Monday Musings: All About the A’s

This weekend for me was all about the A’s, writes Tony Stafford. Starting with Ascot and the Shergar Cup which – along with 31,000 other attendees – I thoroughly enjoyed, it progressed yesterday with Alpha Centauri and Advertise collecting the two Group 1 races in France and Ireland respectively.

In between, young Andrew Breslin was the focal point in a four-day Gordon Elliott plot for a Scottish Flat-race hat-trick with recent Perth hurdle winner, Kuiper Belt. Most enjoyably for me, though, Aegean Mist ended a long barren spell for her owner-breeder, Jack Panos, at Lingfield on Saturday night.

Five-year ownership records for Jack’s Theobalds Stud until Saturday morning showed only one place and no wins from 22 runners. That came just over a year ago at Lingfield when Aegean Legend, trained by John Bridger, finished third in a modest five-furlong juvenile affair. Her only subsequent start was a highly-creditable fifth in a much better contest at Ascot in the autumn, but she has yet to reappear.

Bridger was also the trainer when Panos’ home-bred full-sisters, the two-year-old Aegean Mist, in her first handicap after three runs from the Richard Hannon stable, and previously-unraced three-year-old Aegean Beauty, ran in two of the later races on Lingfield’s Saturday night card.

can declare a slight interest as when Aegean Mist previously appeared in the last of those Hannon-managed races at Chelmsford on June 21, I took the liberty of asking Jack whether he had any spare badges as a good friend was going there. He kindly said he did, also suggesting a small each-way bet might be a good idea.

I’d looked back at both her previous runs, having seen both of them live, promising enough on debut in a big field at Leicester and then, possibly unsuited by the track when a well-backed but never dangerous third at Brighton. We both came to the conclusion after Chelmsford when, quite well supported at 11-1, that she didn’t enjoy the kickback.

That still didn’t fully explain her last of ten finishing position all of 20 lengths behind the winner. For much of Saturday’s race, a similar eventuality looked likely for the 20-1 shot, but in the last 100 yards she passed at least half a dozen opponents, finishing strongly under Kieran O’Neill to win with a little in hand.

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An hour later her inexperienced elder sister overcame a slow start initially to cut through her six rivals, strung out the width of the track, to lead inside the two furlong pole. Here she immediately darted left to the far rail, enabling the odds-on Invincible Spirit filly, Aaliya, to tackle and pass her. The favourite also showed slightly erratic tendencies, almost pinning her on the rail before O’Neill extricated his mount.

She still looked a certainty for another Theobalds Stud place until Petite Fleur, out of sight on the opposite side of the course, caught her on the line. I’ve no idea, as daylight was ending in deepest Surrey, whether the stewards took much of a look at the finish, but Kieran might have been lucky not to be made aware that he appeared to take things a little too easily late on.

Aegean Mist’s win on turf should not have been too much of a shock. Nine years earlier, her dam Aegean Shadow won first time out, also on Lingfield’s turf at 33-1 from the Michael Wigham stable, before being beaten on Kempton’s all-weather. Panos moved her to Henry Cecil the following season, and she maintained her turf unbeaten record with wins at Lingfield again on May 22 and Brighton two weeks later, both under Tom Queally. She raced just twice more in a concerted seven-week campaign, again failing to fire on all-weather switched to that surface for her final Lingfield sortie, before finishing with a Doncaster fifth for her only turf defeat.

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Ever since back in the early 1980’s when I suggested a quick-fire Saturday, Monday, Tuesday raid on English tracks for Jim Bolger for his three-year-old Lynconwise – he flopped at Doncaster before winning twice at Leicester in the mud over Whitsun – I’ve loved the concept.

I was made aware of a similar challenge late last week when Wilf Storey told me he’d been unable to get Andrew Breslin, a  young rider from the Mark Johnston stable we both admire, for Jan Smuts at Musselburgh on Friday. He was riding elsewhere, but that he’d also not be available should Wilf choose to run anything on Saturday or Monday as he’d be required for the Gordon Elliott-trained Kuiper Belt, as there was a family ownership connection.

Kuiper Belt was another of those questionable handicap beneficiaries that have been exercising, nay irritating, my equilibrium recently, Jan Smuts’ own rating of 56 a case in point. Kuiper Belt started out as a Niarchos family homebred with David Lanigan, running five times unplaced until his sale for 17,000gns five days after the fifth run, at Newmarket’s July sale just over a year ago.

Sent to Ireland, he raced four times over jumps for C P Donoghue, beaten in turn 47 lengths at 66-1; 42 at 50’s; 34 at 100-1 and 58 lengths at 100-1. It would appear that at this point the Mysterious Men Syndicate had enough, and the next stop was with trainer William (hope that’s right) Ross, when after pulling up at 50-1 and then finishing eighth of ten at 33-1 beaten 44 lengths, the penny seems to have dropped.

Running off 92, Kuiper Belt, now in the trainer’s ownership having previously been running under the executors of Cecil Ross, was a well-backed 100-30 favourite and finished a half-length second of 12 to Politeness in a competitive handicap hurdle.

Raised 5lb for that, he reappeared on the same track, but this time under the Elliott colours, in a novice hurdle on August 1 winning by 15 lengths in a canter under James Bowen. The latest official rating has gone up by what seems a lenient 6lb to 103. Wonder what will happen when he next comes to Perth?

When he signed off for David Lanigan, his 57 Flat rating had already been readjusted downwards to 53, and it was off this mark and under Jamie Spencer, who was hardly traipsing up to Musselburgh for his health, that he had the task of beating the ten-year-old Jan Smuts receiving 3lb to boot. The result was highly-predictable, Kuiper Belt winning with Jamie doing his statue impression, by a neck from another Elliott raider, Hurricane Volta, while Jan Smuts trailed home last.

Young master Breslin came in for Saturday night, when a 12-strong field melted away into a four-horse affair with excuses by the dozen, and another painless exercise, aided by the claim offsetting the laughable penalty, ensued.

Today at Ayr, with 12lb extra for the two wins, less Andrew’s 7lb, Kuiper Belt will be tested by dropping down in trip to a mile and a quarter. That said, 65 probably still underrates him markedly, and his pedigree is not that of a slogging stayer as he’s by Elusive Quality out of a Storm Cat mare – ideal for the distance.

Tomorrow at Chelmsford, another “A”, Alexanderthegreat, runs off 68 in a 0-60, showing that William Haggas learned plenty in his time with Sir Mark Prescott. Raised to 62 from 53 after his Eureka win over a Prescott hotpot at Lingfield after three long-priced coconuts to get the initial mark of 55 and a modest Chepstow fourth to reduce it by 2lb, he sluiced past Twister after turning for home miles behind.

He followed up by six lengths in better company at Newbury and gets in here because of the newish rule which enables 61- and 62-rated horses to contest 0-60’s. In tomorrow night’s 14-furlong finale, the three-year-old, rated 68, still carries the same weight of 9st 11lb as the year-older Ginger Lady, thanks to the 11lb weight for age advantage at the distance. His new rating will hit the BHA web site at 7 a.m. tomorrow. How high will they dare to go, and also for Haggas’ Saturday Chelmsford winner Croque Monsieur, an easy well-backed first-time gelded scorer after previous form figures of 777?

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