Anyone who has read more than a few of the 300-plus weekly offerings, either Sunday Supplements or Monday Musings in this space will know that I used to tip horses for a living, writes Tony Stafford. For all my working life until I left the Daily Telegraph at the end of 2002, I was obsessed with solving the problem of every race. More often than not I had an opinion on them all too.
So you can imagine the sort of bother I could get myself into. Being regarded in some quarters as knowing something about the game didn’t square with the reality of thousands of frustrating afternoons in betting shops and on racecourses.
Then it all stopped. The analysis of races was really only brought into play in my racing manager days, from 2007, trying to derive optimism about the chances of Ray Tooth’s 30-or-so horses which were soon to feature Coronation Stakes winner Indian Ink and Champion Hurdler Punjabi.
Then Ray’s numbers steadily dropped and by early this year, apart from a few mares and young stock, was down to a trickle. As January arrived I was almost in despair at the turn of events, and then the Editor /owner of geegeez.co.uk was asked by friends if he could recommend someone to run a new project they had just bought.
Laurence Squire and Frank Crook are co-directors of Trainers’ Quotes, which as it says on the tin, relays the opinions of a number of highly-respected handlers’ runners every day to members. Over the winter the owner of a rival concern in the same sphere of activity, namely From The Stables, offered them his service for sale as he wanted to concentrate on his main activity, a kitchen-fitting business.
I visited Laurence at his place down the road from Venetia Williams in Herefordshire and also had an hour or two’s inadequate tutorial with its former owner and, by Cheltenham time, six weeks in, I still didn’t really have a clue what I was doing. Slowly the technical side worked itself out, disproving the maxim: “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”.
Anyway, as with these articles, I’ve never missed a day since and having lost our biggest trainer to a new bookmaker sponsorship on Derby Day eve, I had the good fortune to sign Hughie Morrison, Brian Meehan, Shaun Keightley and lastly Ian Williams to cover what would otherwise have been a fairly barren flat season while our top jumping trainers were enjoying their summer breaks.
In those far-off days in Fleet Street, I was obsessed with the naps tables, with near misses a few times in the Sporting Chronicle, three wins in the Sporting Life – I’m looking at the trophies now - and a handful of monthly awards in the Racing Post.
Now I’ve reverted to type. Whenever I was in contention I used to have the table in front of me and put a line triumphantly though other tipsters’ losers and grudgingly mark any winners. It didn’t work, in all honesty, especially the time when Teddy Davis of the Chester Chronicle had a 66-1 winning nap that wiped out my 40 points lead one February.
About six weeks ago it was brought to my attention that From the Stables was doing quite well in the William Hill Radio naps table. I hadn’t known we were even in a tipping competition until Laurence called and told me: “You’re not far behind. Try to beat Sam Turner”.
At the start of this month, I was around £4 behind Sam who in turn was a few pence adrift of Dave Lowe. I met Dave for the first time at Doncaster on Saturday. He was on duty for William Hill, for whom he works in promotions, for their sponsorship of St Leger week.
A mutual friend introduced us and I asked Dave if he knew anything about the naps table. “I do,” he said: “I’m lying third in it, why do you want to know?” “I’m leading it,” I replied and he added: “So YOU’RE From the Stables.”
In the intervening few weeks, the old habit of making a list and crossing through the losers has become almost my major activity. It hasn’t been helped as over the past nine racing days I’ve had a run the like of which I cannot ever remember when it was a major focus of my employment.
It started on Saturday a week ago at Haydock, when the Ian Williams-trained Time to Study won at 7-1; then Oliver Sherwood’s Archimento won at Fontwell, starting 7-4. Monday’s winner was Morrison’s Escape the City, 4-1 at Brighton, followed by Byron Flyer, Williams 11-8 at Worcester, and Shaun Keightley’s Trouble Shooter, 7-1 at Kempton.
Two losers followed but then Meehan slipped in a 13-8 winner, Top Buck at Bath on Saturday, and Williams completed a memorable nine days when Blue Laureate stormed home by seven lengths at Ffos Las at 15-2 yesterday.
As a result almost embarrassingly I have to report that From the Stables is almost 30 points clear at the top of the table. Many of William Hill’s staff contributors to its radio commentary service and their betting shop studio programming are among the 24 fellow tipsters. My role, apart from ensuring that the trainers’ comments are faithfully recorded, is trying to evaluate which of “our” runners have the best chance.
That itself is not always easy. Top Buck was one of 16 contenders on Saturday and he was actually the only winner. The process of ending up on the right nap does I think stay with the died-in-the-wool tipster. In my case it’s taken a long time for me to get back to looking at the races in the way I used to and I have to thank all the trainers, those I inherited and the new boys, for being so helpful in guiding our readers in the right direction.
As I understand it, it costs £30 a month to receive the service. No doubt as a result of the good performance we might get some new members. It would be typical for them to catch us on the way down. What is most satisfying is that our present profit of more than £38 would give us a £7 lead if we were competitors in the Racing Post naps table.
So it’s thanks to my friend Matt Bisogno for the suggestion and as a result giving me the chance to rekindle my love for finding winners. The downside is that I’m going to be as insufferable as I always used to be, and no longer the mellow old man I believed I’d become.
Important matters again have to find room at the bottom of these thoughts but I’m sure they will be given more than justice elsewhere in this publication. Pinatubo, so impressive in the National Stakes at The Curragh yesterday, must be one of the best juveniles to have been seen out for a long time. I think it’s fitting that the always-approachable and ever-modest Charlie Appleby has such an outstanding 2,000 Guineas contender in his care.
Messrs Gosden and O’Brien were both efficient in hoovering up the majority of the other big Group 1 prizes in the UK (nice St Leger winner, Logician), Ireland and France and I enjoyed Magical very much on Saturday in the Irish Champion Stakes. Could she possibly beat Enable in the Arc this time?
Joseph O’Brien’s Group 1 winner Iridessa was a big moment for Chantal Regalado-Gonzalez and husband John Murrell, incorrectly-spelt recently in the Shaun Keightley article with an “a” for “u”. As long as they keep winning Group 1 races with fillies destined for the December Sales, John I’m sure wouldn’t mind if we called him John Gosden!