A Sandown Saturday proved the perfect send-off for 12 raceless days on the otherwise wonderful Isle of Mull. A Frankie Dettori win on a progressive colt who could bring the Queen a Derby victory in her Platinum Jubilee year of 2022, another victory that restored the rumbustious Jane Chapple-Hyam’s faith in her best filly, and a talk with a jockey whose career is taking off nicely thanks to hard grafting after an early mistake left me in perfect holiday mood. I was bouncing anyway thanks to a meticulously researched family history that Mrs Oakley had bought me to celebrate a birthday with a big zero attached.
Links back through a few generations of Worcestershire farmers and teachers were no surprise. These were intermingled with labourers, grate fitters and a waterworks stopcocker. Go back enough great-great-greats, however, and it seems we Oakleys had some grander connections. One Lord Howard Thomas had been Commander of the English army in Scotland before he was (on flimsy evidence) convicted of treason and executed at the Tower of London on 2 June 1572. Then there was Sir Henry Howard, Earl Marshal of England as well as the 3rd Duke of Norfolk and 16th Earl of Oxford. I shall no longer tip my Panama in the parade ring to owners from the lesser nobility.
Her Majesty’s hopes will lie with Reach For The Moon, trained by John and Thady Gosden, who took the Group Three Betway Solario Stakes over seven furlongs in convincing style. Unhappy with the slow early pace, Frankie sent him on two furlongs out up the Sandown hill and John Gosden purred afterwards that the Sea The Stars colt would have learned a lot. Said Frankie: ‘The more he’s racing, the better he’s getting. He’s a good size, he’s got a wonderful stride and he’s got gears.’ Reach For The Moon was fitted with a red hood to wear to the start to help him keep cool. So is he tricksy to handle? Not at all said Gosden Senior: ‘There are plenty of trainers and jockeys who’d be better off with a red hood.’
When Jane Chapple-Hyam’s Saffron Beach ran second in the 1,000 Guineas this year she seemed destined for stardom but she lost friends after disappointing runs in the Oaks at Epsom and the Falmouth at Ascot. Her trainer never lost faith and after she had won the Group Three Atalanta Stakes in the hands of Hollie Doyle, the Newmarket trainer was beaming like a parent whose child had not only won the egg and spoon race on sports day but taken the Victor Ludorum cup as well: ‘She loved those last two furlongs up the hill. She’s come back here and shown she is the filly we know she is.’ She had dropped Saffron Beach in class to get the horse’s confidence back. They might yet tilt at a windmill or two with her.
The in-demand jockey I’d sought out was Jack Mitchell. We’d last spoken 23 years before over breakfast when his father Philip Mitchell was training at Downs House in the middle of the Derby course. That day Jack and brother Freddie were having to be reassured that their pet stick insect was not dead but merely dormant. Jack, who used to ride out two lots before going to school, is now 31 and vying for a top ten place among Britain’s Flat jockeys. Significantly our talk had to be squeezed in between rides for five different trainers: Amy Murphy, David Menuisier, Jane Chapple-Hyam, Charlie Appleby and Roger Varian at whose yard he is No. 2 to Andrea Atzeni. After being apprenticed to Chris Wall, and riding work for Michael Jarvis and then Varian when he took over, all was going well until Jack found himself one of several young jockeys who have lost their licences for six months after failing a cocaine test. ‘It all comes out of who you surround yourself with,’ he reflects. ‘There are a lot of people who cling to successful young jockeys.’ Winners dwindled to single figures annually for two years as he began to work his way back. He spent three months in America track-riding at Santa Anita, and moved briefly to Lambourn seeking a new start, but he always wanted to return to Newmarket.
A chance meeting with Roger Varian at a midwifery clinic (both their wives were expecting) was followed by an invitation back to his powerful yard and Jack has not looked back since. Last year he rode more than a century of winners for the first time and highlights have included a St Leger in Germany, where he was just touched off when hoping to win their Derby on Torquator Tasso, and a four-timer one day at Salisbury. The first Group One is yet to come but it will. After all, the Mitchell family history too isn’t a bad one. Father Philip shrewdly campaigned Running Stag around the world, grandfather Cyril Mitchell trained Sir Peter O’Sullevan’s heroes Attivo and Be Friendly. Go back far enough and you’d probably find Mitchells were training chariot ponies for Boadicea.
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