By Tony Stafford
I have a friend who sometimes asks my opinion about things I should know. Now I’ve missed a couple of Manton work mornings recently, the first time because there wasn’t one, the latest because I thought there wouldn’t be one, but I think the latter eventuality might well have been costly.
So when my friend left a missed call, I called back from my spot in one of the boxes on the top floor to be asked: “What about Aaim to Prosper?”
I must tell you, I’ve had a love affair with this horse ever since he made his debut for Brian Meehan in Darley Sun’s Cesarewitch three years ago. That day, I’d been annoying David Simcock for ages telling him so often that Darley Sun was a certainty that I almost believed it myself! But then, I had mixed emotions having spotted this impressive new horse on the gallops for the previous few weeks.
Aaim to Prosper arrived as a fully-exposed stayer for his partnership of owners who had moved him from Mick Channon. In the Cesarewitch he started at 33-1; was much bigger on the Tote, and as well as being my saver to the winner, was a vital part of a hefty for me (then, for as I say my real punting days have since been expunged) dual forecast.
When Aaim to Prosper went for home fully five furlongs out, he looked sure to keep going, but in the end he weakened into seventh. The pay-day would not have been of Steve (how does he do it?) Palmer’s golf wins magnitude, but more than big enough for me.
Naturally he won – well backed - at the last meeting there and returned 12 months later under Louis Beuzelin to win off 87 and 7st13lb after likeable Louis’ 3lb claim. Until this year, Louis was a regular on the gallops and also on this horse, but he went off to France after limited opportunities only reappearing once this year – in the Doncaster Cup – on his favourite horse.
Poor old Louis, he came in after that marathon saying: “They went too slow for him”. Fair enough, Louis, but you made the running! Naturally, by the time of my friend’s call, I’d forgotten all that, even telling him that on Doncaster Cup form – they went slow, you idiot! -the horse had eight lengths and 8lb to make up on my pal Alan Spence’s horse Hurricane HIggins, while conceding that horse had no soft ground form.
Not going in last Thursday to Manton – being occupied at the sales for my boss, who retained the filly he had pin-hooked – I therefore missed seeing the eight-year-old work – they did one lot before Brian headed off to the sales. Kieren came in and I’m sure I would have been privy to his thoughts from his first ever ride on the stable’s star stayer two weeks earlier when he reckoned he’d have a great chance if they got some cut.
I’d been disappointed with that Newmarket run, but it was a creditable sixth, staying on steadily in a Listed race. Long distance stakes races, be they anything between Group 1 and Listed, tend to contain the same highly-rated horses, usually considerably higher than Aaim to Prosper’s 107 – that’s right 107, when he hadn’t won any race since his earlier Cesarewitch off 87!
So after having not given the right and indeed what should have been the considered assessment of the old boy’s chance, I called my mate straight after. “Sorry about that”, to which he replied that he was merely looking for some confidence as he’d already backed it “at 130 on Betfair” for a nice few quid. I asked if he’d backed it for me….
Those big Newmarket days in the autumn normally feature some good 12.45 start football and the boys are very active on the betting front. This time, with those accursed Friday/ Tuesday internationals, all there was to see was some Heineken rugby. David Wachman was initially happy as his team Munster were in front from the outset, but they ended up 22-17 losers to Racing Metro from Paris. I only saw the odd bit, but I can’t really see the point. Non-football Saturdays are a bit like broccoli. I never saw the point in that either. My ex used to tell me it was good for you, but anything that difficult to chew somehow seems irrelevant.
Chewing has not been my strong point since the day a couple of years ago coming home from an Epsom night meeting, I happened to buy some fish and chips in that shop on the way back to the A3. It was always nice in the 1980’s and remains just as good, but ever since moving, my old dentist could not find room for me when adjustment to my originally expensive upper plate was needed, so I went to a local (NHS) man.
They managed a complete cock-up, so much so that in the second-time-round wedding pics, my computer-savvy wife was forced to Photo Shop me in a tooth where one had been missing after that dentist’s feeble efforts at a gap-fill.
The plate remained, but the teeth habitually hurt after consumption. Halfway through the fish, consumed cavalierly en route in the car, I felt the pain and took them out, continuing to eat with difficulty with the help of the remaining top quartet on top. Finally satisfied, I gathered together the small bit of fish and two dozen chips – why always so many? – opened the passenger window and lobbed them out.
<Note to Ed: Is there a statutory limitation on littering? - I was instantly ashamed and utterly contrite.>
Imagine my shock when I reached down to find the choppers and realised they’d gone. No problem, it was the motorway bit of the A40 along from White City to Edgware Road and there’s a nice long bit of hard shoulder on which to stop.
So I did the “down the ramp and back again” manoeuvre, stopping at the first sight of a disposed of chip wrapper. I picked up in a half-mile section that one and at least a dozen potential typhoid hazards before discarding them, and never found mine. Interestingly, it was roughly at Ladbroke Grove, now wasn’t that where Albert Steptoe – he of the never-ending supply of other people’s choppers – lived with Harold and the horse Hercules – surely not?
By then the hard shoulder was becoming much narrower and each opening of the door was an invitation to road carnage, so I had to go home, think of a sanitised version, and then wait for the day when I could replace them.
The latter is about to enter its final phase, but sadly not before two final humiliations. First when I sat in the dentist’s chair I learnt I have an under-bite – most people’s top lot cover the bottom, mine don’t. The shame of it! Graham Swann’s got a gob like that. They call him “Chin”. Then again in that accursed chair the last time while the blue gunge was being put in, the nurse was asked for “smaller”, and then, “no, the smallest one”. I looked again at my face when I got home and realised my mouth is a bit like that of the former Labour minister George Robertson – a little circle - and he always caused me excessive mirth. The mirth’s on the other mouth now, mate.
Then comes the final humiliation. Tom Ford, an owner in racing having remarkably made a lot of money in the City despite always seeming just a bloke when I played cricket with him in the 1960’s, was at the July Course and telling someone, “he <me> wasn’t always like that <meaning fat and the rest> he was a very good cricketer.” Coming from Tom, a high-class club cricketer in Essex for ages, that was some compliment.
I smiled at the sentiment, to which he said, “Haven’t you got any teeth?” He always had a loud voice. At this point I return to my other friend, he of the 130-1 on Aaim to Prosper. When he noticed my dental inadequacies a year or so ago, he whispered his surprise. That’s the difference.