by Tony Stafford
I set the alarm for its latest start of the year, but preceded it by half an hour when awakening at 7.30 a.m. to be confronted by pitch black outside. I thought it was going to get lighter today, and even if disenchanted at the beginning of the morning, I’m looking forward to the extra minute and a half each evening until the full hour spurt in March.
Being by nature an optimist, I wasn’t too worried about the world’s ending last week, so I never really thought what I’d want to do in my last few minutes if offered the chance. Perhaps I could watch a re-run of Punjabi’s Champion Hurdle, or one of those notional races when different generations of horses are put together onto a computer.
On the latter proposition, I wish to revert back to a recent offering in this position whereby a quiz night, ruined by the excessive and obsessive knowledge of some Racing Post experts, featured an unsporting departure of a gentleman from our team when the chance presented itself during a fire alarm. [You know who you are, Jerry!! Ed.]
That reminded me of an incident in Louisville, Kentucky, when I had the pleasure of my then wife’s presence at a Breeders’ Cup meeting in the 1990’s. With culture rather than a drunken collection of racing nuts in mind after the sports, we found a nice theatre and booked tickets to the rather gloomy play, Dancing at Lughnasa, about five unmarried Irish sisters in a fictional town in the Ireland of the 1930’s.
As at Kensington in 2012, the fire alarm sounded, rather spoiling the well-acted action and we all left the stylish theatre to await continuation. In all, there were three interruptions, and after the third, we left and found a restaurant. Lightweights!
Until his abrupt departure – something about trains from Victoria I believe – I thought the man in question was very nice, and like the other five gentlemen I met for the first time, along with mine host, amazingly enthusiastic about racing.
That was fine, until in the pub before the piece, I was confronted by a dignified but rather strong dissertation by another of our group, along the lines that Sea the Stars was a better racehorse than Sea-Bird II. He did win more races, but better than Sea-Bird II? Well, I ask you.
Then, later, I realised that very soon, once Tony Morris, John Randall – he never replied to my inquiry, what a shock – and other relics of the racing church, yes Michael Church, too, leave this mortal coil, who will be left to plead the case of Sea-Bird II, or in Randall and Morris’s case, Ormonde?
For me, just about the only reason to remember that great racehorse was because the race in his name, at Chester, was once won by Brunico, a horse I bought from Malcolm Parrish, passed on to Terry Ramsden, and watched him come from 30 lengths behind at the final hurdle at Sandown and despite the efforts of his later shamed rider Dermot Browne to finish second, spurt past the post in front to widespread consternation among the bookie chaps.
Second in the Triumph after being last at the top of the hill, and a facile success in an amateur Flat race under Tim Thomson Jones at Doncaster were the preludes to that big-priced triumph at Chester, while later in his life the grey won - I believe - 21 races in two seasons’ pointing for a different owner before being attacked and either killed or seriously wounded in a paddock in Wales.
I missed the jumping part of Saturday’s action at Ascot (and Haydock) in favour of a trip to Lingfield where Michael Appleby won three races with his three runners at cumulative odds of 600-1.
It’s hard to keep in touch with the rapidly-changing world of racing, especially if you neglect to look all the time, but with November handicap winner Art Scholar leading the way, Mr Appleby has won 40 races in the calendar year from 57 horses, with prize money totalling £227,000. It’s not just the top trainers who know how to prepare a horse.
As the first of the three went over the line, commentator Mike Cattermole was talking about a gamble being landed, so maybe they got considerably better than 1,000-1 for their treble at morning odds.
Ascot and Haydock looked a grind. The fact that the first at Ascot – a three-mile novice hurdle – was run in 70 seconds above standard set the trend and every race was between two and three seconds per furlong slow. Those conditions brought out the best in Cannington Brook at Haydock, and I can picture Sara Biggins, Celia Djivanovic and especially Sara’s husband Big Ken shouting their brave staying chaser home for a second successive Tommy Whittle for the Tizzards.
I reckon that stable has a good chance to unseat Long Run in the King George at Kempton next week, when Punjabi has been pencilled in for a bit of a Hobson’s Choice run in the Christmas Hurdle with chases seemingly off the agenda for now. If he does run I’ll be there. It’s always the ideal pick-me-up after a gruelling Christmas of excess consumption.
Another of the Tooth horses, Cousin Khee, has alternatives at Kempton on Thursday or in a beginners’ chase (my preferred option) at Catterick, but heavy ground there might convince Hughie Morrison that his initial reaction – “would you want to go to Catterick?" – was the right instinctive response.
If you are going racing over the festive period, good luck and take sound shoes, and hope that 2013 will be even more enjoyable than its predecessor.