Sunday Supplement: Christmas parties, and other engagements

Colin Brown was in attendance

Colin Brown was in attendance

Sunday supplement

By Tony Stafford

You never realise it, but when you undertake to do something on a regular basis, if you do not then stick to the programme, there is always someone who notices.

There I was last night, barely after 10 p.m. coming out of the pub in Marlborough High Street to make the 85-mile drive home to London East when a gentleman I sort of recognised dressed slightly more decorously than when I’ve normally seen him, asked: “Do you still do that blog?”

My attention as I left Brian Meehan’s staff Christmas Party, relocated from the Outside Chance in Manton village but still with a full complement of Sangsters is attendance, was much more centred at that moment on his smoking companion, a shivering Rachel.

When I first saw the stable’s acknowledged beauty – she it was who was featured in a Morning Line episode earlier in the year – last night, I was shocked to notice she seemed to have grown, I thought a foot and remarked thereupon!  Laughing, she pointed to her footwear – six-inch heels, hence a foot altogether. Still a great judge after all these years!

But Jim - for that’s who had the pleasure of sharing a conspiratorial smoke with the lovely and now really, really, tall Rachel - is a member of the Swettenham Stud workforce. How come he gets to see these self-centred ramblings? Thought it was me, the editor and well, just you.

The bad thing about computers is that if you keep stuff, you can’t hide it. The good thing is that if a Jim comes along and asks: “Do you still do…?” you can call up the memory and see this is the 61st such offering, which it is. How many of them have you read, Jim? You were certainly compos mentis enough but the music was just getting going inside as the cheese board started to diminish.

So Jim, I haven’t missed many and no, it wasn’t that 6-3 defeat at Manchester City – referee and linesmen decisions worst I’ve ever seen [recency bias! – Ed.] – that caused the one-week absence. I was just plain knackered with very little to write about. “Well” as Jim might say, “you’re managing all right with fairly flimsy material so far!”

Christmas parties can be enjoyable for seeing old friends in slightly different surroundings. One of the cheeriest people I’ve known over many years is Colin Brown, long-time rider of Desert Orchid, and as a result eminently qualified to hoover up the brown envelopes as he talks to the habitués of the various boxes on the major racecourses.

Col, as everyone knows him, was celebrating a first wedding anniversary (today) with his new wife. Save smiling at her and sitting down eating the delicious buffet at the table with her husband while she stood up – limited seating – I did not have the wherewithal to ask her name, a function of my state of life.

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Colin, though, contributed to that lack of attention on my part because in guessing my age, he was so far on the side of inaccuracy that I loved him all the more. I’m happy to say (for him) he has quite a few years to catch up.

The main catch-up thing for me last night was to ascertain the well-being or otherwise of my boss Raymond Tooth’s stable star Great Hall. He is set to leave for Dubai’s carnival on December 28, so next Saturday, two days after the departure of Stuart, who will supervise the Meehan trio. This is completed by regular traveller Burano, and the juvenile Man Amongst Men. Brian had already given a positive report of his last gallop and all the important people in the yard endorsed it. The usual comment was: “Are you going out there? Wish I could.” Raymond seems to be suggesting we will.

Our team is in a bit of a holding mode, with the two oldest members Punjabi and Fair Trade in line for runs in the coming weeks. David Pipe is looking for an easier option for Punjabi – at one of the “lost” meetings of midweek – while Fair Trade, pretty disgraced on his last two runs over jumps, is now with Alan Swinbank and has the delights of Southwell’s Fibresand in the New Year on his agenda.

Swinbank is persona extremely grata with one member of the Manton establishment. The Co Durham trainer, always a man with an eye for the main chance, spotted the potential in young Olly Sangster before pretty much anyone outside Manton, and gave him a ride around Carlisle.

That one won, with Olly, unseated after the winning line, hanging onto the reins with astonishing determination for a 16-year-old as his mount dragged him along the turf. “We were always told to do that at Pony Club,” he said. Every other jockey in the weighing room would probably have let go, but Olly’s obvious bravery was as much a positive as his exceptionally tidy and effective riding style.

Three more rides followed for Alan and three more wins, enough to bring him at least two awards for the 2013 season. The pride it brings his father Ben and mum Lucy as well as the rest of the family is obvious and lovely to see. I hear that Olly might well be in the saddle for a Swinbank bumper prospect in the coming weeks and that’s the man who started out the great world traveller Collier Hill in a bumper a decade ago.

Raymond’s 2013 Flat runners were completed at Angers racecourse in what the French call the West of France, and the filly Laughing Water put up an astonishing performance. Trained by Nicolas Clement who master-minded French Fifteen’s juvenile campaign two years ago with such skill, he brought her out in one of the last turf maidens of the year to win in spectacular style.

I’ve seen a lot of races, but very few over a mile and a quarter for juveniles. The filly, coming on from a  close fourth in a large-field newcomers’ race at Deauville, turned for home in sixth, but sprinted past her rivals to win going away by two lengths.

A daughter of Duke of Marmalade, she looks a good prospect for a middle-distance career.  I’m looking forward to seeing her next year and indeed three Dutch Art home-breds that have gone into training. We have yearlings by him with Messrs Morrison and Beckett and a two-year-old with Lady Cecil.

Looking further ahead and bearing in mind the astonishing commercial success of that sire (now standing at £35,000 a pop at Cheveley Park) we await with excitement the first foal of Ray’s smart sprinter Catfish. At the recent December sales, several of Dutch Art’s foals were sold for 100,000gns plus and one went for 160,000gns. Come on Catfish, breed us a champion sprinter.

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