Robin Oakley

Proper racing is back at last

The sport needs sizeable, vocal crowds like those at Goodwood to impart its magic

Proper racing is back at last
Kieran Shoemark rides Lady Bowthorpe to victory in the Qatar Nassau Stakes at Glorious Goodwood [Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images]
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At last proper racing is back. Through the long days of lockdown horses and jockeys have still given their all on the track. But racing is an emotive, instinctive sport which needs the oohs and aahs of sizeable involved and vocal crowds to impart its magic. With Ascot’s King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, followed by Glorious Goodwood, at last it felt again like the real thing. In 2020, when the great Enable won the King George VI for the third time, it was behind closed doors in heavy rain. When Derby winner Adayar this year walked into the parade ring with the arrogance of a finely tuned athlete, you could see people literally standing up and taking notice, nudging each other with their racecards. When he was cheered back after beating the multi-stakes winner Mishriff and the crack Irish filly Love, having become the first horse since the great Galileo in 2001 to win Epsom’s Blue Riband and the King George in the same year, you could feel the buzz of appreciation in your bones. As jockey William Buick told us: ‘He’s a consummate professional who possesses a fantastic will to win.’ Adayar looks like the first Derby winner for years who could go on to greatness.

Goodwood couldn’t supply glorious weather this year but with its added intimacy it gave us everything else. Spectacle, speed and style as ever but this year with hefty dollops of added emotion, remembrance and redemption. Lady Bowthorpe, a filly, not an owner, apparently likes a bum scratch and a cuddle when her trainer William Jarvis enters her box. She’d been unlucky in a few runs, including Newmarket’s Falmouth Stakes when her traffic problems moved her popular trainer — the son, grandson and great-grandson of others in the same trade — to tears of frustration. Jarvis himself hadn’t had a Group One winner ‘since the dinosaurs roamed’, as loyal owner Emma Banks put it. Well, that’s if one was still around in 1994. When Lady Bowthorpe was driven to victory by jockey Kieran Shoemark in the Qatar Nassau Stakes, there were as many cheers and smiles around the winners’ enclosure as I can ever remember. A phalanx of jockeys, too, came out to applaud Shoemark, for whom the victory marked the final peak climbed on his way back from the hell of a drink and drug addiction which he has openly acknowledged trying to help others.

Racing folk like their history and almost as popular was the win for Alcohol Free in the Qatar Sussex Stakes. Trained by Andrew Balding and ridden by champion jockey Oisin Murphy, who characteristically blamed himself for her previous defeat, Alcohol Free is the latest star for owner-breeder Jeff Smith who in sprinter Lochsong and stayer Persian Punch has owned two star names of the Turf who became public favourites. His only previous winner of the Sussex was Chief Singer, 37 years ago.

It was a good week for music moguls such as Emma Banks since Christopher Wright’s exciting Wonderful Tonight, a non-runner in the King George because the ground wasn’t soft enough for her, had a perfect prep run towards the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in the Lillie Langtry Stakes over 1m 6f. David Menuisier, her French-born trainer, is a joy to listen to before and after races. He is commendably candid about his horses’ prospects and made no secret of his belief that Migration would win the first race of the meeting, which he did. I am not sure, though, that he was wise to reveal that Migration doesn’t like being crowded by other horses: ‘He can be a bit funny with other runners around him but gets out of trouble with his turn of foot.’ Jockeys can read and I suspect Migration will find himself in the middle of a Springbok scrum next time out.

Other highlights of the week included a first-day treble for Hollie Doyle and the confirmation that Alan King is now as good a trainer of Flat horses as he is of jumpers. The pocket rocket was on board King’s Trueshan when the withdrawal of four-time previous winner Stradivarius left him an easier task than expected in winning the Al Shaqab Goodwood Cup on heavy ground. Jump trainers do sometimes win distance races on the Flat but King also won the Group 2 Richmond Stakes over six furlongs with the promising Asymmetric.

For me, though, the canniest training call of the week was that of Ralph Beckett, who won the Unibet Vintage Stakes on the Tuesday with Angel Bleu, one of two Group Two winners for the yard that day. Ridden by Frankie Dettori, Angel Bleu had finished second at Ascot three days before and Frankie told the trainer and owner Marc Chan that Angel Bleu needed a break. Ralph looked the still bouncy Angel Bleu in the eye the next morning, liked what he saw and declared him for Goodwood. Frankie brought him home holding off the short-priced favourite Berkshire Shadow on heavy ground and only part ruefully reflected: ‘Horses can make fools of you.’