The Filly Folly & Sweet Partnership's OPAL TIARA (Centre) - A winner under Oisin Murphy this afternoon
A super performance from The Filly Folly & Sweet Partnership's OPAL TIARA this afternoon saw the four year old daughter of Thousand Words take the Group 2 Balanchine Stakes under Oisin Murphy.
OPAL TIARA was a revelation in the latter half of 2016 taking a Listed race at Carlisle in June before adding the Group 3 Doom Bar Supreme Stakes at Goodwood in late August. In that period her official rating went from 95 to 109 and she's a filly we are all looking forward to in 2017.
Her 2017 reappearance was at Meydan three weeks ago where she finished an encouraging second the Very Special over a mile in the Group 2 Cape Verdi and with the winner that night having to carry a three pound penalty today, there was every hope that she could reverse that result over the extended trip of nine furlongs.
That she did and in thrilling fashion as she stalked Muffri'Ha and Very Special throughout before Oisin asked for an effort as they straighten up for home. It couldn't have gone any better and she swept through to take the lead in the closing stages to prevail by a neck from the closing Via Firenze.
Mick and Gill Hedley bred OPAL TIARA and she's been a source of great fun for connections over the past two years. Clive and Keith Potter have been in with Gill since the start but they've been joined this year by Andrew & Emma Leader, Stephen & Aida Kenny, Ed Mills-Webb, Robert Quick and Barry Gates.
Mick was determined that OPAL TIARA'S improvement would continue this year, hence buying her back when she went through the HIT sales last autumn and it's certainly been worth it as he's got the World Cup night in mind for her next outing.
"That was great and she's such a smashing filly to train. We've won our Group 2 now so i see no reason why we shouldn't try her at the top level with the Turf race on World Cup night being the obvious target.
"I'm chuffed for Gill, Keith, Clive and the new connections - what an exciting filly to be involved in!
"Well done to Lesley who always oversees the training of our horses over here. Whilst it's ultra competitive and very hard to win out here she's a great asset to the whole job and much of this is down to her. Having a filly like Opal does make the job a little easier though.
"She'll have a Group 2 penalty now so we'll obviously pitch her in against the big guns at Group 1 level this year. That's what we are always trying to do but it's extra special to be able to do it with a filly who we've been with from the very start. I couldn't be happier."
Jon & Sophie Mitchell's PERSUN (Nearside) - A winner at Kempton last night
A very pleasing victory for Jon Mitchell's PERSUN at Kempton last night saw the admirable five year old mare win for the first time on the artificial surface after a pleasing introduction a fortnight ago at Wolverhampton.
She took last night's eleven furlong 0-80 contest in thrilling fashion to underline her hardiness and admirable attitude in the face of a far from perfect passage.
It was made far from easy for her in the closing stages as she was forced to come quite wide in a messy affair but she ran all the way to the line to deny Alcatraz in the shadow of the post under Graham Lee.
Mick was delighted with an ultra competitive performer who now has added another string to her bow.
"She's certainly given us options and she's a filly who puts a smile on your face. We'll see how she comes out of this but obviously I'll be looking to get a fast track qualifier with her now because the Lingfield Champions' Day at Easter would be an obvious target from here on in.
"There's not much more I can say about her except to say that she keeps turning up and always gives her best. She a pleasure to train."
The Allen, Porter & Voute Partnership's SUMMER ICON (Nearside) - a winner at Lingfield on Tuesday afternoon
It's been a while in coming but we're back among the winners after one of the quietest periods we can remember. In truth, we've had very little ammunition in the last few weeks. 2016 was a healthy year in the main and, as a result, we've mainly been concentrating on educating the babies, whilst the older horses resumed full work just after Christmas.
After a very bright start to 2016, SUMMER ICON endured a torrid time after being struck in to at Goodwood in May and therefore returned to work earlier than the rest, with the hope that she can make up for lost time in her four year old campaign.
She's always had plenty of ability and showed that in abundance at Lingfield on Tuesday, taking the Class 3, seven furlong fillies' handicap under a cool ride from George Baker.
She had two runs in the build up to this victory and has improved considerably for them and ran out a ready winner from off the pace yesterday to leave Mick delighted for connections who have had a frustrating time waiting for a filly who the boss thinks an awful lot of.
"She's back to near enough where we want her to be after a dreadful injury last year. She was struck in to at Goodwood and it was touch and go whether she'd race again or be forced to head to the paddocks. She's tough though, no shrinking violet and has always had bags of potential.
I just hope that all of the frustration is behind her because I think she has the size, scope and ability to get some black type. George gave her a super ride and that's the type of filly she is - anything off a fast pace and you fancy her to pick up at the death and it worked out perfectly. That's hopefully just the start of things though."
From left-right: Derek Gamblin, Frank Adams, Roger Stack, MRC & Nigel Bunter.
If you met Roger Stack, the odds are he made you laugh.
In fact, unless you were of an easily offended nature, you'd have loved him.
Utterly forthright and outrageously un 'PC' he was a tidal wave of humanity, humour, generosity, loyalty and most importatly - LIFE.
The memory of Roger Stack; 'Stacky' to his friends, will make many of us more determined to cram as much life in as we can during our short tenancy we've been allotted because Stacky certainly did and our lives were all the more richer for it.
Roger Stack, as the manager of the late John Sunley's horses was with Mick from the outset in 1989 and proved to be loyal, trusting and a great friend. Along with his wife Bridget, as Mick explains, he brought life and light in to the sometimes mundane day to day proceedings of working life.
"Stacky darkened my door back in the Lambourn days and I couldn't be more grateful now I look back. Just shy of 30 years I trained horses for Rog and John Sunley whilst Bridget had a few in her name and we always had a lot of fun. You couldn't not have fun when Roger was about.
"I'm often up front and sometimes speak without the thought to how others will take me but Stacky could take it to Olympic standards of outrage. That said, I can't recall anyone ever being upset by what he did or said - that's probably because he was downright hilarious.
"I'm not saying all of this because he's gone - everyone gets painted as a saint to a certain degree when they snuff it - Roger Stack was a brilliant, kind, warm and funny man. I loved him.
"I know that when he lost Bridget, whom he was devoted to, he was shaken to the core but he kept on going, trying to make the best of things and he certainly did that. He wouldn't suffer in silence either. He didn't go on about it but there was a soft nature to him below all of the bluff and gusto that he brought into any room he entered.
"I was friends with him for a long time and I really felt for him during that period but we made the most of it by enjoying a horse that Bridget bred. His name was SGT Reckless.
"When Bridget passed away in 2010, it was with her typical good humour and huge generosity that in her will she decreed that her and her husband's horse be given to me.
I remember saying to Stacky at the time 'A mate giving me a bloody horse - that's all I need innit?!'. We really didn't know what to expect when this three year old gelding walked off the ramp and proceeded to block out the sun.
"He was massive.
"Michael Jnr christened him the 'Police Horse' and he was a figure of fun for two whole years until we managed to get him going - what an engine he had. He won at a canter in a bumper at Wincanton on debut and that was a very emotional day for all of us. Stacky didn't come because he said it would all be too much for him and, true to his word, he was in tears when I phoned him after the race.
"That's what horses can do to people I suppose and Stacky knew that more than anyone. He was a major figure in equine circles, particularly on his home patch in Sussex and he was hugely respected - he was a great horseman, a big fish at Hickstead. He was also great at treating horses and has sorted a few of ours out with muscular ailments and spinal therapy treatment."
Michael Jnr takes up the tale.
"Stacky and Mark Fox helped us out with John Sunley's last homebred, a filly called Persun. She was tricky to keep sound and Stacky and Foxy set to work because she was always sore through her back and in particular her off hind quarters. My abiding memory will be of a day we shared at Epsom when Silvestre de Sousa won on her in 2015.
"In the paddock before hand Stacky was his usual silly self and I'm not sure SDS knew how to take him if I'm honest. 'Now, you know what you're doing don't you son?,' he said to Silvestre who was about twenty winners in front of the rest in the jockeys' championship. 'Err, I think so yes,' said Silvestre, unsure as to whether or not Stacky was joking or a complete idiot. 'The key is son, don't fall off the f****r'.
"I legged SDS up and I'm still not sure if he knew Stacky was taking the piss.
"It was a great day and Stacky and Foxy were so proud of the filly. Mick was in hospital at the time and very unwell and that was when Stacky's soft side came out. We watched the replay in the winners' lounge and Roger turned to me with tears in his eyes. 'I know he's your old man and I know he's a grumpy bastard, but I love Mick Channon you know. I'd do anything for him because I know he'd do anything for me.'
"I'll miss Roger, his humour his warmth and his ability to break wind with huge enthusiasm and little care for whose presence he was in when he did it. A top bloke."
But we'll leave the last word to Mick, to whom Roger meant so much and who has so many warm memories.
"I'm not a great churchgoer and nor was Roger, but I think he'll have us there in church to hedge his bets one last time 'just in case' there is somebody up there - if you knew Rog you'll know what I mean. I'll miss him immensely and although the sadness is hard to get over at this moment in time it's with a great sense of privilege that I can say that not only did Roger Stack enter my life all those years ago, but also that I came to know him as my mate. I'm sure everyone else will feel the same way.
"I can't say much more than that."
Box 41's VOLUNTEER POINT & Graham Gibbons take last night's feature in fine style
She seems to be cut from a different cloth and whilst most fillies shrivel up in the winter VOLUNTEER POINT refuses to comply with that assessment. Last night at Wolverhampton, the daughter of Footstepsinthesand romped home in the seven furlong Fast-Track qualifier under Graham Gibbons to set her on what we all hope will be another tilt at the Fillies & Mares race on the all weather champions day in the spring.
There's not much more you can say other than that. She's a little fractious, but only through enthusiasm and Mick was delighted that the light shines as bright as ever.
"She hosed up last night and picked up a good few quid in the process again. We were offered a considerable sum for her this year but she's all about fun and enjoyment for the Box 41 team right now.
"We're not complicated and the plan is obvious but she's an incredibly tough filly who relishes the artificial surfaces. Graham knows the score and gets on with her great and, considering I'm a joint owner along with my best mates, you could say that I'm a bit chuffed right now."
The Radford Family's GLEN FORSA - An impressive bumper winner on Saturday
Saturday saw a newcomer make an eyecatching debut at Huntingdon as the Radford Family's GLEN FORSA took the 1st Security Solutions LTD Maiden Open National Hunt Flat Race in the hands of Graham Lee.
The four year old son of Mahler has impressed us at home - he's a huge, long striding gelding who covers the ground relentlessly and that was very much in evidence as he recorded a six length success in effortless style.
Covered up for much of the extended mile and five furlong contest, Graham sat quiet until asking for an effort three furlongs from home. Although he ran green in the closing stages the outcome was never in doubt and Mick was delighted with a young gelding who may well have a bright future ahead of him.
"That was good to see because we didn't have a great start to the day with The Blue Bomber who just ran too freely in his race but it looks like GLEN FORSA has a bright future.
"It's very difficult at times to be overly confident with many of our bumper horses, simply because we have few to compare them to at home, but it's been obviously for quite some time that he's got bags of scope and no little talent.
"Paul Morkan has done a fine job on him at home and although he's mentally very backwards at the minute, this horse has got a really athletic way about him and is a relentless galloper.
"We're not in any real hurry with him but he's certainly exciting - we'll have a chat with Hen and Tim and plan what we want to do with him next."
2016 has been a brilliant year with Group and Listed winners aplenty; What a difference a year makes. Whilst 2016 has been brilliant, it's been in complete contrast to last season. Sure, there's always disappointments in horse racing but that's why we love it - when the good times come around, you've got to cherish them.
There weren't many of them last year though - 2015 was a torrid time and luckily, Michael Junior chronicled all of them in his William Hill Sportsbook of the Year Longlisted book called 'How's Your Dad?'
It's published by the Racing Post:
It's doing rather well if you browse the internet and do a bit of reserach.
Regardless, just go out and buy it because Michael Junior is usually skint and he'd appreciate your support.
Jon & Julia Aisbitt's KASSIA (Far Side) edges out Gravity Flow on Saturday
A terrific weekend saw Jon & Julia Aisbitt's KASSIA savour Listed success at Newmarket and Insignia Racing's GOLD AWARD win on his first career outing at Goodwood.
KASSIA's victory in the six furlong Boadicea Stakes under Graham Lee on Saturday was confirmation of what we've long been thinking - this is a filly who could be destined for the very top. When they're good however, they often come with the odd quirk and getting her to this stage has been a real team effort.
At home she's 'Keith's filly' as Keith Evans rides her in all of her work and all of the head lads have had to spend an awful lot of time on her with the starting stalls. Indeed, it became such a crisis for KASSIA that team Witheford were even called upon and all of their endeavours paid off on Saturday.
KASSIA cruised into contention and was the last off the bridle as Gravity Flow gave her a handy lead up the stands rail. She went to join her a furlong from home and although Gravity Flow put up a game fight, KASSIA prevailed by a neck as the pair pulled miles clear of the rest.
Mick was delighted.
"We've been saying it for an awfully long time that she's a star but a few issues have stopped her from showing it to a certain degree. It doesn't matter as long as we get there in the end and we've been able to nurse her through this year and pick up races in handicap company before going for black type.
"Obviously handicaps are thing of the past and that'll be her for the season now. She'll have a go at all of the big sprints next year and I can't wait because there's so much to come. It's exciting."
At Goodwood yesterday, GOLD AWARD delighted his owners in Insignia Racing by taking the Class 5, six furlong juvenile maiden in the hands of Silvestre de Sousa.
It was quite an eye-catching display by the son of Bushranger who looked fairly clueless at halfway until SDS got hold of him and sent him about his business.
He began to make inroads into the lead gained by the experienced Black Bubba at the two pole and finished full of running in the closing stages to run out a length victor.
It was something of a surprise, but one that Mick was rather pleased about.
"You can seldom expect ours to win first time out but this lad has always tried his heart out at home. Believe it or not, I had a tenner each way on him because he's shown a great attitude and I knew he'd do himself justice.
"Silvestre is brilliant on this type of horse because he's a real baby mentally but once he made his mind up he really responded and he'll be finished for the year now because he's a big brute who will only get better.
"I'm chuffed for Tina Dawson and her Insignia team as well. I had to ask them for a bit of time because, like I say, he's a big unit and it took ages to get him to the stage where we could look at entries for him.
"He might have been worth the wait though! I'm not sure what the form represents but we'll find out more about this lad next year. Most of Tina's owners are local to Goodwood so that was great and at last their patience has paid off!"
FATHER McKENZIE - Finally won his Plus 10 race at the eleventh time of asking
Apologies for the sporadic updates of late but it's worth looking back on some landmark successes over the past week.
At Pontefract last Wednesday, a game and consistent performer record his first career victory after a string of four runner-up berths in his debut season whilst LINCOLN confirmed that he was back on track with a second successive win.
FATHER McKENZIE has been kept busy this year and it would be fair to say that since his debut back in June we haven't done too much with him at home. He's thrived on racing and is one of those who seems happy to get on with the job, rest in the paddock between his runs and head off on the horse box once a week.
He's a smasher and his holy grail has been the ten grand bonus which he finally achieved in the Class 4, six furlong maiden under Graham Lee. He took it in fine style by over two lengths and Mick was delighted with a very likeable individual.
"A cracking little horse who is sound, consistent and willing. We've asked plenty of him and he's always responded despite coming second four times against what are potentially decent two year olds. He had to win one sooner or later and we always thought he was capable of grabbing a Plus 10 race.
"He'll probably head to the sales at the end of the year but I couldn't recommend him highly enough because first and foremost, he's got a terrific attitude."
On the same card, LINCOLN made it two from two since his conversion to sprinting by taking Division 1 of the Class 4, six furlong handicap, again with Graham Lee in the plate.
That he did it under a penalty and went on to follow it up with another bold show at Haydock two days later shows that he's finally up and running again after a long barren run. Mick is a relieved man.
"That just goes to show how bonkers horseracing is. The Victoria Cup form of two years ago has made a mockery of me because there's no way I'd have said he was a five furlong horse back then.
"Five or six will be his forte now and he did that very well at Ponty. He's obviously well handicapped as well and we'll see what comes up."
It was also good to see Malih Al Basti's SCRUTINEER win his first race of 2016. The highly tried son of Intense Focus has recorded a string of gallant efforts in defeat this year including finishing runner up in the Free Handicap on his seasonal reappearance.
He's a tough, straight forward colt who only came in to his own at the back end of last year and in soft underground conditions at Hamilton last Monday he turned around the form with Danzero who had got the better of him on their previous two outings by running out the victor of the Class 2 conditions stakes by a length. Again, Graham Lee, who is enjoying a real purple patch for the yard, was on board.
Mick was very happy.
"He's a smashing horse to train and clearly loves a bit of give underfoot. I was tempted to keep going with him for that reason but Malih is keen to head out to the carnival in Dubai. That's his local track and I can understand his reasons."
Finally, at Brighton yesterday, it was Garry Brandt's HARLEQUIN ROSE's turn to break her maiden in the hands of Silvestre de Sousa in the Class 6, five and a half furlong nursery. It was the filly's fifth outing and she battle on gamely as they hit the rising ground to take the event a length in front of Glider and keep Silvestre in the hunt for the jockeys championship.
Mick was pleased for a filly who always gives of her best.
"That was good to see because she has a great attitude. We've had a lot of success for Garry with the likes of Harlequeen and although HARLEQUIN ROSE couldn't hold a candle to her, she's got her own qualities and a good attitude saw her through. We'll keep going until the sales because I feel like she can go in again.
"On the whole, they're all still going all right.
"Notable mentions must go to Gratzie, Harmonise, Masterson, Akkadian Empire and Highlife Dancer in recent weeks - all of them have just hit the post and I couldn't be happier with several of our newcomers.
"There's a lot of promise for the future."
Lord Ilsley Racing's four-time winner SAYESSE
Apologies for being offline of late but the horses are certainly holding their form as we enter autumn with the hope for plenty to come from some promising juveniles and experienced older horses alike.
First up, take a bow SAYESSE - Lord Ilsley Racing's two year old son of Sayif recorded his fourth win in a juvenile season full of highs and lows as it's become something of a guessing game as to which SAYESSE turns up from one run to the next.
A mixture of trainer error and running style are the most likely reasons for a topsy turvy form pattern that sees him win one week and lose the next but one thing is for sure - this is a proper racehorse who is set to give his syndicate some great days towards the end of the season and beyond.
By taking the five and a half furlong, Class 3 Betway Nursery Handicap under John Egan at Chester twelve days ago, SAYESSE took his career earnings to over £25k, not bad for a two year old who only cost five grand at the sales last year. He's tough, game, sound and bombproof and has the £150,000 Tattersalls October Auction Stakes at Newmarket on Saturday week fixed in his sights.
Whilst SAYESSE started his career at West Ilsley, Prince Faisal's home-bred filly ORGANZA arrived from Andre Fabre's in the spring and although she has frustrated at times, that's been down to the number of near misses before finally losing her maiden tag under Graham Lee at Thirsk last week. Her form figures of 3232321 suggests that we weren't doing a lot wrong with the three year old daughter of Pour Moi and she ran out a deserved winner of the Class 5 Breeders Backing Racing EBF Maiden Stakes over a mile under Graham Lee.
ORGANZA certainly hasn't been asked to shirk a challenge in her first year of racing and that was again the case as she faced a red hot favourite in the form of Sun Lover but ran out the victor by over three lengths.
On the Tuesday of last week, Jon & Julia Aisbitt's KASSIA recorded her fifth career win at Pontefract after a somewhat troublesome return to the course after more than a few issues with the starting stalls. She's a sweetheart in everything she does apart from when it comes to the starting gate.
Thankfully, Keith Evans and the Witheford team worked their magic with the three year old and once she agreed to load, the Class 2, six furlong EBF Breeders' Series Fillies' Handicap was a formality as KASSIA stalked the opposition throughout before making her move under Graham Lee at the top of the hill. She was produced a furlong from home and prevailed by three parts of a length in the style of a class act.
Black type is the next step for a three year old filly with a bright future.
Which leads us on to LINCOLN.
There has been plenty of feedback regarding our campaigning of the five year old Clodovil gelding and yes, his losing streak up until last Wednesday's Class 4 handicap success at Ayr stretched back two years and nineteen runs. There have been many compliments about that from our world wide online fan club.
Truth of the matter is though, LINCOLN went and made a mockery of his previous form over seven furlongs which includes finishing runner up in the Victoria Cup. He's always had his quirks but we've managed to add to that list now by taking most of his career to work out that he'd sluice up under Graham Lee over five furlongs.
He runs again today at Pontefract over six furlongs with hope that he's finally turned a corner and we'll not have to wait another two years only to find out that he needs a mile and a half, or perhaps he'll convert to track cycling - What would we know?
Finally, a real star in the making, as TARA CELEB made it two wins from two starts in her debut season under Andrea Atzeni at Leicester on Monday afternoon. It was the Class 5 Aston Flamville Fillies' Nursery Handicap over her minimum trip of six furlongs and she had to be asked all the way to hold off Fields of Song.
She did so gamely but a step up in trip is very much called for to see her at her best and winning off a mark of 73 won't be seen again for the foreseeable future. There's a Newmarket fillies' nursery on the radar over seven furlongs and we'll know more about her after that.
Mick is pleased with the way things are going.
"Once we get to this stage of the season I've come to expect our horses to hold their form and they are showing no signs of falling away. We've been running a mixed bag of talent and experience of late as we need to get a feel for what sort of squad we will have for next year.
"Some will head to the sales whilst some are merely using the autumn as a springboard for 2017 and there's plenty to look forward to.
"TARA CELEB could be anything and I know we've not even scratched the surface with KASSIA yet. She's had a bit of a fallout with the process of loading but the team and Gary and Craig Witherford did a great job with her.
"ORGANZA got her just rewards after running so well in defeat against some smart opposition whilst SAYESSE could be a real gem for Lord Ilsley Racing. He's getting better and better and has the big sales race coming up. Looking ahead, it would be great to think he makes into a proper sprint handicapper next year. We all love a Saturday horse who can run throughout the year.
"As for LINCOLN, no comment."