Sunday Supplement: A Test of Patience

Tony Stafford

Tony Stafford

Sunday supplement

By Tony Stafford

You wouldn’t often meet more a more seemingly-contented type of chap than Mark Brisbourne. Former jobbing jump jockey – 1,000 odd rides, 60 or so winners in the days of Jonjo - and long-standing Shropshire trainer, once with 94 in his stable but now down to around 20. “The sort of people I used to train for just can’t afford it now”, he says.

On the days when he isn’t driving the box, you’d picture him cheerfully supping a pint in the bar at Wolverhampton or Chester. As he says, “we’re right in the middle, 35 miles from each of them”.

Mark has won three races so far with Ray Tooth’s useful stayer Two Jabs and on Thursday morning I was just about to go through the entrance at Lord’s with my pal Peter who’d been invited as a guest (with friend) to Spreadex’s box for the Royal London Cup one-day match between struggling Middlesex and leaders Notts when Mark called.

He’d made an optimistic entry for Ray’s horse in one of the Shergar Cup races at Ascot, and before leaving Peter’s house around the corner from the great cricket ground, I’d seen from the 48-hour provisional decs on the BHA site that he’d not made the cut by a number of horses.

Each of the six races for the Shergar Cup takes just ten runners and I think we were number 18, but two reserves are also nominated and the BHA had called him to ask if he’d bring Two Jabs along as second reserve. Mark checked with me, I asked if he knew what the deal was and he said he’d find out.

They told him that if you turn up and do not get a run, you collect £500 appearance (or rather non-appearance) money, making it a small profit on the day after allowing for diesel for the trip. So we agreed to go ahead, with the back-up of an alternative at Ffos Las on Tuesday if he didn’t get a run.

At the 48-hour overnight stage, two of the definite ten, one trained by Ian Williams, the other by Richard Fahey, were also declared to run on Friday at Musselburgh in the Archerfield Cup, which carried almost identical prizemoney to the Ascot race.

Both missed Musselburgh, according to Mark, with the following explanations. “One was taken out because of the ‘unsuitable’ going, the other on a vet’s cert”. Mark added: “Today’s going is the same as yesterday, while the other horse must have made a miracle recovery!” Not quite so contented as usual.

Mark said: “he would have had a big chance, his speed figure was the best and he was well there on RPR ratings. It’s so annoying”.

I had been under the impression that horses withdrawn under a veterinary certificate needed to miss a few days before being allowed to run, but maybe that was never actually the rule, or it’s been relaxed, but as usual it’s the big stables who have all the benefits, with Fahey for example sending out 15 different horses far and wide for Saturday’s usual bean-feast. He won two elsewhere, but was at Ascot to enjoy the Silver Saddle success of his apprentice Sammy-Jo Bell, who won two races.

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“What about Lord’s?” you might ask, or “I thought that the cricket was at Trent Bridge”, but I felt I had to digress for a change. On the way round to the box, I wanted to do a little half-a-century ago bragging so with play already going on and Notts two down for just a few, I guided Peter to the Library and got the nice chap who’s written a book about the year of the four England captains - “1988, Gatting, Emburey, Chris Cowdrey and Gooch, we lost 4-0 to the West Indies”.

He was quiet so despite the fact we were not MCC members – waiting list 40 years, might get in when I’m 110 – he was happy to dig out the three scorecards for MCC Young Professionals versus London Federation of Boys’ Clubs matches of 1962-64. Scores of 14, 29 and 8 were hardly earth-shattering, but as the nice lady on reception said: “My dad would have loved to have played here”. My dad watched all three!

The Library man also showed a little friendly envy and just as we gave him back the three slim folders with score cards of all the matches played on that hallowed turf in those three years, he called out, “Rogers is out, Broad, second ball of the match”.

Before we made it to the box, number 16 in the Grandstand, another was down, and by the time I’d caught up with the other more prompt box-inhabitants and scoffed a nice bacon bap and consumed a first of several coffees they were four down.

I – uniquely among the dozen or so lucky guests – had a Racing Post, and everyone seemed to love the articles explaining why Australia with their superior early batting would turn the screw after their inexplicable lapse at Edgbaston the previous week. I chose to take a seat outside and watch the classy recovery of Notts from their poor start, but there was to be no respite for the Australians, who slumped to 60 all out back in Nottingham, each wicket accompanied by a roar from the boxes which must have startled and amazed the players on the pitch in front of us.

Alex Hayles, Michael Lumb and James Taylor, England players all in various styles of the game, were back in the Pavilion in time to watch all the carnage at their home ground while Samit Patel did not linger long a little later. In the end they won comfortably to maintain their lead in the table, while their teammate Stuart Broad was collecting 8-15 back at home, a return beaten only twice in Ashes tests for England, Jim Laker’s nine and then ten wickets with off-spin in the 1956 demolition of the great foe on an Old Trafford “turner”. I can still remember the grainy black and white pictures as I watched – school holidays – the mesmerised visitors trail to and from the wicket.

Even that humbling on a wicket which exposed their inability to cope with proper spin in the days of uncovered pitches, was nowhere near as complete as this woeful effort in less than 19 overs. I’ve seen many things in cricket but nothing like this.

We were on our way to Ascot yesterday morning, taking the wrong even-money route option, staying with the M4 after the M25 turn, rather than going in the Royal Ascot insurance way off at the A30 past Wentworth.

No signs heralded the imminent frustration of one of those hold-ups where hundreds of people get out of their cars and in many instances coaches to look vainly ahead. I was lucky enough to get into the lane for the Langley turn, and onto the Datchet road which runs alongside the motorway from where the despair was fully evident. It was in the traffic limping into Datchet that the final Aussie wicket was taken for an innings win and unassailable 3-1 margin in the series.

Loads of people must have missed the start of the meeting, but sadly neither the Fahey nor Ian Williams box was stuck in the hold-up so we never got a run. Mark had his lunch and then turned back on the way to Great Ness. “Busy this week?” Peter asked as the trainer said he wouldn’t wait for Lulu, Rick Astley and Razorlight after racing, unlike most of the 30,000 crowd.

“Yes, Ffos Las, Tuesday; Beverley, Wednesday and Bath, Thursday and they’ve all got chances”. We didn’t stay either. I expect you know the football’s started again, so well done England for getting the Ashes done before the Man U and Spurs’ early kick-off. I was home just after the start of Chelsea – Swansea (nearest racetrack Ffos Las). Swansea had 18 shots, ten on target, the champions and team the experts reckon will win it all again, 11 and a miserable three on target in a 2-2 draw. Bit like the Aussies, really, false favourites from where my unbiased [ahem, Ed.] eyes are looking.

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