By Tony Stafford
Last week, energised by the kind comments of rather more people than I’d imagined would even see my musings, I resolved to make it a weekly pursuit. Don’t get as old as me whatever you do, as it was not until Sunday night that I remembered what I’d contracted myself to do.
Then again, so much was to happen on Sunday. South Africa 600 and change- 2 against the “best team in the world”; Bradley Wiggins winning the Tour de France in a canter and Mark Cavendish making it four in a row on the Champs Elysees; Adam Scott throwing away a four-shot lead in the Open and Lady Rothschild’s Nathaniel nosed out of the King George before the owner won the Irish Oaks with “Nat’s” full sister Great Heavens.
It was one of those lovely coincidences that I bumped into the charming Lady Rothschild, and her son Nat an hour before the King George in one of the boxes at Ascot and when the dratted German filly Danedream got up to deny Lady Serena’s pride and joy the King George double he richly deserved, I took it almost as a personal affront.
No doubt Serena, as always, lived up to her name, being ever the gracious loser, and therefore it was great that less than 24 hours later possibly an ever bigger future star than Nathaniel should gain classic honours.
Over the past weekend, events of 43 years earlier have been bubbling through my consciousness. On Eclipse day that year, I waited as the big race at Sandown had a delayed start, and watched my final bet as a single man go the way of so many as Park Top was denied by Wolver Hollow.
Then it was sprinting down the hill with my best man Richard McGinn to St John-at-Hackney Parish church for the wedding, to learn that the bride’s car had already done three circuits!
In years to come Park Top’s name often came under my gaze. The Daily Telegraph’s correspondent through most of my first two decades with the paper was Peter Scott, and the old buffer rarely failed to give her a mention, with the addendum “bred by my aunt”.
Well it was Park Top, a couple of weeks into my marriage, who won the King George, beginning a sequence of true world champions to win the race followed by Nijinsky, Mill Reef, Brigadier Gerard, Dahlia (twice) and Grundy.
That summer was also memorable for a Lytham St Anne’s Open championship, and one of the few English winners, Tony Jacklin. Meanwhile the Tour de France went to the peerless Eddy Mercxx and his name also loomed large over the weekend from many who then made cycling their passion because of his exploits. Brad and Cav will have the same effect.
One minor event of July 1969 remains a quirky memory for me. As I lounged on the beaches of the islands close to Athens, I noted that the ground at Aintree’s then July Flat fixture was so hard that two and three-runner races over the two days were commonplace. No wonder that pastime has been long discontinued.
We went all the way to Greece, yet the weather here had been flawless. Typical! Looks like the weather this year has turned. If you had a soft-ground horse and didn’t exploit it, you’ve probably had it.
Now, though, it’s something else entirely. As I went this morning to get my paper, I came across a group of about ten young people with Olympic t-shirts, on their way past Hackney Wick station, presumably towards their jobs at the Olympic Park.
To you, it probably means the new stadium and possibly future home to West Ham United, the Velodrome, Swimming and Volleyball arenas and the rest. To me it’s where I played cricket at Eton Manor, and where my dad won £123,5s,3d on a winning Quinela (1-2-3 in the right order) at Hackney Wick dogs.
Just as well he did as the previous day he came home early from work and found me and my then girlfriend in the early stages of some adolescent (never completed) passion. He turned on his heel, went out and ignored me for the next 24 hours.
The full story came out on the Thursday. It seems he left Horne Brothers gents tailors in Oxford Street early to go to Kempton. That night he won the Tote treble (2s unit, second, fourth and sixth races) and it paid £98,18s,0d. That and the Quinela ended my banishment.
Dad was always a lucky punter, as on the day when we went to the Epsom spring meeting in 1963 and parked on the hill. He gave me 10 bob to put on the third favourite in the Blue Riband Trial Stakes but being a judge even then, I thought the favourite would win and had the ten bob at even money.
You can imagine what happened. I just ran, went across to the main stand and hocked his binoculars with a nice lady working behind the bar, for the £3,5s,0d. I had the address – I’d take the money back that night of course.
Thinking furiously, I made it back to a fuming father, and tried to give a little credibility to the story that just as I drew the money, a young guy took the binoculars from my shoulder. I lost him, but here’s the money!
Thunderous all the way home, he eventually – thank God – took himself off to Hackney dogs, while I wheedled £2 from mum and took the other road to Clapton, my own favourite hang-out and later a track where I tipped for the Greyhound Express.
There was a strict eight races in those days and after four, I was the proud owner of one shilling and six pence (1s6d), and had to scrounge (yes, I used to scrounge for England in those days and many years thereafter) a tanner from a school pal – we went there in force in those days.
To cut a long story short, I had the first winner and it paid 6s6d; had the next forecast (10s6d) three times, and backed the last two winners.
Then it was off to Stamford Hill to redeem the bins, back home with the news I’d been called by Epsom police station that they had been handed in, and after giving mum her money back, still had a tenner for the next day. If any one of those dogs had lost, maybe I’d have had a proper career instead of wasting my life on horses, dogs, betting and being skint!