Mill Reef, who won the Derby, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, the Eclipse and the King George by far enough for jockey Geoff Lewis to declare ‘daylight was second’, was one of my first equine heroes. One image has always stuck in my mind. Trainer Ian Balding sent Mill Reef and a companion out on a watered gallop at Lamorlaye for a final pipe-opener before the Arc. Afterwards the trainer walked over the ground and noted that on the firmer patches, while the companion’s hoof prints were clearly visible, there was no trace of where Mill Reef had run. On the softer patches, the other horse had cut in deep and turned over the turf; Mill Reef’s feet had barely left a mark. ‘It was,’ he said, ‘as if a ghost had galloped by.’
Last Saturday, 50 years on from Mill Reef’s birth, Newbury staged the Dubai Duty Free International weekend with the sponsors supporting, for the 18th successive year, the Group Two Mill Reef Stakes in the little horse’s memory. Even Mill Reef, I suspect, would have been leaving a mark on turf softened by two days of gusty rain. It may have dampened proceedings for the crowd but some trainers have for months been unsuccessfully stomping rain dances in their yards praying for ground on which to run their soft-turf specialists. All they needed to do was to call me: I can make it rain anywhere. I took Mrs Oakley to San Diego promising sunshine and it came down in stair rods. I went to Dubai for a World Cup and a shaken Indian cab driver drove off the road as hail thundered on the car roof. When I went desert bird watching in Oman, we were flooded out of our hotel.
Happy faces at Newbury included those of William Haggas and Hughie Morrison, two of those who’d been praying for rain. William’s Young Rascal had been third favourite for this year’s Derby but finished only seventh. In the Duty Free Legacy Stakes he won by a short head from Mirage Dancer, trained by Sir Michael Stoute and owned by Khalid Abdullah, whose representative Teddy Grimthorpe smilingly called over ‘Bloody mudlarks!’ to the successful trainer. William Haggas confirmed Young Rascal’s future as a stayer. ‘He had worked brilliantly before the Derby, but at Epsom he ran as if his legs had been tied together. He wasn’t happy from flagfall. It knocked the stuffing out of him and there hasn’t been a race for him since because it’s been too dry. He’s been crying out for rain. Hopefully, he can have a fruitful time now, though there’s not much left.’
Equally happy was the double scorer Hughie Morrison following six second places in a week. After his Buzz, a cheap purchase at only €12,000, had prevailed by a nose in the £75,000 Dubai Duty Free handicap, he admitted the horse lived up to his name. ‘He’s not unmanageable, just impatient. He could be a November Handicap horse but we’ve got about half a dozen for that. We’ve got a lot of nice horses who want it soft.’ A beaming Morrison repeated the message after his four-year-old Temple Church took the 1m 4f handicap, his first victory since he won at Newbury as a two-year-old: ‘He deserved that. He just needed soft ground.’ Temple Church, whose owner had driven from Oban to see him in the foul weather, is in the Horse in Training Sales. His trainer now seems to be having second thoughts: ‘We’ll have to have a good lunch about that.’
If there was a sadness about the day, it was surely that owner-breeder Andrew Hollis was adamant after the Group Three sprint in which Take Cover finished second on ground that didn’t suit that it was the popular 11-year-old’s last race, after earning £756,794 from 15 victories in 49 contests. He wants him to quit while still on top. Trainer David Griffiths, who has handled the veteran so well, doesn’t want Take Cover to finish while he is still enjoying his racing. Another case for a good lunch or two?
The Mill Reef Stakes regularly points up future stars and it went, for the first time surprisingly, to John Gosden with Kessaar, who will now be a candidate for a French race, with more rain dances in the meantime from part-owner Khaled Al-Mudhaf. But the horse who went straight into my notebook was Charlie Fellowes’s 7f novice winner King Ottokar. The good-looking son of Motivator will surely stay.
Temple Church, incidentally, was one of three winners for Gerald Mosse, the Frenchman now based in Newmarket. His previous ride for Hughie had been at Longchamp six years before but the East Ilsley trainer noted: ‘These French jockeys are good judges of pace.’ This column was one of the first to alert British trainers to the availability of the experienced Frenchman and Mosse excelled both on Mr Lupton in the sprint for Richard Fahey (his second winner in two bookings for the Yorkshire trainer) and on Jackpot Royale for Michael Appleby. With 17 of his last 20 rides for different trainers, he is clearly catching on.