They say that many a fine tune comes from an old fiddle and the St Leger is 240 years old but came up with one heck of a melody thanks to Laura Mongan, George Baker and Harbour Law’s victory at Doncaster — but another surprise winner could be Epsom racecourse.
The 22/1 shot outstayed Middleham Park’s Ventura Storm and Ballydoyle’s Housesofparliament in a thrilling finish to the world’s oldest Classic. It was a first Classic win for Baker, and it was Team Mongan’s first ever runner in a Classic.
The individuals each deserve their place in Doncaster’s history but there is – let us hope – a longer-lasting legacy for the Mongan success, and that is what it means for her beloved Epsom.
Epsom is inextricably linked with the Derby in June, but I have long harboured the gloomy notion that, for vast swathes of the year, it is somewhat forlorn.
It was, of course, a powerhouse of training achievements earlier in the 20th century and before, but feels gloomy and echoey on anything other than Derby weekend.
Road signs still point to the importance of looking out for horses but compared to a Lambourn or a Newmarket it is a poorer relation. Now, though, Mongan has suddenly shone the spotlight on this extra special racing town.
It won’t happen overnight but — with any luck — connections will look again at Epsom as a credible base for their thoroughbreds, and the historic town will be known for something much more than one weekend a year.
The heart-warming story of the Mongan team’s St Leger success rightly stole the headlines, but, on Saturday evening, we were treated to an Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown that had every right to claim to have been the best run race of the year.
Multiple Classic winners from across the years and seas came together, with Jean Claude Rouget’s Almazor prevailing ahead of Found and Minding in an absolute thriller.
Almanzor is likely to swerve the Arc in favour of a tilt at Champions Day here at Ascot which – finally – may emerge from the shadows of Frankel and be a day to relish and celebrate for more than just one horse.
For me, however, the real story of Irish Champions Weekend came in the marvellous diversity that saw thirteen different trainers take to the winner’s enclosure over the 2-day meeting.
This column has long espoused the genius of Aidan O’Brien and discussed the merits of DK Weld and Willie Mullins, but the range of smiling faces offered a welcome change from the familiarity of the usual podium photographs. Whatever Doncaster could do, so too could Leopardstown!
Switching codes quite markedly, I was struck by Jockey Club Racecourses’ announcement of a £1-million bonus for any horse who might complete the Haydock, Kempton and Cheltenham Triple Crown this coming season.
It is not a new idea and I am not entirely convinced that it is money well spent, but I refuse to be needlessly churlish. What it undoubtedly does – albeit at a relatively high cost – is focus the mind on the impending National Hunt season.
Next month, Cue Card will be kicking off his campaign in the Charlie Hall at Wetherby, en route, one would hope, to a crack at the Triple Crown that he came so close to landing last term.
The prices offered by bookies – 33/1 in a place – appear wrong. It’s been done before and the likes of Cue Card and Kauto Star have come desperately close – all within the past decade. If you can still get 25/1 or thereabouts, we might have a bet that – at the very worst – is going to keep us busy until Boxing Day and Kempton’s King George.
On Friday night in Doncaster, I had the pleasure of hosting some racing pals for a Chinese meal ahead of the Leger. One such dining guest was the ultra-professional, highly regarded Channel 4 TV presenter Nick Luck.
Luck and I have been pals for many years and he was a welcome guest at my wedding last year. Not only is his knowledge of racing, breeding and big race history bordering on the encyclopaedic, but he is – I am happy to declare – the best impressionist the sport has surely ever known.
Luck tells me that most of his subjects are aware he takes them off and accept it in good heart, but my fear of libel forbids me from naming names. Suffice it to say, if readers are lucky enough to spend time with Lucky off-camera, they should encourage him to reel off some trainers, ex jockeys and Classic winning owners of recent years — and even some colleagues. He is beyond priceless.
Nemoralia was back to her disappointing worst at Doncaster in the week and Muntahaa flattered to deceive, but it was a week to celebrate in every way other than financially.
My eyes turn to Ayr this week and, although it pains me to side with so short a favourite, the credentials of GROWL in the Ayr Gold Cup are overwhelming and my money is down. Hopefully, that particular 7 lb penalty won’t be enough to stop this upwardly mobile sprinter.