Thursday 15 November 2018

Around the World with Three Horses – From the Sublime to the Ridiculous. Melbourne, Kentucky and Market Rasen.

I’m sure many readers of the blog were absorbed in watching the tremendous global racing at Flemington, Australia, and Churchill Downs in Kentucky. However I suspect not many of you were watching closely an amusing result at Market Rasen recently. More on that to follow.

First a personal recollection. Back in my consulting days I worked for one of the big global pharmaceutical companies and went out to Australia as part of a merger integration exercise. That had me visiting a manufacturing facility just outside Melbourne when the iconic Cup was on. Although it’s a public holiday in Australia, and much as I pleaded to be given time off to go to the race, the client insisted that I took part in a riveting workshop on procurement, the supply chain and the interfaces with MRP systems. I never forgave them! One of the most amusing features though was that the hotel where we were staying was “party central”. I’ve never seen so many people dressed to the nines, taking part in lunchtime revelries. None had any intention of actually going to watch the race, which was just an excuse for a big party. I was even warned to take care walking around the hotel corridors, as a Melbourne Cup tradition is for riotous Australian lovelies to be on the prowl and if they find a man they fancy, who is wearing a tie, they cut it in half. All other details will remain confidential; what happens on consulting assignments, stays on consulting assignments!

Anyway, this year’s win by Cross Counter was, I thought, an absolute belter with the European raiders dominating. It always surprises me that so many horses are taken over, as apparently it costs £70k and our record has been pretty mixed since Vintage Crop won it 25 years ago for Dermot Weld. I’m not quite sure how many of us in Owners for Owners would be persuaded to go, although I suppose that if we had a magnificent horse capable of racing in the Cup, we’d give it a go. Charlie Appleby and Sheikh Mohamed must have been thrilled with the result, and it capped a magnificent season with Godolphin globally winning 30 Gr.1s. Ian Williams was certainly enormously impressed by the whole experience (with or without his tie?), and commented about the event that: “It is huge. You don’t feel it until you get here and feel the enthusiasm, not only from the people of Melbourne but of Australia. It’s a bigger event than you can ever imagine. They keep raising the bar. It is a wonderful experience.” And as for the prize-money - £2,456,647 to the winner, £578,034 to the 2nd, £173,410 to the 3rd, and even the 12th placed horse picked up £86,785. Rapid re-think: OfO would definitely send a horse there!

On the other side of the world, Enable duly showed her typical brilliance and determination to win the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Churchill Downs as she made history by becoming the first Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner to win the Breeders’ Cup in the same season. Frankie Dettori’s ride was right from the top drawer, being prepared to bring her wide on the home turn in search of the quicker fresh ground. What a top-class filly Enable has become.

As ever there were a few controversies. In both Melbourne and Churchill Downs there were whip issues: Christophe Soumillon made outrageous use of it in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and Hugh Bowman was no better in Australia. This was shocking for racing, and unfortunately very topical, as South Africa are currently experimenting with a race ban on jockeys whipping their mounts as part of the growing concern of animal rights activists and younger race spectators. On the welfare front there was also a disaster in Melbourne when The Cliffsofmoher suffered a fatal injury. Alas, Flemington has a bad record and they clearly need to address this as a priority in the same way that Aintree did for the Grand National.

So what happened at Market Rasen? Without making light of the seriousness of the whip issue, a horse called L’es Fremantle probably needed a bomb under him to win. As a 7yo with 55 defeats and not a win to his name, he appeared to have no chance whatsoever in a handicap chase on 8th November. In 41 of his previous races he had been 100/1+ and once started at the ludicrous odds of 300/1. He was bought for £600 at the Ascot sales in October 2012, so had enjoyed six years of luxurious living at Michael Chapman’s yard at the course, without feeling any need to repay their generosity. Michael wryly commented after the race that: “He is not very good-looking, he’s a bit of an ugly duckling, though everybody loves him. He likes to bite people, but he’s not vicious.” He was initially named by his owners (surprise, surprise) after their friend, Les, who lived in Fremantle, Australia. But on that marvellous day of 8th November he stayed on strongly to win his race, after one of the longest losing runs ever in UK racing history. I love results like this, and I suspect connections weren’t particularly bothered that the miserly prize was £3,898. I doubt they will be booking his flight to Melbourne. Racing Post signed off their report by saying: “History suggests he’s unlikely to follow up.” Bless him!

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