By Tony Stafford
As I was saying a week ago, it looked like a busy week in prospect. So it proved, but it was a period of seven days as much of lunching as racing, with various racecourse food outlets and indeed posh restaurants providing much needed sustenance to mitigate long road journeys.
It began with Sunday lunch in the Kempton panoramic. A few years back, it was my great joy – professionally and financially – to host the Wednesday evenings in the same facility, when regular high class acts seemingly needed a friendly voice to introduce them to the patrons who thronged the place in return for some pretty good food.
Nowadays the smaller meetings are less well patronised, but this final Sunday of the jumping programme was busy, swelled in part by my group of pals happily benefiting from the practise of Kempton to give lunch vouchers to winning connections.
For the first time to my knowledge, a rather smart carvery was in situ and on reflection it was quite a spread with a three-course meal keeping up the happy dual result of my fancy Style Vendome winning the French 2,000 Guineas and Fair Trade getting a deserved success for Raymond Tooth in the very hot novice hurdle on the card.
One discordant note, having volunteered to underwrite the wine etc, I was foolish enough to call on two of my guests to look after the tip to the very overworked waitress. One concurred, but our senior member, who started with smoked salmon (£3 extra) before leaving most of the delicious roast beef on the side of his plate, would not budge from offering a similar amount as his part of the service element. Exit racing manager stage right in a pique.
Monday was Windsor, no runner for us, but some B Meehan interest, however no luck for Legal Waves in the maiden, a race Raymond’s nice filly, I Say, was unable to contest. She’ll be back with us soon according to William Haggas’s latest bulletin.
Having missed lunch, I looked out for the shellfish bar, still operated by the successors of the late and much missed Barry Cope. Seemingly kicked out of their prime spot just outside the owners’ room, they are now past the main stand close to the entrance to what is effectively the Silver Ring. On a freezing night, not ideal for racing at Windsor, I paid £4 for four or five bits of jellied eels. Better value could be had inside that cheap enclosure, attractive-looking fried fish vying with roast pork (plenty of crackling and stuffing) baps for attention in a well-attended Food Hall.
Home and then up again for a 4.30 a.m. start for the drive to Chantilly and the debut of Nicolas Clement-trained Lower Lake. At the services just before the Channel Tunnel check-in, I stocked up with water, diet coke and a big bag of Maltesers and while trying to pay, noticed a Pink CD. I love her latest single and with French radio offering more chat than music I asked to buy it, only to find they’d sold out.
So it was back to the current stock and settled for the cheery sound with albeit often arsy lyrics of Kelly Clarkson. At Chantilly, Nicolas was busy with one of the owners of his Guineas winner, and I kid you not, he’s Andre, le Comte de Ganay, a dignified old soldier type. It’s one thing being a Count, but quite another to be one whose family has a famous Group 1 race named after it as his does.
Andre kindly included me in lunch in Chantilly’s Panoramique, where fresh salmon, rack of lamb and coffee went down well even if Lower Lake came back less so, last of seven beaten just over eight lengths in his newcomers’ race. However, as Nicolas said afterwards: “Remember, French Fifteen was beaten 20 lengths on his debut here”. All may not be lost. He (Lower Lake) is a big, good looker, like his trainer.
Nicolas admitted to having to watch his eating – “I’m 107 kilos”, patting his stomach, and it was almost with a degree of triumph, that I answered with “109” which is ten less than at Christmas.
Back home to see Arsenal – more of which later – beat Wigan 4-1, and then with car collected for its MOT/ new windscreen, on the train to York the next day. In the old days we used to get a cheap-day return and then go into the restaurant for breakfast going up and dinner on the return.
All I wanted to do was have a rest, but the smell of bacon in the adjoining buffet was too much. A three-rasher (fresh cooked) bap and coffee for £5.20 was fair enough and certainly filled any gap that might have remained after Paris.
Then to York and another lovely lunch in the Press room, sitting with Simon Holt and Stewart Machin who were ruminating on the fact that rubbish jump jockeys – Messrs Cox, Dascombe and O’Meara were prominent – make excellent trainers. I wondered whether the best commentators (and those two clearly are among the best) might not necessarily have been wonderful writers, and vice versa of course.
York was wonderful, Cousin Khee coming from second last to first under Ryan Moore in a furlong or so to win a hot 18-runner handicap in only his fourth authentic Flat race. It was quite amusing to hear Lydia Hislop suggest he might be a bit of a thinker as this was his sixth win in a 16-race career. Not right there, lady.
Thursday was slightly busy, up at 3.30 to get to Manton work day, with breakfast as usual; on to Salisbury for a disappointing effort by Motion Lass before setting off for Newmarket and the return of Great Hall. On the way I stopped for refuelling (car and body) and saw Pink, so bought it and listened to the track I like, Just Give me a Reason, with the guy with the whiney voice, a bit like Dean Friedman in his boy-girl duet, Lucky Stars, way back when.
It was with growing distress that listening to some of the other tracks, I found it so distasteful – language, sexual innuendo and all that – that on the short-cut through Royston on the old Newmarket Road, I just lobbed it onto the grass verge. A dog walker will have found it, took it home and had a heart attack no doubt.
Newmarket offered a dual catering option: sausage and mash in the owners' in the Limekilns suite on level 3, or ditto the press room, level 2. Settled on the former, saw Great Hall run a promising sixth – bosses (Raymond and Brian) and Kieren, too, very happy, and home again.
Friday was Newbury, nice lunch again and encore Saturday although if the promised rain had come at Newmarket, Lewisham must have gone close in the Coral Sprint. He lives to fight another day, but having tipped the scales on Saturday morning at 111 kilos, it was chicken Caesar salad – no carbs for me.
Today it’s one egg on toast in the café reading the Post and digesting a whole host of promising runs by Brian Meehan maidens and anticipating Nelson’s Bay at Huntingdon Wednesday and Freeport with a choice of several later engagements, first run after gelding.
The irritating thing about Lewisham’s absence was he couldn’t rebut Dave Nevison’s rather ratty comments the other day on Racing UK. Still, Dave’s other Kempton observation from the week before last that a certain sprinter had a big future, didn’t look brilliant in the same race, but I won’t remind you who that was.
As to Arsenal, against whom the media are so virulent to the extent that even the “fans” routinely call for the manager’s head, go into the last day needing to beat Newcastle to qualify for the Champions League. I hope they do, and so does Ryan Moore, whose post-race conversation after Cousin Khee included mostly reference to our joint support of the Gunners.
In 2012-13, they have been described as “in turmoil”, accused of “joke defending” and stupid to sell Robin van Persie. He scored 37 goals for Arsenal last season and with one game to go merely needs nine today to match that. For that they pay him £250k per week.
Wenger replaced him with three new players, all of whom have double figures in the League in their first season in England and 45 overall. Walcott has 21 against 11 last season. They have scored more home goals than any other team in the Premier League (third best overall) and that joke defence has conceded more goals than only Manchester City.
In all, their points tally with one game to go, equals last season’s and while three goals short of the 2011-12 total, the goal difference is nine better. Add to that a total away goals concession of 14, five less than any other team in the Premier League and not only lower than the other 72 English teams lower down, it has only been bettered in Europe by Bayern Munich (four, with an overall goal difference of 115), PSG in France (11) and Juventus in Italy (12), all three runaway winners of their respective leagues.
Munich have lost only three of their 51 matches, one of course at home to Arsenal (0-2) whom they beat only on away goals in the Champions League. No wonder they want to sack Wenger. By the way, I’m off to see Mr Tooth, replete with two trophies. Hope he’ll run to lunch!