By Tony Stafford
This Monday lark ought to be a walk in the park – dictionary definition; something very easy to do and usually pleasant – with a whole weekend to fall back on rather than a Saturday cut-off each week.
Now before writing this stuff I can get to read Steve Palmer’s betting highs and lows on the back page of the Racing Post’s Sunday pull-out, at once envy-inducing and totally cringe-making. From his base in Weymouth his mixture of raw common sense and nonsensical wishful-thinking reminds me in some part of my earlier days. Hope he takes a little less time than me to grow out of it.
Steve, I’m sure, would have reckoned Rory McIlroy was about to embark on said walk in the park when taking a three-shot lead into last night’s final round of the Cadillac World Golf Championship at Trump Doral in Florida. He failed by two to match Adam Scott, sharing third place with the Englishman Danny Willett after hitting maybe one decent shot in 18 holes. Again, I trust Steve went with the Scott rather than the somnambulant Northern Irishman.
It was a bit parky yesterday to consider a walk in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, but we still had a spell in the garden with the boss supervising some rose bush thinning. I was, though, given licence to return to the sofa in time for the re-opening of racing at Auteuil, in the company of Mark Johnson and Claude Charlet.
Apart from an unexpected gaffe from Mark, doubling a French rating to convert to British, surely it should be x 2.2?, their partnership was as informative and entertaining as ever, making up for the more mundane domestic fare at Huntingdon and Sedgefield, along with Naas from Ireland.
We were still thorn avoiding when the opener took place, but it was impossible to miss the enthusiasm with which Mark greeted the next, a maiden hurdle for horses that had never previously run over jumps, but included a number of decent Flat horses.
My ears pricked – dictionary definition: listen carefully – at the mention of one of the pair’s selection, Montalbano. Wished I was in a café in France with PMU access at the mention of my favourite BBC4 Saturday night hero, not in any way supplanted in my affections by “Taken” and he ran a blinder, too, finishing second.
But for the winner, Park Light, it was indeed a Walk in the Park, for this triple Flat-race winner, by the eponymous stallion, came through with a devastating late run to win by daylight. It might seem a little late aged six for him to take high rank as a hurdler, but with such as Douvan and Min already representing the sire, I’m sure the bids would have been raining in all afternoon even if Cheltenham this month is out of the equation. As a half-brother to 20-race jump winner Cyrlight, the appeal is obvious enough.
Happily and indeed hastily ensconced at Grange Stud after spells in Haras du Val Raquet – fee €2,500 to €3,000 and then Haras du Granges, where it fell to €1,500 – Walk in the Park is sure to have more foals in the next stud season and a half under the Coolmore banner than the total 153 registered in the six years since 2009 in France.
Park Light and Douvan are among 39 registered from the 2010 crop, after an initial 37 with no real notables. There was a steady decline from the 27 including Min in 2011 to 18, then 12 and six in 2014 before presumably the Douvan factor brought the relative bumper harvest of 14 last year.
I can’t say I’ve ever noticed the phrase emanating from Michael Tabor’s lips, although I’m sure enough of his own or Coolmore’s winners, or merely his successful bets, might have induced such an exclamation. But the horse, runner-up to Motivator in the Derby and like him a son of the peerless Montjeu, was named by Mr T and raced for the John Hammond stable in his colours, as did Montjeu.
It should indeed have been a walk in the park for Blue Dragon, almost immeasurably the best four-year-old hurdler at Auteuil last year and 1-5 to resume normal service in the Grade 3 for five-year-olds. But after a slightly precarious course, albeit miles ahead of the rest, he fell at the last leaving rider, David Cottin, not to mention Mark and Claude, in shock. After eight wins in a row this was a true coming down to earth.
Changing the subject with an almost incongruous clumsiness, did you hear the one about the Scotsman, the Manxman and the Belgian? Well if the Northern Irishman, who for all his accomplishments has only ever managed second in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award, the other trio have all won it. Indeed, only a certain car driver from Stevenage has intervened over the past five years following Sir A P in 2010.
All three were in action: first the Scotsman – Andy Murray, at 28 the youngest of the trio – laboured with skill and resource to win a five-hour battle with Kei Nishikori to clinch GB’s place in the quarter-finals of the Davis Cup, which almost entirely due to his efforts we presently own. Unfortunately it’s Serbia next, but he has beaten Novak Djokovic, if not for some time.
The other two were also on display, you’ve guessed it, in the Olympic Park velodrome – about a mile, so a short walk through the park – from my door. Sir Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish teamed up in the Madison at the World Cycling Championships meeting. Sir Brad, now 35 and Dr Cav – he has an honorary science degree from Chester University for services to cycling - 30, thrilled the capacity crowd by repeating their 2008 victory in the same event.
I first got the taste for watching track cycling in the late 1960’s when I got a press freebie ticket to the Wembley six-day cycling championship. It was eye-opening to see the skills of the legendary Dutchman Peter Post, teaming up with Belgian Patrick Sercu to win one of 45 such events he collected around the world. The Madison was the thing I best remembered, with one partner waiting high on the banking before the other “handed him on” literally, with a degree of momentum.
Re-reading reports of the 2008 win for the Sir and the Doc show just how minutely they followed the pattern yesterday. Their collectively almost inhuman sprinting (Cav) and endurance (Wig) brought a series of points for intermediate sprints and then almost on cue from the previous time, they set about retrieving the gained lap that some of their opponents had contrived earlier.
But then we shouldn’t have been surprised, as along with Murray, they are among the all-time greats of their respective worlds. Wiggins, son of an Australian father and English mother, was born in Ghent but moved to London aged two. Cavendish was born in the Isle of Man which he still regards as home, but day-to-day lives in Essex with a pad in Tuscany.
Sir Bradley has seven World Championship gold medals, three Olympic golds and a Tour de France win on his palmarès. Cavendish pitches in with three World championships on the track, and 26 Tour de France stage wins, including four in a row in the final stage on the Champs-Elysees as well as a world championship win on the road in 2011. To see him bash through in the final 50 yards of a sprint stage in one of the Grand Tour events is among my favourite experiences watching sport.
Most of us rue the day when the BBC started the drip-drip loss of the major sports. For once yesterday pretty much everything I wanted to see was on the network and the Scot, the Manxman and the Belgian made it a great day for the Brits. It was pretty good for the heroes’ mums, too. Both Brad’s mum and Andy’s were in the audience in London and Birmingham respectively, fittingly for Mother’s Day.
When I tried to discover whether Mark’s mum was there, the main historic reference to her was when the Tour de France was going to go through Yorkshire and Harrogate where Adele, for that’s her name, lives. Unfortunately, if you look up Adele Cavendish you get merely copious references to Lady Adele Astaire Cavendish, elder sister to and original dance partner of Fred Astaire, who stopped dancing when she married a son of the Duke of Devonshire. Don’t blame her.