From the moment I saw the six-day entries for last Saturday’s Conundrum Consulting EBF Fillies Stakes at Newbury, my thoughts very rarely strayed far from King Power, writes Tony Stafford. The two-year-old Frankel filly of that name, a £2.5 million Andrew Balding-trained filly who was in the first division of 12, while Ray’s debutante had ten to beat in the second part of the race.
Normally I’d travel to the races with Harry Taylor and often Alan Newman, my recent companions on that epic Irish trip which took in Newbridge and Shelbourne Park dog races, Leopardstown and The Curragh over Irish Champions weekend and trips to Ballydoyle and Coolmore where we made acquaintance with Galileo.
They had more important issues, so instead went together to Doncaster for the Vertem Futurity (late Racing Post Trophy) in Alan’s smart new white car, and were rewarded when Grecia Magna made it nine wins for Aidan O’Brien in the Group 1 race – the last of its category in the UK this year.
The filly King Power started joint-favourite but could fare no better than fifth behind fellow newcomer Nausha, a daughter of Kingman trained by Roger Varian. The blue and white colours were soon to the fore, though, with Happy Power winning a hot nursery at Doncaster, ridden by geegeez-sponsored jockey, David Probert. Five minutes later the team’s Morando got up in the last stride to force a dead-heat with Young Rascal in the re-styled St Simon Stakes.
Both horses are trained by Andrew Balding and later in the afternoon, he sat down in the owners’ room at Doncaster with Harry and Alan and told them he was happy with the performance of his Dashing Willoughby, eighth in the big race for owners Nick and Janice Mariscotti.
Meanwhile Andrew’s wife Anna-Lisa looked after affairs at Newbury and she took advantage, as did Peter Ashmore and I, of the much-improved facilities of the Owners’ Club room. At just after 3p.m. Say Nothing took her place coincidentally in the same race in which her dam I Say had finished runner-up behind Secret Gesture on her first appearance six years earlier.
Leaving the paddock, we stopped at the small line of bookies situated away from the main area in front of the stands, and had a little of the 16-1 on offer. Minutes later as they arrived at the start, Say Nothing was 10-1. It was not until I got home after her eighth place – jockey Gerald Mosse reported her “very nice and went well for most of the way, but got tired” – that I discovered she’d been 7-1 at the off!
That plunge either suggested rather more confidence than the always-cautious Hughie Morrison displayed beforehand from somewhere in the Summerlands stable or merely the general weakness of the on-course market. It was reassuring that Hughie, stopping off before his Saturday night flight to Melbourne and Marmelo’s second stab at the Cup, suggested another run in two to three weeks.
In the car travelling back, we switched on the Leicester City – West Ham match. Leicester hadn’t drawn a League game for 13 matches, but a last-minute equaliser ended that sequence. The only team in the English Leagues with a longer draw-free run was Arsenal with 25 and that went yesterday!
It must have been adding up to a wonderful day for Mr Srivaddhanaprabha, but then as the news programmes and media outlets have shown since in such detail, it all ended with the crash of his helicopter soon after its traditional post-match take-off from the centre spot. The crowds had barely left when the tragedy which took Vichai and four others occurred, altering the lives of everyone in the city in which he’d contributed so much to so many of its citizens quite apart from the football club.
For racing too it is a disaster, a word over-used but in this case wholly appropriate. In just two seasons King Power Racing Co Ltd was on the way to becoming a major force, principally with Balding but also on a large enough scale with Richard Hannon. Additionally as promising horses came to his advisors’ attention, they were added to the team often staying with the original trainer.
Balding has to come to terms with a possibly uncertain future for the horses that wear the blue, white hoop of Fox Power. His 29 individual runners from that source in 2018 include as well as Morando, Beat the Bank, who first brought them to notice when winning at Glorious Goodwood last year. The four-year-old added further Group race wins at Newmarket, Ascot and Goodwood again, in this campaign. Hannon has had ten individual runners from the King Power team.
I never met Mr Srivaddhanaprabha, but noticed him one day at Sandown when he seemed most undemonstrative, clearly enjoying the experience of horse racing with friends. Such enthusiasm from an owner who only recently passed 60, will be hard to replicate.
The Leicester game had already started when we set off from Newbury after a 25-minute delay to the confirmation of an alteration to the final contest’s result. Two lady amateurs were the subject of the stewards’ deliberations after one horse tightened up another in the last few strides following a ding-dong throughout the last furlong.
Their no doubt daunting experience of justice, administered with far less leniency than the stewards at Doncaster dealt with Magna Grecia’s interference to runner-up Phoenix of Spain close home in the Group 1, showed once again the random and often unsatisfactory nature of such decisions.
I called Harry as we got halfway to London and learned that my usual passengers were extremely lucky to have survived a travel incident of their own. Alan had switched to the M1 as the normal A1 route had serious roadworks and a closure near the A14 junction. At around 5.15 p.m. he was going serenely along at 70 mph in the second lane of four when a sudden bang from a heavy impact on the driver’s side filled the pair with understandable anxiety.
“The car, obviously going much faster, suddenly came from the next outside lane, banged into the side, then moved ahead of me. From there he quickly went to the inside lane and on to the hard shoulder where he stopped.
“I pulled up some way behind him and was more than a little worried when he came running up to us, wondering what he was going to do. Fortunately his urgency was only to ask if we were all right. He immediately said it was his fault entirely and that he had made a miscalculation when overtaking,” said Alan.
“When I looked at the damage it became clear why we had been so lucky. The impact marks on my car were restricted to the two doors and not on either the rear or front wing. Had he hit me there, I’m sure we would have tipped over. It was our lucky day, thank God”, he said. Not for everyone, though.