I know that at least 25 people see these ramblings every week – I send them to that number of friends and acquaintances and they get them, errors and all, without the benefit of the editor/proprietor’s editing, writes Tony Stafford.
We both – the prop and me - like to think that a fair number more see them on the website pages. [We have metrics for that, and I know they are! – Ed.] Two weeks ago, when I saw fit to explain why I’d be missing the opening day of the Craven meeting, I was more than surprised at quite how many people outside that inner 25 wished me well for my forthcoming little bit of surgery to remove the latest BCC from my person.
This early morning, I’ve tried to calculate how many weekly offerings I’ve made and it appears that they’ve been going since at least May 8th 2012. Even that might not be the starting date as in that piece I referred to Matt Bisogno as though we’d already been associated for some time.
But at any rate, it’s at least 300 articles. When I start something I like to stick to it. A couple of years after my second marriage – coming up to ten years ago already – my wife suggested the fact that my first had lasted for more than 30 years had been a positive rather than negative recommendation. This time, hopefully, it will last!
But I have to admit, the lead-up to this article has been the hardest of all the 300. I’ve found it almost impossible to sleep lately, as for the past few months I have been the agent of causing an almost impossible situation for one of my longest-standing friends.
The wintry weather in the North of England has probably been an even more malign influence on the situation in which Wilf Storey finds himself. On the heels of his best-ever season, most wins and highest prize money, I came up with the idea of the Wilf Storey Racing Club and that’s where the problem started. But from early December, it’s been a case of rain washing out the gallop, before almost permafrost in January and February. Then it was snow, blown in drifts across the moors, so when it had cleared in the south it was still stacked four-feet deep in places behind the stone walls at Grange Farm, Muggleswick, while impassable roads often prevented staff getting in to work.
When it’s nice there, as it was two weekends ago on my latest visit with the sun shining with malicious deceit just 24 hours after the previous day-long deluge made the gallop unusable for the umpteenth time, it’s lovely. But, for Wilf and family, it was only a couple of days since the open-topped van came once more to collect the many dead new-born lambs too weak to withstand the rigours of the never-ending winter.
January to March had been the launchpad for Storey’s 2017 campaign, taking advantage of the newly-instigated Newcastle Tapeta to get the horses going. They didn’t all appreciate the surface, but its proximity, less than 40 minutes by horse-trailer, opened up a new opportunity. Previously the nearest all-weather surface was at Southwell, 150 miles away.
Wolverhampton is more like two hundred and, as when Nelson’s Bay ran an amazing race, finishing fast into third as a 20-1 outsider in the 8.45 finale one night in early December 2014, Wilf’s daughter and assistant trainer Stella was forced to stay behind with jockey Emma Sayer for at least an hour and a half before officialdom would release them after an inquiry as to whether the horse had tried or not. They made it back sometime after 2.30 a.m.
Emboldened by the 2017 results, we came up with the idea of the Wilf Storey Racing Club, not so much a club as a syndicate or partnership. We had the six horses, all sourced by me via Raymond Tooth, and all with form and handicap ratings. Only one of the six, Climax, had any soundness issues, having been injured when with Mark Johnston in the previous year, but now fully recovered. The other five - Adrakhan, Nelson River, French Kiss, Betty Grable and Tarnhelm - all ran regularly last year.
For the past 33 years, ever since he called out of the blue to the Daily Telegraph to ask whether Fiefdom might be for sale, I’ve been struck by his honesty, loyalty, and the ability to get the best out of the animals in his care.
As a noted stockman Wilf always reared cattle and sheep; branded cattle, bought, trained and sold “flappers” and even raced greyhounds for a time. He could easily have won “One man and his dog” as his mastery of developing sheepdogs to control the herd of sheep which has more than subsidised the horse training business for years is peerless.
Fiefdom, after a break, was eventually secured from me and in no time at all developed from a 0-75 miler to a staying hurdler in the high-120’s winning three Ekbalco Hurdles. As a result of the impression that single phone call made, in between those events, I reacted to being told by Rod Simpson to give away two of “my” horses – I hadn’t paid Malcolm Parrish for them, or the other eight yet! – as they had been “mucking about” on the gallops.
Asking whether he had anyone with “two grand for Santopadre”, Wilf replied, as he pretty much has every time I’ve asked the same question in the intervening decades: “No.” He went up there anyway and after an initial Musselburgh run where the grey showed unexpected talent in a seven-furlong race, Wilf schooled him over hurdles.
In those days I was buying quite a few horses for Terry Ramsden, and he was alerted when Santopadre – seriously unfit as originally I was hoping to set up a handicap coup of sorts on the Flat – lined up for his jumps debut at Hexham, in a selling hurdle.
Shortened up from 20-1 to 13-2, Santopadre got up on the line, and then followed up with two more wins. First he beat stablemate (a £500-odd Doncaster buy) Stars Delight - later rated in the high 150’s - in a Newcastle claimer, before winning a Wetherby novice under a double penalty by 15 lengths, after which Ramsden bought me out. Santopadre was fifth in that season’s Triumph Hurdle, not quite getting home after looking a threat to all going to the last.
It was at this time that Jockey Club security requested an informal meeting with me at Ascot racecourse. Their starting proposition was that this character Wilf Storey had suddenly started having heavily-backed winners and their “information” was that the horses were still actually being trained by Rod Simpson. I told them having known Rod, an excellent stable man, for many years, in my opinion, admittedly on much shorter acquaintance, Storey was the superior horseman. Their information, I told them, was nonsense.
The bargain theme continued with Great Easby, I forget whether it was £1,000 or £2,000 from the late Robert Sangster for the son of Caerleon who’d been totally devoid of pace and ability in training with Peter Chapple-Hyam at Manton. Wilf won Flat staying races at places like Goodwood, Haydock and Kempton as well as the 32-runner Gold Card Hurdle (now Pertemps) at the Cheltenham Festival with him.
The Sangster connection has a more recent chapter. In the days when I still went every week to watch Brian Meehan’s horses on gallops Thursdays, I was always struck by one horse whose work seemed unbelievably moderate compared to everything else. His name was Card High, and after a final humiliation, Guy and Ben Sangster were advised to “get rid of him” by the trainer. “I know someone who’ll take him,” I piped up, and off he went to Co Durham. It took time and TLC to turn the decently-bred animal into a racehorse, but as usual Wilf found the key and Card High had a great 2016, winning Catterick’s valuable mile and a half handicap in the autumn. Card High was off for a long time last year, but is one of two Storey stayers lined up to give the team their initial runner for several months on the same track on Wednesday.
The other is Mr Sundowner. As regular readers will know, I’ve often joked about the “only Scat Daddy in Muggleswick”. The last two-year-olds by that ill-starred stallion, who died two years ago, went through the ring at Tattersalls Craven Breeze-Up sale last week and fetched up to 900,000gns with several others from half a million upwards.
We paid 600 quid for Mr Sundowner and last year he followed Card High by winning the same Catterick race, among four handicaps Wilf won with the former Newmarket discard.
So now here we were. Wilf was telling me: “Stella says we’ve never had horses of the quality of these. They’re all well handicapped, eligible to run where they can win and the prizemoney situation is better than before”.
So the plan was set. “Make them as decent value as we can, and with affordable training fees.” I would speak to my contacts and friends. We needed 20 people – 5% shares of £1,800 and training of just £240 a month, first two months up front – working out about a third pro-rata of many of the syndicates advertised in the Racing Post and on sites like Racehorses for Sale.
We chose that medium, and the first day, a man from Liverpool said if he took six shares (30%), would he still have to pay two months in advance? I started life in a Council estate, so should have realised that Mr Liverpool might not be serious. He wasn’t.
Right at the start of this over-long ramble, I mentioned Matt B, and have to say that all through the months of would-be preparation, making the web site right and factually accurate and honest, Matt said, only one thing matters, getting the members over the line.
It’s slightly embarrassing to have a mentor three decades one’s junior, but that’s Matt to me. He was so right, and for the past 10 weeks, what I thought to be potential members have slipped through the fingers, each subsequent week putting Wilf in more serious financial strife.
I believe Betty Grable, trying a new more suitable longer trip, will run very well at Newcastle next week and seven-year-old Adrakhan, a winner over hurdles with Dan Skelton; twice successful on the Flat last year, and according to Stella still improving but rated only 48, will be out soon too.
The two big boys, Nelson River and French Kiss, are potential three-year-old stayers with the physique to go jumping later in the year. The fear is they will have to be sold to arrest the financial drain on Wilf, for which I will be eternally ashamed.
The luckless 25 who get this unadorned each week, will see these words. I hope the Editor, whose own syndicates have done so well, and on whose pro-forma our Agreement has been closely based, will allow this one try at publicising the awful situation into which I’ve placed Wilf Storey, his family and staff.
Wilf has no doubt that if we can get a few people in all will be well. The horses will do their own advertising once they get on the track. The sun’s been shining in Muggleswick for the past week – let’s hope it’s not just to mock the efforts of the most admirable person I’ve met in my long life. So one last plea: look at wilfstoreyracingclub.com and see the pictures of the horses and the entirely truthful write-ups of them all. Thanks, and sorry to be so long-winded. It won’t happen again, I promise!
On a slightly different tack: after that unlucky run at Aintree, Theinval did indeed as predicted win at Aintree, but naturally not on the Friday, which we knew about last Monday morning. He was unlucky again that day, landing slap bang on a faller. Of course, he turned out yet again the following day and won. Better late than never I suppose.
- Tony Stafford
Editor's side note: I have had horses with Wilf for four years. Not only is he great value in terms of training costs, but he is also one of those rare breeds who have forgotten more about stock than the likes of me will ever know. He's a humble gracious man and, most importantly in this context, a bloody good trainer! If you happen to live in Scotland or the north of England, it's a pound to a penny that you won't find a better opportunity to indulge your racing passion than this. With six horses running, the likelihood you'll have an option to go racing as an owner at least once most weeks through the flat season. I'm joining today - Matt