Sunday Supplement: Easter Disorientation

Tony Stafford's Sunday Supplement

Tony Stafford

Sunday Supplement

By Tony Stafford

I don’t know about you, but I’m totally disoriented this weekend. I joined the motorway-jamming throng that descended on Lingfield for the first Good Friday meeting ever staged in England and was rewarded by an hour-long conclusion on the short leg from the A22 to the track.

Saturday’s Racing Post picture of a crocodile of people suckered into the inside the track parking area explained the delays. Lingfield admitted to more than 8,000 attendees, but those of us who declined waiting to show our badges and simply walked through the tiny owners, trainers, jockeys and press gate while others patiently waited, were clearly not noted in the official figures.

I went with my mate Harry, who was keen to get his money back on his pal Jeremy Noseda’s Grandeur after a particular costly run in the Winter Derby over the same course and distance a few weeks earlier.

As we squeezed in, we were followed by a rather cross Richard Fahey, paying as he explained, his first visit since an unhappy ending to a ride in a three-mile chase there in his earlier incantation as a jump jockey.

It was fitting that he was re-introduced to those who were at Lingfield on that previous day – there must be someone still alive – during Easter when one rather more spectacular return from the dead is still celebrated. “Never again”, he declared after outlining the horrors of his long trek south, and he was even barely contrite when interviewed following the 25-1 success of his sprinter Alben Star in the Sprint.

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Then again £93,000 prizes have come his way more than somewhat, to paraphrase Damon Runyon, who would have loved to have been there. I reckon in the cold light of day, to paraphrase us old cliché-ridden hacks , that Richard will concede it was worth the effort. I wish I had 93 grand (or even 93 quid) for every time I’ve been stuck in traffic trying to get his beloved York, or even Haydock.

The biggest reward was attached to the Classsic, a ten-furlong race, which carried a £120,000 first prize, duly won by Grandeur, thanks to a masterful ride by Ryan Moore, who is benefiting from Richard Hughes’ temporary absence to set a fast pace in the jockeys’ title race.

Hughsie must be gutted, not least because of the circumstances of his fall at Meydan from the ex-Ballydoyle inmate Mars, who suffered an inopportune heart attack in the Dubai Sheema Classic last month.

Grandeur’s win was a nice boost for Jeremy, who has always had the knack of winning big races, but who has been well down on quality and especially quantity over the last couple of years. Grandeur will be campaigned in the US, where the style of racing seems to suit, and the prize money is easier to secure than in what has become a very competitive English scene.

When there’s a million quid – three weeks wages for Wayne Rooney after all – on offer for the seven races, there’s bound be a few welcome results, and Phil McEntee got one of the least expected returns one might predict  for a 78-rated filly when his recent arrival Living the Life collected the fillies and mares race over seven furlongs.

A couple of weeks back, we were celebrating the £700,000 plus win of Toast of New York for Jamie Osborne and owner Michael Buckley in the UAE Derby on Dubai World Cup night. But for selling Living the Life during February – she was withdrawn from the February sale at Newmarket and then turned up in McEntee’s care – the pair would have kept the big-money run going with an unlikely source.

To see McEntee’s face as he waited in the winner’s enclosure, a nice touch as it echoes the on-the-track presentations of the Derby, Arc, Kentucky Derby and the rest, you knew he was suitably bemused by it all.

I mentioned disorientation at the start of this piece. The extra day with a major race meeting meant that throughout yesterday I thought it was Sunday and so I declined what looked a nice meeting at Kempton, where young Richard Hannon – not be confused with a certain Richard Hannon senior – had yet another great day. He’s still not moving great after his seven-hour encounter with the streets of London a week ago, but his horses are.

Disorientation will be the theme for East Anglian racegoers tomorrow. In the old days, as Colin Russell remembered in the Racing Post the other day, there used to be 16 Easter Monday UK meetings and Ireland’s Irish Grand National to get stuck into on the day before. I know because I had to do a selection for every one of them, and once calculated that if I spent three minutes minutely assessing each race, it would have taken me around five hours. And that’s without visits to the canteen. Instead Alf, our slow-motion messenger would have had to go up for toasted ham and egg sandwiches which would be guaranteed to have congealed by the time he got them back to base.

Over the passage of time, 16 have become seven, but creditably, the Irish have maintained the faith, the Grand National and the 30-strong field. It looks a pretty ordinary affair tomorrow with a 150-rated top-weight, but it’s always a great spectacle.  Willie Mullins seems to have a good type in the progressive and lightly-raced Touch the Eden, but I have to say Alfie Sherrin looks very dangerous for Jonjo and JP off bottom weight.

There are nicely-spaced jumps fixtures tomorrow at Chepstow and Plumpton and on the Flat at Redcar, but if you live anywhere near the middle of the country, or the north-west, forget it.

We marvelled last year at the concept of Race Planning, when it entailed three meetings covering the same catchment area including Huntingdon in the west, Fakenham in the north-east and Yarmouth on the Norfolk coast. Well they’ve excelled themselves this year, adding Market Rasen, just up the road in Lincolnshire. Idiots.

There’s been an idiotic theme to most of the Premier League season and the attendant reaction to and effect of Chelsea’s home defeat by Sunderland encapsulated it all. There was Jose Mourinho moaning about referees costing his team the title, yet wasn’t his serial offender Ramirez allowed to stay on after his latest blatant act, the pre-conceived smash into Larsen’s face?

The same Mourinho had been the cause of two recent sendings-off, in the games with Arsenal and more recently Swansea, when after the referees gave a decision (admittedly wrong each time), they were bludgeoned into changing them much later following entreaties to the fourth official.

It is true that how the laws are judged can often be the difference between winning and losing a game. Everyone loves Liverpool, especially the refs, who allow the otherwise admirable and determined Martin Skrtel to grab the opposing striker’s shirt at every corner kick with no sanction. He also got away with a nice penalty-area punch in the key game with Manchester City. Still if Liverpool do win the tile, at least there’s 500 pundits who once played for them that will be happy.

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