By Tony Stafford
I’ve got a new hero in the week that Taghrooda beat the boys so emphatically in the King George. No, it’s not her, although it’s hard to see much beyond her for the Arc. It’s Peter Charalambous, trainer of around ten horses from his Calder Park stables in Newmarket’s Hamilton Road and not just because he sorted out a couple of UB40 tickets for some mates of mine on Friday night.
I’ve known Pete for years. I remember he was quite a young chap when he first came to my notice, owning a smart sprint filly whose name I’ve struggled to recall. I know it was trained in the north and I’d had the impression it was with Steve Norton, who ended up in the US I believe. Should have asked Pete, but even racehorse trainers should be allowed at least until 8 a.m. on a Sunday morning.
But the modern incarnation is much more interesting. Suddenly in 2010, P Charalambous started as a trainer. That interested me as for years my barber at George’s Hairdressers in Hoddesdon – don’t know why I still bother to go all that way for what’s left on top – often talked about him.
Why? You ask. Well on Friday nights, George, who has the most intricate, skilful comb-over I’ve ever seen, plays cards with a group of fellow Greek Cypriots in a North London suburb, and the party always includes PC’s brother, whose name I think is Andy or Andreas. Certainly Colinca’s Lad, a veteran who won many races for former trainer Terry Clement and then Peter, ran for a long time in the name of Andreas Charalambous and partners.
So of course I told “George” that Peter had started training. Last week the whole Peter thing came to my notice again when the three-year-old filly Kalon Brama, a 4,500gns daughter of Kodiac, romped home, well backed in a Leicester seller by six lengths at 6-1.
That was Kalon Brama’s second career win from nine starts. The first came with a degree of good fortune at Wolverhampton last year when the leader and almost certain winner of a six-runner maiden decided to cock his jaw and leave the coast clear for PC’s filly, a 3-1 shot.
Her starting prices in her remaining seven starts make interesting reading. On debut, in the race before that initial success, she was 100-1, and from then on you could have SP’s of 50, 20, 50, 20, 50 again and finally 25-1 if you were unwise enough to think she could beat superior opposition. At Leicester, dropped to a seller, she confirmed her trainer’s knack of knowing when to strike.
Since his first season in 2010, Peter has had 28 wins from 193 runners, all on the Flat. He has never had more than the present stable strength. Nine horses having run for five wins, most of them were either home-bred in his breeder’s name of Peter Charles or else cheaply-bought as yearlings.
The best results have come from the home-bred five-year-old mare Boonga Roogeta, winner of nine of her 23 Flat races – she’s run once hurdles, but Peter shouldn’t bother with that game. Most noticeable is how the trainer has managed the assault of the handicapper after each win. Boonga Roogeta’s first win came off 57, then it went 64, 70, a brief respite at 66, but that was all-weather, then off again at 77, 81, 86 and finally 90. She’s now on 89, so expect another very soon.
I had the impression that Yarmouth would have provided a bulk of the 28 wins, but actually it only shares top spot with Wolverhampton on six. He’s won races at 12 different courses. One almost constant, though, is the presence of Sir Mark Prescott’s claimer Rosie Jessop in the saddle. She’s provided 15 of PC’s wins, during a period when she’s had 31 successes.
From that statistic alone, you can see that Peter Charalambous is loyal as well as shrewd. No wonder he’s such a good mate of Noel Quinlan’s!
If you are interested, and I state without fear and not too much favour that he’s probably just about the most underrated trainer at HQ, go to his website. It’s easy to remember as all the stable’s horses now run under the ownership of pcracing.co.uk. I’ve noticed a couple of little “literals” as we used to say in the Daily Telegraph office, but he asked me to mention the site so I did.
Talking of the Daily Telegraph, home for 30 years to what passed for my penmanship, I got the chance to talk to Aussie Jim McGrath at Ascot yesterday. Jim had recently been a victim of another of the Barclay Brothers’ nights of the long knives, the still “new” to my mind owners trimming down the senior staff in yet another cost-cutting exercise.
Oh for the days of Conrad Black – so, he did a bit of bird, but he was a proper newspaper proprietor, excess in all areas. In the post Berry-family days, they were good, too, Conrad once organised a Telegraph staff family day out on a Sunday at Cowdray Park in Sussex. Jeremy Deedes and yours truly were the wicketkeepers in a cricket match that echoed the old Gentlemen and Players matches at Lord’s in the days when men like Ted Dexter, Colin Cowdrey and Trevor Bailey never needed the pittance that the guys they brought up from the pit to bowl fast used to earn. Old Etonian Jeremy and Old Cowperian, me, had each fathered a wicketkeeper in a match earlier that year when Eton played Haileybury. Must be a record - of sorts.
I’m not sure if Jim had joined the paper by then, but his sterling efforts as a ground-breaking commentator and analysis on the big races when at the Racing Post made him the prime candidate as the successor as Hotspur to the late Peter Scott.
Jim forged a very good connection with a number of stables, notably Sir Michael Stoute’s and the Telegraph always got a good stream of stories from one of the more reticent of trainers. I was sad to hear recently that Jim was going, no indeed had gone, but there he was back in the parade ring at Ascot, a friendly face with a mic – one who would never have the potential “victim” groaning at his imminent fate as they invariably do with Matt Chapman at Windsor on a Monday night.
Taghrooda’s defeat of very worthy and still improving Telescope was an emphatic example of connections knowing just how good their horse is. It would have been easy, and in many ways, the correct thing, for Taghrooda to take up the easier challenge of the Irish Oaks last weekend, but Sheikh Hamdan, Angus Gold and John Gosden collectively decided otherwise.
The reward was victory in the UK’s most important race open to the generations. The downside was that it once again brought strident cries that the weight for age scale is far too favourable to the younger generation, and fillies get an extra bonus of 3lb on top.
Well if it were that easy, this prime race, established in 1951, would have been won more times by fillies than the present tally of eight from its 64 renewals. Those were all won by female giants: Aunt Edith, Park Top, Dahlia (twice), Pawneese, Time Charter, Danedream, and now unbeaten Taghrooda. Only the French greats Dahlia and Pawneese, and now Taghrooda won as three-year-olds. That’s how unfair the WFA scale is!
The roll of honour is sprinkled, nay immersed in Derby (principally Epsom, but also Irish and French) winners, yet after late lamented Lammtara in 1995 the only other three-year-old winners have been Galileo (2001), Alamshar (2003) and Galileo’s son Nathaniel three years ago, before Taghrooda. Leave this wonderful race alone. They almost invariably have to be proper champions to win it.