Monday Musings: Doncaster Debrief

I rarely watch race videos but I’ve made an exception of the 4.45 race at Doncaster on Saturday, writes Tony Stafford. To my everlasting regret I left the track not long after Sod’s Law’s personally disappointing, but to trainer Hughie Morrison’s point of view entirely-predictable, unplaced run in the Spring Mile.

As he told readers in that morning’s Racing Post: “He prefers soft ground and hasn’t come in his coat” and as we watched the main rivals and their gleaming summer coats, he repeated: “I’ve no idea why he’s favourite!”

You spend the winter expecting at least softish ground at Doncaster.  At the beginning of last week, it looked possible, but a dry few days brought good, good to firm in places. Sod’s Law was brought to the outside for a clear run by P J McDonald, but the rider reported afterwards: “He was rolling around on it”. And so it appeared on the screens.

Hughie stayed around. A couple of hours after what had been a frustrating couple of minutes: “I walked the course beforehand and it’s rough. Where there was damage from the jumping, they’ve just filled in with soil. And, of course, they’re blood-testing him!”

Those frustrations were, if not forgotten, put on the Morrison back-burner by the performance of the previously-unraced Telecaster in the mile and a quarter maiden for three-year-olds.  That’s the race that’s been exercising my player this morning. It was won by the heavily-backed 88-rated Bangkok, ridden by Silvestre De Sousa for the Andrew Balding stable.

With three placed runs behind him as a juvenile, Bangkok, a son of Australia, represented a decent level of form in the 17-runner line-up, but had predictable market opposition from two Dubawi colts, 5-2 shot Just You Wait, a Godolphin / Charlie Appleby half-brother to Teofilo; and Ironclad, third-best at 9-2 and representing Khalid Abdullah and Hugo Palmer.

Bangkok, using his experience, raced close to the front from the outset, but on the turn for home, the major contenders were getting into formation for the near five-furlong gallop to the line. At this stage both James Doyle on Just You Wait and Adam Kirby on Ironclad were poised as was Charlie Bennett, a few places further back but clearly going extremely well on Telecaster.

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This son of Derby winner New Approach is out of Shirocco Star, runner-up in the Oaks, Irish Oaks and pretty much everything else in her three-year-old year for Morrison and owner-breeders Meon Valley Stud.

As Bennett easily cut through the pack to sit immediately behind Bangkok, who was already striking for home past pacemaker Allocator, Kirby made a more urgent move outside him to which Bennett responded and the Abdullah horse never actually got past Telecaster. Doyle was also in full drive on Just You Wait, but he proved a little one-paced on debut.

With Silvestre now taking dead aim on the winning line, Bennett allowed a single light tap with his right hand, a couple equally gentle with his left after pulling the whip through before settling to a sensible hands and heels motion for the last furlong and a bit.

But this was where the visual credibility was stretched. Bangkok, kept solidly up to his work by de Sousa, would normally have been stretching right away from his rivals. It was true in the case of his relative position with the other fifteen – the nearest was another newcomer, Ralph Beckett’s Noble Music, a son of Sea the Moon, the German Derby winner, who had an excellent first stud season in 2018.

But the first two kept formation, drawing away in unison, with Bennett keeping his cool and resisting even a single tap once the furlong pole was passed. When I spoke to Hughie on Sunday morning, inevitably he referred to the dam’s predilection for narrow defeats: “I hope Telecaster isn’t a bridesmaid like his mother, but he is a gorgeous-looking horse and that was a great start.”

Having had a close connection with one owner’s (Ray Tooth) horses in the yard and consequently a more than cursory appraisal of his other inmates, I couldn’t have a much higher regard for the trainer’s skill. One only needs to refer back to the Melbourne Cup last November and the five-year-old Marmelo’s one-length defeat by Cross Counter, to whom be conceded 9lb.

Marmelo is waiting for his usual diet of European stayers’ tests but Cross Counter, by Teofilo, starred on his first run since Melbourne by winning the Dubai Gold Cup over two miles on Dubai World Cup night at Meydan. Charlie Appleby trained that winner, also Blue Point in the big sprint and then watched from Dubai as Auxerre made all under James Doyle to win the Lincoln with ease.

I’ve not seen the World Cup itself yet, but it was suggested to me that Thunder Snow’s second successive victory, in this case by a nose from Gronkowski might have been questionable. The now UAE-trained Gronkowski, still owned by Phoenix Thoroughbreds, was still a nice pay-day for Oisin Murphy with his share of the £1.889 million second prize. Stepping up a place would have meant a chunk of an extra £4 million or thereabouts.

We had a nice Mother’s Day at Ascot, taking Peter and Jacqueline’s mum Elizabeth to lunch and she backed David Pipe’s Legal History in the (UK not Dubai!) valuable handicap hurdle. She never had a moment’s anxiety either. How on earth did he get beaten the previous Saturday when we (not Elizabeth) took the 16’s early price at Newbury only for The Knot Is Tied to outstay him?

Alan Spence kindly provided the Ashmore tickets for Ascot and certainly deserved a better fate than the first-fence departure of his talented but latterly-frustrating Josses Hill. Maybe that was divine payback for his team Chelsea’s outrageous luck against jinxed Cardiff the same afternoon.

We’ll both be anxiously monitoring the potential field for Friday’s Randox Health Topham Trophy at Aintree, a race in which Alan’s Kilcrea Vale ran an extraordinary race 12 months ago, staying on like a lion on the run-in to finish fourth after getting a long way behind. Kilcrea Vale also ran well there in the Grand Sefton in the autumn, and if the requisite five horses defect, he gets a run and must have a chance, one in 30 anyway. It’s a day I always enjoy.

After his domination of a very good Cross-Country field at Cheltenham, the remarkable Tiger Roll may only need to be wound-up in the manner of Red Rum, into his ever-developing  “clockwork horse” mode to gain a repeat victory in Saturday’s Grand National. Once past first Becher’s the potential pitfalls are greatly reduced and while he’s hardly backable, I won’t be trying to find an alternative.  Let’s hope all 40, the 30 in the Topham and all the rest over three thrilling days, come back safe for their owners and trainers.

Tony Stafford

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