Claud Cockburn, the campaigning journalist who left The Times for a job at the Daily Worker, relates in his memoirs the ritual of the Rothschild shilling, whereby the children of Tring would pass in parade once a year at the great house in Hertfordshire in return for a shiny coin. Some canny youngsters would make more than one lap of the estate. Old money.
A century on, Qatari largesse is on a different scale, even if the motives in the world at large seem little changed from the plot of Joseph Conrad’s novel Nostromo. But in racing terms the various branches of the Thani clan, who have taken up racing with the same enthusiasm that the Maktoums of Dubai did some 30 years ago, follow more traditional methods than their Gulf rivals. When Godolphin were in their heyday (before the recent troubles and more long-standing stagnation), any promising two-year-old available for sale would be hoovered up and disappear, warehoused for the winter in Dubai to return (or not) in the spring just in time, imitating the methods of the most state-of the-art transnational companies. The Qataris, in contrast, leave their horses-in-training purchases with the people who made them.
Valonia, who runs in the Group Three Firth Of Clyde Stakes at Ayr (3.15) today, remains with her trainer, and former owner, Henry Candy after impressing when winning at Glorious Goodwood on her second start. The runner-up, Stars Above Me, has not raced since, but the next five in the field have all run and won.
Candy’s regard for the filly was evident on her debut at Newmarket’s July Meeting. As the jockeys were given the order to mount, she shied away from her rider, Fergus Sweeney, as he went to pat her on the muzzle by way of greeting, Fallon-like. Candy, in impeccable old English gentleman tones, told her, “This is Fergus. You know Fergus, don’t you? It’s just that today he’s wearing his pyjamas,” in reference to the grey, green and pink silks of her then owner, who saddled three winners on Wednesday.
At Yarmouth’s Eastern Meeting on the same day, William Haggas’s Oxsana, another two-year-old filly, got the better of a sustained duel with the Maktoum-owned Torchlighter. She runs again today in the Tattersalls Millions Sales Stakes (2.30 Newmarket), which offers instant reward, if not the old-money prestige of Pattern races.
While she made use of her experience from a promising seventh at Yarmouth on her previous start, there were some serious newcomers behind her. Unusually for a Sir Michael Stoute-trained debutant at this track, Munaaser, the 6-4 favourite, was well-touted and acted and looked the part in the preliminaries and the race, closing with purpose at the finish. In fourth was the second favourite Throne Room, sibling to Nathaniel, Great Heavens, Playful Act, Percussionist and Echoes In Eternity, out of Henry Cecil’s Musidora Stakes winner Magnificient Style, plenty of whom won first time out, while Nathaniel – like Throne Room owned by Lady Rothschild – yielded on his debut only to a horse named Frankel, finishing closer to him than any subsequently. The form, therefore, should have substance.
At Newbury (1.50), last year’s Derby second, Main Sequence, looks again likely to be set an unsuitable test with the going on the soft side. He has lacked his conditions – a fast-run 12 furlongs on fast ground – since the Derby, but the plan to campaign him in Dubai during the winter is likeliest to indicate whether the gears he showed in his early races remain intact.