Seven Days: Ascot Ahoy

Wathnan Racing's Gregory will return to Royal Ascot in the Gold Cup | Racingfotos

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Outside the racing world it was impossible not to be moved over the last week by the commemorative ceremonies marking the 80th anniversary of D-Day.

Plenty of people in the bloodstock business will be familiar with the lovely countryside around Deauville, best known to us as home to France's Thoroughbred breeding heartland. The serenity of rural Normandy makes it hard to comprehend the appalling ravages of war that were played out there on the beaches and in the bocage all those decades ago. 

I would urge anyone who is a sales regular in Deauville to take some time on one of your trips to visit some of the memorials and museums while you are in that part of the world. The debt of gratitude we owe those young men lying in the war cemeteries should never be forgotten. 

It remains incredible to consider that racing was able to continue through those war years, albeit in a reduced and altered state. We have reflected on this before, but fascinating insight on those days is provided in VR Orchard's A War Time Diary, which was included within the Bloodstock Breeders' Review in Britain during World War II.

For this month 80 years ago, Orchard begins, “June racing was carried through in circumstances which were unique in the history of the country. It should be emphasised that it proceeded without let or hindrance, apart from travelling difficulties. It was difficult to believe that we were in the most momentous period of the war.

“When the news of the Normandy invasion came through on the 6th, one wondered whether the Newmarket races arranged for that day would be held. They did, however, take place, and ten days later the Derby and Oaks fixtures at Newmarket were successfully completed.”

In 1939 the St Leger meeting had been cancelled owing to the onset of the Second World War, denying that year's 2,000 Guineas and Derby winner Blue Peter (GB) his chance to become a Triple Crown winner. There was some small compensation however when, in 1944, Blue Peter's first-crop son Ocean Swell (GB) won the Derby at Newmarket, which played host to the Classics run between 1915 to 1918 and 1940 to 1945.

A fortnight after VE Day, the then Princess Elizabeth attended Ascot racecourse for the first time, on May 21, 1945. In later years, as Queen Elizabeth II, the avowed supporter of horseracing would of course become synonymous with the royal meeting staged at the racecourse owned by the Crown. 

It is the countdown to this year's Royal Ascot which now dominates our thoughts and, despite some negative newspaper coverage in the last week regarding its supposedly dwindling appeal to certain overseas owners, it is important not to underestimate the lure it still provides for many.

It is becoming increasingly clear that for the Qatari ruler,  Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, few stones are being left unturned in the pursuit of potential winners at this year's meeting following a dream start for his Wathnan Racing operation last year with Courage Mon Ami (GB) (Frankel {GB}) and Gregory (GB) (Golden Horn {GB}).

Those two horses had been bought from their owner-breeders, Anthony Oppenheimer and Philippa Cooper respectively, just prior to their victories in the Gold Cup and Queen's Vase. The pressure is now on for those trainers associated with Wathnan Racing to provide further success from a number of presumably expensive purchases made in recent weeks to top up a significant outlay at the breeze-up sales. From the 11 purchased at those sales, six juveniles, all secured for six-figure sums, are already winners who will presumably be part of the sizeable team set to represent the owner at Royal Ascot. 

The private sales scene appears to be busier than ever, and the calendar for public auctions is now almost unrecognisable compared to what was in place pre-pandemic. During the Covid years, necessity dictated the rise of online sales and they have now become a monthly feature. Leaving aside the growing concern that more people are now interested in trading rather than owning racehorses, the online sales do offer a useful opportunity for owners and consignors to sell when it suits them, rather than waiting for the July or autumn horses-in-training sales, and without having the expense of taking one's horse to a physical sale.

This week alone, there's a pop-up here and a pop-up there, before we head into one of the biggest weeks of racing in Britain, which commences with the Goffs London Sale next Monday.

It's Not All Big Bucks

There have been eye-watering sums involved in securing some of the Royal Ascot prospects but one who does not fall into that category is Saturday's Hilary Needler Trophy winner Perfect Part (Ire).

The daughter of Mehmas (Ire) was secured for £10,000 at the Goffs UK Breeze-up Sale on April 24 by her owner Keith Brown. She has already earned more than double her purchase price in scooping £25,770 for winning the Hilary Needler, the British EBF-backed juvenile contest which is worth a total of £50,000. She is likely to head next to the G2 Queen Mary S. at Ascot after her trainer Brian Ellison reported that she has come out of her debut at Beverley in good heart.

For Perfect Part's breeder John Cullinan there are understandably mixed feelings. On the one hand he must feel that he let her go too cheaply when Brown offered to buy her privately after she left the ring unsold. On the other, any success she has helps to raise the profile and value of both her dam Queensbrydge (GB) (Dutch Art {GB}) and yearling half-sister by Shaman (Ire), who heads to the sales later this year.

Cullinan, one of the most experienced participants on the breeze-up scene through his partnership with Roger Marley, has had many good horses through his hands, not least Perfect Part's sire Mehmas, whom he and Marley sold for 170,000gns at the Craven Breeze-up Sale back in 2016.

He said, “It rained for two days before we sold the filly and the soft ground inconvenienced some more than others. This year, at the earlier sales in particular, the focus was very much on the clock, to the detriment of the sales in my view, and there is even more of a focus on the Royal Ascot type.

“Unfortunately she fell just out of those top times, but these timings are not official and the difference in the top 40 or 50 on the clock is one second. Depending on which times you looked at she was in the top 40 or 50, and there were 200 or so horses in it, so it wasn't as if she was out with the washing. But the difference between the times is so fine that it can knock you down the running order.He continued, “Ambiente Friendly, who was second in the Derby, is a good example of the value that can be found in looking beyond the five-furlong type.”

Keith Brown has made something of a habit of finding a decent horse for little money. His Group 3 winner Top Notch Tonto (Ire) (Thousand Words {GB}) cost €3,000 and won six races, including a Group 3 and two Listed contests, while Dream Walker (Fr) (Gold Away {Ire}) was bought for £4,500 and won 11 times, scoring at back-to-back Galway Festivals and earning black type.

Cullinan added, “You can't eat glory and it's not the first time I have sold a good horse very cheaply. I sold [Group 1 winner] Music Show to Gill Richardson for the price of a sandwich and I didn't feel very clever after that.

“But I still have the mare and she is in foal to Phoenix Of Spain. We always wish those that buy from us the best of luck and hopefully the filly will go from strength to strength.”

Back in the Flow

One of the most heartwarming results of the weekend was seeing Tiber Flow (Ire) (Caravaggio) win the G3 John of Gaunt S. at Haydock. It was hard not to fear the worst when the five-year-old took a shocking somersault of a fall at York, but thankfully he was soon back on his feet and, incredibly, just over three weeks later landed his second Group 3 and sixth win of his career for his owner-breeders Jon and Julia Aisbitt and trainer William Haggas.

The Aisbitts also raced his dam, the fellow dual Group 3 winner Malabar (Ire) (Raven's Pass), who is a half-sister to Group 1 winner Poet's Word (Ire) (Poet's Voice {GB}). Malabar has already proved her worth as a broodmare and her family could well be represented at Ascot next week as Tiber Flow's year-younger half-brother Godwinson (GB) (Saxin Warrior {Jpn}) has an entry for the Royal Hunt Cup.

Weekend Double for Elwick Stud

Another family in the news over the weekend was that of the George Strawbridge-bred Stream Song (GB) Mastercraftsman {Ire}). The dual winner, who is a half-sister to the Group 1 and 2-winning Dubawi (Ire) fillies Journey (GB), Mimikyu (GB) and Indigo Girl (GB), was bought from her breeder for 440,000gns by the Turnbull family of Elwick Stud in December 2019. Now Stream Song's first two foals are both multiple winners, with their most recent victories coming within 24 hours of each other. 

On Saturday, Iron Lion (GB) (Roaring Lion) won for the third time in the Elwick colours at Haydock, followed on Sunday by the Listed Agnes Keyser Fillies' S. victory for three-year-old Lava Stream (GB) (Too Darn Hot {GB}), who landed her third consecutive race. Both horses are trained by David O'Meara. 

However, a good case for broodmare of the year could be argued on behalf of Godolphin's Minidress (GB) (Street Cry {Ire}). Her sons Rebel's Romance (Ire) (Dubawi {Ire}) and Measured Time (GB) (Frankel {GB}) have each now won two Group/Grade 1 races this year alone in Dubai, Hong Kong and America, the latest of those coming on Saturday when Measured Time landed the G1 Manhattan S. at Saratoga, leading home his Charlie Appleby stable-mate Nations Pride (Ire) (Teofilo {Ire}).

Rebel's Romance, now six and a proper globetrotter who has raced in seven different countries, is one of the most consistent horses in training. The gelding has won 13 of his 19 starts, five of which have been at the highest level, with his latest success coming at the end of May when he lifted the Champions & Chater Cup at Sha Tin.

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