Tony Stafford in his Telegaph days...

Monday Musings: Tony The Greek

It’s funny how certain comments play on the subconscious, writes Tony Stafford. Many years ago, John O’Carroll, a Daily Telegraph racing desk colleague, with a touch of the gipsy about some of his early life in South Yorkshire, having offered to read my palm, looked at my right hand and refused to tell me what it told him. All he would say was: “You’ll live a long life”.

He’s well on the way to getting that right, as was the senior clerk in my first job at the National Provincial Bank on White Hart Lane, Tottenham, who habitually called me “Acorn Head”. When I recently had the wispy remains of a once-healthy head of hair trimmed off at the behest of ‘Er Indoors, that frivolous observation also showed an element of accuracy.

Then there was Richard Hannon senior, after one of my early appearances in what was to prove a short-lived TV career on the old Racing Channel. “You always look so uneasy,” he opined, and he was right. Uneasy it was, unlike R. Hannon junior, who is one of the more comfortable interviewees among racing people.

One of the less believable observations to my mind came from Derek Thompson, when, coming upon myself chatting with veteran owner-breeder Jack Panos, probably at the July Course, he declared: “You’re brothers!”

But Tommo was not as far offline as I thought. Jack, a Greek-Cypriot, does share a part similarity of heritage with me as my mother was Greek from Egypt where Dad met her during the war.  Jack’s family name is Panayiotou. My mother’s father’s surname was Meimaris, but uncannily, his half-brother’s was Panayiotou also. And I learned at the Raceform Reunion earlier this year from Willie Lefebve, who organised it – Tommo was there too – that I was always known as Tony the Greek. That WAS news to me.

Last year, the boss had his eye on a daughter of Helmet at Book 3 of the Newmarket sale and deputed me with Micky Quinn, who may have recommended her, to try to buy her. The bidding was relayed back to base, but a telephonic irregularity caused confusion and Mick stopped at 30 grand. “What happened?” roared the would-be owner. “It sold”, said Mick. “You …..! You’re both fired”.

It fell to me to pour emollient words onto the flames and remind the boss he’d been advised more than once of a Helmet filly available on the Mark Johnston site for a number of weeks since the trainer bought her at Doncaster. “You’d better go and see her tomorrow, then,” barked the boss.

As we had a runner – Harry Champion – at Redcar the next day, Middleham wasn’t an inconvenient stop-off point and they quickly organised bringing the filly in from the field. One of the things that appealed when she first appeared on the Johnston list was that she was a daughter of Anosti, a Jack Panos homebred who finished a good second when Ray’s Exclamation won the sales race at Newmarket nine years earlier.

The staff, headed by Jock Bennett, brought her in and apologised that she was hardly going to look like a sales entry with all the muck from the paddock. But Jock told me she’d already been through stalls and, a big filly, was around 460 kilos. Now sending me along to inspect a horse is rather like asking David Blunkett to judge a beauty contest, but having ascertained she was a well-developed filly with the requisite number of limbs (four), heads and tails (one of each), gave the go-ahead, in a rare example of Executive decision.

In the spring she came to hand quickly and when in mid to late April she galloped well with two other early types and beat them, all was serene. Then came the bombshell. “She pulled up lame after the gallop”, reported chief on-site vet John Martin, “and we discovered a chip in a joint in a hind leg.”

There was no messing. Within a couple of days, she’d been transported down to Newmarket Equine Hospital and operated on by Ian Wright, the renowned surgeon. Within days she was back walking – no box rest needed, thankfully – and was in faster work by last month.

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Mark and Charlie Johnston were in Deauville on Monday last week, beginning the next cycle of sales acquisitions, when they pinpointed Goodwood as the possible starting point for the filly now called Tarnhelm. Ray Tooth has a bit of a classical musical bent and Tarnhelm is the name of the helmet in Wagner’s Ring Cycle, apparently.

Imagine my surprise 10 months after we bought Tarnhelm, I was about to leave York races on Thursday when the phone rang. “Tony, it’s Jack!” At first I didn’t recognise the voice or number and the line was ordinary, amid the after-racing hubbub. But then I twigged and started by saying how sorry I was about his son <George Michael>, to which Jack said he’d been crying for nine months, but is starting to get a little better.

I incorrectly thought he was in Cyprus, from what he said, and he added he’d like to come to Goodwood to see her. Still believing he was overseas, I said, “Look we’re not sure how she’ll go and she missed so much time. Why not wait to see how she does and if it’s good, come with me next time.”

Well, Tarnhelm ran an excellent second behind the Mick Channon-trained Tricksy Spirit, a Lethal Force filly with two runs behind her. Tarnhelm showed plenty of speed to make the running until inside the last furlong, and once the winner and John Egan swept past on the outside, she rallied under P J McDonald and comfortably secured runner-up spot.

Jack was on straight after the race, delighted at the run and revealed that the filly’s yearling half-brother, by Sepoy is in the sales in the coming weeks and there is also a full-sister to her back at the stud.

I had a day at Kinsale stud in Shropshire yesterday for the Open Day and Rachael and Richard Kempster had approaching 100 guests. It always amazes me how quickly the yearlings develop and Ray’s seven (colts by Pour Moi, Mayson and Mount Nelson and fillies by Nathaniel, Pour Moi, Mayson and Monsieur Bond) all looked in rude health. The next task is to allocate them to trainers.

Winners have been slow to arrive in 2017, and so far Stanhope is the only contributor. He ran his best race yet when runner-up to Andrew Balding’s revitalised Rely On Me at Newmarket, drawing three lengths clear of the rest and earning a highest-yet Timeform rating of 92.

Despite her spring setback, Tarnhelm was the first of the Class of ’17 to run, but Clive Cox has entered Nelson River (Mount Nelson – I Say) for Sandown on Friday and he’s jocked up on the BHA web site.

I took particular interest in Nelson River’s two Nathaniel siblings (yearling and foal) on my visit, being reminded as ever that I Say is by Eclipse winner Oratorio out of a Sadler’s Wells mare.  Enable, of course, is by Nathaniel out of a Sadler’s Wells mare.  You can dream, Ray.

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