By Tony Stafford
I’ve just got back from a proper weekend meander around the Eastern side of the country armed with Roy Jenkins’ formidable biography of Winston Churchill. As the trip entailed many hours in the car, only a few dozen pages were accomplished from the 800-plus in the hefty volume, but no doubt the two great politicians from either side of the divide would have been aghast at the speed with which politics can change in the age of social media.
I set off on Friday morning a few hours after the news of the vote to leave Europe was confirmed. By the time I got back home late on Saturday night, one party leader, the Prime Minister, had resigned and the other, Mr Corbyn, was fighting to stem the tide of 11 resignations from his Shadow Cabinet team.
Sunday night and the Coldplay set from Glastonbury, as the long day turned gradually to dark, emphasised just how well informed great swathes of people have become as many thousands of i-phones shone out.
If you want to know something nowadays, the tools are in most people’s hands – not mine, except via this old-style computer – and they use them, how they use them. Everything happens so fast and everyone seems to be totally in step with each other.
Amid the helter-skelter of today, there is still merit to be found in constancy and many in horse racing display the sort of determined commitment to survive in an increasingly polarised environment.
Small breeders must sometimes wonder why they bother, and then they come up with an unexpectedly good result and the belief surges anew.
On Friday, the M11 for once was clear as the initial 130 miles to Yarmouth began promisingly. Ray Tooth’s home-bred Stanhope – Equiano – Nicoise – was set for his debut in a five-runner novice race, faced by the triple threat of a Godolphin Dark Angel colt with good placed form; a John Gosden/ Khalid Abdullah Distorted Humor newcomer; and, another debutant with solid breeding credentials from Sir Mark Prescott’s yard. A fellow Mark Tompkins home-bred completed the quintet along with our Mick Quinn-trained colt.
For some small breeders, even to get a horse onto the course is an achievement in itself. In the case of Nicoise, this was to be her first ever to make the track, ironically and sadly just days after she had been put down at the age of 12 because her always-troublesome feet had metaphorically finally cried “enough”.
The daughter of Ray’s top class middle-distance horse Lear Spear had produced two colts to Dutch Art, but as with her own career, ended prematurely when she became injured badly after falling into a ditch, her offspring were similarly blighted.
The first, sold for 38,000gns at the Tatts yearling sale, was sent back when he failed the wind test and despite going into training with Lady Cecil, after expensive corrective surgery, never got near a racecourse. His full-brother, the better physical specimen, had an accident at the stud when being prepared for the sales and had to be put down for his injuries.
Next was a son of Virtual, always too big and gangly to be trained at two, having gone to Mick Quinn. His sensible advice to take him out of training led him to Co Durham, where en route to the first tapeta Plate, I saw him on Saturday morning, with his new owner Wilf Storey. It was easy to see how nine months in a field in company with sheep and a companion filly have improved his well-being.
So now Raymond’s line from smart sprinter Soba ends with Stanhope, and it was never plain sailing for him. His transfer to Quinny from his previous guardian – let’s call it Stexit – has become a well-known source of mirth among many locals. Mick was told as he collected the horse: “He won’t make anyone famous”, to which the one-time footballer and Talk Sport presenter said: “I am already; I don’t need a horse to do that for me!”
After Friday, when Stanhope, defying odds of 50-1 total outsider, stayed on strongly to get within a length and a quarter of 2-5 shot Final Reckoning, repelling Via Ignatia by half a length with Prescott’s Law Power six lengths back, the picture looks somewhat different.
Pat Cosgrave, standing in for William Carson, who’d done all the prep work on Stanhope for his immediate neighbour, said he thought him very talented and genuine and said: “He’ll win next time”. Despite this, Steve Gilbey, Ray’s right-hand man said: “Don’t worry, he won’t get much of a mention in the Racing Post, Ray’s never do”, and indeed a single line sufficed for them to say grudgingly that he ran well.
In contrast, just as happened in the commentary, the Post gushed at the promise of the third. Any idiot looking at a Group 1-laden Abdullah pedigree would deduce “promise”, but Timeform’s analysis of the result is almost scandalous.
Most useful debut runs result in a small “p” appendage to the rating of the horse. Here we had a winner who came from a good York maiden from which he became the third individual winner within two weeks of the race.
Rating Stanhope’s run at 79 indicates decent ability, but to neglect to add a small “p” screams either bias or disdain for Mick Quinn’s merits as a trainer. The third, beaten on merit, but rated as though the fact he’d been further back than the front-running winner was significant, got a figure of 82p. Gushing in their analysis was even more marked, ignoring the fact that Stanhope actually finished the stronger.
A few lucky locals, £2 each way punters and mostly friends of my sometime driver Roger Hales, collected £42 (20-1) for a place on the Tote, only marginally less than the forecast to be second to the odds on shot. They didn’t include me or Mick, although the boss had a few bob on each way.
Before the race, Mick was corralled by Matt Chapman, who suggested in the interview that the trainer might be happy if his horse got within ten lengths. Matt was clearly surprised when told he was expected to run well on the basis of steady improvement in his homework. Maybe one day his initial trainer will become famous principally for letting Stanhope go out of his yard and the furlong back up Hamilton Road.
Stanhope had been the third successive second after Climax (14-1) and the well-backed Dutch Law for their owner, but all three will now be expected soon to get that first elusive win of the season. I watched Climax go on Mark Johnston’s gallop early on Saturday and the daughter of Acclamation strode up the hill at the end of her exercise with great energy.
I’ve probably mentioned it before, but this really was a case of the owner (and Steve) picking her out in the ring at Tatt’s Book Three, day two before buying her for 27,000gns. A daughter of Blue Rocket, a 95-rated Nell Gwyn Stakes third, she looked cheaply bought at the time, and judged on her Ripon debut and Saturday’s work, she could well be a worthy successor to Nicoise and company at Kinsale stud a few years down the road.