By Tony Stafford
A long-planned Newmarket trip to get a first look of the boss’s new Dick Turpin colt on the Bury Hill canter in Newmarket yesterday morning pretty much decided my whereabouts for the rest of the day.
I had settled on missing Cheltenham overnight, and after what was a highly-successful morning, I didn’t even rush back to get visual confirmation of Peace and Co’s continuing stranglehold of the Triumph Hurdle picture – listening to the commentary instead on the phone as I neared the Olympic stadium.
It is hard to imagine that Messrs Henderson and the flawless Geraghty will not get it right on the day and having got to the telly in time for the next, I also believe that Many Clouds has what it takes to win the Gold Cup after his workmanlike win over a large chunk of the big-race course. It would be great for Oliver Sherwood to get back in the real big time, although winning the Hennessy with the horse wasn’t a bad start.
But before getting on to the bulk of what has tickled my interest for the past week, I’d like to make a brief return to the Newmarket gallops. The as-yet-unnamed Dick Turpin-Lawyers Choice Ray Tooth homebred is now with Simon Crisford, who is starting out as a trainer after 25 years as racing manager to Godolphin.
He has taken a nice yard at the bottom of Clive Brittain’s Carlburg stables and has assembled a team which when they all come in, will be around 40. As he called the sires of the 10 or so youngsters (and one older lead horse) to match the attractive and classy-looking individuals as they left the yard, you could see that, like John Ferguson concentrating on the other game, Simon is starting from a pretty enviable position.
Dubawi and Shamardal are names that pepper the lists of leading trainers with Maktoum-owned horses, and they were among the ten, as were two Kodiac colts, one which had been bought for 200,000gns last autumn. Our boy, unsold at 15,000gns, looks like he might make that statistic seem silly. Certainly the initial steps are promising, but there’s a long way to go. At least, the dreaded words “backward” or “needs time” were never mentioned.
So to come to main event of the past week, initiated last Sunday by a rare home League defeat of Manchester City by Arsenal, something which beforehand, all the experts suggested would not happen. You always get the feeling that Arsenal are only one defeat from oblivion; their manager always in line for being a laughing stock.
They did lose to Southampton, but that was one defeat in six, with five wins, better than any other team lining up for the FA Cup Fourth Round. Also that City success made it ten wins in 13, also more wins than anyone else in the same period.
Until yesterday, I would have told anyone that Jose Mourinho had brainwashed the world of football. In midweek Chelsea played Liverpool in the first leg of the League Cup semi-final. At least one Talksport presenter – as one-eyed towards Chelsea even as me in another London direction – suggested they would have been unlucky to go back to Liverpool for the second leg with a deficit. Liverpool had 19 shots, Chelsea two with only the opening penalty on target.
This was a sterile “park the bus” performance with the full first team. Without Courtois, their remarkable goalkeeper, it could have been four or five, but in truth they were virtually overrun.
It would have been hard for Mourinho to explain away yesterday’s debacle against Bradford from two goals up to losing 4-2 on a weekend when only one of the seven odds on chances that have so far taken the field – Arsenal are the eighth this afternoon at Brighton –managed to win.
That was Derby, at home to lowly Chesterfield and they were still only 2-0 winners at 4-7. In price and order of embarrassment, the biggest failures after Chelsea were Manchester United (2-9) who drew 0-0 with Cambridge United of League Two (in effect four), and Manchester City (1-3), 2-0 home losers again, this time to Middlesbrough.
That took in three of the Premier League – best in the world? – top four and Southampton (third) and Tottenham (sixth) both suffered home defeats against Crystal Palace and Leicester respectively, in each case after scoring first. The final odds on failures were Liverpool (1-3) unable to manage a goal when drawing at home to Bolton.
The present FA Cup market makes interesting reading, not least because Manchester United, after a performance of rare ineptitude are actually favourites just ahead of Arsenal and Liverpool with West Ham fourth best. I bet in all the history of the great competition there was never a precedent where with three-quarters of the fourth round completed, none of the first four in the betting had yet qualified for the next stage.
My only gripe is that because Sky do not have the FA Cup, they barely mention it beforehand, during and even afterwards, instead dutifully and routinely trotting out highlights from the Championship and Leagues One and Two. I don’t have BT Sport so was unable to see the Liverpool game. Bet there was loads of goal-line action!
All it needs now is for Brighton to beat Arsenal, as they might, and none of the temporary criticism of the normally sacrosanct top clubs will be remembered for more than a day as some proper Arsene baiting – the most recent, so fair game they’d say – will take over.
What this weekend told me is that (1) the players and managers that are routinely lauded in the media do not deserve either the remuneration or acclaim they ordinarily receive. To watch a man on £280,000 a week as Falcao is being paid, not have the application to do anything other than go through the motions and still be accorded respect in most places, is simply shocking in the true sense of that word.
Last week we heard that Manchester United is the second richest club in the world thanks to their obscene kit deal. With Falcao – who they do not even own – Rooney and van Persie, they pay out around £40 million per year. The biggest crime is that almost nobody in the media thinks there is anything wrong with that fact.