Seven Days: It's Not You, It's Me

H&H pin-up Norman Williamson on the great Teeton Mill | Racingfotos

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Back in the dying years of the last century I spent some time working for Horse & Hound. It was part of a large magazine group set in a 30-storey tower block on the south bank of the Thames in central London. A strange place for an equestrian publication to be based, but there we were, sharing the 20th floor with Country Life and Shooting Times, the odd Labrador or terrier running around loose, occasionally biting a delivery man or cocking a leg on the coat stand. You can imagine the embarrassment of having to share the lift with the beautiful things who worked on Marie Claire and the cool kids of the NME, realising all too late in that enclosed space that the coat you were wearing whiffed of that heady cocktail of wet dog and musty tack rooms.

A number of the H&H girls used to come over all unnecessary whenever Norman Williamson was on the telly. This fevered excitement reached its pitch when he took over the ride on the Horse & Hound Cup winner Teeton Mill and rode him to four consecutive victories which included the Hennessy and the King George. They were great days, when I swore my allegiance to the jumps and barely watched a Flat race.

These days are still great but they are different. More recently my enthusiasm for jump racing has declined while my passion for the Flat has increased. A large part of this is because I am becoming increasingly risk-averse with age, and it is a fact that jump racing is the riskier of the two. That said, the statistics show that the fatality rate in both codes is very low. 

The BHA should be applauded for the recent launch of the fact-packed website Horsepwr and it does actually make for encouraging reading. In 2023, the fatality rate was 0.08 per cent in British Flat races (46 fatalities) and 0.37 per cent over jumps (112).

I'm sorry, jump racing, and all the many excellent people involved, not least some truly outstanding horses. It's not you, it's me.

Perception

This is the first year I've paid scant attention to the action at Aintree – a meeting which previously I wouldn't have dreamt of missing and always loved more than the Cheltenham Festival. It was, after all, Red Rum who drew me to racing in the first place. 

Instead, on Saturday morning I headed to Chelmsford for the first of the early-morning Saturday fixtures under the new Premier racing set-up. Leaving town past the Rowley Mile, I spotted another couple of Aintree defectors, the aforementioned Norman Williamson, riding back to Tattersalls alongside Katie Walsh, on two of their horses for this week's Craven Breeze-up Sale.

I didn't make it as far as Chelmsford City Racecourse as I received a phone call en route telling me that our horse, who was set to start favourite following his recent win over course and distance, had been withdrawn by the veterinary officer after he sustained a small cut above his eye in transit. The vet was satisfied that the horse was perfectly fine and able to race, and said that the withdrawal wasn't on welfare grounds but was an issue of “perception”, just in case a racegoer was upset by the cut which wasn't upsetting the horse.

So we were out. It was frustrating, especially for the five members of the syndicate who had got up extra early to get to the races, one of whom was looking forward to possibly having a winner on his birthday at his local course. But the horse is fit and well and I kept reminding myself of the day when we drove home with an empty horsebox. In racing, nothing is worse than the loss of a horse or a jockey. 

To the list of lost riders we sadly have to add the name of Grade 1 winner Kota Fujioka, who died last week from injuries sustained in a fall at Hanshin on Saturday, April 6. His death at the age of 35 came just a week after that of Stefano Cherchi, 23, in Australia, and it was the second tragedy in Japan in the space of three weeks. The 25-year-old Yudae Tsukamoto, one of the leading riders on the NAR circuit, was fatally injured in a race fall at Kochi on March 24.

Atzeni on Fire Down Under

Stefano Cherchi's compatriot Andrea Atzeni had flown from Hong Kong to be at his bedside following the young jockey's fall. On Saturday, Atzeni was involved in a far happier occasion when winning the G1 Sydney Cup aboard Circle Of Fire (GB) for Ciaron Maher. The four-year-old, who was bred by Queen Elizabeth II and formerly trained by Sir Michael Stoute, had won the G2 Chairman's Quality a week earlier and his Cup victory made him the second Group 1 winner for his Haras d'Etreham-based sire Almanzor (Fr). The first was the 2022 Victoria Derby winner Manzoice (Aus), who was conceived during Almanzor's shuttle stints to Cambridge Stud in New Zealand. 

As Sydney's Championships drew to a close, Arrowfield Stud stallion The Autumn Sun (Aus) was represented by his first Group 1 winner on Saturday when Autumn Angel (Aus) won the Australian Oaks for Peter Moody. The Autumn Sun was also bred by Arrowfield, which has enjoyed a fruitful partnership with the Aga Khan Studs over the years. The 10-year-old stallion is by Redoute's Choice, who spent two years shuttling to the Aga Khan's Haras de Bonneval, and he is out of the Aga Khan-bred Azmiyna (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}), who has since returned to Europe. The mare's current three-year-old is the Classic-entered Azada (Ire) (Siyouni {Fr}), who is trained by Dermot Weld and received a TDN Rising Star for her sole successful run last season. Azmiyna also has a two-year-old Dubawi (Ire) colt listed in training with Francis-Henri Graffard. 

What Margot Did Next

In tandem with this week's return to racing at Newmarket, the anticipation of which was described so eloquently by Paul Hayward in yesterday's TDN, we have the aforementioned breeze-up sale, the first of the season in Britain which follows on from last week's auction in France at Osarus. The breeze-up calendar will be even more packed next year following the recent announcement that Goffs has teamed up with Naas Racecourse to stage a second two-year-old sale in Ireland on June 3 and 4, 2025. 

One of the greatest bargains ever bought from the breeze-ups has to be the diminutive Margot Did (GB). The daughter of Exceed And Excel was bought for 10,000gns at the Tattersalls Guineas Sale of 2010, and went on to win her first two starts for Michael Bell and then finish second in the Albany, Princess Margaret and Lowther S. during a busy juvenile campaign. There was compensation for that string of bridesmaid finishes the following year when she won the G1 Nunthorpe S. in the hands of Hayley Turner. 

Bought privately by Katsumi Yoshida, Margot Did's early matings with Galileo resulted in the G1 Belmont Oaks winner Magic Attitude (Ire) and G2 Prix de Sandringham winner Mission Impassible (Ire), and she has pulled off another great feat as a broodmare this weekend as the dam of G1 Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2,000 Guineas) winner Justin Milano (Jpn) (Kizuna {Jpn}). The mare has produced a colt foal this season by Kitasan Black (Jpn) and is booked next to his first-season son Equinox (Jpn).

The Authorized Version

Having semi-renounced jump racing above, we must just return to the subject briefly to praise the 20-year-old Derby winner Authorized (Ire), who played such a major role in the results at Aintree on Saturday. It would be hard to top the dual Grand National winner Tiger Roll (Ire) but I Am Maximus (Fr) was truly magnificent in his romp up the run-in for this year's National and the day was completed by another son of Authorized, Horaces Pearl (Fr), winning the Grade 2 bumper for Fergal O'Brien. 

Though bred in France, the two winners have English breeders behind them: Ron Huggins, former owner of the great stayer Double Trigger (Ire) among others, bred I Am Maximus in partnership with the late George Tiney during Authorized's five-year stint at Haras du Logis. A huge cheer went up at Logis on Saturday, and was doubtless swiftly followed by several large glasses of rosé, for the victory of Horaces Pearl, who was bred by the stud's owner Julian Ince. 

As has been well documented, Authorized has done the rounds during his stud career: from Dalham Hall Stud, one year at Kildangan, Logis, and the Turkish Jockey Club before his return to the land of his birth to stand at Capital Stud this season.

Some Start for Sumbe

Kazakhstani owner-breeder Nurlan Bizakov has been in France in recent weeks and will doubtless have enjoyed his trips to the races as his horses have been in great form so far this spring. 

Following the smart maiden victory of Cashanda (Fr) (Zoffany {Ire}) at Longchamp on April 7, Bizakov's Sumbe operation landed the G3 Prix Djebel on Tuesday with Lazzat (Fr) (Territories {Ire}) and then notched a second group win of the week in the G3 Prix de Fontainebleau with Ramadan (Fr).

Like Sunday's G3 Prix Noailles winner Caladangan (Ire) (Gleneagles {Ire}), Lazzat is a gelding, which rules him out of a Classic campaign, but it would be fitting to see the Christopher Head-trained Ramadan, who is from the penultimate crop of Le Havre (Ire), continue his progression. He's two from two so far this season, having won the Listed Prix Omnium II last month, and with his front-running victory it was hard not to call to mind Head's star three-year-old colt of last season, Big Rock (Ire).

Bizakov is represented on the Rowley Mile this week by the Feilden S. entrant Narkez (Fr) (Siyouni {Fr}). The colt is trained by Andre Fabre, who also has Baron Edouard de Rothschild's Alcantor (Fr) (New Bay {GB}) entered in Thursday's Craven S.

With trainer Francis-Henri Graffard, the Aga Khan won both the Noailles with Caladangan and the G3 Prix de la Grotte with Candala (Fr) (Frankel {GB}). They are respectively out of mares by former Aga Khan Studs stallions, in Sinndar (Ire) and Dalakhani (Ire) respectively. Dalakhani had a great day in this role as Ramadan is also out of one of his daughters, in this case Raushan (Ire). The 14-year-old mare was bred by the late Lady O'Reilly and owns a pretty smart pedigree as a half-sister to the Group 1 winner Chinese White (Ire), who is herself out of the Group 3 winner Chiang Mai (Ire), a Sadler's Wells half-sister to the Classic winner and influential matriarch, Rafha (GB) (Kris {GB}).

 

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