Talking Horses: Wright thrives on finding talent from Blondie to Ascot

Greg Wood
·7-min read

More than half a century after he founded Chrysalis Records and almost 40 years after he bought his first racehorse, Chris Wright can see at least one parallel between the music industry and the sport of kings.

“There is one thing which is incredibly similar,” he said on Friday, “and it’s why I think racing is a reasonably natural fit for someone like me. In the music business, you go out of your way to sign artists you think have got the talent and ability to make it, and some of them are expensive to sign and some are not so expensive. You might see a group in a pub that no one else has seen, and you might sign them for less money.

“But whoever you sign, the reality is that some will make it and an awful lot won’t make it. And I think that eases the pain when you buy a yearling and it’s clearly turning out to be not very good. It keeps you going because you also know that you might have bought one or signed an artist for not much money that might turn out to be a superstar.”

Related: Talking Horses: Serpentine runs again at Ascot … but is he any good?

Unearthing talent has been the story of Wright’s life ever since he signed Jethro Tull to the newly-formed Chrysalis Records in the late 1960s. Blondie, Spandau Ballet, Ultravox, Sinead O’Connor, Fun Lovin’ Criminals and the Specials are just a handful of the bands and performers who have been attached to Chrysalis over the decades since, while Wright’s business interests have also extended into television and radio, with hit series including Midsomer Murders and Doc Martin.

His interest in racing dates back to the early 1980s when the legendary music entrepreneur Tony Stratton-Smith persuaded him to buy a horse. “Tony stood next to me at my first ever Tattersalls’ sales,” Wright says, “and picked out a filly and said: ‘That’s the one for you.’ That was Crime Of Passion, who won the Cherry Hinton [at Newmarket in 1982] and was the foundation mare for my stud, so I’ve got a lot to thank him for.”

Wright’s major winners since have included Culture Vulture, the first British-trained filly to win the French equivalent of the 1,000 Guineas; Chriselliam, who took the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies’ Turf; and Dark Angel, who retired at the end of a Group One-winning juvenile season to become an exceptional sire of sprinters.

The latest star to carry his colours, meanwhile, is Wonderful Tonight, who cost just €40,000 (£36,000) as a yearling and is a Group One winner after just seven starts having landed the Prix de Royallieu at Longchamp a fortnight ago. That form will make her one of the favourites for the Fillies & Mares Stakes on Champions Day at Ascot on Saturday afternoon.

“[In the 1990s] I was working full-time running a company with music and radio stations and TV productions,” Wright says, “we employed 700-800 people at the offices in London, and I owned Sheffield Sharks basketball team, Wasps and QPR and I was going to all of those games too. God knows how I did it, but it happened.

“As you get older, I don’t think you want quite so much stress in your life if you can avoid it. But when you’ve got a runner and it’s got a chance, whether it’s a Group One or a novice, you still get pretty stressed out about it.” Even after decades thriving under pressure, Saturday’s race will still be an intense watch for Wright.

Chris Cook’s Saturday tipping preview

With Enable retired, Magical gets her chance to take over as everyone’s favourite race mare and a second success in the Champion Stakes would be a popular outcome. She seems sure to run her usual game race but the classy and improving young mudlark Mishriff (3.40) can prove too good.

His French Derby success came as a surprise even to those close to him but he proved it was no fluke with a still more impressive effort at Deauville in August. Frankie Dettori wants to keep the ride and it is not hard to see why. Pyledriver makes each-way appeal at 16-1, given how well he coped with soft as a juvenile. He failed to stay in the Leger but his efforts at Royal Ascot and in the Voltigeur make him a contender.

1.20 Ascot For all his trainer’s comments about how the Arc turned into a bike race, taking on some of the world’s best on that ground must have cost Stradivarius something. He’s been beaten in this race twice from three attempts and had a two-month recovery from his previous outing in the year he won, so there are risks here. Dawn Patrol would be more tempting if three-year-olds had any recent record of success in this. As it is, the dual Irish Leger winner Search For A Song appeals most, even though this is her first try on deep going.

1.55 Ascot Dream Of Dreams is a better horse this term but it’s hard to forget how disappointing he has been in this race for the last two years and his draw is a potential problem. It’s interesting that Happy Power runs here rather than the QEII, which he tried last year. It means opposing the same owner’s Art Power but it could prove a smart move as Happy Power has plenty of pace. From the yard that sprang a 33-1 shock in this race 12 months ago, he can outrun his odds on a surface he likes.

2.30 Ascot A chance is taken on Mehdaayih, who seemed well suited by this distance in the first half of last year but has since been kept to 10 furlongs. She ran well in the Champion Stakes and the Prince of Wales and now gets a winnable opportunity.

3.05 Ascot The best of the day’s favourites should be Palace Pier, a classy and unbeaten colt who seems at ease on all types of ground. His defeats of Pinatubo and Alpine Star amount to the best form on offer and, having had just one run since June, he should be capable of another big effort. The Revenant loves this kind of surface but he found one too good in last year’s QEII and it may be a similar story here.

Tips by Chris Cook

Ascot 

1.20 Search For A Song 1.55 Happy Power 2.30 Mehdaayih 3.05 Palace Pier 3.40 Mishriff 4.15 Graignes 

Stratford 

12.43 Barbados Buck's 1.13 The Quiet Don 1.43 Project Mars 2.18 Dariya 2.53 Everlanes (nap) 3.28 Northern Princess 4.03 Global Anchor 4.40 Say Nothing 

Catterick 

2.00 The Thin Blue Line 2.35 Haven Lady 3.10 Redrosezorro 3.45 Lord Riddiford 4.20 Gamesters Icon 4.50 Dawn Breaking 5.25 El Jefe 

Market Rasen 

2.11 Aggy With It 2.46 Copperless 3.21 Palladium 3.56 Pic D'Orhy 4.31 Red Risk 5.06 Torquay (nb) 5.36 Mon Ray 

Wolverhampton 

4.55 Berkshire Philly 5.30 Come On Linda 6.00 Noman 6.30 Arietta 7.00 Dark Side Dream 7.30 Inevitable Outcome 8.00 Moving Light 8.30 Satono Japan 

4.15 Ascot It has been a tough season for followers of Graignes but this first try in a handicap could work out well, with a strong pace on the cards and his yard among the winners. He should be an each-way price.