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by Tony Stafford
What is there about the name Ferguson? Twice on Saturday afternoon, the two best-known exponents of that surname got out of jail in the unlikeliest manner. First at Chepstow, Sheikh Mohammed’s bloodstock man John stepped up for a first Grade 1 jumps win as a trainer when Ruacana took advantage of Swynmor’s unlikely and unlucky last-flight fall at Chepstow.
Then, a few hours later, Sir Alex of that ilk, got yet another dividend of his investment in Robin van Persie when the Dutchman scored possibly the best goal I’ve ever seen to clinch an FA Cup draw at West Ham.
The Scottish Fergie never seems to suffer much in the way of bad luck, although he must have been fuming 24 hours earlier during an unusual winter excursion to Lingfield to watch his odds-on shot I’m Fraam Govan run in the first part of the bumper.
I was there too, but believe it or not, I never saw Sir Alex, such were my powers of observation and indeed interest in the sports. At the time I would have seen him in the paddock, I was consuming what proved to be a shock investment: fish and chips for four quid! I didn’t see the price but was vaguely aware that the lady on the counter gave me a tenner and a fiver plus some splash for my twenty.
Nice enough, too, and by the time I’d finished it, the field was at the start. I did spot George Baker – wonder what he’s saying on his entertaining blog – earlier in the afternoon, but not dreaming the owner would be there, didn’t ask about it.
Weight of money forced the previously unbeaten gelding to shorten to 4-9, but he could finish only fifth. When I got home, Sky Sports News had pictures of Fergie in the paddock pre-race alongside his (and my) good mate Sotirios Hassiakis of Les Ambassadeurs, along with the story that he’d got lost on the way. Not sure I’d trust Sotirios with navigation.
Racing has been odd, not least that since Christmas so little has been lost to the unrelenting rainfall, but for jumping at least, there has been a diet of almost unremitting slow-motion finishes. One exception came at Sandown when the German import Lord of House sprinted up the hill for a ten-length win that could have been greatly extended if his rider had wished.
Charlie Mann can still train them when he gets a good one, and this Lord of England gelding looks the type to be a mainstay of the re-structured Mann yard in Lambourn in the coming months. The only downside for dapper Charlie is that Lord of House will be nearer 140 for his next start than Saturday’s 118.
There had been a clear pointer to his chance a couple of hours earlier. On his English debut – after more than a year’s absence – Lord of House had finished within ten lengths of the smart Gevrey Chambertin – Grands Crus’ full-brother – in an Aintree novice, and when the Pipe horse bolted up off 130 at Wincanton on Saturday, the inference was clear. How then did Lord of House, a winner since at Folkestone, start at 12-1 carrying 9-9?
I hope you’ll excuse me for penning a shortened version this week, but I’ll conclude with some selfish offerings from my boss’s string. All four jumpers will be in action, touch wood, in the coming weeks, although two are set for runs on the level.
Cousin Khee, who won at Kempton’s jumping bumper card, reverts to proper, albeit Polytrack Flat racing on Friday at Lingfield for a mile and a half maiden. John Gosden and William Knight are among trainers with authentic candidates, while Gary Moore, who turned over a 1-3 shot at Sandown, is trying to rekindle the talented Megastar’s enthusiasm. Hughie Morrison thinks we’ll go well.
Two days later Alan King is thinking of Fakenham on Sunday for Fair Trade, whose Newbury third looks less glossy after the unexpected defeat at Musselburgh of runner-up Veloce and even more emphatic fall from grace of the Newbury winner Poet when put up in grade in the Tolworth Hurdle. It’s often best to remember jockeys’ post-race analysis. I recall Choc Thornton looking across at Poet after he’d out-slogged us saying: “I’d still rather have ours”. I think so, too.
His stable-mate Nelson’s Bay, all schooled-up but waiting for ground, missed Wolverhampton on Friday owing to a nail in a hoof after twisting a shoe on the gallops, but should soon find another race. The best news, though, concerns Punjabi. Raymond’s former Champion Hurdle hero came out of his Christmas Hurdle return after 32 months in great style. Nicky Henderson told me on Saturday. “We go straight to Newbury!” so five years after finishing second in the great race, he’s to have another crack. See you there.