By Tony Stafford
After three days watching Willie Mullins dominating Cheltenham, I set off for home and better weather on Friday morning. In doing so I missed A P McCoy’s last day’s riding at the Festival, but more pertinently, the wonder of Coneygree’s Gold Cup romp.
The Mark and Sara Bradstock family pet became the first novice to win the meeting’s biggest race for 41 years. I backed him – even tipped him at the Bedfordshire Racing Club’s preview meeting on Monday night! – just as I had the previous one, Captain Christy in 1974. If there’s a similar gap to the next one, to back him, I’ll need to survive until I’m 110!
For a good portion of the time between those two wins, I was a work colleague on the Daily Telegraph of John Lawrence’s (later Lord Oaksey), who died aged 83 in 2012. His extraordinary writing style was never better employed than at Cheltenham, or at Aintree where he just missed out on winning the Grand National on Carrickbeg.
Sara Bradstock, John’s daughter, was instrumental in the purchase of Plaid Maid, a mare from whom it was planned to breed for the old boy’s enjoyment after retirement from his Channel Four TV role and regular writing.
That plan came to fruition with the tough staying chaser Carruthers, but it was his younger sibling Coneygree’s wonderful jump into history on Friday, despite having only three previous runs (all wins) over fences, that will endure in racing lore.
The Bradstocks might also seem to share elements of John’s occasional quirkiness, but as Sara said after the victory on Friday, how marvellous it is that the small man can still sometimes win even the biggest prizes in the sport.
Before the meeting everyone expected a Willie Mullins bonanza. No wonder he was suggesting that Cheltenham’s biggest prizes ought to have doubled prize money. Even Paul Nicholls – despite three wins on day two – and Nicky Henderson were positively shell-shocked by their Irish challenger.
Never mind doubling prize money, Mullins did well enough as it was. Indeed had he not collected the £100,000 plus that his brilliant Triumph Hurdle trio contributed with their superb 1-2-3 in the juvenile championship, Hendo would have ended the meeting behind Mullins in the stats for the overall 2014-5 British trainers’ championship – both being more than a million behind Nicholls.
The great Nicky has sent out the winners of 99 races in earning just over £1.4 million for his patrons, many of whom will be looking jealously over the Irish Sea at a man who has collected more than £1.3 million from 15 wins (eight of them last week) over here. In Ireland on Saturday he made it a nice round 150 home wins (more than £2 million) with the victory of Kate Appleby Shoes.
I mentioned her in these parts on the aftermath of an amazing 34 length romp at Gowran four weeks ago. Yesterday she was Mullins’ only runner of the day at Limerick and must have been the gift bet of all time at 8-11. Ridden by Katie Walsh, she struggled a bit, winning by a miserly 28 lengths this time. She could just be the new Quevega.
I mentioned the Bedfordshire Racing Club which, as I pointed out last week, nicely coincided with the Arsenal – Man Utd Cup match at Old Trafford. I expected nobody to turn up, but all the regulars were there to join Howard Wright, Corals’ Ian Wassell and official handicapper David Dickinson. As ever the last two’s knowledge got the two old timers through the ordeal.
My mate Peter Ashmore promised to keep me appraised of the match, and so he did, texting first “Monreal scores”, then “Rooney scores” and after a gap, “Welbeck scores”. Then finally, no recognition that the final score was 2-1, just a text, which I repeat here, “Sir Alex Ferguson, Bobby Charlton, prawn sandwich brigade, your boys took a hell of a beating”. Remind you of anything?
After the meeting, I was stopped by one of the regulars who extolled the virtues of Huntingdon, a track where I’ve had oceans of good luck over the years, the latest being a wide-margin debut win for the boss’s Two Jabs in a bumper late in 2013.
He and his wife recently took out joint membership of £270 for the season. For that they have 18 meetings and are entitled to free tea and coffee all day in the owners’ room, situated perfectly for viewing near the winning line.
The tea and coffee alone could easily swallow up 15 quid a meeting, but it was with a measure of disbelief I listened as he listed the extra benefits. “We get to go to four meetings a year at Newmarket, a couple at Fakenham and Yarmouth on the reciprocal member scheme. In all we are entitled to 60 a year with Ascot, Haydock and Goodwood also on the list.
“I like cricket so the fact we also have free admission to five matches (four of them four day championship games) at Northants is an added bonus,” he said. Throw in the free access to all Peterborough dog track’s fixtures through the year and you might suggest Huntingdon membership is a fair deal in value terms.
The Tooth colours were back in action at Lingfield on Saturday when Cousin Khee ran a great race under the champ Richard Hughes, whose imminent retirement might not get the A P McCoy media frenzy, but his career has been even longer and in its way just as meritorious, given that he shrinks his body in such a relentless manner. Second, beaten half a length, over a trip too short might not get Cousin Khee into Lingfield’s Good Friday meeting, but should set up a winning return to hurdling.
The aforementioned Two Jabs is being steadily readied by the admirable Mark Brisbourne up in Shropshire and I’m looking forward to going up there to watch his final preparations for what the trainer thinks will be a profitable 2015. From there it’s just a few miles to Kinsale stud where I can get a first look at the three new colts that Ray can expect on the track in 2017. Excitement or what? This is some game to be involved in.