For many years, the counter-argument to attending the big events has always been that you can see much more on the television screen, writes Tony Stafford. Yesterday’s Arc action, exclusive to At the Races, soon to be Sky Racing, had to be spliced between Uttoxeter jumping and a mixed Irish card from Tipperary. Oh for the days when BBC was able to do the thing properly.
That’s probably unfair, especially as ITV, the current terrestrial home of racing, did a solid job. One advantage of for once not being in Paris – or Chantilly as it was the last two years – was that the undercard and its largely British-trained domination, offered many stories. Thus I can largely leave Enable’s second win to her own devices and other commentators.
Events started off with a notably successful gamble. The Arqana Arc sale, in Saint Cloud on big-race eve, seemed rather insipid beforehand, but lot 4, Lily’s Candle, a dual-winning daughter of French-based stallion Style Vendome, realised €390,000 to the bid of US owner, Martin S Schwartz. Eighteen hours later, still in the care of her previous trainer, she belied her status as second-biggest outsider at 27-1 by winning the opening Prix Marcel Boussac.
That recouped more than £200,000, less disbursements, fully deserved to trainer Fabrice Vermeulen, jockey Pierre Charles-Boudot, who is going to be champion this year, and the stable staff.
It was a fair day for Mr Schwartz as last night at Belmont Park, another of his French acquisitions, Onthemoonagain, a daughter of Cape Cross whose last run in France was when unplaced behind Rhododendron in last year’s Prix de l’Opera on the same card, finished runner-up in the Flower Bowl.
And it was more than a fair day too for Boudot who also teamed up for the Arc nearly man, William Haggas, to collect the seven-furlong Prix de la Foret on One Master. This was a fourth win in eight starts for the daughter of Fastnet Rock, who was allowed to start 47-1 despite winning a nice Group 3 prize in Tipperary last time out.
At Doncaster in August last year, One Master made a belated but highly-promising debut, staying on into third behind Equitation over six furlongs. I was there to see a filly called Betty Grable and went away happy with her keeping on sixth, two and a half lengths behind One Master and four adrift of the winner.
One Master duly picked up her maiden efficiently at Yarmouth under Ryan Moore and was carrying a never-used 75 opening handicap mark when winning an Ascot Listed race next time, bringing about a 30lb hike in one move. For handicap aficionados, Betty Grable is now on 47, has yet to win and last time finished eighth off that mark!
Haggas’s ability to develop talent has always been evident. Sea of Class’s rise through the ranks from her narrow debut defeat at Newmarket barely five months ago, through two Listed wins at Newbury and on to the Irish and Yorkshire Oaks, has been masterful. Yesterday’s all-but successful effort in the Arc where in another couple of strides she would have swept past Enable continued the progression.
Haggas also is at least partly responsible for another of 2018’s success stories. When I wrote about Archie Watson’s unerring first year of his training career some months ago, he had been mopping up claimers and minor all-weather races. Yesterday he went within a few strides of collecting a rare Group 1, the Prix de l’Abbaye, with a two-year-old.
As the season has worn on, so his sure touch with first-season horses has become ever more obvious. Soldier’s Call’s near miss under Oisin Murphy after pegging back the flying, but fallible Battaash, as Mabs Cross in the old red colours and Gold Vibe went by late on, must have been heart-breaking for Archie.
My initial encounter with him was a brief one, but first impressions they say, are important. Archie, having left Haggas where he was assistant trainer, took over Saxon Gate Stables around two years ago. It had been developed and improved by the late Julia Tooth and continued by her partner Paul Fitzsimons. Watson’s good start had obviously been noticed by Julia’s father Raymond and in the Epsom parade ring last summer (2017) taking the chance I told Archie: “Raymond Tooth is very impressed by your start.” His answer: “Ok” had the benefit of brevity and also revealed this is someone not for diverting. Fair enough. That’s the impression he conveys to his fellow trainers in Lambourn, by all accounts.
That single-mindedness has brought 90 domestic and several overseas wins, but none that would have compared with a juvenile win in an all-aged Group 1. Domestically, Watson has 90 wins, 48 with two-year-olds. Overall he is going at a 22% strike rate and half of his 46 juveniles to have run are winners.
I had already congratulated David and Emma Armstrong in the York unsaddling enclosure back in August after the Coolmore Nunthorpe. Mabs Cross had flashed over the line with Bryan Smart-trained Alpha Delphini, but it would have been hard to find anybody that thought she had been beaten.
But beaten she was by the unconsidered fellow Yorkshire-trained sprinter. I’d had a small bet at York – got 20-1, she started 14’s – but I’m sure the owners will have been more than happy with yesterday’s consolation. Alpha Delphini was 11th yesterday – Sod’s Law.
Six years ago their first star sprinter, Mayson, was touched off in the Abbaye by Wizz Kid in his final race before entering stud. He’d won the July Cup on his previous start. To win the Abbaye with a filly was a triumph and completed a rewarding weekend for trainer Michael Dods, who the previous day won a Listed prize at Ascot with Intense Romance.
Ballydoyle’s weekend prospects looked less obvious than has often been the case and successive St Leger winners Capri and Kew Gardens were not discredited, close up in fifth and seventh, with the pacemaking Nelson (181-1!) in eighth barely four lengths behind Enable. There will be plenty more to come from them all.
More immediately, I’m looking forward to seeing whether Aidan O’Brien has entered Il Paradiso, a big bold staying type by Galileo, in next weekend’s 10-furlong Zetland Stakes. That was the race in which Kew Gardens rounded out his two-year-old campaign with a defeat of Dee Ex Bee; and Il Paradiso, though no match for Turgenev’s acceleration going into the dip in their mile maiden on Saturday, finished with a rare rattle up the hill.
Even closer to hand, I’m driving up to Pontefract to see Ray’s Sod’s Law – the real one! – tackle better opposition than he beat when opening his tally at Ffos Las last month. It would have helped if Mr Haggas had not found a 95-rated horse to run and cause us to be 3lb out of the weights, but the ground will be suitable and Hughie Morrison is in form.
Then on Tuesday at 11 a.m. it’s Book 1 of Tattersall’s October Yearling Sale. If you want to see all the big name owners and trainers close up and free of charge, go along to Park Paddocks. But beware doing a Kevin Howard. One year he arrived in mid-sale and ended up in the Bidders’ Only area opposite the rostrum. Spotting me across the way, he started gesticulating to attract my attention. “Is that a bid, sir?” he was asked with a six-figure sum on the board. I made a suitable gesture in his direction and all was well. He hasn’t been since.