British Champions Day: Chris Wright sticks to winning formula with Wonderful Tonight

Horse Racing Wonderful Tonight runs on British Champions Day
Wonderful Tonight (Tony Piccone): bids for second G1 two weeks after landing the Prix de Royallieu on Arc weekend. Photo: France Galop/Scoopdyga.com (Elliott Chouraqui)

By Jon Lees

GB: Chris Wright has yet to see his latest G1 winner Wonderful Tonight race in person – and he is not going to break that pattern when she runs on Qipco British Champions Day for fear of jinxing her.

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Owner-breeder Wright has been involved in horse racing for nearly 40 years, enjoying Classic and Breeders’ Cup success, but he has not had a G1 winner at Ascot since Culture Vulture captured the Fillies’ Mile in 1991.

Wonderful Tonight broke into the top level when she landed the Prix de Royallieu on Arc weekend and will be bidding to double her G1 score in the Qipco British Champions Fillies & Mares two weeks later.

Bought privately for just €40,000, the filly has gone from strength to strength under trainer David Menuisier this year to join Wright’s top performers Culture Vulture, who went on to win the Poule d’Essai des Pouliches, and Chriselliam, also successful in the Fillies’ Mile as well as Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf in 2013.

“We can’t claim any credit for doing anything special or making an unbelievably good mating, it’s quite simply one that we bought,” says Wright.

Horse Racing Chris Wright owner of Wonderful Tonight
Chris Wright: owner of Wonderful Tonight. Photo: chris-wright.info

“There is no doubt the credit should go to David Menuisier because he saw this filly being led out unsold at Deauville, really liked her, took us to see her and persuaded us to buy her. He’s a very good trainer.

“It’s hard to buy G1 winners so to have one that you’ve developed yourself is the stuff of dreams.”

Since her seasonal reappearance at Newbury in June, Wonderful Tonight has raced exclusively in France where she has also won a G3 and finished fifth in the Prix Vermeille. Because of her prowess on heavy ground, she was very nearly supplemented for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

“It was €72,000 to supplement,” says Wright. “Had she already been entered we would have been quite seriously tempted and had we known the O’Brien horses weren’t going to run, I think we would have gone for the Arc. But of course we didn’t know that.

“When people ask me what races I’d really like to win, the answer is the Queen Mary, the Norfolk or Albany Stakes, because we mainly breed speed horses and that’s something that I have never achieved which is attainable.

Horse Racing David Menuisier trainer of Wonderful Tonight
David Menuisier: trainer of Wonderful Tonight. Photo: dmhorseracing.com

“If you asked what I would dream of winning above a Breeders’ Cup, which I have won, a Melbourne Cup, an Epsom Derby, I would love to win the Arc. But that is a pipedream that one knows is not really a possibility – except this year it might have become a reality. To have a runner in the Arc that has a chance would be beyond unbelievable, to win it would be beyond beyond unbelievable.

“The plan is for her to stay in training. She hasn’t much mileage on the clock. Regardless of how she runs at Ascot, as it is a bit soon after the last race, then we would make an entry in the Arc and take it from there.”

Wright, whose breeding base is at Stratford Place Stud in Cheltenham, made his fortune in the music industry as co-founder of Chrysalis Records, whose acts included Jethro Tull, Blondie and Spandau Ballet – but not Eric Clapton, who wrote and performed the song after which Wonderful Tonight is named.

“I have nothing to do with the Eric Clapton song, sadly,” says Wright. “I wish it was on my label but it wasn’t. I liked the song and the name was available.”

The Fillies & Mares had been Wonderful Tonight’s longstanding goal until it emerged that her regular jockey would not be available at Ascot.

“We could have gone to Paris on Arc weekend or waited for Champions Day,” says Wright. “A key determining factor was Tony Piccone. He’s given her beautiful rides in all of the races. We knew we would have him in the Royallieu and wouldn’t at Ascot so we prioritised Longchamp.

“He’s gone to Hong Kong now but we would have flown him into Ascot otherwise. We have a very able replacement in Will Buick.”

Champions Day will take place behind closed doors but Wright had no plans to attend even if allowed.

“Her first race was at Doncaster last year and I didn’t go there,” he says. “Then she won in Paris. I was going to go to Deauville but it got too complicated with the quarantine threat. Going to Arc weekend got difficult as well.

“I think having not seen her run I am not going to tempt fate by going to Ascot. We’ll stick to a winning formula.”

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