By Tony Stafford
When you read these lines, I hope to be in Deauville, less than 48 hours after touching down at Gatwick from Antigua, having slipped in a couple of hours in between watching work in Newmarket.
Fair old jet-set life you might be saying. True, Mrs S and I had a nice week in the West Indies, where the weather was uniformly hot and sunny until the last day when after we checked out it belted down. That’s the way we like it, us Brits. Then again, I have to keep OUT of the sun – why didn’t you go to Scotland? you might ask - but a beachside villa was available and off we went.
Economy is fine as long as the bloke in the seat in front of you doesn’t instantly wind his back as far as possible. I may have shrunk a little in the decade since I last went very far on BA, but when the food came, I managed to get my table fully down without hindrance of mid-section.
Funnily enough, the lady and consort of 30C, in 30A in front of Mrs S echoed her husband’s behaviour allowing her similarly little room, although she needs appreciably less than me. But when you have an empty seat in between, there’s a little chance to manoeuvre.
Mr 30C was a dead ringer for Lukas Podolski – I wondered where he’s been lately – and if he didn’t jerk his close-cropped hair back almost into my face once as he altered position, he did it 50 times. I wanted to sneakily find out if he was German, but after 'Was ist das?' I’m a little limited, and war-time gestures would have been inappropriate.
We passed the new cricket ground between the airport and the place we stayed, where the West Indies Antigua test matches are now played – in the middle of nowhere – whereas getting back almost to the airport we saw the Allen Stanford ground where games other than cricket seem to be the norm.
Mr Stanford, a Texan by birth, decided to become an Antiguan and Barbudan (that’s a little island nearby) citizen and for a few years around the turn of the century he stuck bundles of money into the country and the hands of many cricketers just when his grandiose financial schemes swung into uncontrolled crisis.
Eventually he was found guilty of a $7 billion swindle and got a 110-year prison sentence (being served in Florida) and unsurprisingly is spending his time trying to frame an appeal. To be fair 110 years does seem to be overdoing it a shade, although as they used to say: “It could have been life!”
Newmarket was nice, with breakfast of smoked salmon and scrambled eggs (at one point in King’s menu, for that’s where we dined, “scrabbled”) and there I bumped into the wonderful Vanessa Haigh, wife of Bill, the man who taught Alan Swinbank the training lark.
I asked Noel Quinlan, for he was my host accompanied with younger son Luke, if he knew who Vanessa’s father might have been. “No”, he replied and when informed by her it was Marcus Marsh, he was none the wiser. Marcus won five classics in a 40-year training career from 1924-64, two of them Derbys, Windsor Lad in 1934 and Tulyar in 1952, the latter ridden by Charlie Smirke, famous for the remark “What did I Tulyar?”
Lester Piggott was second to Tulyar on the 25-1 shot Gay Time as a 16-year-old and it was only two years later that Never Say Die collected at 33-1 to give the Long Fellow his first Derby.
I can never forget the instruction given out to my pal George Hill by the late, revered Ronnie Harrington, Deputy Racing Editor of the Press Association on the sad passing of the latter who also had a good career as a stallion. Ron, whose father preceded him (with a couple of interim incumbents) as the boss of the department in the days of Peter O’Sullevan among many others, suggested the headline: Never Say Die, but he did. They don’t make ‘em like that anymore.
Windsor Lad was owned by the hard-living Maharajah of Rajpipla, whose son Prince Rajsinh allows the Pippy bit, but not the ‘HRH Prince’ among friends. Pippy junior was not born until almost a decade after Windsor Lad’s triumphs, but enjoyed some time with his father among the film stars that flocked to the Windsor parties he threw for his many friends, at which Marcus Marsh was something of a fixture.
Vanessa also has another amazing distinction as her mother Eileen Bennett was a top tennis player, winning three Ladies and three Mixed doubles at the Major events at New York and Paris as well as two singles runner-up spots. She was ranked the number three player in the world in 1931.
Eileen was a bit of a babe at the time and glamorous enough to be credited with being the first woman player to wear an above-the-knee divided dress. She married the artist Edmund Fearnley-Whittingstall but they divorced in 1936 after an action citing Marsh.
Marcus Marsh trained winners for another big Eastern owner, the Aga Khan, grandfather of the present guardian of that title. He owned Tulyar and also the 1950 2,000 Guineas winner Palestine. Marcus must have been a fair trainer as both Derby winners also won the St Leger.
Owning was in both the Aga Khan and Rajpipla families – Pippy junior owned several nice French imports in the Peter Cazalet stable and passed on a couple at least to the Queen Mother. Pippy was a long time ahead of most at seeking out French talent, sorry Mr Bromley, and was the source of a couple of nice jumpers, French Hollow and Flying Hugue, that Michael and Tony Dickinson bought off Malcolm Parrish.
The connection here was that I’d been editing a weekly called The Racehorse and Pippy submitted a hand-written weekly article as at the time he was living in Paris. One Monday in 1976 he came on the phone to say he’d overheard Lester telling Maurice Zilber he would be happy to ride Empery on whom he’d just finished third to stable-mate Youth and Yves Saint-Martin in the French Derby Trial, at Epsom. We took 33’s that day and I still remember the race as one of the easiest despite not being anything like as wide-margin as Shergar’s and Slip Anchor’s.
Almost a decade later, a chance meeting on a trip to Ballydoyle at David O’Brien’s invitation, brought me into a first contact with Malcolm, and it was from that encounter that a 10-strong acquisition, including Brunico, was brought into Rod Simpson’s stable.
Rod’s autobiography, written maybe 20 years after, seems to have confused matters, he reckoning that the Parrish horses came as a result of his later trip to France with John Francome to look at some Khalid Abdulla cast-offs.
After the excursion he recommended two to me very strongly but these sadly were no patch on the lot I’d bought unseen – trust is something I’ve relied on, sometimes to my cost. The news of Paul Green’s death last week, brought to mind those horses, who later ran briefly (and very ordinarily) in his ownership.
Green did much better with such as Carvill’s Hill and Unsinkable Boxer, while Bajan Sunshine, bought days before his Cesarewitch win in a deal brokered by the afore-mentioned George, was a joint big-race winner for the owner and Rod.
It’s always great to see Vanessa. She’s a great judge of a horse as I told Noel, to which she demurred - “I haven’t had much practice lately,” with typical modesty. As well as her starry parents, she is the granddaughter to Richard Marsh, the King's (Edward VII) trainer in the last years of the old century and a multiple champion.
I had a lovely day. Hope the 11.30 Saturday night train and early Sunday morning drive down in the dark to the sales has a happy outcome.