Whether you love the quirkiness of Vazirabad, the downright bad-boy antics of Pallasator or the heart-on-the-sleeve courage of Big Orange, there are few followers of racing who fail to get caught up in the romance of the staying division.

There are few followers of racing who fail to get caught up in the romance of the staying division

An extra level of intrigue will be added to the programme this season as the Gold Cup approaches and we wonder whether one of the winners of the Sagaro Stakes (May 2), Ormonde Stakes (May 10), Yorkshire Cup (May 18) or Henry II Stakes (May 24) will put themselves in the frame for the Weatherbys Hamilton Stayers’ Million, which was launched last month. To snare the £1 million bonus, the winner of one of those four qualifying races will have then to go on to glory in not just the Gold Cup but also the Goodwood Cup and, finally, the Lonsdale Cup during York’s Ebor meeting.

We know already that the Aga Khan’s treble Dubai Gold Cup winner Vazirabad will not be challenging for the Million, though an appearance at Ascot is very much on his agenda, according to his trainer Alain de Royer Dupre. Pallasator, now in the care of Gordon Elliott and a Grade 2-winning hurdler to boot, is apparently due to return to the Flat this summer. Given the versatility and resilience of Pallasator’s Cheltenham Festival and Grand National-winning stablemate, I wouldn’t put it past Tiger Roll to be able to land a major Flat staying race and allow Elliott to emulate his great rival Willie Mullins in more ways than one. Tiger Roll is, after all, a half-brother to Godolphin’s Lonsdale Cup winner Ahzeemah.

There’s just one way in which the Stayers’ Million concept could be improved, and that would be to include the Doncaster Cup, a traditional leg of the stayers’ Triple Crown which is now, like so many of Doncaster’s fixtures, in danger of being overlooked.

‘Million’ has very much been the buzzword, or number, in the last month, with first York announcing that its premier handicap, the Ebor, will be worth £500,000 this year and £1 million in 2019 – a boost which may stem the flow of European-bred stayers to Australia but which could potentially have a detrimental effect on the Group 2 Lonsdale Cup, which is run at the same meeting a day earlier. An attempt has been made to address this by restricting the Ebor to four-year-olds and up.

Meanwhile, Newmarket followed York’s lead by boosting the Cesarewitch to £500,000 in 2018, followed by further increases to £750,000 in 2019 and £1 million in 2020. Likewise to protect the Pattern, there will be a ratings cap of 110.

The problem for Newmarket is that it doesn’t yet have a sponsor. Sky Bet has stepped in to sponsor the Ebor in a five-year deal and York has managed to keep the entry fee to the traditional 0.5% of the race value. In contrast, to enter the Cesarewitch in 2020 under present plans it will cost £12,500, or 1.25% of the prize fund, around half of which is likely to have been provided by those entry fees. Last year’s winner, Withhold, had only earned £13,532 prior to running in the Cesarewitch, in which he won £155,625. A £12,500 entry fee may not have deterred his owner Tony Bloom but it will doubtless give others pause for thought in future. Yes, there’s a huge pot on offer, but in a 34-runner handicap, it’s still an expensive roll of the dice.

Breeze-ups tough
The Guineas breeze-up sale was famously the source of Ascot Gold Cup winner Trip To Paris for a bargain 20,000gns and the sector will be hoping for some more big-name graduates this year to retain interest from buyers. Halfway through the breeze-up season, it’s fair to say that this year’s sales, with a larger number of horses catalogued, have been hard work so far for many vendors.
Until they appear on a racecourse, it’s always hard to verify how many of the horses marked as sold at any auction have genuinely changed hands. There have been the headline highs – mostly focusing on members of the final crop of Scat Daddy – but trade below the top tier has been notably patchy.

Breeze-up pinhookers are significant investors in the yearling market, so a bad season for them could well have repercussions for breeders this autumn.

A Giant of the Turf
During his memorable summer of 2000, Giant’s Causeway led home Dansili by three-quarters of a length in the Sussex Stakes, one of five Group 1 victories that season for the colt dubbed the ‘Iron Horse’.

Within 24 hours last month, news came first of Giant’s Causeway’s death at Ashford Farm in Kentucky at the age of 21 and was followed by Juddmonte’s announcement of Dansili’s retirement from stud duties.

There have been plenty of examples of top-class racehorses making very little impression at stud, but that has not been the case for Giant’s Causeway or Dansili, whose names will be carried across the turf by their ancestors for generations to come.

Franchoek back in action
There was a welcome but fleeting return to the racecourse from JP McManus’s classy hurdler Franchoek during the Craven meeting. Now 14, the Grade 1 winner was the trusty mount for Tattersalls auctioneer and breeze-up whipper-in Matt Prior, who marshalled the Craven Sale lots as they headed off to gallop two furlongs of the Rowley Mile.

It was a busy week for Prior as a few days later he married Amanda Bossom of Great British Racing International. We wish them both much happiness.