Monday Musings: Sales Season (almost) Endeth

We’re finally on the last leg of the sales season, Tattersall’s four-day auction of mares, as their December marathon at Newmarket eventually makes it to its eponymous month, writes Tony Stafford. My friend Peter will be happy as it means not only will he and Lorraine get onto the minibus to see Frankel again, but he’ll also make an early start today for some of Juddmonte’s goodies.

He especially anticipates, as do I, the mini pots of fish and chips, and as he likes to tell Teddy Grimthorpe, it makes a change from Greggs.

Peter and family came to the last Ascot Saturday with me and as we wandered around – as ever marvelling at the Royal racecourse’s ability to attract the crowds to any fixture – I suggested that a Greggs would enjoy phenomenal trade at the end of the main enclosure. Peter agreed but when I suggested he should be the one to put it to Johnny Weatherby, the Queen’s Representative, that idea was shelved for another year.

Last week Raymond Tooth had his first go at selling foals from Kinsale stud, prepped via David and Trish Brown’s Furnace Mill and on balance the experience was positive. The filly by Nathaniel struggled, like many by the sire, contrary to expectations after the stellar year of Enable, but was nevertheless reasonably-satisfactorily traded in a private sale on day two.

Contrastingly, despite a nominally less attractive position on the opening afternoon, the Garswood colt out of Lawyers Choice, so half-brother to Dutch Law, made 42,000gns, more than ten times the 2016 nomination fee for the Cheveley Park stud stallion, set to have his first runners next year.

Such was his presence, he was in the top ten of the near 300 catalogued on the opening day, and realised more than all but 17 fetched on the final day, which generally is the second-weakest. When two foals on day three made 600,000gns each we were interested. They were respectively a colt by Dark Angel and a filly by Invincible Spirit. Among Ray’s mares is Ailsa On My Mind, a daughter of Dark Angel out of an Invincible Spirit mare. Once-raced when placed third for Hugo Palmer as a juvenile, she is due to have her first foal by Garswood early next year.

It’s not often you meet your heroes, but having enjoyed a chat with Michael Holding at Chelmsford City a while ago when he travelled there with Ryan Moore and his driver Mickey Guest, I was having a drink with David Brown and Richard and Rachael Kempster of Kinsale, when two venerable (older than me) gentlemen and cricketing pals of Brownie’s sidled alongside.

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To meet one England cricket captain would be exciting: to get two in one was astonishing. But here were Keith Fletcher (now 73) and 84-year-old M J K (Mike) Smith still bright eyed, bushy-tailed and unlike their admirer, sporting plenty of hair. I hope my fawning attention for the next half hour wasn’t too embarrassing!

After a campaign when late-developing juveniles and thin-on-the-ground older horses meant under-achievement by previous standards, those sales and the 50,000gns realised by another home-bred, the three-year-old Stanhope, meant the balance was somewhat restored, but it will be a slimmed-down breeding operation that confronts 2018.

One I am looking forward to is Ray’s sole yearling purchase, the War Command filly sourced at Brian Meehan’s open day back in the autumn. She’s from the same maternal family as Roly Poly and US Navy Flag and looks a two-year-old type. Last week in the back restaurant at Tatts, I bumped into Kevin McAuliffe, who sat next to me at Brian’s post parade lunch at Rick Stein’s in Marlborough High Street.

When I told Kevin that Raymond had bought the War Command filly, he said: “She’s a smasher. I had somebody for her, but she was already gone”. You have to get up early in the morning, Kevin, to beat the Tooth!

Yesterday morning, having expected to be making a long trip north on matters away from racing, I got a reprieve from Mrs Stafford, for whom I was scheduled to chauffeur, so went instead to Cottenham’s Cambridge University Hunts meeting, close to the roadworks part of the A14.

This was only my second ever point-to-point and the first was at the same venue and at the behest of the Quinlan family after Noel had taken ownership of Park Lane from Raymond and daughter Jessica was due to ride. Yesterday another lady amateur rider, Siobhan Doolan – Wilf Storey’s grand-daughter – gave me the invitation, and she was riding for Heidi Brookshaw, daughter of Grand National-winning trainer Tim.

Her Ladies’ Open mount, Sam Cavallero, made a bad mistake down the back straight second time round and Siobhan, now working for Amlin’s horse insurance team, made a recovery that prompted commentator Steve Payne to note her proficiency.

Like Park Lane those years ago, Sam finished unplaced, but Siobhan, daughter of Irish-born former jump jockey Kevin Doolan is a young lady on the move in her chosen field.

There were former commentators aplenty at Cottenham, not least David Minton, who held the position for years when he lived in the region. Now based in Shropshire, Minty took a day off from sales duties on a day when numerous racing “faces” were on show.

Sir Mark Prescott acts as starter, while another rider was Tim (son of Bill) Gredley, whose Newmarket Town Plate-winning partner, Bivouac, made a promising pointing start in third in a hot Men’s Open. Tim’s newish brother-in-law George Scott was there with Charlie Appleby, while Michael Hills was also in attendance with wife Chrissie and dog, along with brother George, another in the insurance game from what I remember, to support a family competitor.

Back with the horses, I felt for Nicky Henderson and owner Dai Walters after the second-season novice Whisper was caught in the last 20 yards of the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury on Saturday. As Hendo rightly said after taking in the implications of the 4lb penalty generated by his horse’s win in a two-horse graduation chase at Kempton, this was indeed a case of “trainer error”, but such a penalty for a race of the Ladbrokes’ status is ridiculous.

In the event Whisper was unable to manage a 14lb concession to the year-younger Total Recall, whose training was taken over by Willie Mullins after Sandra Hughes’ retirement last year. Mullins guided Total Recall to an easy success in the Munster National recently, and in the absence of Ruby Walsh through his latest fracture, Paul Townend did the steering to earn the £142,000 first prize.

So what was formerly the Hennessy –and one of the Racing UK commentators, possibly Jonathan Neesom unguardedly still called it that in the preamble – evaded Henderson as did the preceding Ladbrokes international Hurdle (formerly the Gerry Feilden).

This was a case of the former pupil beating the master, with the Ben Pauling-trained High Bridge coming away from Seven Barrows’ Charli Parcs, under a competent ride by young Alex Ferguson, in the colours of his mother. Fergie junior (Mark 2) has certainly tightened up as a rider since joining Pauling, and with elder brother James now assistant to Meehan at Manton, the family is extending rather than losing its influence in the business. The old man looked quite happy when I saw him at the foal sales, and he’ll no doubt be another grateful recipient of Juddmonte’s largesse this week.


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