If only – the phrase of my life, as when taking people along to the old deserted Hackney Greyhound stadium and failing to get them to fork out £5 million for the basis of the future Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford, East London, less than a mile from where I now live, writes Tony Stafford.
Then there was the idea , funnelled via Victor Chandler, one of the non-purchasers of the dog track, to get a dozen of his fellow bookmakers to join together to resuscitate the temporarily-closed Racing Channel, later re-vamped as At The Races, in pretty much the way it is structured nowadays. Only the Tote and Coral even bothered to reply.
A couple of less stark “if only’s” occurred to me this past weekend, the second of them early yesterday when the Deauville meeting, delayed for the most part from Saturday when the icy weather caused the jockeys to lay down their saddles, was belatedly completed.
The local officials apparently took the decision largely to race on because of a considerable English and Irish invasion force of which Jamie Osborne was the most vocal protester. He invoked his old jump riding days when he and his counterparts went out in all weathers and coped with snow and poor visibility as a matter of course. “We’d have to take five pairs of googles to get through the races sometimes in those days”, was the gist of his complaint.
Well Jamie and his pals got a much better response with European officialdom than did Prime Minister Theresa May as she sought improvements last week on the ill-fated Brexit deal in the face of unbending opposition from 27 other nations.
I hadn’t looked at that Saturday card, with other matters more prominent in my mind, but if I had, what I wrote in this place six weeks ago would assuredly have come back to my memory. That Halloween weekend, while racing’s great and good were in Kentucky for the Breeders’ Cup, I was at a very minor Newmarket finale. In unseasonably balmy weather for November, the Lope De Vega filly, Feliciana De Vega, romped away to a six-length debut win.
She was, as I related, the fourth of seven Lope De Vega fillies owned by Waverley Racing and trained by Ralph Beckett. The other three, Antonia De Vega (two wins and then a last of eight after going lame in the Group 1 Fillies Mile); Dancing Vega (one out of one) and Manuela De Vega (two out of two including a Listed) made it six wins in seven starts.
Three remain unraced, so at the time I made a mental note – no guarantees there nowadays! – to back Lope Scholar, Teodora De Vega and Lope Athena whenever they appeared.
Trust Mr Beckett to slip Feliciana across the Channel when I wasn’t paying attention. Lining up for the 10-runner Prix des Sablonnets, a Listed race over 1500 metres (7 1/2 furlongs), she was the 11-10 favourite. The field included one other invader, the Hugo Palmer-trained Kodiac colt, Ours Puissant, who had won a maiden at Kempton by seven lengths on Oct 1 and then ran a more than respectable second (conceding 3lb) to the 90-rated William Haggas-trained Jarbath on the same course last month.
Feliciana was never troubled to maintain her unbeaten record and bring the Waverley Racing/ Beckett score to seven out of eight with a four and a half length romp. Eight locals were strung out behind the British pair.
Thirty minutes later Osborne’s frustration must have been partly assuaged when his useful gelding Hathal, the 33-10 favourite in another Listed race over the same distance, finished a length and a half behind two duelling locals who had a short head between them. Archie Watson, Aidan O’Brien (two) and Richard Spencer were represented among the field of 14.
The interesting point of that hotly-contested race was that it was run in a tenth of a second slower than the earlier and one-sided juvenile event. Never mind that obvious point in the favour of the younger horse, the weight-for-age scale determines that at this stage of the year, three-year-olds and upwards are required to give 20lb to their juniors in the event of their meeting. Hathal’s 108 rating suggests that Feliciana De Vega could conceivably end up considerably higher.
In my Halloween edition, I related how Lope De Vega had also made a huge impact at the Breeders’ Cup where his daughter Newspaperofrecord ran right away from her Juvenile Fillies’ Turf rivals, scoring by almost seven lengths from Becky Hillen’s Frankel filly, East.
Bred in the UK by TimesofWigan Ltd, one-time major sponsors and owners, and bought at Tattersalls Book 1 last year for 200,000gns, Newspaperofrecord is now being talked up as a potential challenger at Royal Ascot.
Such was the impression she made with her front-running demolition job, it might seem hard to believe that there might be another filly to challenge her, but the figures of the Deauville race suggest Feliciana De Vega might just be that filly.
Much was made of the fact that Enable was able to win the Oaks even though she didn’t make her first appearance until Nov 28 at Newcastle the previous season. Maybe that is evidence enough that next year’s Oaks could be within the range of Feliciana De Vega, and there could be enough stamina in the pedigree to be hopeful of her getting the Oaks distance.
She is the first foal of an Oratorio mare who won four races for Dermot Weld ending with a 112 official rating. Her best run was probably her half-length second to Declaration of War over 10.5 furlongs. Oratorio won the Coral-Eclipse Stakes for Aidan O’Brien.
Another first foal of an Oratorio mare and also by an O’Brien-trained Eclipse winner (Mount Nelson) was my biggest “if only” of the weekend. Much earlier in the year I tried in vain to get some interest in what trainer Wilf Storey and I believed was an excellent-value group of six horses intended to comprise the newly-instituted Wilf Storey Racing Club.
Advertisements went out in Michael Harris’s Racehorses for Sale site with pictures alongside pen pictures showing their good looks and conformation. Each 5% share in the six was to cost £1,800 and training costs would probably have been among the cheapest in the country.
Two that were identified as potential jumpers were the recently-gelded pair Nelson River (ex-Clive Cox) and French Kiss (ex-Hughie Morrison), each with three juvenile “coconuts” and consequently modest ratings. We thought that pitching the price low, given sufficient advertising and with compelling word of mouth, we’d comfortably fill the Club.
Four months later, we had attracted the princely total of two shareholders and both of those were “insider” friends. Wilf’s problems had intensified by that time as he’d had to carry all the costs for the six for several months and with the severe weather of the winter and spring in Co Durham, his gallop was unusable for much of the early part of the year. Illness among his staff complicated the issue further.
Reluctantly he had to put the two most obvious candidates on the market at reduced prices to attract potential buyers and stave off almost certain bankruptcy.
In the event his former jockey, Tony Carroll, stepped in and soon passed on the news that he liked what he had. French Kiss has taken time coming to hand, but Nelson River was more forward. That said, his 20-1 Wolverhampton win second time out for his new owners was totally unexpected.
Turned to jumping, he made a winning start at Bangor – where French Kiss was third – and on Saturday came from a long way back in now characteristically strong-finishing style to win the Triumph Hurdle Trial against some very expensive opponents.
When the sale took place, the two friends who had joined the club [one of them editor/owner of this website] agreed to morph their investment into another Storey horse, Nearly There, and on Saturday, ten minutes after Nelson River’s Cheltenham romp, Nearly There was runner-up to the favourite Para Mio in a handicap over Newcastle’s Tapeta track. If only!