by Tony Stafford
Last Sunday, I referred to an incident involving a phone and a very insignificant step out of Claridges hotel in London which was enough to unseat your correspondent. The immediate after-effect was nil save the embarrassment of being picked up by three people, but 11 days on both my knees have little painful spots, telling me what a knee or hip replacement – get better soon Brenda Storey! – would be like.
Apart from diabetes which I deal with without really doing anything, I’ve been ridiculously lucky health-wise but the trip-up which followed a nice reception hosted by Prince Ahmed bin Salman, younger brother to late Princes Fahd and Ahmed – my long-term friend and principal of the much-missed Thoroughbred Corporation – gave me a chance to meet some former colleagues on Asharq Al Awsat – the “green paper” – to which I contributed for more than ten years.
Prince Faisal came over for a chat – rather nice of him as that week he’d been appointed Governor of Medinah, the second-holiest city in Saudi Arabia after Mecca, and no Ladbrokes jokes please! – and also a Minister in the government.
With his father the country’s Crown Prince and an Oxford education and a professorship in politics at Riyadh’s top university, his rise through the princely ranks in his country was hardly unexpected, but he remains a dignified gentleman whose Denford stud continues the family’s love and association with racing and breeding.
My own selfish glee with Cousin Khee’s two nice wins – he now reverts to Lingfield for a proper Flat maiden over 10 furlongs on Friday – were infinitely increased with Friday’s fabulous win for my boss Raymond Tooth’s Fair Trade, who almost three years after his only previous win, cut down the smart Champion Hurdle possible Pearl Swan with an awesome turn of speed.
His problem, once a big six-figure Hong Kong bid was rejected in the summer of 2010, was injury coupled with the refusal to settle. Now he does, thanks first to Graham Lee’s partnering of him twice last summer, the initial show jumping schooling when still with Hughie Morrison and the continuation of the process at Alan King’s.
He’s always looked the part. Two jump runs do not tell the true story. Apparently Richard Hoiles was saying on Racing UK that if you put some hurdles in front of him, you’d see a different (therefore vastly inferior) horse, but the jumping is as assured as a veteran’s.
He only went back for the bumper, ideally framed for a horse with two jump runs and no win in Class 1 or 2 because he’d hated the mud in his two jumps starts. Might have been framed for a horse once 110 rated, but I can’t see how they let the fourth home Clerk’s Choice run as he’d won a Class 2 hurdle at the end of a four-win sequence earlier in his career.
That’s it for the jumpers bumpers I’m afraid, but in winning three, Raymond picked up more than 11 grand, while the two horses have got the winning habit. All pluses and Fair Trade will run in the Dovecote at Kempton next month in anticipation of a tilt at the Supreme Novices.
I make no apology for throwing in a little bit of football minutiae. Probably everyone else who reads these words will be saying, not Arsenal again, but having listened to and read the garbage coming from radio, television and the press, as well as what apparently is even more ridiculous on the fora (plural of forum), I have to speak up for a certain Alsatian football manager.
Arsene Wenger gets so much flak, probably because he always answers his questioners, and this season it’s been eight-lean-years open house with no trophy obviously in the offing.
But the job of a manager, as I see it, is to build teams which get a fair degree of success, play attractively and at the same time keep the finances in order. For example, I wonder what free-spending Tony Fernandez was thinking of the great ‘Arry’ last night after his team went 4-0 down (losing 4-2) to M K Dons? Redknapp simply said afterwards: “That’s why I’ve been flying around Europe all week. These players are not good enough”.
Wenger bought three new players in the summer. Cazorla has been (that dive apart) largely unblemished and rightly praised for his skill and commitment, but after two games Olivier Giroud was being laughed at and soon after Lukas Podolski generally pilloried.
All three were new to English football. Three-fifths through the season, all three have scored plenty, made loads of assists – Podolski’s nine in the Premier League is the highest! – and altogether they have scored 32 times. As they said; “How will they replace van Persie’s goals? So far he has 22.
He has simply been grafted on to what has been described as the best team of strikers in football. Rooney, Hernandez and Welbeck are all top-flight players fully versed in the Premier League and the bewilderingly-slick Manchester United set-up. So well are they doing that United are clear top of the League, qualified easily for the closing stages of Europe and went smoothly through to the fifth round of the FA Cup with a 4-1 demolition of Fulham.
Fulham were so toothless, it made one think it was lucky that it was QPR rather than they who were meeting MK Dons, or even Luton, conquerors of Norwich.
Fulham was United’s 34th match of a season in which they have won 25, drawn only three and lost six times. They have scored 79 goals with 47 against. Hernandez’s double on Saturday brought his score to 14 for the season from 15 starts and nine sub appearances. Van Persie’s 22 have come in 23 plus five; Rooney’s 19 plus three have brought ten goals. Poor old Welbeck, a first choice for England, has just one goal to show for 15 plus 10. No-one else has more than four.
While that has been going on, Arsenal have been described as having their worst ever season under Wenger. Saturday’s thriller of an away win at Brighton – away again in the Cup after drawing Swansea first up – was their 17th win in 35 matches, with ten draws and eight defeats testimony to their oft-expressed defensive frailties.
So how have they compared with United? They’ve scored 76, so before Saturday’s night match they were one ahead of United, and have conceded 46, one fewer than the irresistible champions. They remain in the FA Cup and unlike Chelsea and Manchester City, the Champions League. Now that Jack Wilshere is fit, they seem poised to pick up the pace for fourth or even third place.
As to life without van Persie, Theo Walcott (17 from 17 starts and 10 sub appearances), Giroud, Podolski and Cazorla have 49 goals between them, two more than the total of the United famous four. As for the laughed-at Giroud, in the last two games he has scored four van Persie-like goals, showing similar poise and left-footed subtlety. Who should be laughing now? If only the Arsenal fans knew. Barely half a season in, 32 goals and more than 20 assists and Arsene’s still everyone’s whipping boy. Not mine!