Early in the summer, I went up to Hedgeholme Stud in Co Durham to catch up on the boss’s breeding stock after their switch to that farm, writes Tony Stafford. Three of his remaining mares had safely delivered their offspring and had also been tested in foal for the coming season. After some serious thinning down over the previous 12 months, that left just a fourth, I Say, who on looks and one-time race potential had seemed the pick of the bunch.
But this bright day Andrew Spalding had a pessimistic report. She’d slipped her foal to Paco Boy earlier in the year. With that Highclere Stud stallion repatriated for the 2018 season to somewhere in Eastern Europe there was the option of a late switch to another from that highly successful nursery, but instead the tried and tested path to Cheveley Park had been chosen.
Unfortunately the mating to Lethal Force did not take and, as Andrew showed me the 2010-foaled daughter of Oratorio, there was little sign of energy or enthusiasm in her. Clearly her loss had been both physically and emotionally draining. “We’ll have to pass her on”, was the verdict.
Snag was,would she attract much attention at the sales? Her former colleagues at Kinsale Stud in Shropshire, Yarn and Grass Green, cost a combined £139,000 at auction and realised less than £6,000 last winter after disappointing racing and initial breeding careers. A third, Catfish, a better racehorse than either, would probably have won rather than finish third in Stone of Folca’s world record Dash at Epsom on Derby Day a few years back if her saddle hadn’t slipped at the start. She was as bad as a broodmare as she was fast but moody on the home gallops and she also attracted only minimal interest last December sales.
I Say’s first foal, by Mount Nelson, was very big, had three ordinary runs as a juvenile with Clive Cox and was destined for the proposed Wilf Storey Racing Club. For some reason that six-horse Storey/Stafford brainwave, despite some determined marketing and help from influential sources, not least Mr T, fell flat on its back.
By this time, I Say had two more foals on the ground, fillies by Nathaniel. The younger of them went to the sales as a foal last year, realising 13,000gns, thus not nearly recouping the stud fee. The elder one, then a yearling, was retained.
Also in the proposed Racing Club was a soon-to-be-gelded son from the first crop of French Fifteen, Ray’s Group 1 winner of the Criterium International at Saint-Cloud as a juvenile. French Fifteen was passed on after that within the Nicolas Clement stable and finished only a neck behind Camelot in the 2,000 Guineas.
In the meantime, when asking Nicolas whether he might have a horse suitable for hurdling, he recommended the winning filly Ms Cordelia, and rather than attend the Horserace Writers and Photographers Annual Lunch, I went to France and bought her for €20k.
Sent to David Pipe she finished second on debut, but faded after hitting two out at Fontwell and sustained an injury. Nicolas suggested his former Group 1 horse, Stormy River, for her first mating and she stayed over to visit French Fifteen the following year before coming across to the UK.
She was a giant and the characteristic certainly stayed with the progeny. Both that first foal, called Apres Le Deluge – told you Raymond was good with names – and French Kiss, the younger one had plenty of size. With her deteriorating feet causing increasing problems, her final mating, with Pour Moi, aimed at replicating Treve, who was by another Derby winning Montjeu stallion, Motivator, and like her out of an Anabaa mare, required a foster mother as she barely lasted until the delivery.
French Kiss, like Nelson River, again after three ordinary juvenile runs, was earmarked for the Club, but with Wilf struggling with the worst Muggleswick winter in living memory – frost, snow or flood for four months – he felt compelled to pass them on and Tony Carroll stepped in and took the pair. Meanwhile the last foal, now a two-year-old, never showed as much ability as attitude, either with Mick Channon or at spells back at Hedgeholme and those high-blown aspirations ended with a £3k bid at Tatts’ Horses in Training sale last month.
Wilf did get fairly positive initial reports from Tony, who in between getting seriously injured in the spring when kicked by one horse, and recently less severely, but painfully sustaining cracked ribs with a glancing blow from a different animal, said Nelson River jumped very well.
It was probably not entirely the plan when on second start for Wilf’s former jumps rider, Nelson River came from last to first to win a Wolverhampton handicap at 20-1 off what had appeared a severe enough mark. A more predictable second at Pontefract – on the day Sod’s Law won for Ray – confirmed there was something there.
In the meantime, the Nathaniel filly, named Say Nothing, had been gently settling in at Hughie Morrison’s. Along with pretty much everything in the diminished Tooth team she had a sales entry and it was only when the trainer unilaterally took her out that the bells started ringing, especially for Steve Gilbey. “He must know something”, said Steve. He did.
I remember that the first time I went down to see her Hughie said she “looks like Enable”. Both fillies are by Nathaniel and as Hughie says they are wide rather than high. They also have Sadler’s Wells close up on the female side of the pedigree. Say Nothing, in the manner of the trainer, did nothing especially while the summer ground was rock hard. Then one day her lad riding out reported “she’s all right” and a gallop with a reasonably well-regarded colleague confirmed that view.
As suddenly as it seemed, she appeared on the card last month at Newbury, with minimal apparent expectations and the only pre-race hint was the sudden rush down from 16-1 to 7’s in the few minutes between paddock and the off. Eighth place and a commendation from the highly-skilled Gerald Mosse gave us heart, but not as much as Hughie’s departing words as he set off for Marmelo’s lucrative Melbourne Cup second: “She’ll run in a fortnight!”
That brought us to last Wednesday, when at 5.30 she lined up at Kempton for what was probably a hot enough fillies’ novice over a mile. That, though, was not before I Say’s first foal and Ms Cordelia’s second both made their hurdling debuts for Carroll in the 4.00, a juvenile hurdle at Bangor. Nelson River, backed from 7-2 to 11-4, beat an Alan King hotpot, with the 33-1 shot French Kiss a creditable third, but still betraying the fact he’s simply big and weak.
Say Nothing, cut from an afternoon general 33-1 to 12’s at the off, couldn’t quite complete the I Say double, but was only half a lengths adrift of the 340,000gns Gosden newcomer, Kimblewick. It was the faster of two divisions and the suggestion of decent form is confirmed by the identity of the stables of the next ten home. Owen Burrows (Hamdan), Roger Varian, Roger Charlton, Martin Meade, Amanda Perrett (Abdullah) came next, followed by Messrs Botti, Beckett, Stoute, George Scott and Simcock. Looking at the pedigrees and understanding her trainer’s modus operandi, Ray’s filly will be the most obvious of them all to stay longer distances at three.
I Say was second on her only juvenile start at Newbury over the straight mile behind the more-experienced Secret Gesture, who was runner-up when favourite for her Oaks. Injury prevented I Say’s running until winning her maiden for William Haggas in late July as a three-year-old.
In the autumn I went back to Hedgeholme, and on a glorious late afternoon, picked up the clearly-revitalised I Say’s miner’s lamp of a heart-shaped star (not unlike Enable’s) glowing from 500 yards away on the top of a hill. She has passed that emblem on to both the Triumph Hurdle candidate and the promising staying filly. Now fully restored to health, she will go to Ulysses for an early covering in an attempt to produce a potential middle-distance Group performer at Cheveley Park.
Ray Tooth is still punching above his weight. We hope that Jamie Osborne’s Waterproof will run well at Kempton on Wednesday, while French Kiss’s elder brother is gearing up for a first hurdles run with Morrison. Apres Le Deluge has not been sighted in public since running away with his only bumper to date at Hereford last December. Nobody came in with a bid afterwards. Have a look on the Racing Post or At tThe Races site and try to work out why not?