It’s unlikely that many buyers go to the breeze-up sales in search of an Ascot Gold Cup winner but Tattersalls’ 2013 Guineas Breeze-up Sale was the setting for the last of three appearances in the sales ring for this year’s victor, Trip To Paris.
The fact that his price decreased from 37,000gns as a foal to 20,000gns at two implies that the Champs Elysees colt’s breeze was conducted at a more sedate pace than some of the other gallops that day, as was true the previous year when subsequent Dante Stakes winner and Derby runner-up Libertarian sold for marginally less than his yearling price after posting the slowest breeze. Both horses were sent to the sales by experienced and professional consignors – Trip To Paris having been sold by Willie Browne of Mocklershill and Libertarian by Malcolm Bastard – and these two men have each in recent years expressed concern at the increasing obsession with super-fast breezes.
Now a gelding, Trip To Paris is clearly no slouch. He won over seven furlongs in the July of his two-year-old season and has demonstrated with admirable consistency this year that he possesses a prized trio of assets: stamina, a turn of foot and, most of all, class.
His trainer Ed Dunlop already has arguably the most famous stayer in training in his stable, Red Cadeaux. Ironically, in a sport as singularly competitive as horseracing, the nine-year-old has gained his notoriety mostly through not winning, but he is much adored the world over and when he challenged for the lead last year in his fourth appearance in the Melbourne Cup, it’s a safe bet that even most of the Aussies were cheering for the Pommie raider. If both horses make it to Flemington this year, the only way the Dunlop camp would be able to bear Red Cadeaux finishing second in the race for a fourth time is if he were to be beaten by his stable-mate.
The Duke of Norfolk was assisted in the planning of Ragstone’s breeding by Peter Willett, who turns 96 this month and has just published a new book
As a member of a training dynasty, Ed Dunlop has been eyeing his father’s Ascot Gold Cup, which sits on the dining table, since he was in short trousers. That prestigious trophy was claimed in 1974 by Ragstone for his owner/breeder, the 16th Duke of Norfolk, who died the following year.
The duke was assisted in the planning of Ragstone’s breeding by Peter Willett, who turns 96 this month and has just published a new book. Unlike his previously published works, the subject is not racing and thoroughbred breeding, but in his wartime memoir, Armoured Horseman: With The Bays and Eighth Army in North Africa and Italy, one can find plenty of references to the sport which would come to dominate his later working life and in which his name is revered.
On the writing of his reminiscences of his five years with ‘The Bays’, he says: “It came out of the blue. I’d never thought about it before but a friend suggested it to me at a luncheon party and I thought, ‘What a good idea, I haven’t got anything else to do’.”
The detailing of the loss of friends and colleagues throughout El Alamein and the battles of Coriano and Montecieco are interspersed with amusing anecdotes and fruity recollections of regimental life, no doubt echoing the black humour required by survivors of the Second World War to enable them to cope with the atrocities faced on a regular basis.
Willett instantly won friends at barracks when he was found to be reading a copy of the Sporting Life and he confesses he became the “racing guru of my regiment, even though at that time I had no connection with racing whatsoever, but I’d been up at Cambridge and I went to Newmarket as often as I could”.
Touchingly, throughout the war his father would type the results of each race and post them to him weekly.
“The receipt of those airmail cards was a real boon to me,” says Willett in the final chapter of his book which deals with his transition from army officer to racing correspondent of the Sporting Chronicle, via a spell in Italy assisting in the constructing of racecourses and training the regimental string for the ensuing army races, in which he also rode.
This continuity of his childhood passion through troubled times laid the foundations of Willett’s significant contribution to the racing and breeding industry, his roles including President of the TBA, Chairman of the British European Breeders’ Fund, and a director of both the National Stud and Goodwood racecourse.
His most influential work came as a member of the Norfolk Committee, which was formed in the late 1960s to recommend a programme of decent-class races. His report on the committee’s findings included the line: “The Turf authorities must ensure that a series of races over the right distances at the right time of the year are available to test the best horses of all ages.”
Thus the Pattern was born and, while it may have been tinkered with since its inception in 1971, its fundamental principles remain intact. The shape of racing in Europe owes much to the wisdom and foresight of Peter Willett.
Armoured Horseman: With The Bays and Eighth Army in North Africa and Italy is published by Pen & Sword Books Ltd, £19.99.