Monday Musings: Golden Mile(rs)

Last week, I suggested that the 2016 Olympic Games would be of little interest in this household, writes Tony Stafford. Gold medals for Whitlock (two), Rose, Murray and Kenny – all boys – on a single Sunday, proved that whatever journalists say one day, they can recraft a day later with equal authority even if it’s 180 degrees opposite in meaning.

Hugo Palmer would have been hoping for another golden day yesterday with Galileo Gold, but after a typical forcing display under Frankie Dettori, he folded late on to be only eighth behind Godolphin’s Ribchester in the Prix Jacques le Marois in Deauville.

I’m not always the most charitable of critics when the big-money stables pinch (or rather pay for) promising horses, normally those that have won nice races already, from smaller owners.

In Ribchester’s case, though, Godolphin’s talent spotters were fixing on a twice-raced maiden owned by the Lancashire-based businessman, David W Armstrong. Admittedly, Ribchester’s second place in the Gimcrack at 25-1 was hardly difficult to spot, but spot him they did and the Armstrongs took the Maktoum money as they had for another Fahey inmate, Birchwood, a couple of months earlier.

Birchwood had a good season as a juvenile but has struggled this year whereas Ribchester, having won the Mill Reef at Newbury in his only Godolphin start of 2015, has improved emphatically, run to run, as a three-year-old.

After being put back from second to fifth for erratic interference on his comeback in the Prix Djebel in the spring, he progressed nicely when a three and a half-length third to Galileo Gold in the 2,000 Guineas. Reserved for the Jersey Stakes rather than the St James’s Palace Stakes at the Royal meeting, he duly outclassed that field at what in retrospect looks an amazingly generous 7-1! [Hindsight is indeed a wonderful thing – Ed.]

Next was his fast-finishing third, a neck and a short head behind The Gurkha and Galileo Gold in the Sussex Stakes, which had been billed as a rematch between the three European 2,000 Guineas winners. Awtaad, the third of them, finished well beaten in eighth. The Goodwood Group 1 must lay claim to being the best mile race of the season as it also included Saturday’s Hungerford Stakes winner, Richard Pankhurst, last of 10 there, but good enough to foil Palmer’s Home of the Brave at Newbury.

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Even after his Goodwood performance, Ribchester was still metaphorically under the radar, being allowed to start at almost 4-1 in France. Fahey has no hesitation in regarding him as the best he’s trained and the son of Iffraaj is sure to be a major stallion for the Darley brand when he retires.

Four years ago at York’s August Ebor meeting, the peerless Frankel was a 1-10 shot for the Juddmonte International as he progressed towards his 14 from 14 wins on the track. Two years earlier, in the same week, he began his career in a Newmarket maiden narrowly beating fellow debutant and Galileo product, Nathaniel.

On Sunday at Deauville, after yet another win that afternoon for one of his first-crop daughters, the first on an artificial surface, the big bidders were out at the Arqana sale when predictably the Frankels were the most in demand by the big buyers.

Godolphin no doubt will be hoping that say five years on, after a track career somewhere approaching his illustrious predecessor’s excellence, the Ribchesters will also excite the purchasers.

In the hope that we get less of the Ribby Boys and Prime Rib when the naming game begins, I can offer some clues towards some potential handles for future progeny. Ribchester, if you didn’t know, is a village in the Ribble Valley, close to Blackburn and Preston, an area which has provided fertile ground for the naming of many of the Armstrong horses.

It was a Roman fort town – initially built from timber in around 72 or 73 AD – but by the fourth century the later stone building had declined into ruins. The village, population 1,598 in the 2011 Census, was found to have remains of the fort in several locations, some unearthed when new building was undertaken.

In Roman times, the village’s original name was Bremetennacum Veteramorum, more normally contracted to plain old Bremetennacum. It was already called Ribchester quite early in its existence and according to one historical source: “It is written on a wall in Rome that Ribchester was as rich as any town in Christendom”. I wonder if the Godolphin boys were aware of such a rich, ancient heritage.

The 2016 crop of Classic mile colts is certainly rich, and Frankie Dettori has been enjoying his association with a number of them. His Friday night Newmarket double which brought him nicely on to a career 3,000 winners in the UK was not universally acclaimed as I for one was slightly irritated that Dutch Law could finish only third to Predilection in the landmark race.

Never mind that Dettori rode his opponents to sleep – helped by the absence of two potential challengers for his soft lead – I was sure Ray Tooth’s horse would have been right on the winner’s tail if they’d gone a bit quicker.

Having won for the third time in four tries on the course the previous weekend, we calculated that Dutch Law needed to run again in order to lift his rating enough to make the field for the £80,000 Albert Bartlett Handicap at Ascot on September 3. That should have done the job.

He’s been very busy, but consecutive RPR’s in 2016 of 83,83,84,90,91,92,96 and now 98 suggest he’s improving steadily. To put Friday’s task in context, on June 16, Frankie’s 3,000th was running off 99 at Royal Ascot. At the time Dutch Law was rated 82. On Friday they were running off 94 and 93 respectively, a turn-around of 16lb in favour of the John Gosden – Khalid Abdullah horse.

Again to put it in perspective, the runner-up, staying on well was Mick Appleby’s (formerly Gosden’s) three-year-old Palmerston. One well-known agent was scrutinising Palmerston under the trees in the July Course’s secluded pre-parade ring and came away satisfied with what he saw there and then in the race. Palmerston was getting a whopping 24lb from our humble home-bred.

There was no luck for either Climax (fourth at Catterick) or the disappointing Harry Champion at HQ on Saturday. Maybe we’re going to have to wait for Yarmouth and the Micky Quinn-trained Stanhope. Mick now has Ray’s one-time St Leger runner Great Hall in his care, after some moves around various parts of the country, and that horse’s fourth, behind the unbelievable Fire Fighting, on Saturday suggests there may be more days in the sun for him.

Alan Spence continues to win with his horses all over the place and Fire Fighting’s four-length winning display off 110 in a hot handicap almost defied belief. Alan expects Profitable to get back to winning ways reverting to five in the Nunthorpe at York this week. I may even venture north to see it, thereby escaping dog-watching duties for the day while the usual holder of that post is away at a two-week ice skating summer camp at Sochi on Russia’s Black Sea. How the other half lives!

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