Sunday supplement, by Tony Stafford
Are you getting into the Christmas spirit? I didn’t think I was, but an unexpected invitation to the London Racing Club – new boss Lee Mottershead – for their quiz offered two types (home and shop-made) of mince pies, and crackers with hats.
I think I was brought in as a secret weapon – other teams looked askance at our one over par seven-strong complement which probably would have ruled out our collecting the prizes had there not been Racing Post and Paddy Power experts to pile up the points legitimately.
As the oldest member – in our lot anyway – of course I got the pencil and can attest to my longevity in my absolute conviction that the Queen’s first Derby runner was Aboyeur! OK, Aureole does also start with an A, so I was close, but Aboyeur – which means a barking sound in French – did win the 1913 Derby at 100-1 in controversial fashion.
Anyway, we had to go out of the room in mid-quiz at the London hotel when the fire alarm sounded and it gave one of our team the office to shove off early (mentioning no names, Jerry Squires – Ed.). It wasn’t the same afterwards, but slight 42-year errors apart, it was a lovely night.
The Christmas spirit was also up and about around Marlborough on Saturday night, indeed it feels like I’ve barely got home, and have to be back in action again this morning. My location was the Outside Chance in Manton, now part owned by celebrated non-drinker A P McCoy, and it was one of his fellow hostelry owners, Guy Sangster, who oversaw matters at the Brian Meehan Christmas bash.
I had a lovely bit of leek and chicken pie, in the marquee adjacent to the main bar, with cleverly-situated and generously-iced big buckets on the four tables equally generously filled with beers, white wine, with red on the outside.
No-one seemed to get very drunk, although Dean of Marlborough Horse Transport was first into the “merry” category – his surname is withheld for obvious family reasons.
The same goes for “Monika”, the actual moniker of a young Czech girl whose dancing in a short dress – large belt as some would have it – defied gravity as most of the time it looked certain that the top would be defied by the force of flesh and the bottom – well, you can guess.
I was dragged on and ended up close up to Monika for a while, but with no son or daughters watching to say – a la 1985 – “dad, don’t dance”, I reprised the still dizzy moves that first saw the light of day in the Oxford street clubs of the mid-1960’s. The difference? Then we never missed a record. Now, the palpitations only started after two minutes, but if you get your retaliation in first, they don’t notice the abrupt finish.
Almost five years ago, I had a terrible shock. As I came to order my annual outfit for Royal Ascot at the Fat boys’ tailors in Cheshunt, the venerable boss, who always had a stock of Oliver Hardy trousers and Fats Waller morning coats to show me, announced they were closing.
There was a chink of light, though. They were selling off the hire stuff for a pittance. Sometimes while there I bought the odd pair of shoes, one pair of buck leather lace ups (£25 in 2001) still do duty for Newmarket gallops, so I asked what else they had.
God knows why, but I came home with a white jacket, and as I still got the odd invite, thought I would employ it instead of a DJ some time. Sometime never came, the jacket never came off the hanger until on Saturday morning. Nothing to wear, but then I had a brainwave. Where’s that white jacket? I mused. Searching through my side of the wardrobe I found it, put on the 48-regular and discovered that not only did it do up nicely around the middle, but also didn’t need the customary two inches off the sleeves – no Dettori arms for me.
Fast forward to the Outside Chance car park, with faithful volunteer driver Roger delivering me there 30 minutes before anyone else. Had to remove the tags, but put it on, and the bow tie, entered the bar and waited.
Well, I must say, people are so shallow. From start to finish – and I could go through a list from half a dozen Sangsters, male and female, Brian Meehan, assistant Rory and all the lads who are more used to seeing me in a snug-fitting Swettenham stud jacket of a Thursday, gawping in admiration.
Jo, a very nice young lady who I’ve only ever previously seen in riding garb, perched on a horse encountered me late in the piece as I prepared to retreat from my triumph while she joined her other half who’d come to pick her up, was unrecognisable too. With a simple dress redolent of the 30’s and flapper hair style, she could have been the lead in one of the Broadway musicals of the era.
Guy summed it all up. “I’d like to congratulate all the girls for the effort they made, they look wonderful. And the boys. AND Tony Stafford!” Big laughs.
I hope this doesn’t get around, with all this media stuff. It was back to reality and the knowledge that it is so easy to go and to put others onto the wrong path these days. With a headline above it, one good-intended e-mailer told Sunday’s Racing Post, that it would be sensible to get on Punjabi for the Arkle before his race at Plumpton on Monday.
Sorry mate, he’s not going to Plumpton, and I hope it’s not in contravention of any BHA insider-dealing rule to tell you that my boss’s former Champion Hurdle winner may not run over fences at all. The wait for his return, 31 months and counting, continues…
– Tony S