By Tony Stafford
Last week, I referred to an imminent handing in of a trainer’s licence, always a sad affair for the resignee, his staff and family, and even his owners, although in many cases it’s the difficulty in prising money owed on poor or under-performing horses that caused the problem.
Noel Quinlan was the subject of my story, his name withheld in anticipation of a final, glorious win at Huntingdon the next day with Notnowsam, sporting the Tooth colours. In truth Notnowsam ran a shocker, leaving everyone wondering how there’d been so much apparently-misguided confidence behind him.
But that’s racing. You can take a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. You can take him up the gallops and watch him work his stablemates into submission, but the track can be very different. Notnowsam did win one of four races since Noel unearthed him at the sales last October, but now he’s in the disappointing tray and will pursue the rest of his career elsewhere.
So will Noel, for so many years officially assistant to elder brother Mick, but always the driving force in the fraternal partnership, and for the last four years the licence-holder. During that time much-admired Mick ended his own life but left behind a legacy of understanding not just of racehorses but animal stock in general.
Noel Quinlan has been especially talented in unearthing high-achieving horses at the lower end of the scale, notably with fillies. In that regard his imminent switch to a role as a Bloodstock Advisor should be a better use of his attributes than mucking out 20 boxes a day, which he would always be doing whenever I pulled in the yard at Exning, near Newmarket.
John Berry, one of the most intelligent men training horses – I saw him galloping across the Heath yesterday morning, sporting his de rigeur wellingtons and shorts – said that Noel Quinlan was the best trainer he knew. If I were Noel that would give me plenty of satisfaction, but it hardly addresses the immediate worries. I wish him and everyone involved the best of fortune in the coming months and years.
The boss had his first morning in Newmarket for some time, running the eye over four home-breds, three juveniles and a three-year-old filly, none of which has yet gone to the track. The overall reaction was that the day had reinvigorated him, and after breakfast at the Pantry and Ray’s version of religious devotions – he bought us all Newmarket sausages while waiting for the breakfast to appear – he toddled off back to London and backed a couple of Aintree winners!
The 2015 Grand National, sponsored by Crabbies, would have been a media self-immolation if Shutthefrontdoor had stayed the trip. Sorry AP, it would have been great for you to go out with a second victory, but as Many Clouds came home first, you could not escape the conclusion that the race was the winner.
If Many Clouds had not been owned by Trevor Hemmings I’m sure he would not have taken on such a test as an eight-year-old with an already handsome winning record. Impressive in the Hennessy, and sixth, staying on nicely at the end of the Gold Cup, he was brought to the race with a light campaign by Oliver Sherwood.
The Hennessy showed how well he stays and jumps and the policy invoked over the past decade by head of handicapping Phil Smith to compress the weights to give the better horses a chance was also a major factor in the result.
Many old-timers rue the passing of the “old” unforgiving Aintree fences. Despite a couple of melees caused when horses abruptly changed course reminiscent of Foinavon’s year, a highly-acceptable 19 horses completed the near four and a half miles.
The fences still take jumping, but as far as actual fallers go, eight out of 39 runners is an excellent argument for the changes and also a compliment to the skills of the riders and the trainers who have prepared them for this most exacting test. The 560 grand earned by the winner is well deserved and the fact that one of the best chasers in the country collected as a relatively young horse should encourage the quality of runner to improve year on year.
I will not be going to Ffos Las today to watch April Dusk, but hope he is good enough to justify probable favouritism in the opening novice hurdle. After I went there for the first time, someone asked where it was. My answer was that all I could tell him was that you get to Chepstow and start again. It takes forever.
Today’s a football day. Can Chelsea possibly slip up – they’ve QPR today and Man U home next week, two games that will put them level on 32 played each with Arsenal, who are four points behind, having been 15 adrift after 12 matches? Anything less than full points will make the Emirates clash between the teams in a fortnight a real six-pointer.
It’s so weird how quickly the media have honed in on Manchester City (replacing, for now Arsenal) as whipping boys, with their genial manager Manuel Pellegrini having already been handed his “virtual” cards by Fleet Street’s finest. Defeat in the Manchester Derby today will lead to demands from the Mail Online, Sky and Talksport’s pundits – many of whom are one and the same anyway – of a ceremonial sacrifice. Football’s mad.