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

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Sport -

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

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