By Tony Stafford
So much to do: so little time to do it. At my stage of life, it’s more a case of so much to watch: no idea of how to programme Sky so that when I switch to Wallender on a Saturday night, it won’t mean I have to stop watching the Champions League Final.
Real Madrid were ghastly until halftime. My regular second half switch-backs might have suggested a change in the tide, but with two minutes gone into added time, they were still a goal down. Next glance, they were level and as the action on the Swedish language series thriller crystallized into a likely culprit, the extra-time goals started raining in.
I saw one of Gareth Bale’s joint agents at Windsor last Monday. Jonathan Barnett was with his friend Malcolm Caine and another partner watching their promising horse Café Society run away with a nice little handicap. He (the horse) will be at Royal Ascot, as I’m sure will be the partners. Last year, Jonathan and Gareth’s other agent David Mannasseh not only knew they had the Bale bounty coming, but David also copped the Tote Jackpot on Hunt Cup Day, dad Maurice claiming some vital strategic input.
I wonder if Maurice does the Tote Scoop6. Funny, last week I was saying it’s an absurd bet. Yesterday it looked pretty easy afterwards. All you needed was the Lady Cecil certainty Joyeuse (Frankel’s full-sister after all) as a banker and a few mudlarks like last-leg winner Chatez. If I’d bothered, I probably would have got it with 16 tickets, two bankers and four two’s. Pity about the 32 quid!
At least that’s the thinking the Scoop6 architects would want us to have. The mistake – allowing it to be won – was offering a couple of races at Catterick - course specialists and all that.
Ante-post punters are a suffering bunch. I remember two highlights from what might be called my prime. I had 20-1 for Nureyev in the 1980 2,000 Guineas on the morning before he won the Prix Djebel, his prep race. He came home well clear in the Classic but was disqualified for causing interference well before the business end.
The race went to Known Fact, a first Classic winner for Khalid Abdullah. A few years before that, “Mr” Abdullah had the veterans of the press room confused (and this is a story I’ve told at least once in these musings). Dai Davies, the Welsh doyen of the Press Association was in a post-race consultation with some of his older colleagues – I was figuratively pressing my nose against the metaphorical window (or vice versa) to see in – and when quizzed as to his “Christian” (sic) name, said “I always call him Ken”.
Then in 1984 I was on at 33-1 about See You Then for the Triumph Hurdle. By the time of the race he was a well-backed favourite having switched from Con Collins in Ireland to Nicky Henderson. Indeed I was so sure of his ability, I also had a few quid on at 10’s for him to win the following year’s Champion Hurdle.
In the event, Northern Game denied See You Then in the Triumph, at the same time effectively blanking out any memory of the forward wager. Indeed, it was not until I heard, “See You Then comes up to the finish to win the Champion Hurdle”, the following March that I even recalled my bet. By then I’d passed my allegiances elsewhere. He was 16-1 that year and won the next two as well to sicken me totally.
I recall those little local irritations from three decades ago as a reminder of the truism that bookmakers always get something nice to happen when it’s impossible for it to do so.
Take for example the latest episode of the 2,000 Guineas, under whichever pass-the-parcel sponsorship it now carries. I still rely on old standbys such as Ruff’s Guide to the Turf for historic results, and in 1992, the Guineas sponsors were General Accident. I always preferred the years of Madagans – pay up or we’ll come round and kick your shins in. Unbelievable given that debt-collecting directors Bernard Gover and Barry Root, for all their slightly-sinister names, were and still are such lovely lads.
But, digress I do. Coming to the 2014 2,000 Guineas, we had in the red (England) corner Kingman, unbeaten, untested and fresh from a romp a la Frankel in the Greenham. In the green (Ireland) corner there was Australia, the best ever to come out of Ballydoyle. Sometimes you get the impression that Aidan might have a slight short-term memory problem, but who doesn’t?
So what happened? Richard Hannon happened and not even the old one. The new Richard Hannon, just like his old man, when he came through with Don’t Forget Me and then Tirol a generation ago, arrived to spoil the party of two conflicting armies, with outsider Night of Thunder.
When the ground got soft at the Curragh on Saturday, War Command’s late defection meant that only two of the Newmarket line-up, second-placed Kingman and Hannon’s Shifting Power (fourth) ran again in Ireland.
Kingman’s five-length romp was typical luck for the ante-posters on the first English Classic. Shifting Power’s second, twice as far removed from the winner this time, was another indicator that Kingman ought to have won the race without the weird jockey tactics that produced two separate races mystifyingly concluded with the 40-1 winner coming right across the course and still getting there.
I had intended devoting this episode to the beautifully-written non-fiction book Doped by Jamie Reid, about the doping gangs that so threatened racing’s integrity half a century and more ago. Jamie’s first acknowledgement was to Victor Chandler, whose intended autobiography he’d ghosted years ago, but as far as I can remember, never got to press.
Victor, well into a long career, instigated the bookmaker exodus to Gibraltar; became VC Bet and lastly Bet Victor, a change accompanied by some of the very few amusing bookmaker TV ads, with a languid Victor becoming irritated by excitable “Maurice”, actually actor/comedian Paul Kaye.
Following the news that Bet Victor is now owned outright by Michael Tabor, one of the partners in Australia, whose Derby credentials now look overwhelming after the Irish 2,000 result, I wonder whether we will see excitable Maurice again. I promise one thing, though, you’ll be hearing more in this space next week about Jamie’s wonderful book.