Sunday Supplement 19th August 2012

Tony Stafford

Tony Stafford

Sunday Supplement, by Tony Stafford

Two men, one white, one black, wanted to join a golf club. They met the secretary, filled in their application forms and waited for the verdict. Looking to the white man, the secretary said: “Yes, I’m delighted to tell you your application has been successful”.

Then he turned to the other gentleman, and with a sincere look of regret informed him: “I’m sorry, we cannot accept you, but there’s a club ten minutes down the road, that I’m sure will be happy to take you as a member.”

To which the gentleman replied: “Don’t you know who I am, I’m Usain Bolt!” Still retaining the regretful face, the secretary said: “I’m very sorry sir…in that case it’s three minutes down the road”.

Happily such fictional references to an unhealthy legacy would not be repeated – one hopes not at any rate – and in the case of the Jamaicans, generally as with the Lord’s bell-ringer Yohan Blake, cricket-lovers all, their adaptability into British life is far greater than that of many other immigrant groups over the past 60 years.

Bolt and Blake graced the Olympic Stadium over a heady week which transformed the attitude of so many about our taking the Olympics, not least in the way the anticipated transport chaos never materialised.

I live around the corner, and as I’ve mentioned earlier, simply nothing came near, the traffic being diverted elsewhere and the many thousands of spectators taking advantage of the amazing rail links into Stratford.

More than a decade ago, that part of London exercised my mind, not simply because it was where my parents lived – in the house I currently inhabit, having lost them both in the interim – but because Hackney dog track, subject of a £25 million rebuild a few years earlier, was empty but still stylish, and needed a buyer.

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I’d learned about that one day in the City at the headquarters of Singer & Friedlander, the merchant bankers. Every year, Stan Clarke, boss of Uttoxeter and Northern Racing, entertained the press when co-hosting the Singer & Friedlander Chase lunch.

Somehow I always got to sit next to the chairman Tony Solomons and one year he and this other chap, who owned some dogs at Hove were talking about Hackney, for which they had paid I think from memory £6 million. Now they would take £5m having had a planning application for a multi-purpose sports and cinema complex rejected by John Prescott’s ministry after three years of delay.

I’d had some dealings before then with Graham Parr, boss of Arena Leisure in those days, which immediately preceded the start-up of the old Racing Channel, to which I contributed to some of the American racing programmes.

My suggestion to Graham, and also to Victor Chandler was that if the track was re-opened, it would bring added content to a TV channel based on Arena’s many racing days, and my idea was for Hackney to race seven days a week. At the back of my mind was the thought that maybe Stan Clarke could be induced to bring his tracks to the party.

So Graham and his then Finance Director Ian Penrose came along to look along with a senior Victor Chandler executive, but nothing was to come of it. Strange to relate that the Hove dog owner was none other than Andy Stewart, but at the time he was about to start Cenkos holdings, so he had bigger things on his mind.

At the crux of my belief that the track could get going again was the fact that a new road was being built, the one that now links the end of the M11 at Redbridge, home of Jessie J, more of whom later, and Blackwall Tunnel, and thence the road to the Channel Tunnel.

Communications have indeed improved, but principally in relation to railways, with the Channel Tunnel itself linking with Stratford, and the new “Javelin”, straight in from the Tunnel’s new terminus at St Pancras. Funnily enough, all the trains pass 13 metres directly under my house – my parents got £250 for the earth that was excavated, and they could hear the machines at that time, as they did their amazing work.

The Racing Post called me late last year and asked me to do a guest column on the dog pages. I’d been Chief Reporter for the Greyhound Express more than 40 years earlier when there 20 or more London tracks. Now there’s, er- one – if you don’t count Romford as London.

I suggested that Wimbledon and the then and still closed Walthamstow might seem to be beacons for a diminishing industry that once attracted many millions of customers (most like me going 100-plus times a year!) but now languishes and bar the efforts of Sky and bookmakers, principally William Hill, it would be restricted almost exclusively to flapping.

Harry Findlay’s giving it a go at Coventry, but like Walthamstow and Wimbledon, the access is only all right if you have a car. That’s true, too, of Newmarket and to a lesser extent Newbury which still has a station on site.

That said, having gone to Catterick on Friday to see my old mate Wilf Storey – the horse in question had a colic, which I learned about at Wetherby on the way up – myself and my driver Roger came back to Newmarket for a car exchange.

Instead of staying on the A14, he dropped down to go past the National stud and of course we ran into the Jessie J traffic, thousands of cars, women holding their shoes and rubbing their feet and young men holding their heads.

It must have been the same picture at Newbury the following day – without the heads and feet – in anticipation of the post-racing turn by the afore-mentioned Jessie, as Dominic Fox, who excused himself Catterick the night before on hearing about Triskaidekaphobia’s malaise, had to run three miles to make the first.

So energised was he that he won two races for Roger Varian, both by a head, prompting a string of calls to me from Wilf, who had been just about the only trainer to use Foxy for much of the past two years, until Alan Bailey in the winter and Varian stepped in. As one of Wilf’s old owners said at Catterick: “That Graham Lee only got going when you put him on Weaver George!”

During much of the time I’ve been connected with Wilf – the best part of 30 years – I’ve been lucky to fit in a few other allegiances, and one of the best of them was with David Loder.

One of the owners who I got to send him horses was Virginia Kraft Payson, of St Jovite fame, and Virgina’s son Dean Grimm became one of my best friends. So it is always a source of great reassurance that every year on January 26, the Racing Post birthdays for that day include Tony Solomons, David Loder and Wilf Storey. Dean, whose birthday it also is, doesn’t get a mention.

But finally to come to the point: I said in the Racing Post feature that the new Olympic stadium should host dog racing. It has all the communications, potential sponsors from the shops in the brilliant Westfield centre, car parking and a massive local population.

But the real point is that all the best dog tracks have been around the outside of running tracks (White City), or speedway circuits (Wembley and West Ham, which held 120,000). Maybe someone should ring Barry Hearn. He needs to cheer up about the Olympic Stadium. Maybe his Orient can link with West Ham for alternate weeks and Barry can run the dog track which I know would totally transform a dying industry.

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