For those of you who don’t know who I used to be, I was variously the racing editor, chief tipster and correspondent for the Daily Telegraph for 30 years after rather shorter spells at the Walthamstow Guardian, Greyhound Express (chief reporter age 21) and the Press Association.
During the Telegraph days I also edited the weekly and much-respected Racehorse newspaper, produced by Raceform – entailing an eight and a half day week! – before trying to advise the odd trainer like Michael Dickinson, Jim Bolger and Rod Simpson among others.
Later, with the Telegraph’s kind co-operation, came some globe-trotting work for the Thoroughbred Corporation and wins in the Derby with Oath; Juddmonte with Royal Anthem; Kentucky Derby and Preakness with War Emblem; Preakness and Belmont Stakes with Point Given and loads of Breeders’ Cups and European Group 1’s.
Now, I’m a semi-geriatric has-been, helping lawyer Raymond Tooth with his empire and it was in the guise of his Racing Manager that I was at York on Saturday to witness once highly-promising Fair Trade’s latest disappointment in the John Smith’s Cup.
Straddling the Telegraph – TCorp days, I owned quite a lot of horses, some winning nice races in a rather striking livery, a picture of which proudly sits in my living room aboard my first ever winner Charlie Kilgour and a remarkably young Simon Whitworth. The race date is June 13, 1984, the course, my luckiest-ever Beverley.
In those days as racing editor I rarely got out of the office and racing was only televised on BBC and ITV, so we never saw the race, but just listened as Charlie won on what I’m sure was his first race for me. The colours look pristine enough, and Whitworth, who I saw at Royal Ascot the other day looking maybe two years older than in the picture, gave him a brilliant ride for a 7lb claimer as he was then.
His father Eric, a Blackburn-based lawyer, who I was delighted to hear remains in great heart as is Simon’s amateur dramatics-loving mum, asked me to find Simon a job after he had broken his leg when initially working for Michael Stoute.
Simon went to Rod Simpson, as later did Dean Gallagher after his father Tom, then travelling head lad with Jim Bolger, also availed himself of my employment agency talents.
It was Rod who found Charlie Kilgour, owned then by Alan Spence, then fledgling freight forwarding and travel agent, later brilliant entrepreneur who sold his business for bundles. The buyers soon realised nobody was better qualified than Alan to run it, so he did and continued to get the 75 per cent off first class fares to York as his right. I got Charlie Kilgour for £1,000, had a nice bet, took some prize money, probably more than you’d get for winning a seller 28 years later, and Rod let him go at the auction. A nice day’s work.
Alan – now a very major owner and also a vice-president of Chelsea FC - might have been at York for the John Smith’s meeting on Saturday, but if he was I didn’t see him, and if he had availed himself of his cheap-travel perk it would have been no bargain as his Hurricane Higgins was withdrawn after being unruly in the stalls before the Silver Cup. Am I wrong, or do the authorities seem to take pride in finding even more reasons for eliminating horses once they get to the gate these days?
Anyway, while I was away with the Yorkies on Saturday, my old colours, as they often have been these past two years, were being worn by Paul Hanagan, in the July Cup on Mayson, and came home five lengths clear.
When I parted with them during one of my many impecunious periods – which naturally coincided with having no horses or even the prospect of one – it was through the medium of the Weatherbys sale of Cherished colours. No, all red, white spots on cap might seem OK and £22,000 for the privilege more so, but Weatherbys took a chunk, as did the sales company and a very nice former client of my tipping service with Centaur – whatever happened to them? – put in a claim for another lump of money I’d borrowed from him, so I ended with less than £10k!
To call him unsporting was an under-statement, especially as over much of the previous year, he’d called every morning and made me go minutely through the days’ action, even though he’d curtailed his subscription without bothering to tell me. We (me and a mate) did get a day at Wimbledon’s Centre Court, but what with watching him creep up to Sir Cliff and Virginia Wade and make eyes at the attractive young waitresses, it was all a bit of an ordeal.
The great thing about the colours is that they were bought by proper owners, David and Emma Armstrong. They will be fed up by now that every time they have a winner, this old geezer comes along as if he had something to do with it. Luckily on Saturday I was 170 miles away and Emma could enjoy her first home-bred Group 1 win.
I digress, often it seems. The benefit of being a racing manager is that unlike a pressman, you can go home right after the race, and with my trusty mate and driver Roger on the case, we made it back to Newmarket – that’s where he leaves his Yarmouth-bound car for our morning reconnoitre - just as they were turning out of the July Course.
Refuelling next to the White Horse, who did we see but Noel Quinlan, who trains one of Mr Tooth’s less co-operative steeds? We were prevailed upon to join in with a quick drink, and as it turned out an equal share in a monster and delicious burger, cooked on a barbecue outside the pub.
By this time (6 p.m.) the sun was out, as were most of Noel’s owners and staff, all delighted at Our Gal’s fortuitous Newbury win if sorry that it brought a 24-day ban for post-mistaking Lee Newman. Noel, already buoyed by the performance of his stable star Lewisham’s second in the July Stakes on Thursday, was philosophical. “We were lucky today but unlucky when it mattered so much on Thursday. Lewisham should have won. Then the bids would have been flying in for a Group 2 winner.” Nil desperandum, Noel, by all, accounts they’re coming in any case.