By Tony Stafford
In a week when two major racing figures announced their imminent retirement for reasons not solely to do with advancing age – Hayley Turner, 32 and Clive Brittain, 81 – another giant of the Turf could well be winding down.
In the 2004 edition of Directory of the Turf, the great Christiane (Criquette to all in racing) Head-Maarek , 66, was listed as having 180 horses at her stables in Chantilly. Eleven years on, according to France Galop, there are just 67 in her care.
Meanwhile Mick Quinn, who in his Coventry days scored a hat-trick against Arsenal and ate all the pies, has morphed into a Talk Sport legend and, for a good deal longer, a racehorse trainer in conjunction with his wife, Karen.
So far in 2015, Criquette has won five races with 42 horses from 96 runs and Quinny has won six with five. Khalid Abdullah (19), the Head family’s Haras du Quesnay (17) and Al Shaqab, Treve’s owners with eight, are the major patrons of the first named. Many in the stables are home-breds and well-connected too.
Micky’s five horses include just one not to have won this year – Anfield, named for his home town football club’s ground and rated just 40 before her much-improved run in second which brought a latest rise to 48. Otherwise he has won with World Record and also Refuse Colette, the mare adding to five Yarmouth wins last year with a six-furlong Nottingham victory last month. “She’s been waiting for Yarmouth to get going,” says Mick, “We’ll be looking to get her there ASAP”, he says.
Colette is a six-year-old mare owned by the YNWA Partnership, who in company with Juddmonte and Haras du Quesnay clearly believe in the efficacy of families. They also have two of Refuse Colette’s younger siblings, the four-year-old Rockie Road and Racing Angel, who is three. Both have won twice since switching to Quinn, and have made Brighton their preferred battle ground in that other seaside venue’s inactivity.
When the season started, Criquette must have anticipated a better return than the five paltry wins, even if Treve’s two were at Group 2 and then Group 1 level, entertaining hopes that she can complete the unprecedented Arc hat-trick next month. Her wins were in the Prix Corrida (May 28, against females) and on June 29th in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud, both over one and a half miles on the Paris track named-dropped in that latter contest.
In her second run, she easily held the challenge of Flintshire and when Andre Fabre sent him over to Saratoga last weekend for the Grade 1 Sword Dancer, worth £342,000 to the winner, he made the Americans look pedestrian, paying Treve an extravagant compliment.
But there could be a snag. The Grand Prix in late June was Criquette’s last winner. One other older horse, the four-year-old Greenstreet, won a minor race In February and the three-year-olds Clariden and Queen Winner are the only representatives from the Classic age group to win. Greenstreet scored at Longchamp in May, while the filly won in Dieppe the following month. So far four juveniles (of 29) have run, of which one was placed.
While the Racing Post does not include results from the smaller tracks, it does list runners over the past fortnight for French trainers on those courses. For instance, our (Raymond Tooth’s) French trainer, Nicolas Clement, has run quite a few on the major tracks recently, but, as the Post reveals, also one in the provinces at Saint-Malo in that period. Criquette has had no runner anywhere in the past fortnight, but she has declared Fontanelice to run in the Listed Prix de la Cochere over a mile at Longchamp today (Sunday) and has left in three including the unraced juvenile Pyretos at home course Chantilly on Tuesday.
No doubt the French racing public will be watching closely to detect whether there are grounds for concern in regard to Treve’s prospects. It cannot help confidence that Full Mast, the beneficiary of Gleneagles’ disqualification in the Group 1 Prix Jean Lagardere last Arc Day, has raced just twice since, second in a Group 3 and then finishing only seventh in the Group 1 Prix Jean Prat, a too-bad-to-be-true 19 lengths behind Territories.
Epicuris, like Full Mast a Group 1 winner at two for Khalid Abdullah, has been placed in two domestic Group races below the top level, either side of his 12-length fifth behind Golden Horn when a tongue-tied 20-1 shot in the Derby. He has been the trainer’s sole English runner this year, and Treve, when unsuited by the going at Royal Ascot last year, was her only other UK runner over the past five seasons.
This indicates, as does the fall-off in numbers, much less activity than hitherto at the top level for the supreme handler, especially of fillies. Her record with such as Three Troikas, Sigy, Ma Biche, Maximova and the great Ravinella, as well as top colts Bering and Anabaa, places her as the unrivalled female trainer, arguably, in the history of racing. UK Group 1 races, especially the 1,000 Guineas and Cheveley Park, were apparently hers for the taking in those days in the 80’s and 90’s, but that history will mean nothing if there’s anything amiss at Longchamp in early October. I hope there isn’t, but 7-4 looks too skinny and risky enough.
It is always good news when a small stable does well, especially when it has struggled to attract owners. Peter Charalambous is a hard-working example of that type of trainer, always finding bargains that punch well above their weight.
Over the years since moving to Newmarket, he has been frustrated by the lack of support from mainstream owners, so had to own and train them almost entirely by himself with the help mainly of his partner Trudie and some owners generally taking small shares with him.
Now the stable has a “proper” horse, as Theydon Grey, a two-year-old son of Champs Elysees (an Abdullah-raced and –owned stallion) bolted up, well backed, in the Chelmsford maiden on Thursday, clocking a track record one and a half seconds inside the previous best figure.
Pete’s canny eye spotted him at the sales and he paid what now looks the truly ridiculous figure of 9,000gns from Tattersalls Book 3. Peter shares the horse with Eamonn O’Riordan, a resident of Theydon Bois who knew the late Roy Street, subject of last week’s article. This could be the horse that puts Peter up to the next tier among trainers, making all the work and sacrifice for the sport he loves more viable financially.
Peter always liked the colt, but as he says “when he came up the gallops well clear giving two stone to Boonga Roogeta <6yo mare rated 81 after 11 wins> I knew he was special”. Do I detect a Godolphin or a Qatari on the horizon? Guaranteed!
The same ever-acquisitive interests were immediately circling the next afternoon when my mate Alan Spence enjoyed a wide-margin Haydock success with the previously-unraced Priceless. The Clive Cox-trained daughter of Exceed and Excel clocked a time 1.3 seconds faster than an Al Shaqab newcomer trained by Richard Hannon in the first division of the same maiden race. It was also a tick faster than eight-year-old 83-rated Gramercy’s time in a hard-fought win in the following handicap.
I’ve known Alan a long time, and I still have a picture in my lounge of my first winner Charlie Kilgour, for whom I paid Alan £1,000, coming back to unsaddle at my lucky track Beverley 31 years ago! To look at him now, you’d have thought Alan must have been in his teens then, but he wasn’t.
We were talking the day before the race when he had just touched down at Baden-Baden in advance of a buying trip at the yearling sales. He told me that he thought he had a big chance with his first-time filly at Haydock and two of his five runners around the country on Saturday. Once I forgot the first, I could hardly worry about the ones at Thirsk and Wolverhampton, could I?
Alan was mainly interested in the first-crop yearlings of his multiple Group-winning stayer Jukebox Jury, who dead-heated for the 2011 Irish St Leger with Duncan – Fame and Glory 8-13 fourth – and more importantly for German breeders, the 2009 Preis von Europa. He now stands in Germany for Euro 5,500 and Mark Johnston, the grey’s trainer, bought two for Alan, both at Euro 34,000.
As to Priceless, the would-be purchasers would find that Alan neither needs nor wishes to sell. So if Chelsea, where he is Vice-President, has a crap season, he’ll still have at least one thing to smile about over the winter.