By Tony Stafford
I had a day off yesterday, and today I’ll miss the delights (on TV) of Deauville’s Jacques le Marois and The Curragh’s Phoenix Stakes, not to mention the Durham Test in favour of a gentle afternoon’s umpiring for my former Daily Telegraph colleague Steve Dillon at his annual charity cricket match down in Kent.
I hope (1) it’s not too sunny, as I’ve no suitable hat and I’m just recovering from my second excision of a BCC under my right eye. Also (2) that I get an early chance after a silly LBW or thin edge appeal to make the signal to the pavilion for the Hawkeye process to be shown and the third umpire to adjudicate.
I stayed away from the Shergar Cup because the 12.50 start seems odd, but also because the structure seems a little tired and the prospect of six races of ten runners, mostly ridden by jockeys unknown to most of the crowd, themselves mainly there for the post-racing entertainment, has stopped being a novelty.
In its early Peter Savill-inspired days, the prizes were worth winning. Now with six handicaps either 0-100 or 0-95 and a blanket £15,000 to each winner, there’s a bland sameness to it all.
Mark Johnston likes it, to the extent that he had runners in four of the races. He is less enamoured, apparently, of the fact that team colours rather than owners’ silks are worn. He should worry. After watching the fourth of the six contests, I had a quick look down to my Racing Post and saw that Mark had supplied the first three home from his FIVE runners in a field of ten. Not quite Dickinsonian, a la Cheltenham Gold Cup, but surely a statistic which should encourage a rethink.
A maximum 60 horses can take part. Johnston sent out 13 of them, a two, two threes and a five. The change should be for next year that where there is a full declaration, to limit each trainer (and possibly owner) to a single runner. It doesn’t really matter what turns up, but seeing five for one stable in such a race is a great turn-off, so I will.
I mentioned last time – needed last week’s break – that my non-betting policy had been slightly amended, with a little football wager and a St Leger ante-post dart. The football bet’s looking partly better – after all Arsenal easily beat favourites Manchester City in Helsinki – but partly worse because the whole of the Liverpool inspired mafia around Sky TV’s football coverage are saying how Luis Suarez must not be allowed to go to Arsenal.
Arsene Wenger must feel like the little boy who’s saved his pocket money to buy an ice cream only to find that (a) the temperature has dropped to 5 degrees and (b) the ice cream van man had a heart attack. Arsenal now have money – real money, not the Real Madrid form of “pay you over six years, and sorry, the rest (£16million) of the Modric fee will have to wait” money – whereas in the past they needed to get some in with the stadium and all.
When Vieira, Toure, Adabayor,Nasri, Fabregas and van Persie agitated – with the assistance of players of the soon-to-be new clubs – for a move, the media berated Arsenal for trying to keep them, ridiculing their pay-structure. Now, in the way of all modern-day football media and especially Sky TV, they’ve moved the goalposts. Never mind, I’m hopeful of a great season without any new blood. Go Sonogo!
The other encouragement came with yet another striking endorsement of the form of Great Hall’s July handicap win at Haydock. Already boosted with impressive wins by the trio that followed him over the line in Lancashire, his St Leger, well anyway his Melrose Stakes, chance was advertised again when the fourth, Argent Knight beat his elders over two miles at Newmarket.
Rated 81 (up 7lb for his post-Haydock win at Sandown), Argent Knight, who had been beaten almost four lengths in receipt of 14lb in Lancashire, landed a punt when coming home a length and a half clear with almost four back to the third under Paul Hanagan. Trainer William Jarvis fancies a tilt at the Cesarewitch and good luck to him. His horse will need to go up a fair bit more than the 7lb extra he’ll likely get for yesterday to get in.
Racing doesn’t always work out. Another of Raymond Tooth’s horses, the maiden Motion Lass, seemed to have a bit of optimism about her chance in Friday’s finale at Lingfield. I make a rule to go everywhere we have a runner – except where there’s two in different parts of the country – and even with the prospect of an M25 slow-motion homeward journey in the middle of Friday’s evening rush hour, there I was.
As I said, she looked bonny and well. Jim Crowley kept her away from the others as stalls entry time approached and then all of a sudden, one of the horses went into reverse, kicked out and got her high on the inside of her off-hind leg. The skin was taken off about the size of a 50p piece and Jim wisely, with the vet’s agreement, thought she should not run. The journey home was rubbish, too. Ralph Beckett, anticipating something of the kind, had made two contingency entries for Wednesday and added two more yesterday for Friday. It looks like he wants to get her on the track again.
One horse that will have to run is the Dubawi filly, Grass Green, rated 49 after three runs and on target for a nursery at Newcastle at Friday. William Haggas doesn’t have many horses rated below 50, and not many races cater for them, so it’s the 0-60 at Newcastle or bust. Only 13 were entered, so unless the horse box breaks down, the track gets waterlogged or the secretary forgets to declare, we’ll be there. Wish us luck!