The chestnut was now in full flight, four white feet leaving the ground at the same time. Crack, pause, and crack again came the arcing whip upon his hindquarters. That was the signal to say “ now we will go and win the world’s greatest race”, again another crack followed by yet another crack of the leather upon horse flesh. Still the combination had not got past Hot Grove and Willie Carson in full on drive mode. With just 75 yards to go came the final four swiftly delivered cracks, like a salvo from a gattling gun. And then it was over. The Minstrel had won his Derby by two inches. His name went into the history books that afternoon in setting ink. That of Hot Grove disappeared, not quite without trace, but you know what I mean. In his next two races the Minstrel went on to win the Irish Derby and that year’s renewal of the King George V1 & Queen Elizabeth 11 Stakes at Ascot in late July. Lester Piggott used the whip as effectively as Clint Eastwood his .44 magnum, “ the most powerful handgun in the world.”
That is no longer the case. “ Whips aren’t what they used to be “ was an oft repeated argument raised by jockeys and assorted racing people since Hughsie handed in his licence. Jockeys are at the coal face of their sport and there will always be a level, some of it simmering, of contention between them and the US of the sport, the masters. The men who run the business from their vaunted positions in Grosvenor Square and Newmarket. I cannot recall exactly why Richard Guest tossed his licence on to the desk of the stewards at a race meeting in 1998. There had to be a good reason for such a thinking jockey and caring horseman to have done so. Guest was born into a racing family going back several generations. He was riding horses on Newmarket Heath at the age of twelve before he was off to school. In one interview last week Richard Hughes said with a certain degree of frustration “ look, I’ve been riding horses since I was seven. “ You are not born the son of Monksfield’s jockey Dessie Hughes, brought up around horses from birth, without gaining an intimate knowledge of the animal.
Three years on Guest won the most grueling of Nationals when only four horses finished the race, guiding and encouraging his mount around the four and an half miles without frequent resort to the whip. Richard had known Red Marauder since he was a young store horse, he had brought the animal along from bumpers through hurdles to the transition to fences. Richard Hughes doesn’t have the privilege of being with his mounts for such a length of time, the Flat jockey calls upon his vast experience of riding to make the split second decisions as to what measure and type of encouragement to administer. I once had a lengthy discussion with Mick Easterby about the sport and the talk led inevitably to Lester Piggott as I, then a relative ingénue journalist, steered it that way. Mick said that Piggott knew more about a horse by the time he had cantered it to the start of a race than he would know in two, three or four years of training him. Nobody told Lester but plenty asked him.
The racing on Saturday gives us the Group 1 Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster and over the sticks three belting races in; the Grade 1 Old Roan Chase at Aintree, where MASTER MINDED makes his seasonal debut for Paul Nicholls, the Grade 2 Persian War Novices Hurdle at Chepstow, followed 35 minutes later at the Welsh venue by the fiercely competitive totepool Silver Trophy Handicap Hurdle. I expect CAMELOT will win the big Flat race for Aidan O’Brien, successful with St Nicholas Abbey two years ago. He is a firm 5/4 favourite as I write this and bearing in mind 6 of the last 10 runnings have gone to the favourite I am hardly being a ground breaking tipster in putting him up.
Matters are more complicated at Chepstow where Paul Nicholls sets the benchmark in the Persian War with either Bold Addition, second to Sizing Symphony at Cheltenham 8 days ago where he ran to his BHB rating of 138, and CURRENT EVENT, the more likely runner of the two. However both have to concede weight to Philip Hobbs’ FINGAL BAY. An easy winner of an Exeter bumper last season he is held in the highest regard at home. Hobbs has his team in rattling good order for the start of the NH season proper and in this son of King’s Theatre he is probably laying down an early marker as far as the Sun Alliance Novices Hurdle is concerned.
And it is to Hobbs that I turn to for the likely winner of the big handicap hurdle on the card with ARTHURIAN LEGEND. This highly strung individual is a dual course winner over 2 miles and the step up to 20furlongs is going to be to his benefit. Nicky Henderson is yet to get going for the season, not surprising since he has been unable to get his powerful string onto the grass gallops at Lambourn gallop due to all the sunshine we are having this golden hewed autumn. If he decides to run BEAR’S AFFAIR in this race he must come into consideration given his NH breeding and overall profile.
MASTER MINDED won’t have things all his own way at Aintree if ALBERTAS RUN takes up his entry. Front running is his style now and this course is tailor made for those tactics.
I like three Flat runners on Friday. At Newbury I will be firmly focused upon Sir Michael Stoute’s MR MAYNARD in the 7f nursery at 3.30. This fellow made some impression when landing his maiden at Kempton 58 days ago and given that he has progressed nicely in the meantime Ryan Moore can steer him to another victory before he is put away for the year. Expect him to go on next season to be a Listed performer at the least if my news about him is correct. At Doncaster I like the chances of Mr Gosden’s GREGORIAN in the opener at 1.30 where the son of Clodovil is expected to step up on his latest 7th in a valuable sales race at Newmarket 34 days ago. He lost his action going into the dip at HQ on good to firm ground, he will absolutely relish getting his toe in this time round. Finally expect Kieran Fallon to come back to the winners’ enclosure with positive remarks to say when partnering Stoute’s Dansili filly ADESTE in the 2.00 over the straight mile. She has a bright future in front of her.