Once upon a time I thought I had a decent memory, writes Tony Stafford. Not quite total recall, but pretty good. Yet nowadays it’s anything but. For example I was recently given a couple of slim bright red volumes of Copes Racing Encyclopaedia (properly ae-diphthong-ed) for 1958 and 1960. Copes were one of the old football pools companies as well as bookmakers founded in 1895.
The 1958 version, apart from telling me that as long ago as 1957, the Queen was Leading Owner on the Flat with a handsome £62,000 in prizes, from 30 victories including the Oaks with Carrozza, and subsequent stallion Pall Mall, has many more compelling reminders of a different era.
One I’m sure I spotted was a snippet that mentioned a young Irish apprentice, Tim Hyde, who rode his first winner for Harry Wragg. When I saw the said Timmy Hyde at Cheltenham last month, he told me he came to Newmarket aged just 15. I promised to bring along the pertinent book to the Craven meeting, but ever since, I’ve been scanning the pages and cannot find the relevant passage.
During our Cheltenham chat, I told him that on my first Cheltenham visit, Persian War won the Champion Hurdle and L’Escargot the second division of the Gloucestershire (now Supreme) Novice Hurdle. Timmy reminded me he had been on Kinloch Brae in 1970 when L’Escargot won the first of his two Gold Cups. Kinloch Brae, in the Arkle colours of Anne, Duchess of Westminster, started favourite and according to Timmy “would have won”, had he not fallen three fences from home.
A week after Cheltenham, Timmy, best known for running Camas Park Stud, put on his other hat, as trainer, and won with both his runners at Limerick. Incidentally, my friend Harry Taylor managed to be on each of the beaten favourites. The following day he told me: “I backed two horses yesterday. Guess who beat me both times? Timmy Hyde!” It didn’t make Harry feel any better when I pointed out they were Hyde’s only winners of the entire season so far.
I started about Total Recall. I presume the now-Willie Mullins-trained nine-year-old of that name collected the label from the 2012 film, a remake of the 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger original. I saw the later offering only the other day and for a while wondered where I’d last heard the phrase.
While Native River and Might Bite were exchanging blows at the conclusion of the Gold Cup last month, I thought they might have had something to think about if Total Recall had not crumpled on landing after an apparently secure jump four from home – one after Kinloch Brae’s departure almost half a century before.
Until that point David Mullins had started to move his hands almost apologetically by which time Total Recall had moved comfortably into a closing sixth. On Saturday, in the Randox Health Grand National, he runs off 156 and 11st 4lb, 3lb behind Anabale Fly, who stayed on strongly into fourth after the race was almost over at Cheltenham. I’ve heard pundits reckon Anabale Fly is well treated. If he is, then Total Recall must almost be thrown in, but of course in this race that’s a difficult premise to justify.
Total Recall started with the late Dessie Hughes, before switching to Dessie’s daughter Sandra, only moving to Mullins on Sandra’s retirement. Before Cheltenham, three races had brought three wins, the second in the Ladbroke, the first of that sponsorship following Hennessy’s departure. Native River was the last horse to win the Newbury feature during the Hennessy stewardship.
I’ve never stopped marvelling at the Irish handicapper allowing Total Recall to run off 125 in a quite valuable handicap hurdle at Leopardstown – of course he made all – a couple of months after that Ladbroke victory off 147. That day he beat Oscar Knight three lengths at levels. Oscar Knight was my very confident fancy (at 16’s if you please) off only 136 for the Irish Grand National on Easter Monday, and was, naturally, brought down at the fifth.
Although there are signs that after all the bad weather of the winter, it’s warming up, there’s still not too much dry about. The forecast at this stage for Aintree this weekend is soft. We were hoping that Apres Le Deluge (after the storm/deluge), a home-bred son of Stormy River, might be an appropriate contender for Friday’s bumper. But Sod’s Law, he rolled in his box on the night before his final prep workout and banged his joint. It’s doubly irritating for all of us, especially Hughie Morrison, who laid out the plan soon after the gelding’s easy Hereford debut win last December.
That came three days after another home-bred of Ray Tooth’s, Sod’s Law – see, it all links up! – beat all bar subsequently-Hong Kong-bound Rusper in the middle of that Jamie Osborne horse hat-trick at Kempton. That was a first try for Dutch Law’s half-brother, who got within a short-head without P J McDonald exerting much more than token pressure in the closing stages.
Sod’s Law will have his first run since then in the Kempton seven-furlong novice race, sure to divide on Wednesday evening. If he is anywhere near as good as his brother, and so far the signs are promising, then he’ll be worth keeping an eye on.
The proximity of Punchestown, a little earlier than sometimes later this month will naturally restrict the number of leading Irish horses coming to Aintree. One whose staying away would not be regretted by potential opponents is Samcro. He easily won the two miles, five furlongs Neptune Novice Hurdle at the Festival when On The Blind Side was a forced absentee after a minor injury.
Similarly unbeaten, it would have been interesting, to say the least, for the Gordon Elliott – Nicky Henderson rivalry to have been tested again last month. I’ve no idea whether On The Blind Side will take his chance as Henderson has other options, but he started his career for Alan Spence with an Aintree win before more demanding Cheltenham and Sandown assignments, both easily accomplished.
I’ve always enjoyed Aintree, seeing many Grand Nationals and backing and tipping quite a few winners of the race, too. I made my first appearance as Mr Tooth’s Racing Manager there 11 years ago for Punjabi’s second placing behind Katchit, his Triumph conqueror in the Juvenile race. Sadly, I was unable two years later to witness first hand his Champion Hurdle win as I was at Moorfields Eye Hospital following up a detached retina operation.
Age catches up on all of us, and for the start of the Craven – happily restored to three days, Tuesday to Thursday next week - I’ll be absent again on medical grounds. This time it’s an assessment of a second basal cell carcinoma – skin cancer to you. The previous bout - a few years ago - involved lots of stitches, above and below the surface. It didn’t hurt much – till they took them out, that is. [Mend well, Tony - Ed.]