So here we are on the cusp of May, a third of the way through the year, with the two Guineas races upon us and the 2018-19 jumps season all packed away, writes Tony Stafford. Richard Johnson and Altior continued their sequences in the jumping world while in Hong Kong yesterday Beauty Generation maintained his upward course with yet another £1milllion canter around Sha Tin. That’s one horse I’d love to see at Royal Ascot.
I’ve tried to make sense of the 2,000 Guineas but, even among the main contenders, guaranteed stamina for the mile and – surprisingly, especially for Coolmore – the normal quality of broodmare present in Churchill and his ilk seems elusively absent.
The boys’ resources still reside at the head of the market with the returning pair Magna Grecia and Ten Sovereigns recently switching places. Ryan Moore, no doubt delighted not to be required for Kentucky, still has the conundrum of which to choose.
He did partner Magna Grecia on debut in his maiden but Donnacha O’Brien had the mount the next twice, significantly in the Vertem Futurity at Doncaster and also had exclusivity in Ten Sovereigns’ three runs including the Middle Park which concluded his 2018 campaign.
Magna Grecia’s dam, Cabaret, is by Galileo, so in that regard she perhaps surprisingly appeared not to train on after a bright juvenile year, at least with three domestic wins before trailing home at Longchamp in the autumn. She missed all the Guineas races for whatever reason, started back with another flop in the Musidora and two more “unsighteds” in the Oaks and Ribblesdale.
There is much residual potential benefit for Coolmore’s partners and associates if Ten Sovereigns can stretch out his stamina sufficiently to last the mile. He seemed close to being regarded as a sprinter by trainer Aidan O’Brien and his younger son when winning the Middle Park but, as a son of No Nay Never, now a €100k stallion, it would mean another potential hike if a mile Classic were to come his way.
No Nay Never has another son who casts at least some reflected light on the race via gambled-on Madhmoon, cut to 6-1 fourth favourite in recent days. Madhmoon won his two races at two and was very much expected for his Leopardstown return but was narrowly outspeeded in that seven-furlong test by Never No More, fit from an earlier handicap win and also the recipient of 3lb. That horse has the Irish 2,000 Guineas among his targets.
It is unusual to find Craven Stakes runners as prominent in the 2.000 Guineas market as Royal Marine, the poorly-ridden favourite and ultimate winner, Skardu, who are both in the 6-1 range. Not since Haafhd in 2004 has a Craven winner gone on to success in the 2,000 Guineas although Masar followed last April’s victory with triumph in the Godolphin colours at Epsom.
That quintet is followed by the Dettori-ridden, Martin Meade-trained Advertise, a Cheveley Park sprint-bred colt whose three wins were supplemented by runner-up slots to the two Gosden defectors, Calyx at Ascot and Too Darn Hot in the Dewhurst. It would be a brilliant prospect if Advertise and Ten Sovereigns were to engage in a burn-up. What will win? I’ve no idea!
We’re a little further along the Derby path and, as we possibly thought a week ago, Bangkok did prove plenty good enough to win the Classic Trial at Sandown and book his place for the big race.
Last Monday I suggested that with the evidence of the impressive Windsor win of his immediate Doncaster pursuer, Telecaster, and the comfortable Nottingham success of Dubai Instinct, fourth (another dozen lengths or so behind on Town Moor), Bangkok had to be rated well into the 100’s. He was left unchanged on 88 after Doncaster, seemingly ridiculous to me in view of the extended gaps after the runner-up.
In the manner of a kid saving his favourite parts of his dinner until last, I looked first on Tuesday morning at Dubai Instinct. He had beaten an unraced Gosden/Oppenheimer home-bred by almost two lengths in an eight-runner field which did not contain any horse with a handicap mark. I doubt that Brian Meehan was too impressed by the 86 – it certainly surprised me.
I thought I’d next check Telecaster, 11 lengths ahead of Dubai Instinct and at an experience disadvantage with that colt, once-raced at two and with the winner Bangkok, who’d raced three times as a juvenile. Predictably the official felt unable to quantify his two performances, but there seemed a fair degree of symmetry in that he’d beaten everything other than Bangkok at Doncaster by at least nine lengths, which was the winning margin over the best of his 15 opponents at Windsor.
So what of Bangkok then? He’d beaten the now 86-rated Dubai Instinct by more than 12 lengths and the second horse, only just behind the winner at Doncaster has run at least as good a race against a host of Classic-bred middle-distance horses at Windsor. I know, said the handicapper. Let’s call it 92, in other words he’s actually only three lengths, not 12, better than Dubai Instinct!
Three days after the rating appeared on the BHA site, Bangkok went to post for the Classic Trial as the 10-11 favourite. Three of the five opponents ranged against him had handicap ratings, third-placed Persian Moon, a 7-1 shot, had a mark of 102, fourth-placed Travel On, unchanged on 85 since winning a Lingfield maiden at odds-on for Gosden was 7-1 while last-home 105-rated Kuwait Currency started 28-1. If the bookmakers found it so obvious, then why didn’t the handicapper? To me it seemed ludicrous. That gentleman’s good fortune is that he can now give him somewhere near 110 and most people wouldn’t have noticed.
I’m delighted for David and Diane Nagle that in Bangkok their Barronstown Stud has produced such a high-class colt from the first crop of Australia. The sire also has Broome, brilliant comeback winner for the Coolmore boys at Leopardstown earlier this month, as a potential hope to emulate his own Epsom success.
Andrew Balding had no hesitation in committing Bangkok to Epsom, while at Summerdown Stables, plans were heading towards the Dante Stakes for Telecaster. Victory there – usually the prime Epsom trial but possibly slightly complicated by the unusually-short gap between the two races this year – would make for a delicate albeit delicious conundrum for Hughie Morrison and the Weinfeld family.
No such heart-searching it seems next season for Nicky Henderson and Patricia Pugh for their pride and joy, Altior, who is set for a switch to longer distances. If the turbo that kicks in so routinely at the end of his two-mile races can be drawn out in contests like the King George and perhaps more fancifully the Gold Cup, in effect we have another entirely new career to look forward to. Dessie did it, so why not Altior?
It was not all joy for Hendo on Finals Day at Sandown. Alan Spence’s grand servant Josses Hill battled on gamely to the last in the Oaksey Chase won by the returning Bryony Frost on Black Corton, but collapsed and died immediately afterwards.
I had not seen the incident and later wondered why Alan had gone home, not staying even to watch On the Blind Side run a good second to Younevercall in the Select Hurdle. This was an unfair way for such a gallant horse, winner of seven of 30 races after being bought after a bumper second behind Faugheen, to end his career.
From that point Josses Hill, whose best win was in the Peterborough Chase over his favoured trip of two and a half miles at Huntingdon, met most of the best and competed with distinction in four consecutive Cheltenham Festivals. He will leave a big gap in the team at Seven Barrows and in the hearts of the Spence family.
– Tony Stafford