Nicky Henderson said it himself on the Lambourn trainers’ site yesterday before Heatstroke made his jumping debut at Huntingdon, writes Tony Stafford. To paraphrase: “We have a good record for Jim and Fitri Hay, but if we manage to win with this gelding after almost two years off it would be quite an achievement.”
Apologies, Nicky, for any inaccuracy in the quoting, but the sentiments for anyone reading those comments would have been – they were for me – the great trainer was challenging himself. In those circumstances it was almost inconceivable that Heatstroke would fail, and how appropriate in a mid-February when temperatures of 17 degrees C are becoming almost commonplace that he didn’t.
In his days with Charlie Hills, the now seven-year-old got to a Flat rating of 87, indeed that was achieved after winning a Kempton maiden on the second of only two juvenile runs in the autumn. After an absent 2015, two unplaced runs followed at four years of age after which he was gelded.
Whether any tinkering with his wind during that time occurred was never needed in those days to be notified. Then 18 months after his sole subsequent unplaced run for Nicky’s next-door neighbour, the now almost-obligatory wind op was revealed after which the move from one Lambourn yard to another was effected, presumably without any transport charge.
It was actually 676 days between runs, much longer – in fact 1579 days – between drinks. How Jim and Fitri, if they were there, and Nicky would have enjoyed Huntingdon’s always-generous post-race winning connections’ champers.
So, starting with Nicky’s slightly pessimistic morning comments, a five-times-raced seven-year-old with Flat-race breeding might not be the obvious candidate. However, when you’ve cared for and nurtured from birth an animal with Fitri Hay-type breeding, even owners of that prominence might want an alternative career for him later in the game.
The starting point, for racegoers on the Flat-race type Huntingdon circuit was that here was a son of the great Galileo, bred on the same Danehill cross as Frankel. The Racing Post, in listing the dam’s progeny confines itself to older siblings, in his case including The Corsican, who was pretty good.
You need to delve a little further to find that the next full-brother after Heatstroke was the very high-class Deauville, now six and racing in Dubai for Fawzi Nass. He has yet to show anything like the form that won more than £1 million for the Hays and which concluded under Aidan O’Brien’s care with third behind Roaring Lion and Saxon Warrior in their epic Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown in September. He finished only three lengths behind the winner, starting 40-1!
Mr Nass, based in Bahrain but a regular winner at the Carnival every year, must be biding his time. He recently announced the closure of his private Newmarket yard, where the winners proved elusive as they do for most people trying that sort of ambitious operation.
Just as John Gosden edged ahead of Aidan O’Brien in the 2018 UK Flat-race trainers list, so the incumbent Nicky Henderson is no doubt feeling the draft from Somerset. He was at Ascot on Saturday, so had a first-hand view as his predecessor and main rival, Paul Nicholls, dominated the post-EI card there and everywhere else.
Eight wins, five at the Royal course, though not the rescheduled from Newbury Betfair Hurdle (won impressively by Al Dancer and Twisty) and including the Triumph Hurdle Trial at Haydock and Wincanton’s Kingwell Hurdle blew the title race apart to the tune of £240k almost without reply.
One obvious highlight was the continuing climb to the summit of Cheltenham Gold Cup candidature of the seven-year-old Clan des Obeaux, much too good and ultimately far too pacey for Nicky’s Terrefort in the other Newbury refugee, the Betfair Denman Chase.
But far more excitement was delivered a little later by another French-imported seven-year-old, Cyrname, and before his demolition job on Waiting Patiently and two other more highly-rated stars in the Betfair Ascot Chase, Peter Ashmore and I had an entertaining few minutes with the talent scout that secured his re-location from Patrice Quinton to Ditcheat three years previously.
Everyone who watched Racing UK before the morphing into Racing TV would have seen Claude Charlet, much-travelled and including Macau-based trainer, offering his indelible insights into the channel’s regular cross-La Manche shows.
Now with Ireland coming into the Racing TV stable, the one-time At The Races is now Sky Sports Racing, starring Alex Hammond, and Messrs Chapman, Harvey and Weaver, and the repository for French racing. They are happy to “invent” places like Mont de Marsan and Angers (wasn’t that the favourite for the Derby that turned right at Tattenham Corner?) and I’m sure in time La Croise Laroche, racecourses too minor ever to appear on opposition screens.
Actually I’ve been to Le Lion d’Angers, near the other one, where French Fifteen won, and La Croise, where Nicolas Clement trained a lesser winner, My Boy Davis, also for Ray Tooth. If you care to jump on the Eurostar from St Pancras to Lille, not much more than 80 minutes and a short taxi ride gets you to a lovely track.
Claude’s deep knowledge and vast web of contacts which enabled him to source Sire de Grugy and many more under the noses of more financially-endowed agents and owners, comes with an accent somewhere between Peter Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau and Arthur Bostram’s depiction of Officer Crabtree in ‘Allo ‘Allo.
But Claude is great company and he always says “if you ‘ave a man with 300 Euro <thousands of course>, I will find ‘im a good ‘orse” and he will too. He said on Saturday that it is just unbelievable how much money English owners will pay for horses of potential from the land of his birth “to win a five grand race” and he even threw in a fair comic impression of some members of that grouping to complete the pantomime.
Early in Cyrname’s career in the UK it seems that not everyone, least of all Mr Nicholls, was convinced that the gelding needed running with conviction from the front and M. Charlet recalls a number of “heated conversations” with the trainer. There’s no question that’s the way it’s done now.
On Saturday, with an £85,000 first prize at stake and not just Waiting Patiently (rated 170), but Fox Norton (166) and stablemate Politologue (168) all theoretically the 165-rated Cyrname’s superiors, the packed Ascot stands must have been anticipating a changing of the guard as they turned for home with two to jump.
All three adversaries – the other pair Charbel (161) and Aso (163) was already dropped – moved closer and then Cyrname just stretched away as though on a piece of elastic. At the line it was 17 lengths to Waiting Patiently, and in a time only 2.50 seconds above the standard for two miles, five furlongs. Clan Des Obeaux was 16.70 seconds above the three miles standard time. The re-measured actual extra distance taken for the three-mile chases, of which there were three, over the Ascot Chase was two furlongs and 172 yards. Clan des Obeaux took an extra 49.46 seconds to complete his course.
My other highlight was the riding of Charlie Deutsch, so handsomely championed by Venetia Williams after his idiotic traffic and fleeing arrest offences which cost him a prison stretch last year. Recently on Luck on Sunday she waxed extravagantly about his talent and understanding as a rider and all that reverence was justified and repaid with the ride of the season to my mind (and in Venetia’s and owner Lady Bolton’s view too) on Calipto in the Listed Swinley Chase.
He told them beforehand he would drop Calipto right out at the start and the metronomic, unfussed way the partnership made their ground before driving away from the formidable Black Corton/ Bryony Frost team was steeplechasing poetry.
– Tony Stafford