Any of us can forget little things on leaving home in a hurry. To the chagrin of Mrs Oakley, who might need a pint of milk or a few more tonics on my way home, my mobile phone and I don’t always arrive at the races together. In that regard I have long sympathised with the former Chancellor Kenneth Clarke. He regularly left his government-issue model at home (especially when heading for a day’s cricket) complaining, ‘The trouble with mobile phones is that sometimes people call you on them.’ I even forgot my wallet one day en route to Ascot and had to borrow my day’s staking money from the esteemed financial editor Jeff Randall.
Such minor episodes of forgetfulness, though, pale beside the effort of the American Airlines pilot on whom I was relying to get me home overnight from the US last Friday in time to make it to Newbury for the Spring Trials day so stylishly sponsored every year by Dubai Duty Free. Having taxied us out to the runway, the captain announced that he would have to take us all back to the Miami terminal because they had set off without some essential item of safety paperwork. My schedule was cutting it fine and so the lengthy delay the missing documentation entailed left me grinding my teeth even more than usual at that absurd message from the cockpit: ‘Thanking you all for your patience.’
Eventually I made it, halfway through the sponsors’ excellent lunch, and was able to begin to get to grips with the new Flat season. Initially, little seems to have changed. Already one can foresee another bonus year for John Gosden, Richard Hannon and William Haggas, who now has so many horses in his Newmarket yard they will probably have to put any new arrivals in the spare bedroom. He scored a popular double with the Queen’s Call To Mind and Signe.
Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum was positively purring in the winner’s enclosure after St Leger fourth Muntahaa won the Group 3 Dubai Duty Free Finest Surprise Stakes (formerly the John Porter Stakes) in the hands of his latest retained rider Jim Crowley for Gosden, who also took the maiden with Face The Facts. But it is the fillies with whom John Gosden is dominating. Having won the Nell Gwyn Stakes at Newmarket three days before with Daban, he won Newbury’s Dubai Duty Free Stakes (once the Fred Darling Stakes and another of the key fillies Classic trials) with the Frankie Dettori-ridden Dabyah. The filly, who like Daban is owned by Abdullah Saeed Al Naboodah, dominated and won with her ears pricked. She was immediately installed as second favourite for the 1,000 Guineas. From the comments of Gosden and Dettori, it seems more likely, though, that Dabyah will run in the French 1,000 Guineas and the more laid-back Daban will be Gosden’s representative at Newmarket. Frankie’s reasoning is that Dabyah, who has already run in France, will be better suited to the easier ground expected there while Daban is already proven at Newmarket. John Gosden noted, ‘I always feel the jockey’s comments when he first gets off the horse are the most valuable.’
Dream Castle, a son of Frankel trained by Saeed bin Suroor and ridden by Oisin Murphy, was made favourite for the colts’ trial, the JLT Greenham Stakes, in which he was opposed by another Godolphin-owned horse Barney Roy, bought after his only previous run at Haydock last autumn but left in the hands of Richard Hannon. Without a lead horse or enough company, Dream Castle raced too freely and Barney Roy swooped in the final stages to win by two lengths. It must have added salt to the contest that Barney Roy was ridden by James Doyle, downgraded last season by bin Suroor but who has been riding winners for the boys in blue in Australia. Told that Barney Roy had been cut in the betting for the 2,000 Guineas, the ever-approachable Hannon declared that the price didn’t matter. ‘After all, I have won it with a 33–1 shot.’ (Night of Thunder, who took the race in 2014, was actually 40–1.) After watching the race in the bar with John Gosden, who told him two out, ‘You’ve got this’, the beaming Hannon said of Barney Roy, ‘He’s always been a little bit different. He used to be a bit keen but now he’s relaxed he might get further.’ Even, he suggested, the Derby distance.
Coming off a plane after three weeks out of British racing, I should have kept my hands in my pockets. Instead I lost on five consecutive races. Funds will be recovered, though, by supporting Luca Cumani’s Spring Cup winner Banksea on his next few outings. Always a talented horse, but one who tended to get in a tizz, Banksea has undergone the snip, which will deny him the pleasures of ever becoming a stallion. Now he is a relaxed athlete. ‘It’s amazing what a little op can do,’ mused trainer’s wife Sara Cumani. ‘He’ll be a fun horse.’