Tony Stafford's Sunday Supplement

Sunday Supplement: Sporting Heroes?

Sunday Supplement

Sunday Supplement

Sunday Supplement

By Tony Stafford

On Saturday afternoon, I was brought to mind about the true value of good stable staff, and the fact that whatever the best-paying stables manage to divert their way, it in no way can measure up to the intrinsic worth of the best people.

I was at Sandown in my racing manager to Raymond Tooth role and first Catfish, a go-down-early- before-she-gets-upset type, and then Nelson’s Bay, for some reason taking great exception to the application of all the tack and especially the tongue-tie, revealed once again the bravery and skill of people like Brian Meehan’s travelling lad James.

He, with the help of William Knight’s very nice Czech-born travelling lass who offered her considerable help and whose name I’ve forgotten, stoically ignored Nelson’s’ attempts to pin first one then the other against the side of the saddling box. Eventually the rascal emerged, to smiles all round, and it was then that the previous night’s ugly but compelling celebration by Sky Sports of the last day of football’s transfer window resurfaced.

I know it’s Sky’s money and therefore my and your subscription that drives the irritating, ridiculous wage spiral ever upward, but I cannot understand the orgasmic delight when somebody moves somewhere else for a bigger chunk of the apparently ever-lasting pie.

But the one comment, made almost as an after-thought and with no hint of incredulity, was the movement of Yossi Benayoun. Now I’ve no gripe with the Israeli, who has been a good and sometimes even inspired player for a decade or more over here.

It was his move, though, to West Ham, first on and then off and finally on again that really made my hackles rise. The deal only came live at the end because Chelsea agreed to pay a larger share of Yossi’s wages <and then it came out totally deadpan> “of £92,000 per week”.

Now I don’t know about you, but a 32-year-old who spent last season on last-day of window panic loan at Arsenal, before going back to the Bridge in the summer, should hardly be on £5 million a year, but he is.

Presumably Chelsea paid a big chunk of last season’s wages, too.  Yossi started 15 games in all competitions for Arsenal and came on as sub 10 times. If that comes to 25 hours’ action in all (probably does), it represents a not-too-shabby sum of around £200,000 per hour of action.

Of the finite moves that did occur on the last day, Clint Dempsey at £6 million is generally regarded as one of the best. Spurs no doubt will be paying him more than Aston Villa and Liverpool wished, and the relatively modest sale value reflects more what it means to Fulham’s budget on reducing the wage bill, than any actual value of the player.

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Very few big-money moves actually took place, with Luka Modric’s £33million from Spurs to Real Madrid one of the biggest. The one that still makes me smile, though, is the £24 million for Robin van Persie, swollen to more than treble that when his wages are taken into account over the length of his contract.

That may explain the present negative vibes from Manchester United about their other quarter- million a week man Wayne Rooney. The feared double act is costing the club £26 million a year, and one of them is prone to getting tubby. No wonder they’re figuratively sticking pins in him. Know how he feels though - all that running about, just to get fit, and with my metabolism.

Anyway James and the nice Czech lady’s efforts did not bring about a winning run from Nelson’s Bay, whose next incarnation may well be as a juvenile jumper. I hope so, after all, his Flat rating is higher than Punjabi’s was when he was acquired by Raymond, and he has plenty of size and scope.

This is the time of year when a lot of thoughts turn to jumping, but while Frankel is still about, the prospect of the Champion Stakes excites the soon to be declining days of Flat racing.

If anyone had suggested in the past that any horse would be 10-1 on for a Group 1 championship race two months hence, you’d have had him sectioned, but that’s the case with Frankel.

He is now held in such high regard that even the BBC mentions him now and again. The only surprise is that it’s taken so long for his unique ability to be universally recognised. I think it’s been obvious ever since the 2,000 Guineas last year.

That race has never been won in the manner that Frankel achieved and the memory of him 15 lengths clear with more than two furlongs to run will never vanish from my brain. Camelot devotees are right to speculate that he might make a race of it with Frankel, but I’m sure connections would rather play safe with that unbeaten colt, win the St Leger in two weeks and therefore the Triple Crown and go off to stud as a cheaper alternative to Frankel (and Sea the Stars) in the stratospheric end of the European stallion market.

All Frankel’s subsequent wins, apart from Royal Ascot the following month in 2011, have been spectacular, but hardly in the jaw-dropping fashion of the 2,000 Guineas. With that career legacy in mind, I’m relieved we don’t have to go through the potential random threats posed by the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe’s mile and a half, its big field of generally vastly-inferior animals and possible horrid ground at Longchamp in October.

If I could have a purely frivolous wish, it would be for the BHA to suspend the rule which has existed for a generation that no horse can run twice in a single day. An Ascot card starting out with the QE II Stakes over a mile and ending three hours later with the climax of the Champion Stakes, would offer Frankel the chance of a unique double.

The QE II would be the warm up, therefore obviating any need for a last gallop on Newmarket’s racecourse side, although whether old Bullet Train could be induced to operate in his pace-making role for both hors d’oeuvre and main course could be a problem. Just joking of course, as even a virtual programme of the day would never be allowed by anyone in authority or those connected with the horse. He’d be up to it, I’m sure, and he’d then go on to win the Boat Race, the Superbowl and beat Murray in the final of Wimbledon 2013, given the chance.

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3 replies
  1. Ian says:

    Excellent article as always – I would add one small suggestion – if you want to see true sporting greatness find a clip of young Ellie Simmons winning her Gold Medal last night at the paralympics against a “ringer” she showed as she has throughout her life simply IMMENSE courage allied to her undoubted ability.

    Courage under adversity is what imho makes the greats GREAT!

  2. Matt Bisogno says:

    Good stuff Tony! I reckon Frankel could win all six races on the Champions Day, with the possible exception of the Filly and Mare race, where he’d have difficulty concealing certain items from the powers that be.

    In seriousness, I wish that he’d actually run in one of the Group 1 sprints, as he has so much natural speed that he’d have surely murdered the Aussie lass(es, if you include Ortensia).

    Nevertheless, October 20th at Ascot is a must attend date!


  3. Ian says:

    On one hand I wish they had gone for the Arc but it is such a messy race you can understand their reticence.

    However,I do wonder if Mr O’Brien may just change tack after the St Leger and give Camelot a go against Frankel as Camelot may perversely gain MORE from finishing 2nd but within 5 lengths of Frankel than he would by winning an Arc with the world’s greatest horse missing.

    My own personal view is that whilst Camelot is clearly the best of this 3 year generation that it is such a relatively POOR year that until Camelot can actually show up and beat some respectable horses that he will be way inferior of some previous Derby/Guineus and potentially Leger winners.

    I dont think Camelot would get any closer to Frankel over a mile than Excelebration has and would not get closer over 10 furlongs than St Nicholas Abbey did but it would shut the doubters up once and for all if Camelot showed up at Ascot as opposed to Paris!

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