Sunday Supplement: Foxy and the Very Large Pianist

With the rain raining down incessantly on Britain’s racecourses, the football pundits are providing us with plenty of alternative entertainment in our time of need, with Talksport, Sky and Mail Online – often they seem totally homogeneous – offering some interesting food for thought.

I missed most of yesterday’s early-morning wisdom on the Micky Quinn – Georgie Bingham show, but just caught the last few contributors to their phone-in. The final caller, one of several Manchester City fans on the programme, sounded reasonable enough at first – not for him the Jamie Carragher opinion that Arsenal “have to win the title this year or they won’t for the next ten” – but ended with an interesting view.

He said; “City really ought to be 20 points clear”, a considered appreciation of the first 20 games in a 38-match season. I’m sure I heard Mr Quinn say “I agree”, but maybe it was Ms Bingham. I’ll tell you what, if they had actually got the 62 points they should have from the maximum 60 on offer, they would have been very hard for anyone to catch!

The FA Cup 3rd Round should have helped presenters and phone-in callers alike the chance to hone their arithmetical skills, and Sam Allerdyce, who reckoned Sunderland gave it away at the Emirates in losing 3-1 to the Cup holders of the last two seasons also needs to get out his maths primer if he ever had one.

Sunderland, struggling in the League, did well throughout, did even better to take the lead and in all had 11 shots of which three were on target. The hosts, meanwhile, had 25 shots, 13 of which were on target, so it was probably a decent game to watch.

It’s hard for me not to mention football, but if my article includes mention of Micky who trains what we all hope will turn out to be a nice two-year-old filly for the boss, I pretty much have to.

In earlier years, Raymond Tooth’s arrival at Tattersalls yearling sale had been the cause of excitement among some trainers and agents. Once a whiff of his entrance to the restaurant at Park Paddocks for a hearty breakfast was registered, the prospective developers of the raw talent that was about to go through the ring, swarmed around him.

His presence was never measured beyond a few hours, work demands ever paramount, but long enough for half a dozen or so happy practitioners to persuade him to try to get one or more of the choice offerings. He’s less of a Pied Piper these days, and last October’s visit which brought three Book 3 purchases was achieved in an almost anonymous manner.

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The first two were acquired without earlier recourse to outside help. The third, chosen by him, after a little prior research and a chat to Chris Harper of Whitsbury Manor stud, was bought by the aforesaid Mr Quinn for 4,000gns, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she were the cheapest yearling Ray ever got through the ring.

She’s a daughter of Foxwedge, an Australian Group 1 winning sprinter and son of the amazing Fastnet Rock, who shuttles between his land of his birth and Whitsbury, where his fee of £7,500 compares favourably with the $40,000 back home.

In that context, 4,000gns looks derisory and when I had a look back at the pedigree on my midweek trip to an almost-waterlogged Kinsale stud, where no doubt she’ll go to produce her own foals later on, I could only marvel at what a bargain he might have.

The dam, Lady Circe, a daughter of Spinning World, won three races in Italy at two and three years of age. The sale catalogue revealed she’d had two runners so far, one winner Donosti, while the juvenile Baroja was unraced.

Baroja, a son of Bushranger, had gone through the sale the previous October for just 1.000gns, and that looked insulting enough even before his first-time third in France a few days before the Foxwedge filly’s sales appearance.

Within a month, the first four from that race were all winners, including Baroja, who won a decent maiden (Euro 8K to the winner) next time before his good second to a Rouget hotpot at Pau last week.

That perusal of the pedigree reminded the Kempsters and me that Lady Circe is actually half-sister to a Japan Cup winner, from stakes-winning second dam Chesa Plana. If she can run, everyone will be in clover, so it’s over to you Micky and Karen Quinn.

Their Newmarket counterparts Luca and Sarah Cumani have been in Australia at the Magic Millions sale, along with daughter Francesca, helping son Matt fill up his Aussie training barn for his initial stage of following in father’s footsteps. Among his buys was a Foxwedge filly, which was, in reverse Dell Boy order, not 4k, not 40k, but 105k, even if it is only in Aussie money.

My Saturday was spent at Kempton where the highlight was Triolo D’Alene’s return to action in the Listed William Hill Chase. There were just three runners, one of which the veteran Wishfull Thinking was never travelling, but there was still sufficient excitement for the punters with the Nicky Henderson-trained and market-neglected winner and odds-on shot P’tit Zig going at it from the start.

The 2013 Hennessy winner Triolo D’Alene was a remote also-ran in Pineau de Re’s Grand National the following April, but the way he jumped in the Kempton mud offered a great deal of encouragement that next spring could be his big chance. He ran off 150 here and if the handicapper is kind – P’tit Zig departed when getting rid of Sam Twiston-Davies two out – and leaves him anything like unchanged, he’ll go to the top of my National list. Maybe he’ll give Seven Barrows that elusive first win in the great race.

Also at Kempton I bumped into the subject of my favourite occasional racecourse quiz question. It goes: “Guess what that very tall bespectacled gentleman does for a living? The clue, his profession was the name of a good horse he had something to do with years ago.”
Nobody’s ever got it, and until we went up to said tall gentleman, I had no recollection of his name, just that he was and still is a Concert Pianist. He was always around when the horse of that name, trained by Peter Winkworth, won three soft-ground novice hurdles in a row in the 2000-1 season at Warwick (11 lengths), Chepstow, 14, and Ascot, the last by six lengths from a decent Henderson novice to whom he conceded the double penalty.

Next time he was fourth to the mighty Baracouda in Fontwell’s National Spirit Hurdle, finishing well after tailing himself off in the early stages.

Usually, my greetings with the concert pianist are restricted to: “How are you?” but this time I thought I’d better put some flesh on the bones of my routine. I managed to find out that he’s called Ian and after further probing, Ian Fountain and yes he’s still working all around Europe combined with “some teaching at the Royal Academy of Music”.

In the old days that would have been that. But also logging in my ever-dwindling memory bank his mention that “my manager owned the horse”, I had a look at Google and there he was, with pictures aplenty.

It listed his accomplishments, which began with his being the youngest-ever winner of the Artur Rubenstein Piano Masters Competition in Tel Aviv at the age of 19. His “I do a bit of teaching at the RA” slightly underplays his status as Piano Professor there and now a judge at the same Competition. Looking at his profile, it seems me and my pal Pete spent some time in the company of one of the world’s leading pianists. You never know who you’ll meet. As John McCririck used to say, “Come racing!” He was dead right on that point.

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