By Tony Stafford
Sorry about last week. I was in a bit of a hump. Cousin Khee ran like a drain at Kempton the day before, but I must say Hughie Morrison sort of prepared me that Raymond Tooth’s young horse might not go on the ground and he didn’t. I won’t mention the Arsenal – Man City game as that came after, but any thought of a ‘Monday Meander’ ended after that.
But nothing, even gloom, usually lasts for long and by Thursday the same Cousin Khee was easing home untroubled to win his second bumper for jumpers at Lingfield. As I braved the resurgent snow this morning en route to my buying the Racing Post it occurred to me that maybe a week of the white stuff might encourage the authorities to stage another B for J card, and Wolverhampton would be nice to make up the set.
Owners have it tough these days, so the two close to four grand first prizes equate to riches indeed when stood alongside the staple £1,607 for many all-weather races. If we won another he would still be eligible for a Flat-race maiden and his “Flat” jockey Dougie Costello not only reckons the Flat is his future, but he is willing to take out a Flat licence to prove the point.
Hughie always reckoned he found it tough to stay two miles fully on testing ground, so it looks as though we’ll be delaying the switch to fences, which apparently he jumps with great enthusiasm.
Dougie has plenty of experience of riding some of John Quinn’s dual-purpose horses, names like Countrywide Flame, Leslingtaylor and the recent Doncaster novice winner Calculated Risk come to mind, and he says Cousin Khee is right up there with any of them in terms of natural ability and speed.
I dutifully related that opinion to the press guys at Lingfield on Thursday and it appeared the next day in the Racing Post, so maybe I should not have been too shocked when the same afternoon I got a call from John Quinn’s son and assistant Sean, asking if Mr T would be interested in buying Calculated Risk.
There was a time when I’m sure that he would have liked the look of a young jumper who had won first time in a strong field by six lengths at 14-1. Ex-Willie Musson and a snip at £25k at the sales, he’s probably worth treble that now, but we’re full up and I’m sure someone somewhere not only would like the horse but also to have one with the talented Quinn’s.
Nothing much happening then, but another of the Tooth horses made some waves in the shape of Punjabi. Satisfactory on his comeback in the Christmas Hurdle after 32 months off, he is set for the Betfred Hurdle at Newbury on February 9th. Now into its sixth decade, the old Schweppes – Nicky Henderson still calls it that – has been my favourite jumps race for as long as I can remember. Actually I can remember the earliest ones much easier than those in the 90’s and 00’s, with Hill House’s controversial 1967 romp at the forefront.
In those days I worked for the Walthamstow Guardian, my first newspaper appointment and travelled the country, usually only in the pre-M25, M25 zone around London, watching Walthamstow Avenue, in the team bus.
That February morning, we were in Whitley Bay, near Newcastle, for an FA Amateur Cup quarter final against the strong local side and won the game. Walking down a hill with the North Sea on my right (or was it left?), I had a transistor radio to my ear and above Peter Bromley’s voice on the recording of the race, all you could hear were loud boos from the crowd.
This was the race that Bromley’s great friend Captain Ryan Price made a habit of winning in its early days and Hill House, sensationally and officially credited later with “producing his own cortisone” was the third in a row. The usual component was a never-nearer run in the previous week’s handicap at Kempton, so the punters and the bookies knew what to expect, the “internal drug factory apart”, would produce a week later and he did.
But I digress. At Kempton before Cousin Khee set me off home in a brown study, I saw Nicky who said Punjabi’s flying and it’s straight to Newbury.
Now he has loads in it and some of the novices look interesting, but as he told the Post the other day: “I like Punjabi”. That bloke Tom Segal likes it too, and put him up at 40-1 (Corals) for the race. Now I’m sure – having had a bit of a previous life doing a similar (if inferior) job – Tom got Corals to give him a few quid at the price the night before the article, but no-one else I wager got better than 25’s anywhere.
Encouragement that he might not be a back-number even at ten years of age was two-fold. Firstly, Barry Geraghty was at Lingfield on Thursday and confirmed his well-being having told me at Kempton that the enthusiasm and jumping alacrity were still there. Secondly Solwhit, to whom he was only a short-head second in heavy ground when attempting a second win in the Irish Champion Hurdle in May 2009 at Punchestown, won at Naas On Saturday.
Solwhit, at nine is a year younger, and had 23 months off before a recent encouraging comeback in Ireland. He was authoritative on Saturday, though, and confirmed my long-held belief that until the combined effects of age and wear and tear finally set in, ability levels are pretty constant.
So, off 145, as Tom Segal rightly asserts, Punjabi can run off 20lb lower than when last seen pre-Kempton in the 2010 Irish Champion – finished lame – and with a greatly-needed seasonal debut behind him. I won’t be shocked if he goes one better than his second under top-weight in the race five years ago, a year before his Champion Hurdle and Irish Champion wins.
My other highlight of the week was a reception at Claridges which involved memories of the great Generous and an unsightly trip up a tiny step which for a less fortunate old-timer with one hand on a phone and the other in his overcoat pocket might have deserved and had far more serious consequences.