Last week, James Fanshawe entertained Sir Henry Cecil to dinner. Only a few years ago, it would have been a good deal easier to picture the host ending the 2011 season as champion trainer than his guest doing so for an 11th time. At 50, Fanshawe clearly remains eligible for the opportunities that beckon in Newmarket some day, as and when Cecil and Sir Michael Stoute call it a day. For now, however, it seems a continuing mystery why his artistry has not earned promotion, among the sport's biggest spenders, to the very top of their training roster.
The emergence of Deacon Blues, who confirmed himself the most progressive sprinter in the land at Newbury on Saturday, will perhaps serve as a timely prompt for the distribution of yearlings this autumn. The very fact that Fanshawe will now be saddling two of the favourites for the last big sprint of the domestic campaign, at Ascot next month, itself tells a story. For while his patient and sensitive methods could not be better tailored to a deeper pedigree, he has instead been obliged to demonstrate that they are no less effective applied to speedier, cheaper genes.
Though Fanshawe has already accumulated more prize-money than in any of the previous half-dozen seasons, the fact remains that his string has halved – to 50 – since 2007. Deacon Blues was his 23rd winner of the campaign, compared with a career best of 58 in 2002. That was also the year he won the Champion Hurdle for a second time, with Hors La Loi III, and saddled Soviet Song to the first of her five Group One wins.
Perhaps some owners imagine themselves to be in too much of a hurry for a trainer like Fanshawe, who scrupulously refuses to rush horses. But they cannot have heeded the way he has always brought them to fever pitch so reliably for their big day. Win, lose or draw, for instance, his Royal Ascot runners more often than not come up with the race of their lives. Never has that been more obvious than on the final day of the meeting this year, when Deacon Blues ended his handicapping days in the Wokingham and Society Rock, unlucky runner-up the previous year, won the Golden Jubilee Stakes 45 minutes later.
Their proven affinity for the course means they will now conclude in public those bragging rights that could never be established back at Pegasus Stables, thanks to the indolence of Society Rock. But the way Deacon Blues has now powered through three consecutive Group races on the bridle – including when dropped to five furlongs for the first time on Saturday – suggests that he is the more upwardly mobile. The Qipco Champions Sprint is still a Group Two race, as in its previous incarnation as the Diadem Stakes, but has been stripped of penalties in an attempt to fast-track its elevation. Regardless of those formalities, Deacon Blues himself plainly stands on the brink of elite status.
Given the present exigencies of the British sport, Fanshawe could hardly have a tougher marketplace in which to seek the improved resources he transparently deserves. Admittedly, he may always be held back, regardless, by distaste for the sort of aggressive hustling through which rivals of a coarser grain might gain an advantage at the yearling sales. It would be gratifying, however, were the superpowers of bloodstock to recognise this delicacy as simply another dimension of what sets Fanshawe apart as a trainer.
If the example set over the ocean has any relevance, it may yet prove that all trainers' clientele will bring rather more cash than expected to the imminent sales in Britain and Ireland. After several years of recession, the nerves infecting just about every other economic index certainly seem to have evaporated at America's keynote auction. Astounding gains are being posted by every measure at Keeneland, with the average so far up 24 per cent and the median by 37.5 per cent. The Keeneland director of sales, Geoffrey Russell, described the numbers as "beyond belief" and perceived "an optimistic, energised feel out there".
One thing never seems to change, admittedly, in that John Ferguson led the first week's business on behalf of Sheikh Mohammed, signing away US$8.87m (£5.62m)for 36 yearlings. At the same time, however, Russell noted increased muscle among domestic buyers. If the same trade winds happen to fill a few sails on this side of the Atlantic, then perhaps the trainer of Deacon Blues will remember how it feels when the world knows your name.
* Chris McGrath's Nap
Trumpington Street (5.30 Kempton) Unexposed in handicaps, having taken a while to get his act together, and made so much improvement over course and distance last time that he can shrug off an 8lb higher mark today.
* Next best
Trade Secret (4.40 Hamilton)
Did not build on comeback last year but it's worth chancing that he is a different proposition now, having been gelded before an unlucky defeat last week.
* One to watch
Shadowtime (Tracy Waggott) is back at the stable that has got the best out of him in the past and looked set to exploit a fair mark when caught in traffic last week.
* Where the money's going
Some are thinking ahead to the jumps season to judge by the support for Great Endeavour from 16-1 to 12-1 with the Paddy Power Gold Cup sponsors.Reuse content