By Tony Stafford
An erstwhile friend – he’s totally disappeared from my little circle, so erstwhile in that way – used to explain any apparent disparity of a financial nature as “different numbers”. He had a point, but as to why he suddenly saw fit to deny me with further such wisdom over the past 21 months, I cannot imagine.
Numbers do intrigue me. I’ve often looked at a blank screen on these early Sunday mornings, wondering in which direction my increasingly sluggish mind will take me, and frequently resorted to some sort of numerical theme.
This week, in listing a few possible topics, I’ve come up with a cornucopia of candidates. It all started out with an innocent call with my old mate (and like all of us increasingly older) Wilf Storey who told me something I had no idea about.
I canvassed a couple of owners and one other trainer (whose total ignorance of the matter shows just how carefully he scrutinises BHA releases) and we and they were all unaware of the scheme, dubbed the AVC fund.
The last time I heard of AVC’s was in the days when I still owned a Daily Telegraph pension. Some people should have gone to Specsavers, I should have gone to Tooth and I might still have had it!
This AVC scheme’s apparent anonymity is likely to become rather more like common knowledge. Ruth Quinn, the BHA Director of racing, recently sent a letter to Wilf revealing that those perennial hate figures, the big bookmakers, have joined together to provide a fund of £5 million to bolster prize money.
This extra money, given by Hills, Ladbrokes, Corals and Betfred, will ensure Class 2 races on the Flat and over jumps, will have a minimum of £400 down to eighth place; while Classes 3 to 6 will pay down to sixth on a sliding scale from £350 to £200.
There are exceptions, namely all races in Classes 1 and 7; Flat maidens, jumps novice and maiden hurdles, National Hunt Flat races, sellers and claimers and hunter chases.
The idea, following much debate over falling field sizes, was to redress that trend with the extra money aimed at encouraging owners and trainers that at least their transport costs will be partly met from the fund. It is incumbent on owners and trainers to support the initiative as the small print reveals it could be discontinued if there is insufficient response.
Wilf and my secret trainer both agree it’s a great idea and Wilf especially is looking forward to his small team’s picking up even more of the regular fifth and sixth places that have previously gone unrewarded. Well done bookies!
Well done, too, to the Premier League, who persuaded the TV companies to pay more than £5 billion – that’s 1,000 times the AVC deal – for the next four years. It’s also eight times the Bundesliga deal. I bet Messrs Rooney, van Persie and Falcao will be in the office at Old Trafford on Monday morning complaining that’s it’s getting hard to live on a mere £25 a minute!
There were some great numbers in the cricket, too. The World Cup was off to a flier with 340-plus first innings a commonplace. Thank God for England who prefer to deal in zeros than centuries. Chris Woakes set the pace by dropping Aaron Finch on 0 – he got 135. Then when we batted skipper Eoin Morgan made it four ducks in five starts before little James Taylor added a typical British face-saving but too-little-too-late bravery with 98, only being stopped from his ton by an umpiring error.
Finch is a fearsome hitter who will spend the 2015 county season at Yorkshire, who also secured the services of Glenn Maxwell (66 in 40 balls) for the 20-20 competition. Give out the medals now.
There were some big numbers outside that match. This morning South Africa struggled for a time against neighbours Zimbabwe until David Miller and JP Duminy put on an unbeaten stand of 272 in just 30 overs.
The day before Sri Lanka were hustled out miles short of co-hosts’ New Zealand’s massive total at the same time as one of their young countrymen, 23-year-old Kithuruwan Vithanage was playing a remarkable innings for the Tamil Union club in the country’s Premier competition.
Young Vithi, batting four, scored 351 with 37 fours and 14 sixes and recorded the 35th highest-ever first class score, admittedly 150 behind Brian Lara’s all-time record. Some people would like to bring in Ben Stokes to bolster our middle order, but I bet the Sri Lankans wish they’d picked Vithanage, who has already played in six test matches.
I’ll make a small leap to the slopes of Norway. When you don’t have a proper winter, there’s little call for watching Ski Sunday, or whatever it’s called nowadays, even if Prince Harry and his cousins are in Verbier. If the name Peter Prevc might not mean much to you and me, the good people of Slovenia will take him to their hearts after a world record ski jump of 250 metres, beating the existing mark by 3.5 metres. By the way, his name did not show up this morning on the Wikepedia list of famous Slovene sportsmen, but I reckon it might be there tomorrow.
If it’s the numbers you like, you can always rely on Willie Mullins. Three more wins at Gowran yesterday made it 15 in the past fortnight for the man whose Cheltenham Festival string will induce fear into those worthy firms who have brought the AVC into being.
I liked the look of Kate Appleby Shoes, a six-year-old daughter of Flemensfirth, who broke her maiden at the sixth attempt in the closing pro/am bumper. Hers is a name to conjure with, and as she has only ever had the one registered owner, a certain Mr Leo McArdle, one wonders what the story is about the said Kate and her shoes.
Well Kate truly had her running shoes on at Gowran where, despite being eased up from miles out by trainer’s son Patrick, she strolled home 34 lengths clear in a field of 15. The extended distances down to eighth (sorry, no prize money in Ireland or bumpers) were 13 lengths, then 12, 10, 8, 18 and 15 with the rest coming home while the security staff were locking up.
Mullins’ talent and therefore appeal to major owners is such that he has sent out 153 different horses so far this season. One new one illustrates his talent. Whiteout, last seen in Paris last summer when winning a 15-furlong claimer for the German stable of Wolfgang Figge, next pitches up for the Gowran maiden hurdle and runs away from 89 Flat-rated Zafayan, a 4-9 shot trained by Dermot Weld. Maybe she’ll be the one for the mares’ hurdle at Cheltenham next year?