By Tony Stafford
It was just a quiet Christmas, until Boxing Day that is. It’s always enjoyable to come home from Kempton listening to your team on the radio. No such chance this year thanks to the tube strike, but Punjabi ran a nice race, though eventually last of six in the Christmas Hurdle that could well be his prelude to a big run in the Schweppes, or whatever Betfred calls it now.
I’ll come back to that another time, for I’ve other things to cram in on a day when I will be doing something for the first time. It has been many years since I scored off the last of my British racecourses – Perth and Cartmel were predictably the last two – but today will be a case of a first-time sampling of a point to point.
It was for many years a bone of contention that I could never get to Galway because of its inconvenient clash with Glorious Goodwood and my local point to point at Northaw, near Potters Bar had similarly strong big-race opposition.
In more recent times Big Ken Biggins has been making overtures particularly about West Country events, but last year his and Sara’s pointing horses were out of action. Finally, though, the ducks have got into line in the shape of the Quinlan family from Newmarket, or rather in their new base down the road in Exning.
Noel Quinlan recently moved from Jamie Spencer’s yard – Ed Walker is there now after overtures from his former boss Luca Cumani – leaving to join another jockey, Darryl Holland in between Gay Kelleway and mine host Ken Clutterbuck in the village next to the A14.
I knew the yard many years ago when it was owned by larger-than-life Cypriot Michael Mouskos, and when Dave Thom trained from it. I got to know Michael and his family quite well and it was with more than a little surprise when I went to see him in his house in Hampstead to find another Michael, none other than Dickinson, in temporary residence.
“Are you staying?” asked the eventually-to-be “Mad Genius” of US Flat racing, to which I replied: “About an hour”. The meeting must have gone well for the two Michaels as soon after, Mouskos’s great chaser Captain John joined the Dickinsons and was second to Bregawn in that never to be forgotten Famous Five(first five home in the Cheltenham Gold Cup).
Noel Quinlan rarely races in that high altitude, but he knows his onions and the last two horses he’s mentioned to me – and with my self-confessed non-punting hat on immediately forgotten – both bolted in, including in the last at Wolverhampton yesterday. I think he’s nice to me partly because I convinced my boss Mr Tooth to send him Park Lane to train, which he did to the tune of winning us a seven-grand race. Then when he had outlived his time for Raymond, did the deal for Noel to keep him for daughter Jessica to ride.
Day one at Cottenham – supposed to go but couldn’t make it – back in November, he ran a blinder in a strong Ladies’ open with Jess apparently very tidy on her own debut – although she was less complimentary.
This time, though, it’s a novice riders, and the Quinlan clan will be out in force. I’m to get to the A10 towards Ely nice and early, look for a cluster of tall horsey men with Irish accents and partake of the victuals. Park Lane should win, and while Jess has limited racecourse experience, she’s a talented young three-day event rider and has been on horses, like brother Jack, since birth. Mum Jo would have it no other way.
There are few things that confuse the Racing Post, not least John Randall – yes, him again - but the Quinlans do. On the day they moved, elder brother Michael was in the yard and I called out: “Happy birthday Mick, 55 again”. That’s Noel!” he said, just as for years, when for whatever accounting reason Mick rather than all-action Noel had the licence, Noel’s picture would adorn a story recounting “Mick” Quinlan’s winner.
My clan was out in force yesterday when for the first time in ages my three kids and all their offspring, five soon to be six, gathered for the youngest’s wedding in the lovely Marylebone Town Hall registry office, scene for two of Macca’s weddings I hear.
It was a smashing ceremony, with the elder daughter coming over from her home in Dallas with her two and doing the photographic honours. Then it was off to the City for a great Italian lunch and with not enough room in the cabs, I employed my Freedom pass (buses, tubes and some trains free) from Baker Street to Moorgate, with eldest grandson Joseph (born during the night after Entrepreneur won the Guineas for Michael Tabor) insisting on coming along with the old boy.
He’s 15, so that was £2.10 well spent, and this good-looking young chap, wearing his suit with a prominent red rose on the lapel marvelled that no one seemed to notice. He was keen to tell “Bubba”, his name for me when it was almost the first word he’d spoken, that he’s in the school production of Footloose – “but I’m not gay!”
After the food, I felt like an hour’s break before sampling some of the evening festivities with a cast of 130 arranged, like lunch, by number one (of one) son, so I caught a bus, all the time getting intel from a pal from the Arsenal – Newcastle game. At 4-3 his battery ran out, so it was not until I sat down at home five minutes after the game ended, that I learned of a 7-3 win. Early to bed, so I could get this done, and now I’m off to Cottenham with stout shoes for Park Lane. Tomorrow the world.