Five a.m. on the second day of BST and I was still uncertain what to write about. It was tempting to go along with the thought that John Gosden, 70, on his own was never as potent a trainer as he has become with the addition of son Thady, 25, as joint-licence-holder, writes Tony Stafford.
Five Saturday wins on the second day of their newly-shared role at Clarehaven Stables followed a first-day victory with Coronet’s sister Regent at Lingfield on Friday. But not just any old wins. Two in the first two races at Kempton for Rab Havlin; Haqeeqy at Doncaster in the Unibet Lincoln on the opening day of the 2021 turf Flat season; oh, and £4 million quid’s worth with two easy wins on World Cup day at Meydan.
Races like the Cambridgeshire over the past few years have become almost cannon-fodder for Gosden and the way he is able to go into major handicaps with horses still in the embryonic stage sets him apart.
Lord North, one of the father-and-son team’s two Meydan winners, had been rated 98 when winning the 2019 Cambridgeshire but he has long since graduated to Group races and before Saturday was 25lb higher. Even that figure looks likely to get another hike tomorrow after a cantering win coming from last to first under Frankie Dettori on Saturday in the Dubai Turf over nine furlongs.
The Italian had to share Dubai’s riding riches with David Egan, who won on Mishriff in the Dubai Sheema Classic. The horse, winner of the lavishly-endowed Saudi Cup last month, brought his career earnings beyond £10million when holding on from two Japanese five-year-old mares.
Egan is clearly a young rider with a big future, though 7lb claimer Benoit de la Sayette could have the ultimate career, not that it’s ever easy to predict on such scant evidence. But for a rider having his first ever ride on turf to come through and win the Lincoln so easily and cheekily on Haqeeqy, with a late swoop after Brunch appeared to have pinched it, was unusual to say the least.
“Benny And The Jets”, as I have to call him – it’s the only way to remember the name – has already won nine races from 30-odd rides adding to one from one last year. I can’t remember another claiming apprentice of such promise being attached to the Gosden yard. [Gosden has not had an apprentice for 30 years, so no failing memory. Ed.]
Haqeeqy’s win was poignant for John Gosden as he is owned by Sheikha Hissa, daughter of Hamdan Al Maktoum, the colossus of the turf, as owner and especially breeder, who died last week aged 75. His death must have left a pall over Dubai World Cup night when sadly his colours, now racing as the Shadwell Estate Co, did not enjoy much luck.
Godolphin did win two, including the World Cup in which the Michael Stidham-trained Mystic Guide justified favouritism with another easy win for American stables in this valuable dirt race. Earlier, the same colours had a last-to-first win with the gelding Rebel’s Romance, who gave Charlie Appleby a first UAE Derby success. He is set to challenge for the Kentucky Derby, a race Sheikh Mohammed has long coveted.
Anyway, here I am, having not wanted to major writing about Saturday because I’ve been waiting for a couple of weeks for a suitable time to talk about a most remarkable – for me anyway – little publication that George Hill sent me as an antidote to lockdown.
It’s the 1950 version of Cope’s Racegoer’s Encyclopædia – with the “a” and “e” on the cover properly diphthonged – and it’s a remarkable insight into how racing was conducted in those days. The book was published from the immediate post-war years to the early 1960’s.
Alfred Cope, one of the major bookmakers at the time, pens two of many interesting articles. The first is why he goes racing, the second how his off-course mainly postal and telephone business was conducted. That was more than half a century before the Internet came to enrich or diminish our lives, depending on your viewpoint.
Cope talks about regular racegoers coming to the end of each season with energies spent, yet by the time that Lincoln’s Carholme racecourse – long lost to the sport, but written about on these pages back yon - rolled around for the start of the Flat season, “people were looking up train times and booking hotels with renewed energy”.
Of course that was a quarter-century before the advent of all-weather racing, so Flat horses that didn’t get on the track by November, had an almost five-month wait. It wasn’t easy for the tracks either, for example Chester and Goodwood, now both racing throughout the Flat-racing year were each restricted to a single four-day fixture, Chester in May and Goodwood in July.
During 1949 racecourses had to survive under the iniquity of Entertainment Tax. Epsom’s Managing Director at the time, Mr C J L Langlands, wrote in a letter to a newspaper that of every £1,000 taken at the gate, £458 (at 45.8%) was paid in Entertainment Tax, £403 in rates and after lesser amounts for Profits and Income Tax, £69 was retained by the Epsom Grand Stand Association Ltd.
Admission costs have always been high in the UK compared with say France or the US but even £50 or even more for some of the bigger meetings today represents a bargain compared with the post-war years.
In 1950, the average weekly wage was around £2. Cope writes about the normal cost to go in Tattersalls enclosures was 30 bob - £1.50! When I was a kid in the 50’s we always went in the Silver Ring.
Two articles that most attracted my attention were one discussing the likely apprentices to watch out for as the 1950 season approached, along with another assessing the potential Classic horses of that year. Palestine, beaten in the 1949 Middle Park Stakes, had been the overwhelming favourite until then. The following spring, as a 4-1 shot, he did indeed win for the Aga Khan, grandfather of the present Aga, narrowly from Prince Simon, who then was beaten in another close finish to the Derby.
Also there was an intriguing re-printing of the memoirs of the great trainer from the previous Century, John Porter. He minutely chronicles the life of the great Ormonde, easily the best horse of his – and most other – times and unbeaten winner of 15 races including the Triple Crown in 1886.
Porter retells not just his races, but the gallops on the way including his work opponents and the weights carried as he approached his first race in the late summer of 1885. He relates that, as a young horse, Ormonde developed splints under both fore-knees which prevented him flexing them properly. “The growths were however dispersed by applications of Ossidine, a preparation I have always found to be the best remedy for bony excrescences.” So now you know.
Everything about his three years on the track and the gallops was related in atomic detail, including the awful day leading up to the St Leger when he first gave signs on the Kingsclere gallops of the wind infirmity which was eventually to curtail his racing career and blight his disappointing time at stud.
By the end of his three-race four-year-old season Porter was dealing with a “roarer”, who was so badly afflicted that “On foggy mornings you could hear him half a mile away before you could ever see him”. He did sire a Derby winner in Orme from a small initial crop but was bought soon after to stand in Argentina. For several years, with fertility declining almost to nothing, he moved back and forth to England and had a number of ownership changes.
At last in May 1904, Ormonde’s last owner, the American William Macdonough, thought it humane to have him put to sleep and this happened with the help of chloroform. He was buried at Menlo Park but as any schoolboy or schoolgirl that has visited the National History Museum in London would tell you, his carcass was exhumed and his skeleton re-constructed to stand proudly in Kensington.
The article about apprentices was most interesting. Written by Ainslie Hanson of the Sporting Life, and entitled “Looking for another Gordon <Richards, winner of 26 Flat-race titles> among Apprentices”, it says “Raymond Reader and Billy Snaith show exceptional ability.”
Snaith, who died two years ago, aged 91, did indeed do well, riding many winners for the Queen. He will always be remembered by Willie Snaith Road in his adopted home town (he was Gateshead-born) which is one of the main arteries in Newmarket.
The next talented young man mentioned was Emmanuel Mercer, elder brother to Joe, and already coming to the end of his apprenticeship which in those days was a strictly-tied seven-year process. Manny Mercer, father of Caroline (wife of Pat) Eddery, was to die in a fall before a race at Ascot a few years later having been kicked in the head at the start when one of the leading jockeys of his time.
Nine apprentices are mentioned as having the potential of possibly becoming a champion jockey, but Reader is the one the writer has no hesitation in naming his apprentice of the year.
Then later he describes among the nine, one schoolboy who “still weighs less than five stone, but who rode a couple of outstanding races towards the end of that season”. In one, riding an outsider he beat Doug Smith, the regular runner-up to Richards in the title race, in a thrilling finish.
It was only in the August of the previous year that this son of Keith, a successful Flat and jumps jockey turned trainer, and grandson of Ernie, a dual Grand National-winning jockey, had his first winner, The Chase at Haydock Park. He is of course Lester Piggott and at the time of that first win he was just 12 years old.
The two wins referred to in this article also came before his 14th birthday and by the time he was 18, he had already ridden Never Say Die to win the first of his nine Derbys. I can still hardly believe that he asked me to travel with him on both his first two days riding after his release from prison.
Beaten a short head at Leicester in the first race on Monday October 15, 1990, he also rode future Cheltenham Festival winner Balasani for my friend Mark Smith. They were unplaced and Balasani was to move to Martin Pipe soon after from John Jenkins.
I was tasked to bring the car round for a quick getaway after his last ride but, naturally struggling to move back the seat after 7st wet-through Bryn Crossley had driven up, and then failing to hear the Mercedes’ very quiet engine, I missed the appointment by enough time for Lester to be besieged by the media!
Then on the Tuesday, flying down to Badminton and from there by taxi to Chepstow, the great comeback was put in motion when Nicholas, trained by wife Susan for Danzig’s owner Henryk De Kwiatkowski, won a small race. This first win came aged 54, and was an event we celebrated that night in a first-person piece in the Daily Telegraph.
The following month Lester rode Vincent O’Brien’s Royal Academy to an amazing late-finishing triumph in the Breeders’ Cup Mile, a week short of his 55th birthday and exhibiting all the strength shown over more than 40 years. Lester happily is still around, and that little brown-covered and rather shabby book has many more secrets for me to unfold as we hopefully get back to normal after this awful twelve months.
If you fancy getting hold of a copy, I noticed one for that year, and most others, available on eBay, George’s full-time job these days.