Tag Archive for: Jonathan Powell

Monday Musings: The Future, via The Past…

I got a call from Jonathan Powell the other day, writes Tony Stafford. He’d been at an Anthony Honeyball get-together attended by this site’s boss Matt Bisogno, who runs several syndicates with the trainer and others. The venerable Mr Powell also contributes his journalistic skills to Honeyball’s stable as well as doing, as he says, “plenty for Paul Nicholls” among others.

It seems he had been gently directed to these words by Matt and had even looked at half a dozen examples of them. We were colleagues for a few years at the Press Association at the end of the 1960’s before I got my marching orders from Bernard Jones, the editor, for some betting indiscretions, winding up at the Daily Telegraph after a troubling nine-month career hiatus.

Jonathan went ever onwards and upwards and, once or twice, asked me to step in when he was on holiday from the Sunday People which he graced for many years with his erudite columns.

On one occasion, I went into their sports room office and the sports editor said: “Hello Tony, sit over there in Fred’s seat.” I said: “Sorry, I’d rather not!”

Fred of course was their columnist, the great Freddie Trueman, bluff Yorkshireman, devilishly fast opening bowler for England and excused for his boorish excesses in behaviour because of his undoubted talent.

I’d been at an Essex – Yorkshire county cricket match in 1958, so maybe 15 years before Neville invited me to take Fred’s seat, at one of the possibly dozen local grounds that the nomadic Essex side used to drop into through every summer. I think this one was at Valentine’s Park, Ilford, and it rained all day. I remember half an hour before play was finally abandoned I saw Fred on the edge of the pavilion and took my life in my hands.

“Mr Trueman,” I began, summoning up what little courage I had then – it’s not altered much in the interim six and a half decades – “Could I please have your autograph?”  Mr Trueman, with a look of disdain, restricted himself to a curt “Fook off suun!” I sat somewhere else.

In Jonathan’s call he said he noted that I write all the time about half a century ago. This week I’m going to write solely about next week and if you think me unqualified, I am armed having gone, along with said Mr Bisogno, to a very small, select (and much delayed on the night) Cheltenham Preview gathering.

The delay was caused by the traffic problems of the star guest, Tom Scudamore, recently retired top jumps jockey. We reasoned, and rightly as it proved, someone with a measured and riding-oriented view of potential happenings at the first Cheltenham Festival he’d be missing as a jockey for the latter half of his 40 years would add plenty of value to proceedings.

His views were counter-point to the multiple ante-post framed opinions – and my word he does have plenty of each! – of Cheltenham Festival fanatic, Scott Ellis, who starts preparing for the following year on the Friday night the previous four days concludes, if not before.

You could line up Scott’s ante-post vouchers from one end of the Horse and Wig public house where we met to the little alley just up from Chancery Lane station in Holborn, and they would reach the door. Most of them seem to be favourites trained by Willie Mullins backed at 50/1 or 66/1 like Facile Vega in the Supreme Novice Hurdle. I don’t bet ante-post.

The days when I had 100/1 Wayward Lad for three consecutive Gold Cups, taken after his first novice hurdle win for Tony Dickinson, but which had expired the year before he first ran in the big race, are long gone. When he did, by now trained by Tony’s son Michael, he never won it. He was of course one of the Famous Five, the first five home in the 1983 Gold Cup.

Wayward Lad was third, behind Bregawn and Captain John, owned by the remarkable Michael Mouskos, Greek Cypriot hotel owner in London’s West End, and ahead of Silver Buck, owned by William Haggas’ mum Christine Feather, and finally longshot Ashley House.

This speedy multiple King George hero didn’t really get up the hill at Cheltenham, famously succumbing three years later to the flying finish of the great Irish mare Dawn Run, only the second of her sex to win the race and unique in having already won a Champion Hurdle for Paddy Mullins, Willie’s father. But sorry Jonathan, I’m doing it again – pressing the history button. Small self-admonition!

Joining Tom on the Horse and Wig panel was Joe Hill, son and one-third partner in the Lawney/Alan Hill training triptych at Aston Rowant, much in the manner of Tony, wife Monica and son Michael Dickinson those four decades ago. The Hill yard, part Rules, larger part pointing and hunter chase- oriented, was described by panel chairman Charlie Methven as one of the leading pointing yards in the country. One of the yards also whose proprietors choose not to list its equine inmates in my annual gospel, Horses In Training, they are pretty much an unknown quantity for me.

Charlie, it turned out, was a colleague in my last few years at the Daily Telegraph around the turn of the century but in the sports room office perched on floor 14 in Canary Wharf, Docklands, while I was allowed to swan around at the racecourse from my at home in Hertfordshire – another lifetime ago!

Charlie is a bit of a mentor to young Joe, who I’d seen for the first time via my Racing TV screen 48 hours before. Charlie once bought a chunk of Sunderland F.C. and was a leading light at the admirable but short-lived Sportsman newspaper, conceived after the demise of another of Charlie’s former career stop-off points, the Sporting Life.

He is part entrepreneur, part informal village squire in the most expensive part of Oxfordshire and, on the evidence of Wednesday’s performance, something of a might-have-been matinee idol. But I digress – as is the common theme of this column. After the Hill yard supplied the 14/1 winner Hilnamix at Plumpton, Joe was interviewed, and he, too, looked the part. Hilnamix would have been the mount of Tom Scu but having ridden it all three times since it moved to the Hill yard, a new rider was needed. David Bass stepped it.

Adorned for the first time, on Scu’s advice, with a visor, it romped home only after “Bassy talked to Tom in the morning and got his instructions”, said young Mr Hill. The obvious question, with Tom free of any potential sanction for betting, was “How much did you have on, Tom?” The answer was predictable – “Not a penny!” Such is the normal fate of insiders in this always frustrating game.

Tom quickly settled into his stride, helped by the odd glass of wine as his driver of many years – a big lad! – watched on.

So here we go. Cheltenham 2023 and take my word for it, however good Willie Mullins’ State Man is, he won’t see which way Constitution Hill goes in the Champion Hurdle. That’s one 4/11 winner for you – don’t say you weren’t told!

The same opening day features the Supreme, where I take Barry Connell’s Marine Nationale to win at Facile Vega’s expense. Barry used to ride some of his own horses when Tony Mullins trained most of them and I remember having a bit of a touch on one when, in Brod Munro-Wilson style almost, he won a race at one of the non-Festival meetings there.

Jonbon got most of the panel votes in the Arkle to set up the Nicky Henderson Champion Hurdle spectacular, but it could be the turn of Willie and fast-going Dysart Dynamo. As ever it’s which of the Mullins squadron will win, not whether some will.

After the excesses of putting up three in one day – multiples being a dangerous tactic as I found to my cost on the day Punjabi won the 2009 Champion. That afternoon, resting home alone recovering from a detached retina operation, I fancied runners for my life through the card so linked the Ray Tooth hero at 33/1 in a full cover each-way multiple with the other five and none finished in the frame.

You would have thought I might have done a Lucky 63 where you get double the odds for a single winner to clear the win part of the bet at least, but no, just the Heinz sufficed: the £1 each way investment of £114 as a single would have raked in around four grand! Tom, I know how you feel.

We’re getting tight for space with all this talk of current events. Therefore, let’s just be content with Editeur Du Gite for Gary Moore in the Queen Mother Champion Chase and each-way on Klassical Dream (Mullins), if he gets there, in the Stayers for the Coleman family and Mark Smith.

Among a plethora of almost guaranteed Irish handicap winners, surely it’s time for an overdue Festival success for the Skeltons’ Langer Dan in either Wednesday’s Coral Cup or Friday’s Martin Pipe.

There you are Jonathan, hardly a mention of anything further away than last week at Plumpton. Who says I’m mired in the past?

- TS

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