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The turf

The turf

28 January 2023

9:00 AM

28 January 2023

9:00 AM

I can always tell when Mrs Oakley has walked our flatcoat retriever. On our next outing Damson nudges my pocket every 200 yards having been encouraged to consider completion of that distance sufficient accomplishment to be rewarded with a treat (although, truth be told, it is Mrs O. who deserves the treat for three-mile dog walks just two months after breaking her hip).

Rewards were much harder-earned at Lingfield Park’s Winter Million meeting last Saturday on the all-weather polytrack surface. To my shame I had travelled there grudgingly: plan A had been to watch the mighty Energumene at Ascot, plan B to see if Bristol De Mai could do it one last time at Haydock, but both meetings were frosted off and so I settled for what I thought would be second-rate racing on the all-weather. But what the crowd got was an eight-race card with only one involving fewer than eight runners, good prize money, a series of thrilling finishes, early sight of the latest infant prodigy in the saddle and victory for a filly who could just be a rising star at four. The staff were welcoming, the coffee was hot and they do a good bacon bap at Lingfield. What was not to like?

There was no shortage of star quality either. Jockey Ryan Moore, briefly back from his travels, lost out by a neck on Ehteyat and three quarters of a length on Paris Lights, both well-backed favourites for George Boughey. But I don’t suppose it caused him too much grief; while away he picked up 10 per cent of the £2.5 million prize for winning the Japan Cup and another good sum for first place in the Hong Kong Sprint worth HK$24 million.

Ehteyat’s race was won by the hard-grafting Luke Morris, hero of the 2022 Arc on Alpinista, who last week rode his 2,000th winner. His mount First Emperor was trained by former jump jockey John Ryan who epitomises the deep roots of so many in racing. His grandfather Mick was a stud groom for Lord Derby, looking after the likes of Hyperion and Ribot, and his father Michael trained an Irish 1,000 Guineas winner from the family’s Newmarket yard. Punters didn’t see the 28-1 shot coming but John Ryan did. He acquired the Galileo colt from Donnacha O’Brien who told him honestly that a breathing operation hadn’t worked. They tried another op, changed his distance and waited patiently for him to strengthen up. Having resisted the temptation to have First Emperor gelded, Ryan’s patient owners now have an improving Galileo-bred winner on their hands.

The informal intimacy of the Lingfield winners’ enclosure would have allowed plenty of racegoers to enjoy the banter between Racing TV presenter Matt Chapman and the lovely Hayley Turner – everyone would like a sister like her – who won the second on Harry Brown. As ever, Chapman had done his homework, checking Hayley’s recent 40th birthday celebrations on Instagram. He tried to winkle out of her if there was a potential Mr Turner in the offing – ‘Are you asking me out, Matt?’ She preferred a ‘Frank’, who turns out to be a black labrador.

The only doubles on the day were achieved by the Newmarket trainer Terry (‘T.J.’) Kent and jockey Tom Marquand. In the 1m 2f handicap it was Tom who defied the efforts of Ryan Moore on Paris Lights to win on Terry’s consistent Obsidian Knight, who saw out the trip well. The same trainer-jockey combination took the last over 1m with Super Den, holding on by just a head. Terry may have been training in his own right for only four years, having taken the bold move of striking out on his own at 53, but he has as solid a training pedigree as you could imagine having worked for Michael Jarvis and David Loder before doing 16 years with Godolphin.

The class performance of the day came from Simon and Ed Crisford’s Al Agaila in winning the day’s feature, the Talksport Winter Oaks Fillies’ Handicap, under James Doyle and the four-year-old could be destined for greater heights. Though she won by only a head, Simon Crisford declared: ‘We’re absolutely delighted. She needs a really good strong gallop. We would have benefited from a much stronger pace.’ So delighted were they that Al Agaila will now attempt to become the first filly to win the Winter Derby, taking on Pyledriver and Lord North.

And that new star in the saddle? That is young Billy Loughnane, son of trainer Mark Loughnane, who had ridden seven winners in the week on the all-weather. Noting that Mick Fitzgerald had called the youngster’s 7lb claim ‘daylight robbery’ and that he was riding for Ruth Carr the sprinter Embour, who used to run some good races for Richard Hannon, I had made a small investment at 33-1. Embour started at 16-1. Young Billy held him up and came in the last furlong, hanging on to win by a short head. I think I will be going to Lingfield again. Especially if he is riding.

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