Redvers aims for firework finish with Roaring Lion
As Champions Day returns, the Qatar Racing manager is reflecting on a fine year, writes Marcus Armytage
Ascot stages the eighth Qipco British Champions Day on Saturday, Flat racing’s end of season finale which is now so bedded into the calendar it is hard to imagine the arguments which surrounded the original concept of collecting together half a dozen top-class races for a firework finish designed to attract a new audience for the sport.
Two things proved essential to its early survival. It was, of course, blessed by Frankel’s presence in years one and two, which was all very well, but to keep its head above water it needed a sponsor.
The concept piqued the interest of a young Qatari sheikh, Fahad Al Thani, who was keen not just to dip his toe into British racing but to make a positive impact, and he had appointed a keen, forward-thinking bloodstock agent, David Redvers, as his manager.
Redvers, 48, had been to a debate in the Jockey Club Rooms, where he listened to arguments for and against the creation of a Champions Day.
“The only reason the naysayers didn’t want to go ahead was because they didn’t like change,” he said. “Crucially, though, they had no alternative plan and it was obvious to me something had to be done.
“Sheikh Fahad had turned up – his first day’s racing was the 2,000 Guineas in 2010, the day Makfi, who he subsequently bought as a stallion, won. I asked him to consider sponsoring Champions Day and to my pleasure he said he’d love to.”
Within a month of the inaugural Champions Day, Sheikh Fahad had won the Melbourne Cup with Dunaden and if there was a small element of beginner’s luck involved in that – the horse was bought to win a handicap on Arc day at Longchamp – Qatar Racing’s involvement is now built on very solid foundations.
Early over-excitement has been replaced by a targeted approach and the operation has gone a long way towards becoming self-funding. Al Shaqab, the racing wing owned by Sheikh Fahad’s cousin, may have come and almost gone in Britain but Qatar Racing is here for the long haul.
On the course, after two years without a Group One winner, they have enjoyed their best year yet, their jockey, Oisin Murphy, has become the latest go-to, big-race jockey, and their stallions – notably Australia’s leading first-season sire, Zoustar, who will be standing at Redvers’s Tweenhills Stud in Gloucestershire for the next breeding season – are beginning to generate a handsome profit.
On Wednesday, Redvers signed the docket for the 3,500,000 guineas (£3,675,000) sale topper at Tattersalls October Yearling Sales, and on Saturday the equine star of the show is likely to be Roaring Lion, the colt which represents the smartest business by Sheikh Fahad and Redvers yet. The $160,000 (£122,000) son of Kitten’s Joy will run in either the Champion Stakes or, if soft, the shorter Queen Elizabeth II Stakes.
Roaring Lion has blossomed into the best mile-and-a-quarter horse in Europe, winning the Eclipse, the International and the Irish Champion, arguably his best victory after overcoming a Ballydoyle tactical ambush. He is a remarkably tough horse but when he was beaten by nine lengths by Masar in the Craven Stakes back in April, his current position at the top of the tree was hard to imagine.
“I was mortified,” said Redvers, recalling that day on Newmarket’s Rowley Mile. “Masar had spent the winter in Dubai and looked it. He was all toned, glossy and glowing like a footballer who had been pre-season training in Tenerife. Roaring Lion was all podgy, like Gazza at the end of his career.
“It had been a very cold winter and John Gosden hadn’t been able to get him on the grass because it was waterlogged.
“Even before the race, John had said we’ll laugh at the end of the season and wonder how we got him beat in the Craven. But the race – talk about a balloon popping, it was like a rifle shot taking me down. But he is extraordinarily tough. Can you think of a horse which ran in a Guineas trial and the Guineas, a Derby trial and the Derby and then went unbeaten?
“It’s incredible – he’s been on the go since February. Those horses which don’t stay the trip in the Derby, it usually bottoms them and you don’t see them for three months. He’s won his next three races. It is the sheer robustness of him. It’s why the Breeders’ Cup has not been ruled out.”
Of course, there have been mistakes along the way and to a certain extent they learnt a valuable lesson with Hydrogen, the 2,500,000guineas sale-topping yearling half-brother to the Derby winner Authorised, who ran twice without troubling the judge.
“At the same sale in 2011, we bought Lightning Spear, winner of this year’s Sussex Stakes, and Arod, runner-up in a Sussex, so it wasn’t all bad, but Hydrogen kicked out in his stable, damaged a hock and would never let himself down on the racecourse,” Redvers said.
Hydrogen was part of a spending splurge which was soon reined in and, although it netted a good band of broodmares, the buying is now more targeted, with just three or four colts with potential to fill gaps in the stallion operation on their shopping list.
The Dubawi colt is the best-bred colt in the world to go through a public auction this year. Sheikh Fahad and Redvers will both be dreaming he is another Roaring Lion, but might be asking a lot; increasingly the grey colt has the look of a one-off. Too Darn Hot, the evens favourite, proved too darn good for his rivals when he showed an explosive turn of foot to win the Darley Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket by two-and-threequarter lengths with Frankie Dettori standing up in the irons and waving to the Newmarket crowd yesterday.
A Star is Born may not be one of Lord LloydWebber’s musicals but, if the colt he and wife Madeleine bred fulfils the promise of four unbeaten starts at two in his Classic year then, in equine terms, he is already next year’s big thing.
Form experts will be purring because he comfortably beat the “right’ horses in the right order with Advertise, already a Group One winner, second, Anthony Van Dyck third and Sangarius fourth. It rarely happens like that. Victory also filled a notable blank on the curriculum vitae of both John Gosden and Frankie Dettori, neither of whom had won a Dewhurst. “When he met the rising ground he flew,” said Gosden. “I had misgivings about the ground. It’s no one’s fault but 48 hours of warm wind has sucked all the moisture out, and it’s firm. He got in a bit of muddle going into the dip – the trainer had better give him a bit of practice as he lives here.”
Dettori said: “He’s an amazing horse. Another 50 yards and it would have been five lengths. Dad [Gianfranco Dettori] won this race in 1975 and I’ve been trying for 30 years. Now we can dream for next year.”
Flat trainers got a taste of what jumping counterparts have to put up with at Cheltenham when Willie Mullins sent out the one-two in the Dubai Cesarewitch with the Rich Ricci-owned Low Sun, a 10-1 shot, beating Uradel.
Tough: Oisin Murphy rides Roaring Lion to victory at York’s Juddmonte International
Smart business: David Redvers and Qatar Racing have enjoyed their best year with a string of successes