World Tour Only The Start Of Ferguson's Journey

James Ferguson | Tattersalls


LEXINGTON, KY–On a morning like this, you really couldn't be anywhere in the world but the Bluegrass: as night faded into dawn, a ghostly mist was exhaled from every swale, only to be burned off as the surrounding pastureland yawned and stretched gratefully beneath a sky of cut-glass brilliance. For one new arrival in Keeneland, however, a degree of disorientation remained wholly pardonable.

Helpfully, James Ferguson had hit a wide-awake phase when coming down to the quarantine barn to supervise the preparations of Mise En Scene (GB) (Siyouni {Fr}) for the GI Maker's Mark Filly and Mare Turf on Saturday. But if his brain had temporarily caught up with his body, after a gruelling journey from Australia the previous day, many subconscious fragments of recollection doubtless remained to be pieced back together once finally succumbing to sleep.

A young man of such palpable ambition might well be tempted to view their reassembly as the work of nightmare sooner than dream. After all, it wasn't as though there had been merely a fleeting moment when Deauville Legend (Ire) (Sea The Stars {Ire}) deceived even neutral observers that he was going to win the G1 Melbourne Cup on Tuesday. He was so insistently drawing the eye, as the first third-quarters of the race began to take its toll on the rest, that it really did seem as though he was going to deliver a stunning success to a stable still in only its third year. Yet in the straight the gelding would be swamped by two closers, and even collared for third in the shadow of the post.

“At the end of the day, he ran a very, very solid race,” Ferguson reflects. “He was given a lovely ride, and I'd say the ground was probably just too soft over that trip. It might have been a different story on quicker ground. As it was, when he went to lengthen, his run sort of halted.

“When they came round the bend, and we were travelling so strongly, I did think that we'd just go away and win it. But then you saw Gold Trip (Fr) (Outstrip) behind and it wasn't a struggle, he came past us very quickly, though I thought Deauville Legend fought on very gamely.

“The price he was given was probably a little unfair, considering he's only three, had never tried the trip and was probably weighted out of it as well. So I was absolutely thrilled with the way he ran. Of course it would have been great to win, but he ran best of the internationals by a long way.”

Fortunately, unlike most of the other shippers, this one will be returning to Ferguson's new base in Newmarket and promises to mature into an elite force over middle distances. Even as things stand, however, he has confirmed the exceptional potential of his 32-year-old trainer. Because it's one thing to send horses round the world in the hope of drawing attention to your emerging business; it's quite another to have such a precocious sense of their eligibility.

Besides Deauville Legend himself, the 3-year-olds developed by Ferguson this season include El Bodegon (Ire) (Kodiac {GB}), his breakout Group 1 winner in France last year and sent back over the Channel to finish runner-up in the G1 Prix du Jockey-Club. (He was recently beaten under a length on his debut for Chris Waller in the G1 Cox Plate.) Then there's the filly here, already a group winner and definitely considered capable of better than the odds allow. And these have graduated from an intake that initially numbered only 15 or so yearlings.

By knowing rather than guessing that Deauville Legend and El Bodegon were competent for the highest tier, Ferguson not only requires us to take a second look at Mise En Scene. He has quickly shown that he, too, belongs at this level.

And that's no less than one would expect, given his grounding. Forget that his father John can lend such experienced counsel, whether in the stable's recruitment or in such strategic decisions as might warrant a second opinion. By the time he took out a licence, Ferguson had completed a decade of international apprenticeship, absorbing the work of one master after another, from Sir Mark Prescott to Jessica Harrington to Charlie Appleby.

“And for all that I'm a young trainer, we're not a young team,” he says. “I've had a lot of help. Obviously Dad's involved in the planning side, and between us we have a lot of experience under our hats. He's always on the end of the phone if needed. But while you try to learn the best bits from all the people you've worked for, it's about finding a mould that fits you. I think you do that very quickly, and now I'm just looking forward, trying to keeping the ball rolling.”

That agenda is well served by the return of the stable flagship, who first launched himself into wider attention when unlucky not to win the King George V H. at Royal Ascot. That day Deauville Legend failed by just a head to catch Secret State (Ire) (Dubawi {Ire}) after being held up in traffic at a critical moment, an exasperating conclusion to an inspired project. The form was comprehensively reversed when the protagonists met again in the G2 Great Voltigeur S. at York later in the summer.

“Ascot had been the plan from a long way out,” Ferguson recalls. “He was very lightly raced, and it was his handicap debut which is a risk from the mentality point of view. But we knew he was okay, and didn't want to blow that handicap mark. It just goes to show, when you see Charlie's horse rated around same as us now, that whereas you could go into that race two years ago 10lbs well in, now you need to be 20lbs well in! Which sounds crazy, but it's true. That's why it needed to be a plan from a long way out. One day we'll get it right, but he thought he'd won and has just kept going forward since.”

In viewing Deauville Legend as the type to keep progressing in 2023, Ferguson already has the GI King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond S. in mind.

“I genuinely think he can be a Group 1 horse,” he says. “A lot of those mile-and-a-half horses in England and Ireland are potentially retiring and I think he can be a force to be reckoned with. He's still lightly raced, and has come on huge amounts, mentally. For what I consider quite a hot horse, you wouldn't even have noticed him in the Melbourne Cup preliminaries. He'll be given nice break now but looks the sort that could go to the [G1] Sheema Classic.”

As for the business immediately in hand, Ferguson thought enough of Mise En Scene to start off her campaign in the G1 Irish 1000 Guineas. Disappointing there, she made a promising resumption at Sandown in August and was then only caught in a photo in a listed race at Yarmouth last time.

“Things didn't really go quite right for her earlier in the season,” Ferguson acknowledges. “She needed a bit of a regroup after Ireland, wasn't quite right, so we turned her out and she has come back really well: she was running on strongly at Sandown, and I thought she was very unlucky at Yarmouth.

“The experience of running out here last year [beaten four lengths in the GI Juvenile Fillies' Turf at Del Mar] has definitely helped: she's really grown up, she's going round here like a pony. I feel we've got her in absolutely the peak of her condition right now. Despite the odds, I think she'll run very big race. It's a big ask, she's an outsider for a reason, but I don't think run like one.”

Once returning from this dazing odyssey, which could nearly be titled “Around the World in 80 Hours”, Ferguson will be raring to get a string of around 75 primed for their first campaign out of the Kremlin Cottage yard that previously accommodated Hugo Palmer.

“It's obviously very exciting,” Ferguson says. “We worked really hard at the sales and I hope it's paid off, we've a lot of lovely yearlings and been supported by some great owners. Yes, the stats are pretty good from that group of [2020] yearlings. But I've got a good team at home, helping us train, and the buying is obviously very important, too, between Dad and myself and people like Mark McStay. And then we have Qatar [Racing] kindly sending us Mise En Scene. So it's a massive team effort. It does feel like we're getting there. If we keep having big runners at meetings like this, then hopefully we will end up with big winners too.”

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