By Tony Stafford
A week that started off with a loss for my boss in a small court in Central London got better and better as it went on. The loss, trumpeted by the winner as a total vindication, looked anything but that in the face of some hasty rewriting of his court evidence at the end of the Racing Post report of the affair. I felt very satisfied that the judge’s summing up described me as a truthful witness. As I disagreed with virtually everything the other side put forward, what did it make them?
Thursday mornings at Manton always put me in optimistic fettle. After a slow start, Brian Meehan has really got things going and by Wednesday night, a score that only started after a string of near misses with Sir Bedivere on April 27, had stretched to 13 with Testudo by Wednesday night at Sandown.
The flurry of winners has obviously come to the attention of some serious jockeys and Thursday was a sight to behold. With my own car neglecting to have a pre-dawn petrol pump catastrophe this time, I arrived sharp at six, to be followed into the office by the unexpected sight of Tom Queally. There was only time to offer Tom a coffee before Kieren Fallon arrived, shortly to be followed by Frankie Dettori.
Sam Sangster then came in with the top Australian jockey Jamie McDonald, who is spending a working sabbatical with Charlie Hills over at Lambourn before the Hamdan duo of Paul Hanagan and Saturday’s Beverley five-timer hero Dane O’Neill completed the set.
With a number of owners on site too, it was pretty hectic and possibly some of the regular work riders might have been a little disappointed to be on reduced action, but the feeling of team spirit was simply fantastic.
I couldn’t wait for Raymond Tooth’s two three-year-olds to get into action. Freeport, a winner on his comeback just nine weeks after a gelding operation following a naughty incident was rewarded for his improved demeanour with the services of Frankie who declared him “very nice and fit as a flea”. Brian’s looking for a race next weekend, and it was good that Consign, who finished third to him and fellow dead-heater Aussie Reigns at Windsor, went on to win Friday’s 0-75 Classified in which we would have had to concede him 6lb. He’s up only 3lb to 76 when he goes next.
Second lot featured Ray’s promising horse Great Hall, and this time it was Kieren in the saddle. He’d loved him when riding him on the Rowley Mile last month, when he still needed what was only his second career start. The work went well so it was all systems go for Newmarket the next day, Brian’s choice of three entries in the week. Kieren was claimed to ride for Luca Cumani but we were lucky that Richard Hughes was free and he gave him a lovely ride to win what might prove a decent maiden.
They say people don’t go racing any more but proper Fridays on the July Course still get out the real racing people. One oddity about all the relatively small group of racing regulars who’ve been around for years, decades or in the case of Tony Morris, half centuries, is that they are always pleased to see you.
The faces are not always remembered by us older-timers, and the names even less so. So first I’d like to apologise to the fair-haired “lad” from the Midlands who I first met at the Ryder Cup at the Belfry and who always calls out. In his case it was before Great Hall’s race on Friday. With Raymond back at the office, I get to be the de facto “owner” and he was one of a string of “good luck” callers along with the nice guy from the Bedfordshire Racing Club and on Friday many more.
I don’t know why but over the years I’ve wanted to view Raymond’s horses on my own where possible – unless he’s there, of course – and I found an anonymous spot in the stands from where I watched Great Hall and an unflurried champion jockey get home half a length to the good despite some exaggerated signs of inexperience.
After the “good luck”s, it was a triumphal walk back with “well done”s raining in on all sides. The only well done I felt I’d earned was to be a fringe participant in the Meehan tally’s getting off 13. I’d done nothing, not even cheered him home. I’ve steeled myself never to make a noise as Ray’s horses approach the line. It was well done, though, to the horse, to the trainer, to the jockey, and to the staff at Manton, and to Kieren who is a true horseman.
Well done above to all to Ray, who has had a total of nine wins this year, hopefully with a good few more to come. To win, he had to beat two Khalid Abdullah horses and a stable-mate owned by Hamdan Al Maktoum. It seems that Prince Khalid’s team will be getting a thorough trim – even the richest find the battle between the racing dream and ever-increasing costs a constant drain.
Saturday at Newmarket – no managerial responsibilities this time, just a gentle wander – and a walk across to the Animal Health Trust marquee for a late scrounged lunch thanks to my pal George Hill who was dining with wife Liz (not partner George, for God’s sake) on the top table with host Anthony Bevan. Here was another group of never-forgotten faces, among them Christine St George who would be high on the list of BHA inspectors searching for non-permitted substances such is her unchanging beauty. Johnny Holmes was there, backing winners and hoping for the best for the return of Great Leighs, and Sam Sheppard of the EBF, one of a dozen wanting to hear about that case last Monday. I said my piece and vowed thereafter not to speak or think any more on that trifling affair.