Racing: Fairytale day dawns for Majestic Desert
Sunday 02 May 2004
Today is the day that a fairytale just might come true. Majestic Desert, the Cinder-ella filly, is off to the ball at Newmarket. This afternoon the girl from below stairs takes on 16 rivals in the 191st 1,000 Guineas, and despite her extraordinarily humble origins, she can prove herself a true princess.
There are no ugly sisters in this romance, and the tryst with the handsome prince must wait for next year. Buttons is probably Majestic Desert's trainer, Mick Channon, who works alongside her daily. And the Fairy Godmother? Step forward Gill Richardson, who bred the filly and must have waved a magic wand at her birth to bestow the gifts our heroine owns as an athlete.
So settle down and listen to the story. It starts four years ago when Richardson, a feisty Yorkshire lass who buys and sells horses for a living, was given instructions by a client to buy some potential broodmares, the cheaper the better. With her good friend Channon's help, she acquired the 11-year-old Calcutta Queen, a moderate race mare on a downward spiral, for £500.
"I paid the money out of the petty-cash tin," she said, "and then the poor chap who I'd bought her for had a stroke, and didn't want her any more."
Stuck with Calcutta Queen, who was perfectly healthy, had a decent sire, Night Shift, and some respectable distant relations on her mother's side (her great-grand-dam Photo Flash was second in her Guineas 36 years ago), Richardson decided to send her to Fraam, a cheap stallion in whom she had an interest. Fraam, a strapping grandson of the legendary sire Nureyev, was no more than a high-class handicapper and, at the start of his career, commanded a fee of just £1,250. Even a mare as lowly as Calcutta Queen was a welcome boost to his harem.
But stardust fell on her daughter and the good fairies plotted her a benign course through her early years. In order to recoup her unwanted, albeit modest, outlay, Richardson decided to sell Majestic Desert as a yearling, as a good commercial operator should. But when it came to the crunch she decided that the bids at auction in Ireland were too low, and retained her property for €15,000 (£10,000).
Majestic Desert went into training with Channon and then, enter a man who could by no means be described as Baron Hardup. Jaber Abdullah, a wealthy businessman who is an associate of Sheikh Maktoum al Maktoum, spotted the bonny bay youngster and made Richardson the proverbial offer.
"He fell in love with her," Richardson said, "but I wasn't sure about selling, because of what might be said if she turned out to be no good, with me breeding her and everything. But I put the facts on the table, and he took her."
Whatever Abdullah paid, it was a bargain. Majestic Desert won first time out, came in third to the flying Attraction over an inadequate five furlongs in the Queen Mary Stakes, won a valuable contest at the Curragh and failed by inches to beat another of today's rivals, Carry On Katie, in the Cheveley Park Stakes.
But there is sadness to record. Abdullah added Calcutta Queen to his broodmare band, only to lose her, and her unborn Fraam foal, when she died after an attack of colic last year. However, he now also owns the mare's other daughter, a Josr Algharoud two-year-old named Gold Majesty.
It would be just if Majestic Desert should score today; two years ago, her owner's brilliant Queen's Logic, also trained by Channon, missed the 1,000 Guineas after going lame the day before the race.
She faces a tough task, but has much going for her: she has proved she has trained on with her no-fuss success at Newbury last month; she is race-fit; she is a battler; and she has gears. Red Bloom, representing last year's winning connections, is the obvious threat, with Hathrah and Sundrop next best and Incheni the pick of the rank outsiders.
Win or lose today, a filly like Majestic Desert is what keeps the racing industry, one built on dreams, going. "A story like hers gives everyone hope," said Richardson. At around 2.45pm, we will know if there is to be a happy ending.
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