Much as I may wish I could just wash over it, and even though I have to confess my knowledge of the details is foggy to say the least, I cannot possibly write anything this week without mentioning the Godolphin debacle. Facts on the table first, I am a big supporter of the Dubai based outfit, I have been lucky enough to be invited to Dubai numerous times for the World Cup and been to Al Quoz (their training centre) on many occasions, which has always been my personal highlight of any trip. I have spoken to Sheik Mohammed myself many time, as well as Simon Crisford, Frankie Dettori and so on and found them all to be pleasant, knowledgeable horsemen, so the events that have unfolded are as big a shock to me as they are to (almost) anyone else. In a nutshell (for those who have not read the news), Godolphin trainer Mahmood Al Zarooni has admitted to administering various steroids to horses in his Newmarket yard, which has in turn resulted in 11 of the 45 tested returning positive results, and now being barred from racing for the foreseeable future. The official line (and I do not claim to know any different), is that the trainer was unaware that steroids were banned during training (racing Yes, training No), but I have to come clean myself and say that I would be amazed if such a well-run outfit managed to make such a catastrophic error? Surely the vet involved in an injections must have questioned what he was giving, the purchasing machine wonder why they were buying banned substances, and so on? Sorry, but I am acutely aware of the money pumped in to our sport by the Dubai Royal family and their sense of sportsmanship and fair play so this clearly was NOT an instruction from the top, and yes I am a huge fan of the trainer, but I am still struggling to believe that it was a pure accident and it will be interesting to see if the BHA have the gumption to go back and test all the horses in the yard to see if this percentage was an isolated incident – oh and are they the only yard I wonder or will they move in on the Saeed Bin Suroor horses as well? All in all it is an appalling and embarrassing mess for people who have spent more money, bought more positive publicity and put in more effort to a sport they genuinely love than anyone else in history and I am genuinely worried that this incident could even see them walk away which would be disastrous.
Better news for the richer ones among you (you know who you are lol) as the Jockey Club announce the issuing of the first ever retail bond issued by British sport. Looking to raise capital for projects at Cheltenham and will pay (over five years), a premium of 7.55% gross per annum, split as 4.75% gross as “cash “ (which is still pretty good as far as I can tell), plus a further 3% in Rewards4racing points, which can be used to buy tickets, hospitality, etc, at any of the Jockey Club’s 15 racecourses, an innovative idea (figures from £2000 to £1000,000 can be invested), so if you have a bity of spare cash why not go to www.racecoursebond.com for the full details that are well beyond my tiny brain?
Back to the actual racing once again and the wonderful Sprinter Sacre brought plenty of that when winning at his third Festival this season when taking the Champion Chase at Punchestown. It wasn’t a vintage performance but it has been a long season and the first two were a fence clear of the third and more importantly, he drew a massive crowd and hopefully has many years left in front of him. Other notable runs (well, I would say that) included the bumper debut of the Don Cantillon trained Classic Move who ran an absolute blinder to finish a close up third to favourite Moyle Park despite being hampered by the runner up and he looks a good thing to hack up in a run of the mill bumper back in the UK if he isn’t sent straight over hurdles of course? On Wednesday I am assuming Ron has a few Euros (or whatever currency he is currently spending?) on Sir Des Champs who I know is a personal favourite of his. Once again his jumping was a little sketchy but he still outstayed Long Run to take the Punchestown Gold Cup at odds of 2/1 so the beers could still be on our illustrious leader when he returns to blighty?
Looking ahead now, the weekend sees some half decent racing from Sandown on Friday, though to call the 3.15pm a “Classic Trial” is sadly more than a little exaggerated with none of the entrants currently rated over 109 which tells its own story! Aiden O’Brien does seem to have his string a little further forward than most as witnessed in Dubai, though he is hardly banging the winners in back home in Ireland, and I will be watching the return of the lightly raced Eye Of The Storm, a son of Galileo who won his maiden at Galway before finishing third to Trading Leather in the Autumn Stakes (Group Three) at Newmarket. Galileo Rock re-opposes today but was beaten close to two lengths that day with no obvious excuses, so at least we theoretically have the beating of one of our rivals, though his price will determine whether or not I actually get involved!
On Saturday Sandown put on one of my favourite meetings of the season, a mixed card of hurdles jumps and flat, so something for everyone (I write that ever year). Naturally, I am second guessing both running plans and ground conditions at this stage but the Gordon Richard Stakes at 3.15pm certainly catches my eye with some quality horseflesh due to appear, headed officially by Al Kazeem, though he hasn’t seen the track since last Amy when he took the Jockey Club Stakes (Group Two), though it would be some training performance to take this after so long without a run. Ektihaam comes next in the ratings for Roger Varian and seems sure to put up a bold show but I just have this feeling in my water that we could see Sir Michael Stoute rise from the ashes in 2013 after a couple of poor seasons by his lofty standards, and I wonder how much improvement there is to come from the lightly raced Eagles Peak though he ought to be an each way price and backed accordingly. Two races in 2011 saw a maiden victory and an “also ran”, while last year he only made the one trip in a horsebox when winning a Class Two handicap with a bit in hand at Goodwood, after which he disappeared off the map once again. He steps up in class to this Group Three event and will certainly needs to improve, but he has so few miles on the clock that further gains seem almost a certainty and with Ryan Moore in the saddle, he could be worth a risk to small stakes.
Weekend suggestions :
Eagles Peak 3.15pm Sandown Saturday (each way small stakes)
Horses to follow – flat 2013:
Afortunado – unraced well regarded three year old trained by Conrad Allen
Olympic Glory – top three year old trained by Richard Hannon (won last weekend).
Paris Rose – once raced three year old filly trained by William Haggas
Muspelheim – once raced juvenile who should find a small race.