By Tony Stafford
Well I trust you all had a good holiday period. I took the chance of taking a couple of Sundays off, so in order not to get out of the habit, I’m sitting here at 6.20 a.m. agonising on what to write about.
My immediate concern (the last three hours) has been yet another sub-standard effort by the England batsmen, this time in the third of the one-day internationals. The catalogue of ingenious ways of getting out – like the patented Ian Bell run-out system – has only emphasised the difference in professionalism and talent between the tourists and Australia’s cricketers.
I might be proved wrong a few hours from now – but I’ve no intention of withdrawing the comments even if we do take an unlikely win. But of all the reasons for missing a Saturday night’s sleep, this has been up there with the most futile.
If the cricket has been irritating, the football’s pretty good with Arsenal still just at the top of the League, keeping pace with Manchester City with five wins in a row since before Christmas. Even if we come out second or third best – Chelsea are also clearly a big threat – it’s been a great season.
My boss Raymond Tooth had a runner at the Carnival in Dubai on Thursday, and for a fair time it looked as though Great Hall would be pressing for a place in his first run over there, but he weakened late, rather as he had in the St Leger. Trainer Brian Meehan and Kieren Fallon seemed happy enough, so we hope that he will improve for the run, which we believe was needed.
Domestic racing has been affected seriously by the wet weather – what happened to the coldest winter for years that we were told to expect? – but Sire de Grugy maintained his progress by easily winning the Clarence House (late Victor Chandler) Chase at Ascot. Unless Sprinter Sacre comes back in full health, Gary and Jamie Moore could be celebrating a Queen Mother Champion Chase win in eight weeks’ time.
Sprinter Sacre’s problems have been a major element in Nicky Henderson’s hitherto flimsy defence of his trainers’ title, won with such ease last winter. Most observers were strongly of the opinion that former long-term champion Paul Nicholls would be experiencing a watershed moment, like the time when he supplanted Martin Pipe after his many years at the top. Henderson, with a stable ever strengthening, would be impossible to cope with, especially as so many of Nicholls’ old stars have been pensioned off.
But Henderson has found to his frustration, no doubt, a revitalised Nicholls, who on Saturday collected around £80,000 against just a few grand from Henderson and stretched his prizemoney advantage to a daunting £430,000 or thereabouts.
It’s getting to the stage when a Gold Cup, Champion Hurdle and Champion Chase, plus the Grand National may be needed for Nicky to stem the tide. We’ll be scouring the stats page in the Racing Post until the end of April to keep in touch with this enthralling contest.
The saddest moment of the year by far was the news that the gallant St Nicholas Abbey had lost his fight against an appalling catalogue of problems, despite all the efforts of Coolmore and their vets. This tough, talented and above all durable champion was just the type of animal to bring a positive and lasting influence on the thoroughbred.
Twenty five minutes on, and it seems Tim Bresnan’s late and gallant 41 not out has given a little bit of hope, but I’m turning in. I just can’t bear to watch Warner, Finch, Clarke, Faulkner and the rest biff and bash our very ordinary attack to all corners of the SCG.
Refreshed and blissfully unaware of the result, I can wake up in time to see Spurs at Swansea and then Chelsea against Manchester United. I’d like the second of those to be a 0-0 bore, especially as David Moyes still believes his team can win the title. If they do win today, United will still be 11 points behind Arsenal and 10 adrift of Manchester City. A draw today would leave them 13 and 12 points in arrears.
Even if they could win four games more than one of them – unlikely, I think – in the last 16 games of the season, the chance of it happening to two of them must be defying logic.