Monday Musings: International Flights of Fancy

The anticipated appeal of watching Big Brother, either in the alleged Celebrity version, or the original warts and all with its calculatedly-outrageous young contestants, ended the minute John McCririck hove into view all those years ago, writes Tony Stafford.

Around the owners’ room bar at Yarmouth races today, though, talk will inevitably turn to the prospects in the latest episode of the Channel Four show – who needs racing when you have that? – of a native of those parts.

For most of her young adult life, Isabella Farnese has been working with horses, for several years in Newmarket stables. Unsurprisingly she has known a number of jockeys. Imagine you were a former boyfriend and after the break-up you discovered her walking onto the Big Brother set some way into the series: how would you react?

I think you might well wish you were somewhere else. Andrea Atzeni, Ms Farnese’s longest-serving partner, found a rewarding way to avoid the temptation of tuning in over the weekend. Atzeni travelled over to Toronto and on Saturday night collected two of the available Group 1 prizes, the Canadian International with Desert Encounter (David Simcock) and the E P Taylor for fillies with the Roger Varian-trained Sheikha Reika.

Back home in Yarmouth, Isabella’s dad Richie, proprietor of the spacious La Continental Café close to the sea front, and a sponsor of the eponymous race at the track every September (18th this year) will have been rueing the ending of the Atzeni alliance. He’ll be telling Roger Hales, a friend ever since the latter’s arrival from Nuneaton a decade and more ago, how he should have backed the 62-1 double on the respective 8-1 and 6-1 shots.

Roger says, and on limited exposure admittedly, I can confirm: “It’s the best breakfast in town”, and as for Issy: “She’s brilliant, a natural, 14-1’s a joke!” So after Enable in the Arc, and Sod’s Law (sort of) last week, you can fill your boots again. Richie’s crowd in the bar will be (or already have been) backing her to a man. It seems almost rude not to join in.

This rather odd lead in does have an equine point. Tattersalls took great delight in announcing that the two Canadian winners, both October Yearling Sales Book 1 graduates, had picked up Grade 1 prizes. With 3.5 and 3.4million guineas individuals last week being acquired by Qatar Racing and Coolmore respectively, the auction house welcomed the quick boost before this week’s four days of Book 2 action for prospective investors on a more prosaic scale.

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Nearer home, Qatar Racing will have been instantly gratified when Too Darn Hot, the full-brother to their acquisition, duly strolled away from his Dewhurst Stakes opposition to add another golden chapter to the season of John Gosden and Frankie Dettori. The Lord and Lady Lloyd Webber-owned and -bred colt is an obvious favourite and probable winner of next year’s 2,000 Guineas and possibly the Derby. He certainly finished his race very strongly.

“Finished very strongly” could also be a fair assessment of English stables generally around the world. Since the Saturday of Arc weekend, winners have been flowing in with regularity and at the highest level. On the day before the Arc Charlie Appleby sent Brundtland for his third 2018 sortie to France and the colt annexed his third winner’s prize, the Qatar Prix Chaudenay over a mile and seven furlongs, going for an easy win rather than tackle the Arc, next year’s mission.

On Arc day, Wild Illusion was the Appleby winner in the Prix de l’Opera and merely one of five English-trained winners at that level, headed gloriously by Enable (Gosden) in the Arc and supplemented by Royal Marine (Saeed bin Suroor, Lagardere), Mabs Cross (Michael Dods, Abbaye) and One Master (William Haggas) in the Prix de la Foret.

Appleby’s stats in the UK this year have been momentous. His 80 domestic wins have come at a strike rate of 28%, even outstripping Gosden (25%) and Haggas (22%) in that regard. They have brought £3.67million and a creditable fifth place behind only Gosden, Aidan O’Brien, Sir Michael Stoute and Mark Johnston, the last-named already on 207 wins. Appleby’s haul of 12 Group-race wins and 13 places from just 48 runners at that level is also exceptional.

But it is in France where the figures make even more impressive reading. A total of 24 individual horses have run a cumulative 40 times for 15 wins (37.5%) and 18 places. Just two of the 24 has failed to pick up a cheque. Amazingly only one of the Gallic two dozen, Expressiy, has qualified for an owner’s premium. A Breeze-up buy from Arqana last year, she went over to Bordeaux and won a £24k Listed prize last month, with an additional £12k or so for the French-bred premium.

That haul of €1,255,600 is enough to place Appleby 12th in France this year. Gosden is second with €3,337,730 behind Andre Fabre who, with almost €6 million to his credit, has easily dislodged Jean-Claude Rouget (third), while Haggas is one place ahead of the Godolphin man with €1,582,540 from three wins and 11 places in 18 runs. Karl Burke (27th) and Michael Bell (58th) also feature.

Saeed bin Suroor’s revival, signalled by Royal Marine’s triumph in France, extended to Australia over the weekend. I made a 4.30 a.m. start on Saturday – no problem in these parts, even earlier today! – aiming to watch the first of the big Australian races from Caulfield. Attheraces didn’t have that coverage! Does Sod’s Law apply here too?

So while I could watch all the action from Randwick in Sydney, where the rain and heavy ground made a farce of US Navy Flag’s meticulously-planned challenge for the £3.7m to the winner Everest, I should have been looking on the Internet where the Ballydoyle team’s eyes were fixed on the Melbourne coverage.

For once Appleby had to give best in the very valuable Ladbroke, a Group 1 trial for next month’s Melbourne Cup. Saeed had the call with Benbatl, an 8-1 shot ridden by Pat Cosgrave who had a short-head to spare over Appleby’s Blair House (11-1). That works out at a very nice 100-1 or thereabouts exacta for Godolphin adherents.

Maybe more significantly with the Cup in mind, Thecliffsofmoher, formerly Cliffs Of Moher, now with the definite article preceding his name for some technical reason, stayed on after a quiet early part of the race, into a close fourth. The 2017 Derby runner-up will be one of four for Ballydoyle, if not all for Coolmore in the field, the trainer aiming to catch up with his precocious elder son who beat him to winning “the race that stops a nation” last year.

Easiest winner on the Caulfeld card evidently was Yucatan, now wholly-owned by Lloyd Williams, the Cup kingpin these days, and family. Yucatan cantered away with a Group 2 on the undercard and should have comfortably done enough to get into the big race field along with Idaho and Rostropovich.

It will be more than interesting to discover which of the four attracts the attention of Ryan Moore, possibly a little narked at his bad luck in Sydney when winners were to be had in Newmarket. Yucatan was 9-1 favourite early this morning in Betfair’s Sportsbook, but I prefer the look of 16-1 Thecliffsofmoher.

And for another hopefully happy footnote, watch out for Sod’s Law in his hat-trick attempt at Haydock on Friday. As Kieran O’Neill related after his Pontefract win last Monday, “He hated the track and was never comfortable on it”. Indeed, he raced past almost the whole of a decent field once they straightened up in the last 150 yards. It’s been a long wait for Ray Tooth, but late is better than never and Haydock looks eminently possible.

– Tony Stafford

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