Sunday Supplement: “Blown”

Sunday supplement

By Tony Stafford

In those seemingly far-off days when I used to help David Loder place his horses in the early phase of his career, my favourite homily to the great man used to be “never be happy with one win when you can make it two” or words to that effect.

The skilled author Jamie Reid unwittingly adapted that thought process when making two brilliant books out of an original idea. Not too long ago he published the engaging “Doped”, an excellent reminder of the days in the post-World War II era when doping gangs roamed the stables of Great Britain to enable unscrupulous gamblers and bookmakers to profit from horses’ mistreatment.

But as he reveals in Blown, published recently in hardback by Racing Post, £20, and the William Hill Sports Book of the Year winner,  some of the Doped research led him to the largely-unknown story of John Goldsmith, a prominent trainer in the same Post War era, but more notably one of the true heroes of that same war.

Goldsmith, who was born in Paris of English stock, and was the son of a horse dealer, became an amateur jockey and then trainer in the land of his birth. In 1933 he was enticed to England to set up a small stable at Sparsholt, near Wantage. He was soon turning out the winners, a Wolverhampton treble later that year advertising his talent.

When war broke out six years later, Goldsmith wanted to serve his country, but opportunities for 31-year-olds were limited, the services being the natural preserve of the generation of late teens and early 20’s. Instead he found his way into Special Operations Executive (SOE), one of the more obscure secret groups viewed sceptically by MI5 and MI6.

After training under the auspices of Major Roger de Wesselow, a former Guards officer and later the founder of The Racehorse weekly paper, of which for several years in the 1970’s I was lucky enough to be Editor, Goldsmith undertook extremely dangerous missions in France, emerging unscathed before resuming the training with great success after the ending of hostilities.

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Few authors, given the compelling material that Jamie Reid unearthed via Goldsmith’s autobiography, completed shortly before his death in 1972, and also in consultation with daughters Gaie Johnson Houghton, wife of Fulke and mother of Eve, and Gisele Steele, would manage to sustain the tension as he has.

Any further comment on the detail of the book would spoil the impact, so please buy it and be transported back to the war – I was born the year after it ended – and also to the period after it when the country, stuck in the rigours of rationing, was ironically overflowing with black market cash, much of which turned up on the racecourse.

Goldsmith was a brilliant gamble-lander of a trainer, in contrast to his son-in-law Fulke Johnson Houghton, whose list of best horses, many handled before his mid-30’s, would satisfy any aspiring trainer.

Before the death of his father-in-law, Fulke had already trained such as Habitat, the brothers Ribocco and Ribero, while later came such as Hot Grove, King George winner Ile de Bourbon and sprint filly Parsimony – pronounced Paris Money by my former Daily Telegraph colleague, the late Noel Blunt.

Fulke trained notably for Charles Engelhard, owner of Nijinsky, last winner of the English Triple Crown 45 years ago. That great horse’s trainer was Vincent O’Brien and the only handler to get close since was another O’Brien, Aidan: no relation, but operating from the same Ballydoyle stables in Ireland. The younger O’Brien just missed with Camelot, foiled only by Encke in the St Leger after winning the 2,000 Guineas and Derby three years ago.

Encke was one of the Godolphin horses later caught up in the Jockey Club Security swoop on Godolphin which led to the embarrassing dismissal of Mohammed al Zarooni in the aftermath of traces of steroids being detected in the Leger winner among others.

al Zarooni has disappeared into the ether, but his then assistant, Charlie Appleby, is going ever onward and upward as Godolphin shows no sign of decline; while Simon Crisford, the long-time racing manager for Sheikh Mohammed has shown a sure touch in his first year as a trainer outside the immediate ambit of the sprawling Darley operation.

Encke’s story didn’t go quite as far. Unraced throughout 2013 by which time the ban on the horses found to have been steroid-users had ended, he came back for three unsuccessful runs last year, but the Racing Post states baldly that he “died as a five-year-old”.

Coolmore might have made more of the fact that the horse that denied Camelot his Triple Crown right was of besmirched character, even if his test after the 2012 St Leger must have been clear. Whatever, he was an almost unconsidered outsider on the day.

Three years later, the St Leger again caused disappointment to Coolmore. After the appeal in London this week, which restored the original result – overturning the on-course stewards’ verdict to disqualify Simple Verse in favour of Bondi Beach – Coolmore were characteristically sporting.

That seemed to contrast with both the tenor of the protests by winning connections at the time, and the fulsome public celebration of the renewed verdict in Qatar Racing and Ralph Beckett’s favour after what must always be a panel’s opinion rather than hard fact.

The three verdicts of the St Leger, before it the Great Voltigeur which also went against Bondi Beach, and the Irish Champion Stakes, in which I still believe Golden Horn should have been demoted, show just how much of a lottery the machinations of groups of three people can be.

I must say, I much prefer the “you win some, you lose some”, attitude of Messrs Magnier, Tabor, Smith and Aidan O’Brien. By the way, word is that Camelot’s foals are pretty special. If I can dig up 50k from somewhere – he can’t, Ed – I’ll take a look at December sales.

Glad that’s finished, now I can go back and read “Blown” again, and hopefully a little more of Jamie Reid’s outstanding work will stick in this increasingly feeble brain.

Blown is available on Amazon for £13.60. You can read more about it here.

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