By Tony Stafford
In sport, as indeed in most areas of human endeavour, assumptions can be dangerous. When I set out to watch England’s two innings in the Adelaide test on Friday and Saturday night, I assumed (first) that we’d get somewhere near Australia’s 590 first innings score and (second) having seen us trail by more than 400 at the halfway stage, assumed we’d be blown away again in the second.
Events on Saturday night conspired to deny me the chance of watching the Hong Cup Invitation races from 6 a.m. today. I would have stayed on with the cricket after 4.30 but for Ian Bell’s silly dismissal from a Steve Smith dolly full toss less than 24 hours after his valiant first innings 72 not out when he was our only player who might have deserved a place in the Aussie line-up.
This time, they all, bar Bell, Alastair Cook and Michael Carberry – no relation – battled well, so that when I rose at 7.30, four wickets were still needed by the hosts to confirm victory tonight our time with Matt Prior and Stuart Broad showing some belated resistance.
The assumption during the autumn had been that we would stroll to another Ashes triumph, but the truth has been diametrically opposite. Similar “givens” have been confounded in football this winter with the implosion (so far) of Manchester United and in jump racing when Paul Nicholls, poised to be Nicky Henderson’s whipping boy, heads the jumps trainers’ list almost £200k ahead of his rival.
In that discipline, results in the big Saturday races are paramount in a nation of otherwise meagre rewards and Nicholls, with five nice wins at Aintree and Sandown, got the jump on Henderson, who could respond with just a single at the latter track.
Sprinter Sacre, with potential Champion Hurdler My Tent or Yours, was to be the basis of Nicky’s retention of the title, but as Manchester United’s main opponents over the past two decades have found, it’s hard to repeat at the top against such consistency.
Sprinter Sacre missed the Tingle Creek leaving Gary Moore to win it with Sire de Grugy. Let’s hope the training “issue” which caused the peerless Sprinter Sacre to miss the race will soon be sorted so that the big two’s competition can continue with both teams at full strength.
The one odd factor in the Nicholls five-timer was that his old associate Ruby Walsh was at neither of the two top British meetings. Such is the power of Willie Mullins that Ruby stays home most of the time and three odds-on winners at Navan will have kept him sweet.
Backing horses is the best sphere of activity where assumptions are regularly debunked. For example, how could The Fugue not win the Hong Kong Vase over a mile and a half at Sha Tin early this morning?
John Gosden had freshened up the Lloyd-Webbers’ four-year-old after her Breeders’ Cup exploits, but it was a former fellow Newmarket trainee, the ex-Roger Varian-inmate Dominant who collected the £679,000 first prize, leaving the composer of Phantom of the Opera the pittance of £262,000 for second.
I remember a friend telling me a couple of years ago that a friend of her’s daughter was in the Highclere syndicate that owned Dominant, a rare Hong Kong-trained horse that has retained its original name. The local owners like their horses to sound either powerful or lucky when they rename them, but Dominant was clearly of the right stuff so needed no lucky omens.
My friend’s friend of a friend told me that the deal was for around £1million sterling. As we agreed at the time, he would never win that much, so it was a no-brainer. Three wins so far in Hong Kong have brought, with this morning’s lump, £900,000 or thereabouts. Dunaden (£119,000) was third and that cash machine Red Cadeaux (fourth) added £67,000 more to his retirement fund.
As I said, I didn’t see the races live, and after the Racing Post log-in fiasco, still cannot watch races until the nice man at their Compton offices goes through it with me in the morning. But just looking at the results, I guess I missed seeing what must be the world’s greatest sprinter – Japan’s five-length winner Lord Kanaloa - toy with Eddie Lynam’s Sole Power. The second prize of £262,000 will be useful consolation for the Irish.
Ex-Aussie Glorious Days won the Mile and £905,000, while former John Oxx trainee Akeed Mofeed took the biggest pot of the four, the £996,000 Cup over ten furlongs. Cirrus des Aigles might not be as good as he was when chasing home Frankel at Ascot, but he still came home a good third for £174,000 while Side Glance’s autumn odyssey for the Andrew Balding stable secured £57,000 for fifth.
I do not know what they pay Premier League managers these days, but I wonder if the hocked-up (to the tune of £400 million, according to one report this week) Glazers are inspecting David Moyes’ six-year contract to see if they might have a get-out clause. Glasgow Dave’s probably on a similar screw to Emmanuel Adebayor, ask Manchester City (his parent club) and Spurs (who loan him). If matters continue as before at Old Trafford, Moysie is going to cost them plenty.
With van Persie apparently close to mutiny and with groin and toe injuries to go with his advancing years, and the prospect of non-qualification for next season’s UEFA Champions League, some dominoes could be ready to tip over.
Meanwhile Harry Herbert, boss of Highclere, was seen in some pretty good company at Newmarket sales, where his new boss Sheikh Joaan of Qatar was flexing his muscles as he bids to challenge the Maktoums, Juddmonte and Coolmore.
As they used to say at Arsenal in the old days: “We’ve got van Persie, who’ve you got?" Now we can’t.
Sheikh Joaan might say: “We’ve got Treve and Olympic Glory, what about you? Juddmonte can respond with: “We’ve got Frankel!”, and Coolmore can pitch in with “We’ve got Galileo!” while Sheikh Mohammed can (and probably does) boast “We’ve New Approach!” No wonder the sales are the most exciting part of racing for so many of us. It’s nice to look - and dream.