Irish 1,000 Guineas runner-up behind one of Jim Bolger’s impossible to pronounce horses. That one’s spelt Pleascach and she and her two stable-companions teamed up to stymie Ryan and Found at a crucial time last Sunday. Found will probably stay, and Coolmore have other Oaks options, not least the 1,000 Guineas winner Legatissimo, trained by David Wachman.
Supplementaries for the Derby cost £75,000 and the way that some of the non-British/Irish owners seem content to stump up that figure to run horses of dubious candidature suggests that 10% of the winner’s prize might be inadequate for such an intrusion nowadays. In the case of Anthony Oppenheimer, owner-breeder of Golden Horn, the Dante winner, the equation was more realistic, seeing as he’s around 2-1 to win the race, not 9-1.
Back in the 1960’s, by which time I was just about getting into journalism, horses whose original nominators (owners) for the Derby, no longer owned the horses, either by selling them or dying, caused those animals to be barred from competing.
The most glaring example was a horse owned and bred by my favourite man of Post-war racing, Major Lionel B Holliday. Vaguely Noble, a colt by Vienna out of his mare Noble Lassie, was an unraced two-year-old when his owner died in 1967.
After two initial second places, he was to win the Sandwich Stakes at Ascot and the Observer Gold Cup (now Racing Post Trophy) by wide margins in part due to testing ground pertaining at both courses. Unable to take up the original Derby entry, the plan was to sell him and he changed hands (as the property of Lionel’s son Brook) for 136,000gns, a handsome sum in those days.
He was bought on behalf of Mrs Wilma Franklin (wife of a doctor who was an early pioneer of breast enhancement surgery) and Nelson Bunker Hunt, who with his brother Lamar (founder of professional tennis in the US) tried to corner the silver bullion market, almost going bust in the process.
Bunker Hunt owned a lovely farm next to Blue Grass Airport in Lexington, prosaically naming it after the airport, and bred many wonderful horses during the 70’s and 80’s. Vaguely Noble earned the right to stand as a stallion in the United States when he memorably beat the brilliant 1968 Derby winner Sir Ivor (one of those Ballydoyle-based possible non-stayers, trained by Vincent (no relation) O’Brien) by outpacing him in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
At Gainesway stud, whose owner John Gaines bought a quarter-share for 1.25 million dollars, he sired 70 stakes winners, the best of whom were Dahlia, Exceller, Oaks heroine Jet Ski Lady (Jim Bolger) and Derby winner Empery, Lester’s easiest of his nine Derby winners and backed by me at 33-1! Thanks Pippy.
Lionel Holliday’s story takes some telling. Huddersfield-born, he was joint-founder of a dye company before going off to the First World War, from which he was summoned to return in 1915 because the government wished to employ his knowledge of explosives.
His company was turned over to War production and his proudest boast was that the factory produced 11 million tons of TNT without the loss of a single life on the production floor. Casualties were much more frequent at his Lagrange Stables, on the Snailwell Road in Newmarket where 13 private trainers came and went, as he said: “They arrived on a bicycle and left in a Rolls Royce!”
Geoffrey Brooke, Humphrey Cottrell, Dick Hern and Walter Wharton held the post in succession on their way to bigger things. It was Hern who handled the first Flat-race hero of my consciousness, Hethersett, a faller in the 1962 Derby, but successively winner of the Gordon, Great Voltigeur and St Leger. His York win, part of a three doubles and a treble coup at age 16, during a family holiday in Bournemouth, surely cemented my misguided love of betting on horses.
I was suggestible enough to be horrified by Hern’s move to West Ilsley the following spring. West Ilsley’s owner Jack Colling retired, so sold his stables to Lord Astor and Hern was recruited having won a first trainer’s title thanks principally to Hethersett.
It didn’t take long for him to make his mark in Berkshire. In the Jockey Club Stakes that April, Hern’s Darling Boy beat Hethersett in a close finish. At the time, I seem to remember that head lad S J Meaney held the licence before Wharton came in. It took me years to forgive Hern, although some of my irritation ended when I backed Brigadier Gerard first time out when he won Newbury’s Berkshire Stakes at 100-7 by five easy lengths.
As Kate Upton, who would have made a great testimonial for Dr Franklin, had he still been around to supervise what may or may not have been an “enhancement” says in her oft-featured promo for a computer game on Sky Sports, “who will be your hero?” We’ll all know next weekend.