The Weekly Wrap: The Best And Worst Of Times

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Charlie Appleby is pleased with how Adayar has come out of the King George | Hoycubed Photography

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To borrow from Charles Dickens, the past week can be encapsulated in one line: it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. 

Actually, let's face it, when it comes to bad times it hasn't just been this week, has it? Events of this year in particular have made it harder to love racing as we rock from one unsavoury incident to the next courtesy of some of the sport's leading trainers in Europe and America.

The image that can now just be described as 'that photo', cast a pall over the Cheltenham Festival and it continues to harm the sport. Without it, there would almost certainly not have been a Panorama programme entitled The Dark Side of Horse Racing. Whether it was deemed to be fair or not, the programme's makers were able to draw a line straight from the shame and horror of seeing racehorses being slaughtered in an abattoir in the most distressing manner straight back to that photo, as the former trainer of three of the horses featured in the documentary was the same as the one sitting astride a dead horse on his gallops.

It was made clear that Gordon Elliott was not the person who sent these horses overseas to the abattoir in the UK, and he was not the only trainer named in the programme: another horse had also been identified as formerly being in training with Gavin Cromwell. While the latter declined to comment, a response from Elliott in the programme stated that two of the horses had been sent to a nearby dealer upon retirement from racing and another had been rehomed with one of his riders. A subsequent quote in the Racing Post from Caren Walsh, the owner of the mare Kiss Me Kayf who also sits on the Horse Racing Ireland board and its Welfare Council, appeared to contradict this. While fully supportive of Elliott, she expressed shock that her mare had ended up in Britain rather than the Irish abattoir to which Walsh thought she had been sent. Yes, it was shocking, but not for that reason. 

Euthanasia, however upsetting it may be for the individuals directly concerned, is undoubtedly the kindest thing for a horse who may never be sound or pain-free again. But there are guidelines for this set out by the Horse Welfare Board, and they include the line: “Whenever possible, euthanasia should be performed at home or in suitable surroundings, exceptions would include on a racecourse and in veterinary clinics.”

For all the excellent and extensive work being done in the rehoming and retraining of racehorses for other disciplines, even one horse ending up in the circumstances shown last Monday night undoes all of that in the time it takes someone to watch such a programme and decide that racing is cruel.

There may yet be some good to come out of the Panorama documentary. Britain and Ireland are two distinct nations with separate racing authorities but they are intrinsically linked in so many ways, from a shared Stud Book to the sales and the racecourse. The matter of one of the horses at the abattoir bearing the microchip of a horse who had previously been put down on a racecourse has been referred to the gardai in Ireland and talks between the British Horseracing Authority and its Irish counterpart have already begun. Hopefully they will lead to joint-legislation being imposed that means racehorses cannot suffer from someone opting to make a small amount of money from the meat man rather than paying a vet to end a horse's life if that is the only option available. 

But really, we shouldn't need rules to tell us that this is an extremely suboptimal end for an animal which has been bred for our fun. For there is no doubt that if we do not put horse welfare first, always, throughout all of their lives, then we have no right to be involved in a sport which will not be allowed to continue indefinitely if we don't all wake up to the importance of this and act accordingly. 

The Blue Knight

And then along came Adayar (Ire) (Frankel {GB}) to cheer us all up. The doom-mongers may have been trying to give the mile-and-a-half Derby its last rites but the great race is not for changing, not yet at least. 

Twenty years after his mighty and recently departed grandsire Galileo (Ire) completed the Derby-King George double, the statuesque Adayar charged along the Ascot straight to remind us that those who conquer Epsom can and do go on to be rather special. Have we forgotten in those intervening years New Approach (Ire), Sea The Stars (Ire), Workforce (GB), Camelot (GB), Australia (GB), and Golden Horn (GB)? 

Strangely, another horse who is in danger of being forgotten in the Galileo/Adayar comparisons is the rather important middle man, Frankel. Like London buses, Adayar and his stable-mate Hurricane Lane (Ire) have come along in the same year to vie with each other for the title of best 3-year-old middle-distance colt in training. 

With their two Group 1 wins apiece to date, they will not only play a significant role in giving Frankel a good chance of becoming champion sire for the first time–he is currently leading Galileo, though not by much–but also in perhaps delivering a first champion trainer title to Charlie Appleby. 

The trainer was unfortunately missing from Ascot on Saturday having been 'pinged' by the Covid app and forced into isolation. With typical modesty he told TDN on Sunday, “The job was done and all I was going to do was come along and put the saddle on, but it would have been nice to have seen him win. We all know that days like that don't come around too often.”

For Appleby, who was released from isolation by Sunday, those days have been coming around more frequently this year than for his colleagues. Of the trio at the top of the British trainers' table with more than £2 million in prize-money earnings, only two of them actually train in Britain. In a human version of the royal blue/navy blue duels of old, Appleby is out in front for Godolphin ahead of Aidan O'Brien, who admittedly has far fewer runners in Britain, with Andrew Balding's mighty season putting him in third place. The crucial statistic for Appleby, however, is his strike-rate for the season of 28%, with the form of his stable highlighted by the fact that all three of his runners on Saturday won, including the listed-winning juvenile New Science (GB) (Lope De Vega {Ire}).

Similarly, Frankel boasts a strike-rate of 42% winners to runners in Europe. His tally of 18 stakes winners in 2021 is bettered only by Dubawi (Ire), who has had 23.

Appleby delivered a positive update on Adayar, who is apparently growing up in mind as quickly as he is in body. He said, “He's pulled up well and, with Hurricane Lane as well, the pair of them are so similar in that they have the constitution that good racehorses must have: their work, their mindset, they're unbelievable.”

The trainer continued, “Adayar came back last night at 8pm, he ate all his hay and feed, he drank, slept, got up this morning and went on the sea walker, and you wouldn't know he'd had a race. It's the same with Hurricane Lane–his recovery rate is so good.

“Adayar has always caught the eye, but what surprised us in the Derby was the turn of foot that he showed. Hindsight is a great thing when you can go back and watch these races. At the time you are just hoping they can stay in front, but when you can go back and digest the race, he showed a great turn of foot again [on Saturday], to kick off the turn and maintain it.”

Reflecting on the form of this year's Derby, Appleby added, “You've got one horse who has come out, Hurricane Lane, and won an Irish Derby and a Grand Prix de Paris within five weeks, and Adayar has now come out and won the King George. Commercially everyone is looking at races like the St James's Palace and the top mile events, but we have to remember that Derby winners are what owner/breeders want to breed and we don't want to be going down the route of breeding just for speed. The top-class mile-and-a-half races are fantastic races to watch.”

Appleby's plan now is to keep his two star colts apart until the first weekend of October.

“To win a race, you can't always go in there with just one bullet, so if you have two potential players, as hopefully we do in Hurricane Lane and Adayar, hopefully that gives us a better shot of winning a race like the Arc,” he said. “I just want to give the operation the best chance of doing that, but until then we will keep them apart. Hurricane Lane has done his travelling, he's been to Ireland and he's been round Longchamp, so I think it's more likely that he will head to the St Leger. If he won it anywhere near as easily as he did the Grand Prix de Paris then we would send him on to the Arc. Adayar hasn't had the experience of travelling yet so we will probably head towards the Prix Niel and go that classic Arc prep route.” 

And, with news to cheer those who love to see the best horses race on, Appleby added, “They are two lovely big 3-year-olds who we hope to see around as 4-year-olds as well. With the Classics you only have one chance to have a crack, but if one of them doesn't happen to make the Arc this year then hopefully they would make it next year. The main thing is that everyone is enjoying it and we're doing what we are setting out to achieve. Yesterday's result gave Sheikh Mohammed great enjoyment and brought back many memories of yesteryear and some of the Godolphin greats.”

Indeed, before Galileo, the last horse to have completed the Derby-King George double was Lammtarra, who was trained in Moulton Paddocks by Saeed Bin Suroor, though he did not race in the Godolphin blue. 

Lammtarra was by Nijinsky, who is another of the 14 horses to have won both races and who features as the grandsire of yet another of that select group, Generous (GB). Nijinsky also pops up in Adayar's pedigree through his grandam Anna Palariva (Ire), who is by Nijinsky's son Caerleon. Meanwhile, Mill Reef, who did the double 50 years ago (followed by his son Reference Point in 1987) is the sire of Adayar's fourth dam Anna Matrushka (GB).

Royal Recognition For Breeders 

The day before the King George, Ascot hosted a lunch for all those who bred a winner at the Royal Meeting. It was the sixth time the course had put on such an occasion, and it is an initiative greatly appreciated by the breeders in attendance, who also receive a memento.

A number of breeders made the trip from Ireland, including Roger O'Callaghan, whose Tally-Ho Stud bred Campanelle (Ire) (Kodiac {GB}), a victrix at Royal Ascot for the last two years, as well as G2 Norfolk S. winner Perfect Power (Ire), having also bred his sire, Ardad (Ire), winner of the Windsor Castle S. in 2016.

Hats off to Ascot–not that that's encouraged at the Royal Meeting– for recognising those who help to provide the most important ingredient for one of the best weeks of British racing.

 

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