The Weekly Wrap: When One Door Closes

Being able to attend the Derby is just one of the things we'll miss this racing season | Racing Post

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The daily reality check comes via the evening news. Coronavirus by numbers: new infections and, brutally, the death toll.

Otherwise, for people working day-to-day with racehorses and breeding stock, not an awful lot has changed. Yes, we take care not to get too close to other people, wash our hands more, wear latex gloves to the supermarket. But the horses still need to be fed, exercised, mucked out and to be prepared, as much as we all can be, for a return to some sort of normality.

In our old normal lives, many of us probably dreamt of a little more adventure, regularly adding items to a mental bucket list. Now, how much of that list is populated by simple things we previously took for granted?

The group of friends and fellow journalists with whom I share a house each year for the Cheltenham Festival left each other at the end of that meeting with the words “See you in Dubai”. We didn't make it to the World Cup meeting, or the Lincoln, the Craven, the Greenham, and we won't be assembling at the Rowley Mile this Saturday to witness the first of the British Classics.

For racing's fans and participants, our lives are governed by the racing calendar and it therefore feels disconcerting to have so little to anticipate, discuss and analyse. The lack of racing similarly has a huge impact on our social lives. Most of my friends either work in or follow the sport closely and there can be few occupations in which work and pleasure have such a symbiotic relationship.

While there has been a push to encourage a new audience by reimagining racing to a degree, many people, once drawn to the sport, are beguiled by its history and tradition. Racing traditions become very personal, too. Like meeting a friend at a particular spot on Newmarket's pre-parade ring rail while the previous race is being run to ensure a good view of the Guineas runners. Or counting on seeing the same friendly faces at a car park picnic on the first day of Royal Ascot. Or chatting with Tony Morris and Tony Byles on the wooden bench by the Epsom winner's circle on Derby day.

Even once the action restarts behind closed doors, the absence of this aspect of the racing day will make it seem a very hollow season, but if that ends up being the worst outcome of this situation then we can consider ourselves very fortunate indeed. Never has it been more important for those involved in racing to look beyond our own fences to see that, for most of us, the grass is actually very much greener within.

The wartime metaphors have perhaps been overused in the reporting of the pandemic but parallels for racing can be drawn between the current situation and World War II. Racing had an image problem even then. From John Saville's book 'Insane and Unseemly' which chronicles racing through those dreadful six years, a passage in its introduction could so easily have been written this week, particularly after the latest public spat between a group of trainers and the BHA.

Saville wrote of wartime racing, “More than any other sport it had opponents who wanted to stop it. Some were sincere patriots who believed it was an unaffordable drain on resources, whilst others were puritan opportunists who hated racing on principle. It also had friends, sometimes in unexpected quarters, and there were neutrals determined to be fair and objective. There were slices of good luck and bad, defenders scored own goals and enemies overplayed their hands, but racing managed to carry on and survive until peace returned.”

The idea of an outbreak of peace within racing is perhaps a novel one, but it will indeed carry on, sooner or later, though hopefully not too soon that another hiatus is required.

Gredley's Friends
Bill Gredley has been in the news during the last week with the Racing Post reporting that the octogenarian owner-breeder is continuing his philanthropic support of his Newmarket neighbours by donating £50,000 to the town's COVID-19 Fund.

The Gredley family's Stetchworth and Middle Park Studs have been represented in recent years by Group 1 winners Big Orange (GB) (Duke Of Marmalade {Ire}) and Pretty Pollyanna (GB) (Oasis Dream {GB}), as well as the Grade 1-winning hurdler Allmankind (GB) (Sea The Moon {Ger}). Their success stretches back over many decades, however, and it is 28 years since Gredley's great filly User Friendly (GB) (Slip Anchor {GB}) won the Oaks and went on to land the Irish Oaks, Yorkshire Oaks and St Leger before being beaten only a neck by Subotica (Fr) when second in the Arc.

Though User Friendly was sold to Gary Tanaka as a 4-year-old, her family is still influential for Gredley's breeding operation. The aforementioned Pretty Pollyanna is a grand-daughter of User Friendly's half-sister Friendlier (GB) (Zafonic) and the dynasty is also thriving farther afield.

User Friendly's Danehill daughter Starspangled (Ire) won once for Susan Magnier in Ireland when trained by her son-in-law David Wachman. Exported to Australia for her broodmare career, Starspangled is now the dam of the Group 1-winning mares Youngstar (Aus) (High Chaparral {Ire}) and Funstar (Aus) (Adelaide {Ire}). Trained by Chris Waller, the half-sisters were bred by John Sheather, who bought Starspangled from Coolmore for A$30,000 in 2014 when carrying Youngstar.

Since then, Starspangled's first offspring Baggy Green (Aus), from the final Australian crop of Galileo (Ire), has become a successful broodmare in her own right and is the dam of Tofane (NZ) (Ocean Park {NZ}), recent winner of the G1 All Aged S. during The Championships in Sydney. The Mike Moroney-trained 4-year-old was bred at New Zealand's Curraghmore Stud by Irish ex-pat Gordon Cunningham.

The Irish James Bond
On a vaguely related theme, it states on the Curraghmore Stud website that Gordon Cunningham, a native of Co Waterford, named the stud after the Marquess of Waterford's stately home Curraghmore House.

A particularly entertaining obituary appeared in the Times last week for the Irish aristocrat and accomplished polo player, three-day eventer and amateur rider Lord Patrick Beresford, the uncle of the current marquess who grew up at Curraghmore.

This passage regarding his later life, drew a smile: “Living alone in a cottage on the edge of Windsor Great Park, close to the Guards Polo Club, he would host lunches during Royal Ascot week and Jacuzzi parties after polo matches. He claimed he was among the first in Britain to have a Jacuzzi along with Victor Lownes, the Playboy executive, and he started his own 'Jacuzzi Floozy of the Year' competition where he would nominate the prettiest woman to have visited his hot tub. He loved champagne and vodka martinis.”

And in a slightly less politically incorrect remembrance, Lord Beresford's Times obituary paid him a handsome tribute of which any horseman would be proud: “His equestrian prowess remained a constant; he loved horses and considered a day without riding to be a day wasted. His favourites included Buck, Amber Jack and Papillon, which was bred at Curraghmore. As an amateur jockey he won more than 50 point-to-points and National Hunt races. He claimed some of polo's biggest titles, including the Gold Cup at Cowdray and the Queen's Cup at Guards, and hunted into his seventies, elegant to the last.”

Fundraising eggstravaganza
Just as we saw last year with Pat Smullen's fundraising efforts for Cancer Trials Ireland, the racing industry is particularly good at getting behind a campaign.

The #DoItForDan fundraiser was pushed past the €2 million mark this week with plenty of help from racing figures who manfully (and womanfully) knocked back raw eggs when challenged by friends. The donations helped to raise enough money to ensure that one-year-old Dan Donoher, who has been diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy, can receive gene therapy in America to aid his condition.

While all in a good cause, the twitter videos of various racing folk swallowing eggs also gave an insight into how they are coping with the lockdown.

Sir Mark Prescott is naturally taking things in his stride. Known for his disapproval of his fellow trainers appearing unshaven on Newmarket Heath in the morning, he named and shamed David Simcock and Charlie McBride and, after downing a 'Prairie Oyster', minus the vodka, he called upon his fellow teetotaller Jim Bolger to do the same.

It's doubtful that Sir Mark spends much time scrolling through Twitter but if he did he'd be horrified at the hirsuteness currently on display among the racing fraternity. His recently bearded brethren include Willie McCreery, Henry Beeby, Colin Tizzard, Johnny Murtagh and Jamie Spencer (who can be forgiven, having been laid up in hospital with a broken hip). The prize for the best lockdown beard, however, goes to the Grizzly Adams of Rathmore Stud, Peter Molony.

And for those of you who cruelly nominated me for the raw egg challenge, I've been scouring cocktail recipes and will complete the task today…

Getting Connected
We're halfway through what should have been the breeze-up season and, as reported in TDN last week, breeze-up consignors have been forward-thinking in marketing their drafts ahead of the delayed sales.

Johnny Hassett has turned to the art of video-blogging and his candour in his most recent post outlines the difficulties faced by many in the sector.

“As a breeze-up company we had doubled down on horses, more than twice as many, and we had upped the calibre significantly, which meant more staff, more feed bills, more everything. I had enough money to get to the Craven [sale] but not really any further,” said Hassett on Tuesday.

Rallying his staff, and with help from Ruth Murphy and Katie Rudd in setting up a website and social media presence, Hassett, who operates as The Bloodstock Connection, has now found buyers from Ireland, Italy and Kuwait for a number of his horses.

“A month later, we've sold four horses and we've got orders for two more,” he continued. “There's no touch, but we've got our money back, we got paid for our keep, and we're in business.”

While private transactions are not necessarily music to the ears of sales companies which are currently trying to salvage the formal breeze-up auctions, in the long term, if the buyers are there for juveniles and the breeze-up consignors can stay in business to return to this season's yearling sales, then it's a sliver of good news for everyone.

Farewell to the Lanigans
This week Newmarket bids farewell, albeit a socially distant one, to David and Amy Lanigan and their daughters Katie and Sophie. David is well known in the training ranks and over a number of years Amy has made her name as an extremely talented photographer whose images have graced many marketing campaigns of stud farms around Britain.

Newmarket's loss is very much Lexington's gain and we wish the Lanigan family safe passage and the best of luck in their new American venture.

 

 

 

 

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