Four weeks in and I don’t know about you, but it’s almost impossible to tell the days apart, writes Tony Stafford. I know I’m writing this on what they tell me is Easter Sunday; but with little varying day to day – even the weather, with the sun blazing incessantly and perma-warm temperatures – what we have had is a totally homogenised month.
The initial shopping frenzy has cooled. I act as driver for our once-a-week taxi journey a few miles to the usual supermarket where I stay secure in the car with the windows firmly closed while Mrs S does the six-foot-apart car park snake towards the entrance. Inside, she assures me, she scrupulously adheres to the one-way arrows on the floor and reckons she’s almost the only shopper who does. Food is available now and thousands have died as we proceed in our frozen state.
The Racing Post, predictably and understandably, has been forced to reduce the size of its daily computer newspaper usually to eight pages, so I’ve no idea if the birthdays remain available. For my part I just have a quick squint before looking elsewhere.
I mention birthdays because Easter Sunday would have been the 100th birthday of my father had he not died 18 years ago. For years I regretted he had never seen the development of the Olympic Park, part of his home turf for all his life, apart from the six years he had to give up to join in the Second World War, which he spent mostly in Egypt. Not only did he not see the Olympics, he never knew they were coming. My mum was still alive and I can still picture sitting with her as the announcement that the Games had been won and would be staged in London in 2012 was broadcast to the nation.
Dad took me racing, to Arsenal and to the Oval as a kid, three pastimes that have never wavered in my interest. His principal goal in life seemed to be to ensure that I joined Eton Manor boys sports club as soon as I could, which meant on my 14th birthday.
Sixty years on, we took our permitted walk on Saturday with a puffing Yorkshire terrier, close to the River Lea, on the same land where I’d played so much of my cricket as a kid. I had even contrived to play in a match there rather than watch the World Cup Final in 1966, three years after – between innings – watching the famous Irish Derby when Relko, the runaway Derby winner, had to be withdrawn lame a few minutes before the start. That left the nine-length Epsom third Ragusa to step up.
Working for the racing press led me to so many places and a great deal of the more unlikely connections came from making summer trips to Kentucky when Keeneland still had the July Selected Yearling sale. In the late 1980’s I’d bumped into the former teen idol David Cassidy there, so when on Friday I noticed that an hour and a half documentary was to air promising the last recordings of the life that ended aged 67 three years ago, it was required viewing.
The all-encompassing years when his role in the antiseptic TV show The Partridge Family, which led to his becoming the most-worshipped pop star of the early 1970’s, were already way behind him. He got into racing and breeding and a couple of times we happened to be in the same company at dinner in the famed Dudley’s restaurant in downtown Lexington.
Then at Epsom on Derby Day 1987, I noticed someone in morning dress looking over at me. It was David, and he said he recognised me from Kentucky and asked where could he get a good view of the big race? It was the days of the old Epsom grandstand – two structures ago! -and I said I could sneak him up to the top of the Press stand.
As an American, he got a great thrill seeing his compatriot and friend Steve Cauthen coming home clear on Henry Cecil’s all-the-way winner Reference Point. Cassidy was in London that summer having taken over the leading role originally played in the West End by Cliff Richard in the musical, Time. He invited the family to see the show and asked the five of us backstage to his dressing room afterwards. He seemed a very nice chap and it was salutary to discover from the documentary the problems he had with his own father, the film star and famous tenor, Jack Cassidy.
Even more devastating was the evidence of his dementia, which as he honestly and perhaps possibly for the first time in his life, stated in interviews was caused by alcoholism.
Mortality is being brought home to us every day right now. One person whose recovery from coronavirus was revealed recently was Sir Kenny Dalglish, who shares a birthday with me. It’s so random who will be struck down next, you just have to keep out of harm’s way as much as you can.
Racing is going on in a few selected areas around the world under strictly-controlled circumstances, and two people who have been delighted that Australia has kept going are William Haggas and Tom Marquand. On Saturday at Randwick, taking advantage of the retirement of Winx, winner of the previous three runnings, they stepped up to win the Queen Elizabeth Cup with Addeybb by almost three lengths from Verry Elleegant. The near £700,000 first prize will no doubt have been causing envious glances from their training and riding counterparts around the UK.
Addeybb was following up his victory in another Group 1 10-furong race at Rosehill last month when he beat Verry Elleegant by only half a length. Forty minutes before the Queen Elizabeth Cup, the pair teamed up with recent Australian Group 3 winner Young Rascal, the 19-10 favourite for the two-mile Sydney Cup. Young Rascal disappointed, finishing unplaced and well behind former stable-companion Raheen House, who was a close third a week after winning a 50k prep race over the same track.
I see from the now long list of owners that Lew Day, who originally bought the six-year-old as a yearling on the advice of Sam Sangster and his first trainer Brian Meehan, still has his name as part of the syndicate. I’m delighted that he will have picked up a few pounds, or rather Aussie dollars, from his now far-away involvement.
On the same card, another well-known name, Con Te Partira, a winner at Royal Ascot for the Wesley Ward stable in 2017, collected a big prize for mares, the Group 1 Coolmore Legacy Stakes. The daughter of Scat Daddy was winning her third race for the Gai Waterhouse stable and will be worth a fortune when she eventually goes to stud. What price Royal Ascot, even behind closed doors, this year?