Thursday, July 12, 2012

Dreams of Glory

Dreams of Glory

By Stephen Dwyer

Former Liverpool Football player Michael Owen became interested in horse racing over twenty years ago. When he was eleven, his father asked him to pick horses for a weekly 50 pence patent bet and a lifelong attraction to horseracing ensued. Owen would score over 350 goals for Liverpool, Real Madrid, Newcastle and Manchester United and during this time he would acquire several horses. Holoko Heights, trained by Tim Vaughan became Owen’s first National Hunt horse. 

No superstar, Holoko Heights did win six low grade races but it was the dam of that horse that would bring Owen his greatest success as an owner. Treble Heights, a 12-year-old former racehorse that is now treated as a pet by Owen’s four children is the dam of Holoko Heights. The mare is also the dam of Brown Panther, Owen’s best horse and is a Royal Ascot winner.

Brown Panther powered home in the George V stakes at Royal Ascot last year. The colt finished second to Masked Marvel in the St. Leger and followed up with a listed win last month at Pontefract. To date, Brown Panther has won over £210,000 in prize money for Owen.  He is now entered in one of the most prestigious open-age flat races, the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes which takes place at Ascot this Saturday.

Brown Panther is trained at Manor House Stables by Tom Dascombe. Converted from a cattle barn at a cost of millions, Manor House Stables is privately owned and operated under the watchful eye of Michael Owen. Realistically, Brown Panther does not have much of a fighting chance in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes. Hovering around the 20/1 mark, the colt is well down in the betting. He proved to be a major disappointment when finishing last in a small field in the Group 3 Ormonde Stakes at Chester at odds of 6/5. Stepping up to the Group 1  King George will pose a major challenge for the colt especially given the opposition. 

Saturday’s race, worth £1,000,000 has been won by some top class older horses in recent years. Montjeu, Galileo, Daylami and Hurricane Run  have all been successful.  Last year’s winner, Nathaniel, returns for a repeat bid and has attracted significant support in recent weeks. Backed from 5/1 down to 5/2, he is the second favourite for the race behind Aidan O’ Brien’s St Nicholas Abbey who leads the market at 9/4. 

Ballydoyle, with three wins in the race since 2001 train St Nicholas Abbey who is perhaps the best older horse in training. A former European champion two year old, St Nicholas Abbey has won multiple Group 1 races. Among them include the Coronation Cup, Racing Post Trophy  and most famously the Breeders' Cup Turf where Joseph O’ Brien became the youngest winning jockey in the Cup's history at the age of eighteen. St Nicholas Abbey finished third in the King George last year and returns as a five year old now but he is in fine form recently and will make a bold bid for connections.

Sir Michael Stoute’s Sea Moon also goes to post in the King George. An ultra-consistent type, Sea Moon, a 3/1 chance, has won five of his eight starts including the Group 2 Hardwicke Stakes at Ascot. Sea Moon was second to St Nicholas Abbey at the Breeders’ Cup and finished just half a length behind Brown Panther when third in last year’s St. Leger. Both Sea Moon and St Nicholas Abbey have a crushing turn of foot so it is set up to be a very exciting renewal of one of the top races of the flat season.

The inclusion of Brown Panther in the race was a surprise to many. Clearly Michael Owen believes that the colt will put in a big performance but in such a prestigious field he will have to put in a career-best performance.  Brown Panther’s best trip is probably over a mile and six furlongs and it was thought that Owen would would have entered the colt in France at Longchamp’s Prix Maurice de Nieuil, a Group Two over that distance.

Nothing ventured nothing gained of course and from his footballing career Michael Owen knows all too well that you miss all of the shots you never take.

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