By Andy Stephens
Never mind Fairytale Of New York for a bit of festive cheer, what about Toast Of New York? Another chapter in the imposing horse’s remarkable tale was written at Lingfield on Wednesday when he won on his first start for more than three years.
The 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic runner-up was bought by Al Shaqab soon after but then retired after suffering a subsequent injury, when being prepared for the Dubai World Cup. However, following a largely unsuccessful spell at stud his connections decided to belatedly relaunch his career - although trainer Jamie Osborne wanted to manage expectations and kept it secret until last week.
Osborne and his team faced a rare challenge but their skill and patience was rewarded when the now six-year-old showed a willing attitude to beat his three rivals in a conditions event.
He drifted out to 2-1 after some boisterous behaviour beforehand when, exhibiting his freshness, he unshipped Frankie Dettori. Thankfully the stalls were not far from the chute and he was able to be walked to the start, with Dettori jogging alongside.
Once the ten-furlong contest got under way he did nothing wrong - travelling kindly throughout and keeping on stoutly to repel Petite Jack, the 7-4 favourite, who had threatened to spoil the party in the closing stages.
"I'm just hugely relieved. I was in unknown territory really, trying to bring a horse back from that length of absence," Osborne said. "It's an unusual task, so it's a relief we were able to get him to the point of doing what he's done.
"He hasn't beaten bad horses there, they were all rated over 100. He's the only six-year-old entire I've had, not surprisingly, and interestingly, looking at him on TV today from the Newmarket sales, I thought he looked very fat but he's actually only five kilos heavier than when he ran at Santa Anita.
"So clearly there is a change of shape at his age. We can tune him a bit more yet and as long as he's sound in the morning and his leg is fine, we'll make a plan from there."
Ladbrokes cut him to 33-1 from 50-1 for the Pegasus World Cup, at Gulfstream Park in January, and also cut him to 8-1 (from 16-1) for the All-Weather Middle Distance Championships on Good Friday. The Dubai World Cup is also an option, it seems.Toast Of New York and Dettori parted company before the start (Racingfotos.com)
The former race is on dirt and Osborne is certain that surface suits him best.
"This horse's strengths are going hard - it is why dirt suits him, as he has an incredibly high cruising speed and he digs in.
"In a race that is a war of attrition, that is when he is at his best, so you could say today wasn't playing to his strengths, even though Frankie has ridden him perfectly.
"Obviously, with the feeling that he might need the run, we were a little bit cautious in how aggressive we were through the race.
"He's only set foot on dirt once in his life, but put up the performance of his life and I have no doubt he's a better horse on dirt."
Dettori did not have to get overly hard on Toast Of New York and said: "Jamie has done a great job to get him in this shape first time out. He still feels a little rusty, but after three years off I can't emphasise enough how brilliant everyone has been to get him back.
"He's only 70 per cent at the moment, but he still won. That's a step forward and should improve him a lot. After three years that was a great effort."
Harry Herbert, racing manager for Al Shaqab, said: "This is a phenomenal performance from Jamie and Jimmy (McCarthy, assistant) who has ridden him in all his work.
"The trainer's expectations were pretty high, he liked what he'd seen and felt the flame burned bright still."
"He's still an entire and covered 15 or so mares in Doha and got 10 in foal. There just wasn't the support for him as a sire.
"Our vet told us his tendon injury wasn't that bad, but it's not very often you see a horse his age still an entire and coming back to racing.
"Frankie said he felt big and burly and I loved the way he got him balanced, but I take my hat off to Jamie, it's wonderful to see. It's a fairytale.”
As for future plans, he added: "We'll have to see what the next stage is, to launch him back into the Pegasus will be considered, obviously we don't have a slot but they usually become available.
"Good Friday (All-Weather Championship Finals Day), it's all possible, the (Dubai) World Cup must be an obvious target, he was bought to do that it's just taken a while to get there."