The Internet can be very irritating, writes Tony Stafford. Yesterday afternoon, I was checking my route to Cambridge (now International) Airport from the M11, as I was tight for time to collect my friend Harry Taylor on his return with a jockey or three back from The Curragh.
I don’t have TomTom or any of those other aids to navigation and although I knew it was on the Newmarket side of Cambridge, I didn’t fancy going all the way up to the A14 nearly to HQ before going off left. In the end, despite being told on said Internet that “Cambridge International Airport is now closed” I made it in time, no thanks to technology.
The web has also been frustrating in my efforts to revive failing memories of the day at Cheltenham in March 1977 when two of Britain’s greatest champions had their lives cruelly ended in ghastly circumstances.
I should remember it better as it was on me that befell the task of sub-editing John Oaksey’s masterful if tear-jerking report on a day of rain and high wind. Unfortunately I do not have the piece to hand but it went somewhere along the lines of: “The Irish won only four <I think – I know they won seven in all over the three days that year> races at Cheltenham yesterday. Only one stand was nearly blown down and only two great champions had their careers ended.”
If it isn’t wholly accurate, the thoughts have stayed firmly if elusively in the consciousness. Lanzarote, veteran of many big races, including the 1974 Champion Hurdle, was killed in his race. He was trained by Fred Winter, as was Bula, a dual Champion (1971 and 1972), who fell at the fifth fence in the Two-Mile Champion Chase the same afternoon. Bula survived for a couple of months before being put down.
Harry travelled up on the train with me on Saturday and was excited to be getting a ride over after the St Leger to be at Leopardstown in time for the Irish Champion Stakes and the whole second day of Ireland’s Champions weekend at the Curragh. When he called me before racing yesterday to firm up the taxi-collection details, his weather report was: “The wind here’s unbelievable. It must be 100 mph!”
That might have been an exaggeration, but the strength was enough to hamper proper relaying of the commentary during the afternoon. If the two days were not quite in the 1977 Cheltenham class, they proved pretty character-forming for many of the participants.
Aidan O’Brien’s serene progress towards the £6m prizemoney mark in the UK was looking almost routine as Seamie Heffernan moved hot favourite Idaho slightly to his right to make his move at the three-furlong point in the last Ladbrokes St Leger. As the horse changed direction, he seemed to dislodge a hefty, loose clump of turf which was thrown up as he stumbled forward, causing Heffernan to be unseated.
The horse, happily, will live to fight another day, as will Seamie, bloodied around the nose and face after recovering from being knocked briefly unconscious. He stayed overnight in hospital while colleagues Donnacha O’Brien and Colm O’Donoghue flew back to Leopardstown.
Time will first ease and eventually erase the Idaho element from the St Leger’s 250-year history, as there was a much more significant end to the day’s story. Laura Mongan, who runs a 20-horse stable in the sadly under-used training centre of Epsom took the race with 22-1 shot Harbour Law.
Laura runs her stable with husband Ian, a former jockey who was for many years a vital cog in the Sir Henry Cecil stable, earning his own memorable Group 1 success with Twice Over in the 2011 Juddmonte International at York.
In the way of such things, Laura’s Classic success would not have been predicted before this year as the 30,000gns yearling purchase had never seen a racecourse.
Indeed, he’d not seen Epsom either, for when he made his debut in an all-weather maiden at Lingfield in early spring, he, with 18 other horses owned by Jackie Cornwell, was listed as trained by Jo Crowley at Whitcombe.
Harbour Law ran once for Ms Crowley and then with the other Cornwell horses, moved to Epsom when Crowley handed in her licence. Two wins, in a maiden and a Sandown three-year-old handicap (echoes of Jack Hobbs) preceded a good second in the Queen’s Vase and fourth in the Bahrain Trophy before Saturday’s stout staying performance as Harbour Law and George Baker ran past Ventura Storm and O’Brien’s Housesofparliament for a deserved success.
Needless to say this was the first St Leger to be won by a female trainer and Harbour Law has the profile to become a Cup horse next year. Maybe he’ll be in the two-mile race on Ascot’s Champions Day?
Idaho’s misfortune was symptomatic of two days of what could have been for A P O’Brien. Six of his horses over Irish Champions Weekend were beaten into second place and none of them was as much as a length behind the winner. In time order US Army Ranger (half a length), Found (threequarters, albeit running an epic race in a hot Irish Champion), Best In The World (half), Washington DC (half), Hydrangea (short head) and finally Order of St George, a 1-7 shot who was half a length adrift of versatile hurdler Wicklow Brave in the Irish St Leger.
Doncaster last week included a legends race won by that retired “veteran” Joseph O’Brien, age 23. Many of the participants remembered among others Pat Eddery, 11-times champion jockey equalling Lester Piggott’s achievement. Happily Lester was there and coming up to 80, looked in great fettle.
In the early 1980’s Eddery found himself in the middle of an uncomfortable position after El Gran Senor, hot favourite for the Derby and trained by Vincent O’Brien, was narrowly beaten by Secreto, handled by Vincent’s son David. Secreto missed the Irish Derby and in his absence El Gran Senor stepped up, reputedly saving the multi-million dollar stallion deal that hinged on a “Derby” win.
Meanwhile back home in Ireland, Joseph and younger brother Donnacha, teamed up to win the Moyglare Group 1 race for fillies with the Anne-Marie O’Brien-bred and, (until early August)-owned, Intricately.
Just as at Epsom in June last year, an O’Brien trained horse, bred by the missus, turned up in new ownership, that of Mrs Chantal Consuela Regalado-Gonzalez, and won the Oaks. That filly was Qualify, who started 50-1 and outstayed Legatissimo. Here the 25-1 chance Intricately got up to beat Hydrangea, with two more Ballydoyle fillies, each of whom had finished ahead of her previously, further back with a good display of stamina.
Mrs Regalado-Gonzalez is the partner of the publicity-shy John Morrell, who has in the past owned several major stables including La Grange, now home of Ed Dunlop. Mrs R-G seems to like the name Jo or Joseph. Her four listed trainers in the UK include Jo Hughes, while in Ireland four trainers have had runners for her in 2016. They are Joseph O’Brien, Joseph Murphy, John Joseph Murphy and Dermot Weld. How did he get in?