By Tony Stafford
That Barney Curley, he’s some sort of planner. Wonder if he relies on the opinion of jockeys. He certainly likes to use riders from his inner sanctum to land the gambles he so meticulously plans.
I was at Lingfield on Wednesday, and before the first of the now famous quartet, I was already fully appraised of who and where they all were. Everyone at Lingfield knew, and so did anyone watching Attheraces and much later, as the second pair both won at Kempton, so did viewers of Racing UK.
Technology 25 years ago was not so great. The bookies had their own sort of system to detect unwanted punts. Indeed one similar “plot” to rather smaller money did actually half succeed, and it was at the final hurdle, where it was foiled, that one particular jockey showed his prescience.
That jockey was the great Pat Eddery who, riding a fancied first-time-out filly in a maiden auction race, on returning to unsaddle having finished sixth – comment “eased when beaten” – declared to my mate George Hill: “Bad luck. She’ll win at Royal Ascot”.
But I think I must to return to the beginning. In 1988, I got to know a Kuwaiti owner who had a private stable in Lambourn – now occupied by William Muir. This Sheikh had a volatile temperament and had just sacked Stan Mellor as trainer to his 50 horses and was unhappy with the results achieved by Fred Ffitch, Stan’s former assistant.
At the time, George Hill was on the Daily Telegraph and did the odd racecourse reporting and one day at Leicester I think, he met a rookie trainer called Peter Hudson who was having either his first or maybe second ever winner.
He did the story, going overboard in his own inimitable style – as with his subbing when he completely rewrote a John Oaksey story on his initial salvo at the task. The latter action did not go down well with the noble lord!
The story got GH and PH on amicable terms. Hudson had been assistant trainer to Barry Hills at Manton – where he was also estates manager – beforehand, so I knew he knew his stuff. So when the Sheikh wanted some input, I put forward Peter. Very soon after, the job became his.
It was a bit of a flying by the pants operation, but one which boasted some nice animals. Quite early in his first full season, the Sheikh decided he needed to make some money, and a yankee was suggested as the way to go.
Peter identified the animals, two juveniles, one previous winner and a debutant, and two three-year-olds of limited ability, but aimed at lowly races.
The day was Oaks Day 1989; the tracks were Catterick in the afternoon and Leicester for two races and Carlisle for the other in the evening.
Nobody went to Catterick, George was at Leicester and the trainer was at Carlisle. Having done my job and organised several teams of willing helpers – drawn from the ranks of the Daily Telegraph desk, my dad and his dog trainer friend Paul Philpott and others – five figures were spread around 300-odd shops in East and South east London, Hertfordshire, Essex and Kent.
I had a bigger schedule. I was at the Oaks for the paper and then on to the annual awards night for Broxbourne Saints where I thought my son was a certainty for player of the year for their Under 13’s having scored 49 goals in 24 games.
By the time I left Epsom, George Duffield had fulfilled the first part of the quad, guiding Absolutely Perfect home first at Catterick at 11-2.
Then early in the evening, Careful Lad (Steve Dawson) Leicester 6.15 and Radish n’Lemon (Shawn Keighley) at Carlisle 6.45 each justified favouritism. So now it was a couple of hours to wait for the news to trickle through.
First came the award, or rather the non-award. Good job I was there to witness injustice at first hand, but the lad took it well enough and went on to enjoy rather than earn money from playing sport all his life so far.
With no pictures to see in those days, it was down to the phone. The Sheikh had paid around three grand for my one – bit cheaper these days – and funnily enough, it looked a bit like the Dom Joly one on that television show of a decade or so ago. How odd, as he had been to my son’s school, Haileybury!
So who was the mystery filly that so impressed Pat the multi-champion? It was the horse Peter thought to be the best of the quartet. Her name was Pharaoh’s Delight and everyone in the stable – ask David Dineley – was shocked at her failure to deliver.
The cost to the boss was severe. I remember having a mountain of cash to count on my living room floor. Time is a difficult aid to memory, and over the years, the figure has gone up from the actual £60,000 to maybe £90,000! If she’d won, it must have been nearer 200-250 grand. Maybe it was small beer by Barney standards, but sweet enough a quarter-century ago.
And so we come to Pat’s prescience. The filly turned out for the Windsor Castle Stakes 13 days after Leicester and won by six lengths. Over the next few weeks, she followed up in the Group 3 Princess Margaret Stakes at Ascot and then collected the Group 1 Heinz 57 at the old Phoenix Park. Office duties prevented me from getting to the Queen Mary, and another Queen delayed me from seeing the Irish triumph, as with the family I was coming back from New York on the QE2 that day.
As for the trainer, he ended his association with his always-difficult owner within a year, leaving good old George to disperse much of the equine assets. As for me, I was long gone, just happy to thank all my putting-on pals for going back to all those shops time and again to collect the money.
Some shops took four visits to come up with the cash, usually with some industrial language to go with it. God knows what would have happened if Pharaoh’s Delight had won? They’d have needed Securicor!