Friday, June 10, 2011

The visitors

As Royal Ascot approaches, we have the excitement of having the Aussies in town. I suspect that there's no Takeover Target, Scenic Blast, Choisir or Miss Andretti among the squad this year, but there are two nice Australian-trained sprinters in Newmarket at present: Star Witness (in the first picture) and Hinchinbrook (in the next two pictures, even if he is hard to spot in the second of those two), trained at Flemington by Danny O'Brien and by Peter Moody at Caulfield respectively. They are both currently on the Abington Place property which we still refer to as 'Geoff Wragg's stable' (and which the older generation no doubt still refers to as 'Harry Wragg's stable') and I managed to get a good view of them both yesterday. I probably got a better view of Hinchinbrook (and definitely got better photographs of him) as I was on foot while watching him, whereas Star Witness I saw while riding Kadouchski. This accounts for the marked disparity in the quality of the photographs of the two, a disparity which was further accentuated by the fact that Hinchinbrook was exercising shortly after a golden dawn, while it had clouded over significantly by time that I glimpsed Star Witness an hour later. I believe that Star Witness is set to run on Tuesday in the King's Stand Stakes, while Hinchinbrook appears an intended runner in the Golden Jubilee Stakes four days later. They are both good stallion prospects and have exciting stud careers ahead of them, so we wish them well in their attempts to boost their stud prospects further. Whether our good wishes will be enough to help them into the winner's enclosure remains to be seen, as, although I couldn't off the top of my head tell you which horses are likely to offer them the stiffest competition, one might assume that a pair of horses who are clearly significantly below the best in their homeland might find things tough when pitted against the best which Europe has to offer.

Yesterday morning I also enjoyed a good view of another overseas raider who is set to run at Ascot next week: the dual Japanese Grade One winner Grand Prix Boss, who is currently stabled in Clive Brittain's Carlburg Stable. I feel that we ought to regard him as the main danger to Frankel in the St. James's Palace Stakes and that we can expect him at least to give Frankel a race, as we've learned in the past that the best horses in Japan are usually at least on a par with the best anywhere else. He's certainly a magnificent, massive beast and he'll make Frankel, who is a stunningly strong horse but not a particularly big one, look like a dwarf. But, then, as we know, there is no correlation between height and ability. Incidentally, I followed another of Frankel's potential rivals off the Heath this morning: Dream Ahead (pictured at the end of this paragraph on a gloriously sunny morning a couple of months ago in our early spring, following his mate back down the side of Long Hill) who has done really well in recent weeks and is now looking a really strong, impressive colt, a comment one couldn't really have made in the past. His rider Chris Hough told me that he will run on Tuesday as long as the ground is good. I actually assumed that running on Tuesday meant contesting the King's Stand Stakes, but to my surprise I have subsequently noticed that he figures amongst the entries for the St. James's Palace Stakes. Admittedly his connections are far better placed to assess the horse than I am, but it would never have crossed my mind to run him first up over a stiff mile against Frankel, whereas I would have thought that he would have had a very good chance in the King's Stand, granted him being in good form and the ground not being too firm. Still, as we've observed previously, it would be a dull world if we all thought the same!

Just to show that we don't only take an interest in the headline acts, I should point out that a race which I will enjoy watching between now and then is the novice hurdle at Aintree this evening, in which Smokey Oakey, trained just around the corner by Mark Tompkins and winner in the past of both the Lincoln and one of those ten-furlong Group races at Sandown whose name I always forget (ie it would have been either the Brigadier Gerard Stakes or the Sir Gordon Richards Stakes), must have a good chance of getting off the mark over jumps. He'll be ridden by a jockey whom I like who was formerly resident in this town (Colin Bolger) who now does very well (with a complete absence of publicity) in the south east, and who still comes here regulary to school Mark Tompkins' horses (on one of which he is pictured here in Rayes Lane a couple of weeks ago). I'd really like to see Smokey Oakey win, not least because I know how much pleasure victory would give to his very nice part-owner Brian Agar, whom one can usually meet at Sandown Park and who races the horse in partnership with Judi Dench. Another jumps-riding former resident of this parish was in the news today, surprisingly enough: Mark Marris, who rides as an amateur and who used to work for Neil King, was mentioned in today's Racing Post as having ridden in a jumps race at Wingatui on the south island of New Zealand. Strange but, apparently, true. There'll be a good story in that, I'm sure, and I look forward to asking Mark (pictured on one of Neil's horses at the bottom of Warren Hill during the freeze-up of January 2010) about it when he reappears here, which he surely will do at some stage, Newmarket being a place to which most people return eventually.

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