by Tony Stafford
Twice in a couple of days, I felt that I had participated – vicariously at any rate – in two victories, which in fact were anything but. First there was that Arsenal comeback against Liverpool which could even have been a win, and then Cousin Khee’s snatching of defeat from the jaws of victory at Lingfield.
I will restrain from further irritation of the audience in the former matter, restricting myself to delight at the Deadline Day acquisition of Nacho Monreal – what sort of name is that? – one which looks shrewd enough.
Cousin Khee’s loss – George Baker admitted he didn’t have time to ask our re-branding Flat-racer to engage the Jimmy Quinn winner whose mount got up right on the line – should not be too long in avenging. Wednesday next week, up three furlongs and four-year-olds and upwards, looks a suitable compensation chance for him.
Somehow, Raymond Tooth’s team of three (plus one, Nelson’s Bay yet to run) jumpers is offering great enjoyment. The Cousin has two jumper bumper wins, that ten-furlong second and an Aintree hurdling third to show from five runs. He will be left in the Betfair, but most of the other contenders’ trainers will need to have suffered from acute memory loss to enable him to run.
The Betfair, though, is on our radar with the 2008 runner-up and subsequent Champion Hurdler Punjabi, who is now ten and in the midst of a belated comeback. He ran quite well at Kempton on his return after 32 months off, but it seems according to a Nicky quote in Sunday’s Racing Post, he will almost certainly not be ridden by the great B Geraghty, who will be on one of the other four definite starters for the stable.
Still Mick Fitzgerald passed him over in the same race five years ago, when he was second, and again when third in the Champion – Afsoun his preference – and that’s when the Geraghty link started, to be cemented with Mick’s Grand National injury later that year.
If Punjabi did confound stable opinion, as he did almost embarrassingly for the trainer over Binocular in 2009 at Cheltenham, when Nicky looked like he lost a tenner and found a tanner as he “welcomed” in his new champion, then it could be off to that race again. Hope so.
Earlier the same day our final member of a select trio, Fair Trade could well be in the Supreme Novice Hurdle line-up, should he come safely and successfully through his prep in the Dovecote Hurdle on Feb 23. He has returned to cantering after that smart win at Kempton over Pearl Swan in the jumpers’ bumper and starts to look a bit like the horse David Elsworth once thought he was going to be.
I’m off to Doncaster in the morning for that extra card. I love jumping there. It’s a true test and we have a meaningful Champion Hurdle eliminator. Then it’s quiet for me until the weekend.
Over the past few years, the appeal of Transfer deadline day has become vastly diluted and if it hadn’t been for two jokers, this year’s would have been the tamest ever. Gone were the groups of fans outside training grounds – except Stoke funnily enough where the Bet 365 money gets spent sparingly, this time on a goalie, Jack Butland, who won’t be playing for them until Begovic goes to Man U next season.
The jokers of course were Mario Balotelli, happily off to Milan, where the indoor fireworks are much safer, and Peter Odemwingie, who now knows QPR’s car park like the back of his hand. I’m amazed that the other unchanging image of the ritual, ‘Arry, let him slip through his fingers. Redknapp talked in the lead-up days of “Crachie – he always seems to end up playing for me” and even David Bentley, but it seems that always-worthy member of Spurs “come in for an hour and collect your money” brigade would not accept the role of janitor, even at 20 grand a week.
Still it was nice that ‘Arry did manage to secure one of his men. It took great imagination to settle for a muscle-bound, Russia-based former Blackburn centre-half at just £95,000 per week and £12.5 million as the focus of his relegation fight.
Some, actually a good deal more than some, even said it’s a fair gamble if they stay in the Premier League, which they might. It’s a fair gamble if it ain’t your money! ‘Arry’s version after an effort-laden debut was “Chris <Samba>says he’s 40% fit. Imagine what he’ll do when he’s 100% fit”. I expect by the time he is, he’ll be in some far-off holiday location converting the pounds back to roubles with a re-sale to Russia being negotiated as Tony Fernandez flies off into the sunset.
I think it was the Guardian which had the best view on ‘Arry, with specific reference to the plight of another of his monopoly-money enterprises at Portsmouth, where players came in and out faster than the figures on a Swiss cuckoo clock.
Portsmouth’s embarrassing fall is so marked that as I watched the scores scrolling through at Sandown on Saturday afternoon, a young chap next to me said to his mates, “Look at Portsmouth”, ha ha ha, “3-1 down at home after 20 minutes”.
Now that is a great club with the most amazingly loyal fans, but after the ‘Arry treatment, which did, I acknowledge, include the Holy Grail of an FA Cup win, the descent has been horrific.
“Silverware”, the fans crave and as former Crystal Palace owner Simon Jordan said, “they virtually compel you to spend YOUR money for their ambitions.” Even Chelsea, still technically European champions despite their own deficiencies this season, have via Abramovic’s snatched wealth, fallen for the “honours at any cost” trap, and no doubt bumbling Benitez will be out the door faster than Usain Bolt.
Prediction, QPR will go down and after a year with parachute payments, will go down again. ‘Arry – and of course Joe, Bondie and the rest of the people it takes to get him from Sandbanks to Shepherds Bush every day – will be off with contracts fully paid up and after a break of say ten days, he’ll be back in the loving arms of those Sky Sports people who’ve indulged him over so many years.