By Tony Stafford
There’s nothing I like better than giving advice. In fact, most of my working (and if I’m honest with myself, my post-working) life has/was involved offering advice to readers as to which horse to back, owners, where to send them and trainers, where to run them.
It would probably have helped my finances quite a bit if I’d listened to some of it over the years, but today I’m going to tell you where that advice helped some people and then astonish you with my latest pearl of wisdom. Ahem.
I don’t know how many times I’ve come out of either of Newmarket’s racecourses with the urge to rekindle my diabetes-sapped resources with some instant gratification of the chocolate kind. A timely intake of proprietary-branded confectionery and a soft drink always eases the tiredness on the last lap home.
Until yesterday, such quests have been doomed to frustration. The service station on the A11 about ten minutes in (from the July Course), is a dingy, higgledy-piggledy operation that time has never improved and after that, Stansted Services are rip-off city and involve about a ten-minute diversion. Before I make my point, have you ever been to the petrol station at the Berkhamsted services on the M40? I think there are more than 60 pumps. It’s the best I’ve seen.
It’s the display in the shop that sets it apart and until 5.00 p.m. on Saturday, it was my shop of the year. But no longer, for at Six Mile Bottom, where I once played cricket on a piece of ground that seems no longer to serve that purpose, there stands, all sparkling and new, the Six Mile Bottom Convenience Store.
The proprietor has found a location for a corner shop, not that there are any corners in that little hamlet down the road from HQ. If you like a steak as much as Pete Hickey and I do, you will be aware of the Green Man, but the last time we tried it – a Tuesday lunch time – it was shut. Now it’s pretty much evenings only: if you want to be sure, to be sure.
No, the SMBCS stands bright and shiny over a large plot with ample parking. It dragged me in almost hypnotically and there ranged on shelves in bright and shiny order were newspapers, confectionery, groceries, booze I think and lots more besides.
The owner, who looked like a John to me, was in earnest conversation with the other two customers – who unlike me had collected quite an assortment of convenient items, but he broke off with a smile to process the purchase of my Lion bar – aren’t they brilliant? – diet coke and Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut, special bumper £1 size.
When asked when they first opened, John, who had been clearly waiting for that very same question, said: “Monday, and we’ve been packed out ever since”. I replied that it’s nice to find a shop doing exactly what it said on the tin – lame, I know – adding: “what are your hours”?
I discovered that from 5 a.m. “John” and “Mrs John”, if that’s who the busy-looking woman crossing my path as I exited the shop was, until 9 p.m. go at it, hammer and tongs. We talked long enough for “John” of the crisp, very clean white shirt, open smile and obvious knowledge of his trade, to tell me that in the dim and distant past, he’d been small shopkeeper of the year three times in a row. That was a unique achievement and out of 3,000 shops, too. Not even my three Sporting Life naps championships (note to self: need cleaning) were three in a row. Note to Editor, please take that gratuitous boasting out. [Note to correspondent: I’ve left it in. Chapeau!]
No, joking apart, it’s a great shop, and in future when I go to the gallops as I did on Saturday, but via the A14, that will be the place to pick up the Post and check on “John’s” progress. For instance how long will it take him to turn into Ronnie Barker of Open All Hours?
One other piece of advice that came to a sort of fruition on Saturday was to my Saudi friend Ibrahim Rachid who during the horses in training sale at Newmarket last year asked me to recommend a trainer who could do a good job with a Lemon Drop Kid filly.
I balanced the great and good with the cheap and nasty, coming up with the mid-price and cheery Noel Quinlan, who’d done a good job with my boss Raymond Tooth’s jumper Park Lane before buying him as a point-to-pointer for daughter Jessica.
Noel took the filly after the pair met and it was not until she made her debut at Sandown, now named Love in the Desert, that I knew the contract was made. She was an unlucky third there, won at Thirsk and on Saturday ran a brilliant third in the Listed Empress Stakes. Ibrahim, a great friend and advisor to the eldest son of King Abdullah, sold a half share before Saturday, but can expect a big figure for the remaining half from his American partners and he also has the now well-connected Aqlaam half-sister to come next year.
On the Park Lane front, he won the Newbury Charity race a year ago for John Ferguson’s son, and will be back in Berkshire on Thursday with the very promising Ollie Sangster in the saddle. Sadly I can’t be there to see the old boy and the new boy win.
There’s been lots of activity, including a great third for Cousin Khee in the Cumberland Plate on Wednesday at Carlisle, and Raymond’s two nice Brian Meehan-trained three-year-olds Freeport (Yarmouth 4.10) and Great Hall (Haydock 4.20) offer an interesting logistical problem especially as Thursday is Manton work morning too. Wherever else I go, obviously Newbury is out.
Seven weeks to the day, I suggested that both Style Vendome (French 2,000 Guineas) and Raymond’s Fair Trade (Kempton novice hurdle) could win. They both did. Neither has run since, although Style Vendome has a new Qatari owner. Today Style Vendome goes for our French trainer Nicolas Cement’s favourite race, the Prix Jean Prat (Group 1 over nine furlongs) while Fair Trade goes back to the Flat off 78 at Salisbury. What price another double?
Last backend at Nottingham, in his last try on turf on the level, Graham Lee rode Fair Trade, and far from being despondent at the latest of a string of also-ran efforts, said: “That’s encouraging. He’ll get any trip and will make a hurdler”. He won a two-mile jumpers bumper at Kempton before proving Graham’s hurdling prediction correct. Today’s race should be the start of a Flat-racing rehabilitation too. Appropriate that it comes the day after Graham’s wonderful Northumberland Plate win on Patsy Byrne’s Jonjo O’Neill-trained Tominator. It’s nice when your friends do well.