Monday Musings: Some Anglo-French Relations

It’s funny who you see when you go racing, writes Tony Stafford. On Saturday I had decided upon Kempton rather than Lingfield’s Winter Derby principally because Nicolas Clement was running a debutant four-year-old in the closing bumper. When I spoke to the Chantilly trainer in midweek his plans were fluid. In the end he didn’t make it, nor did Rise and Dine who showed greenness and knee action in abundance as he followed the field home.

Outside the owners’ room beforehand, I snatched a moment’s chat with Andrew Gemmell, still keyed up in anticipation of Paisley Park at Cheltenham, and the following day the subject of a big Peter Thomas feature in the Racing Post.

At the neighbouring table I came across a family grouping. A few minutes earlier I thought I recognised Wendy Guillambert, and there sure enough, she was seated with husband Jean-Luc, one-time owner and amateur rider and daughter Francoise, complete with young son. Francoise’s husband, Ed Babington, whose father Nick was Peter Savill’s long-time assistant and brother-in-law to Lady Cecil, so being a Guest by marriage, was also around.

Ed had a few rides for Vince (now Vicky) Smith who called recently to say he had received an invitation to ride in the Legends race later this year. Jean-Luc used to ride out for the former trainer whose least memorable moment in a life of great future change was to handle Richie Boy, the last winner to run in my colours before they switched allegiance to David Armstrong.

The Guillamberts, as I am grateful to learn via a 2003 article by my late friend Colin Fleetwood-Jones, met at Jean-Luc’s restaurant in Brighton when Wendy, according to Fleeters was a triple winner of the Miss Watney Beauty Contest.

Since his restaurant days, M. Guillambert – he was born in Paris – made his money from Ascot Supreme Horseboxes in Newmarket. Whether he still runs them was difficult to ascertain at 5.00 a.m. when I was writing this, but I hope he does, because they are very nice horseboxes.

I asked what had happened to their son Jean-Pierre, being told he is riding in Qatar. I looked up his riding stats in the UK later and discovered that from 2001 when he failed to ride a winner until 2013, he always achieved at least double figures, starting with 15 in 2002.

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In Fleetwood-Jones’ 2003 article, the rising apprentice reveals (August) he was leading the apprentice title race with 21 winners, a figure that rose to 37 by the end of that year. In the article, CFJ says “only the unstoppable Ryan Moore among riders of his age <then 20> has had more winners.”

He went on to ride 434 UK winners in all with a peak of 63 in 2005. Since 2014 when he had just two successes, he has been based principally in Qatar and had no UK mounts until six without success last year. During 2017, joined by his wife the former jockey Kelly Harrison, he had a riding stint in South Korea at the time when fears, happily proven unfounded, of nuclear strikes from neighbouring North Korea were in the air.

It was only when I woke yesterday to catch up on Saturday events elsewhere that I realised by the time we had our chat, Jean-Pierre had already notched up a nice few riding percentages in the Emirate of which he is now a permanent resident.

He finished runner-up around noon UK time on the locally-trained, ex-Archie Watson inmate Luchador, in the Al Biddah Mile (£112k to the winner, £43k to the runner-up). In a later article Jean-Pierre admits he could not remain a UK tax payer on the far greater earnings he can generate elsewhere. Not least in that conclusion must have been the fact that lightweights – he could always manage 8st3lb – have been squeezed out by present-day handicap weights.

Luchador was runner-up to the Gay Kelleway-trained Global Spectrum, who was maintaining his unbeaten record at the third time of asking after two winter all-weather wins. Few will begrudge the now almost veteran trainer another big horse which she describes as her best since Sorbie Tower, who was third for her in the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot 23 years ago.

Ms Kelleway will always be remembered as the first female to win a Royal Ascot winner, Sprowston Boy in the 1987 Queen Alexandra Stakes, more than 30 years ago and she remains the only one to do so. The key to her success, apart from a good deal of talent, is that she has in full measure all the toughness and determination of her late father Paul, a top trainer for many years after being best known as the rider of Bula for Fred Winter.

Perhaps as relevant these days, though, is that Gay has managed to secure a big owner in the form of Dr Johnny Hon, founder and chairman of Global Group International Holdings. The doctor is a Hong Kong-born, UK- educated (Sherborne, Harrow and Cambridge University) businessman and philanthropist with interests in finance, film production and theatre.

In 2018 he ran 22 different horses, all bar one with the Global prefix. The only exception is Oswald, bought presumably as a lead horse from a previous Kelleway owner for 9,000gns. She has six of the Globals, but Spectrum is comfortably the best and the step up to higher grade cannot long be delayed.

Hugo Palmer and George Scott  had unplaced runners in the Mile race, but earlier Andrew Balding’s Stone of Destiny finished a half-length runner-up, also earning £43,000 in the Sprint race, won by local runner Anima Rock.

Stone of Destiny had finished third in the Lingfield Listed race earlier in February behind the impressive Kachy, beaten favourite in last year’s All-Weather Championship Sprint. Kachy’s chance of avenging that defeat by French-trained City Light, when crucially he missed the break, are looking good. On Saturday at Lingfield, another Listed sprint was won by Gracious Noora who had been just ahead of Stone of Destiny but totally outpaced by Kachy in the earlier race.

Some colours that I recognised, and certainly a name which rings a bell, French Fifteen, also had something to remind me of on Saturday. French King, a son of Ray Tooth’s winner of the Group 1 Criterium International at Saint-Cloud and later in new ownership just beaten by Camelot in the 2,000 Guineas, won the £448,000 HH the Amir Trophy.

It was because the Qatari royal family sponsored the 2012 2,000 Guineas that French Fifteen ran at Newmarket rather than pick up the easier French Guineas (and its owner’s premiums) that would have been our objective if he were still in Ray’s ownership.

At the time of his sale, Nicolas Clement thought the new owners would become quite important for him, but after Newmarket, training problems prevented French Fifteen’s fully  realising what I’m sure was great potential. He stands for €6,000 and this home-bred is his best son. Sadly, though, the Qataris are no more in the Clement yard. Their loss, I’m sure, not his.

Tony Stafford

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