A few hours from now (I’ve started even earlier than usual today) UK betting shops will be opening for the first time in three months, writes Tony Stafford. Those frustrated souls who do not have access to computer or telephone betting will therefore be back in the game. With the two-metre social distancing rule, sort of still in place, it will be interesting to see how it will be managed by designated employees.
Over time, many betting shops have become denuded of staff, often appearing at quiet times to be one-man or –woman affairs. So while Tesco, Sainsbury, Morrison, Lidl, Asda and the like can provide employees to monitor the outside queues, who can be spared by Hills, Coral, Ladbroke and the rest to ensure safety entering the betting emporia?
But, as we saw in various public demonstrations last week, the British red-blooded male (and sometimes female) is all-too-willing to ignore such niceties when the mood takes it. Let’s hope the much-sought-after “R” number was not too much inconvenienced by the various scrums in London town and elsewhere.
On my weekly analysis, Monday to Sunday, another 452 fewer deaths brought the latest tally to 1156, a fall of more than 32% on the week, more than maintaining the trend. So if the premature return to lemming-like crowd scenes did not damage the “R”, the return of the public to the racecourse in probably a limited degree, might not be too far off. Goodwood and York must be the two tracks most hoping for that prospect.
Many other shops are opening – even hairdressers! – from today, so anyone dressing up at home for Royal Ascot as I’ve promised myself to do tomorrow, can go for a quick tidy-up in preparation.
The overnights for the first two days are now set and the trainers who have made the most dynamic re-start, Messrs Gosden, Johnston, Hannon and Balding, all have double-figure representation. Six extra races have been added, bringing more opportunities for smaller stables, but the top teams still dominate with multiple chances in the handicaps especially.
From the first two weeks’ action, John Gosden, who will be expecting success from 11 overnight declarations on the first two days, and with Stradivarius in the Gold Cup to wait for on Thursday as he goes for a third Gold Cup, clocked up 29 wins from his 93 starters. Mark Johnston has 17 declared on the first two days, and he too has made a flying restart, with 20 winners from his 128 runners.
A Saturday four-timer, all in Michael Tabor colours and with Seamie Heffernan in the saddle, projected Aidan O’Brien on to the domestic 13 mark at home in the first week, plus Love in the 1,000 Guineas. The Saturday quartet was spearheaded by Peaceful’s emphatic triumph in the Irish 1,000, yet another Classic winner, along with Love, for Galileo. The suggestion – it must have come from somewhere, but I’m not sure where – that Peaceful might join the team and come over for Saturday’s Coronation Stakes is both mouth-watering and eminently possible, knowing the ambition of owners and trainer.
I’ll be hoping to be still wide awake around 1 p.m. today waiting for the five-day entries. If only we could go on Saturday. The eight races kick off with the Silver Wokingham, like Wednesday’s Silver Hunt Cup, a 24-runner innovation, with the Wokingham itself staged as the seventh race on the card.
Then it’s the Queen Mary, the Coronation, the Coventry and St James’s Palace, with the chance of 2,000 Guineas runners coming on from Newmarket and Ireland. It would be great to see Siskin, especially after his fine display in the Irish 2000 Guineas, his power finish seeing off the Ballydoyle hordes. It’s more likely, however, to expect a few of the supporting cast from Newmarket and The Curragh to get an entry. Then it’s the Diamond Jubilee, the Wokingham and ending fittingly with the Queen Alexandra as the 36th race of the week. I can’t wait.
Eight races and, as so many are saying, a great chance for racing to get a bigger profile than has been the case hitherto. ITV will make it accessible to all who want to watch it, but without the pomp, ceremony and fashion we’ve come to love. Maybe this emasculated, work-a-day version will leave us with as much regret as pleasure, but I think the BHA and racing’s trainers and owners, jockeys and stable staff, and racecourses, have all done a wonderful job in getting the show back on the road in the most challenging of circumstances.
The Queen has had plenty of interest from her horses on the track in the past fortnight. So far only First Receiver, a facile seven-length winner at Kempton in the opening week for Sir Michael Stoute and Ryan Moore, has been successful; and he looks to hold a great chance in Wednesday’s Hampton Court Stakes. I thought it also reflected well on the organisers that they were able to do the low-key televised Trooping the Colour ceremony from Windsor Castle on Saturday, on her official birthday. She was actually 94 on April 21st and the way the cameras picked up her still mobile, fully engaged and alert self was a great pick-me-up for everyone watching.
How irritating it must have been for her that the usual venue for the ceremony, Horseguards Parade, tucked in between the Cenotaph and Trafalgar Square in Central London, was being invaded by rent-a-mobs at the precise moment her first official engagement since lockdown was continuing with such dignity and efficiency 25 miles to the west.
If there is one constant irritation for me even in the general goodwill generated by the simple fact of there being some racing – and good stuff – to watch, it’s that “his stable has been in form” routine by various presenters. Form is governed by opportunity and the 200-plus stables by definition, just as the top riders, can have a string of fancied losers, but get another good chance in the next race after which the inevitable “in good form” line is trotted out.
What I think is worth noting, is to identify the up-and-coming operations. Archie Watson has already gone from upstart to top trainer usually with horses sent forward from the start. That rewarding pattern, almost A P McCoy-like, has been a constant factor, apart of course from natural talent, in the emergence of Hollie Doyle, already flying past the 50 mark for the year.
Now she’s getting the best out of all her mounts, for Archie and everyone else, and from the back of the field as well as the front. She, no doubt, will be one of the riders gaining the most attention, if not necessarily the most success, in the coming week.
Among the trainers, it’s been very good to see the emergence of Tom Clover. He had the good sense to learn his trade as assistant to the highly-accomplished David Simcock, and even more to marry Jackie, daughter of the late, great Michael Jarvis.
Last year the couple made the switch from Willie Musson’s Savile House just around the corner from Newmarket’s Clock Tower, a few strides up Fordham Road to Kremlin House, scene of Michael Jarvis’s greatest achievements. So the Tottenham fan married into an Arsenal household, but harmony is clearly the name of the game. And talent, too, as Tom has fired in six winners from only 16 runners in the two weeks since the restart and 11 from 42 overall this year.
That puts him within reach of last year’s tally of 19, following seven in each of the previous two years, his first two full campaigns as a trainer.
Another to have switched yards even more recently is William Knight, up to HQ after a longish stint in Sussex to take over Rathmoy Stable, formerly the base for the legendary Neville Callaghan and more recently David Lanigan, who is departing for the US.
Knight has also been quick off the mark, and in his case, the “trainer in form” comment is fully deserved. From 14 runs, he’s sent out three winners (13-2, 22-1 and 33-1) and three third places. Four of the eight also-rans have started at 50-1 and above, and talking of opportunity, the average price of ALL his runners has been 33-1. Gosden’s 93 have averaged 4-1. Now that’s making the most of one’s opportunities and Knight I’m sure will continue to be a man to follow, as will Clover.