Monday Musings: “Come off it, Fraud!”

Sorry if this appears half an hour or so later than usual. I’ve promised the editor not to dwell on interests outside racing, but as my 5 a.m. alarm coincided with the start of the crucial final day of the Test match in Chittagong, I had to tune in, writes Tony Stafford.

Twenty-two minutes later, Ben Stokes had taken the two wickets needed to beat Bangladesh and I could proceed to the keyboard. I wonder if Claude Duval had made a similarly early start, after all, he doesn’t need to worry about his job at the Sun any more.

Yes the self-styled Punter’s Pal has finally ended his 47-year tenure as that newspaper’s racing correspondent, a role he has held since day one of the country’s best-selling newspaper. Apart from the owner Rupert Murdoch he was the last man standing from the original staff roster.

Luck comes into it of course. Just as my own entry into writing about racing came about by a fluke – I was unhappy on my first local paper and in desperation phoned the Greyhound Express to see if they had a job. Unknown to me, they were advertising in that same day’s paper, and I duly got the post.

Almost three years on, in 1969, Claude Duval was working on his local newspaper in Crawley, Sussex, and as was the practise of young journalists in those days, attempted to supplement his paltry earnings with some Fleet Street part-time sub-editing.

By then I was Chief Reporter and Claude came in on the three-man subs desk alongside Alan Cameron and Harry Lloyd for busy evenings. Then with another large stroke of luck I got a job on the horseracing desk at the Press Association across the way at the bottom of Fleet Street.

After a couple of days there I decided to revisit the old place, and was greeted with a general “are you coming to gloat?” reaction from everyone. They’d just heard the paper was to close, but for three of them, deputy editor John Bathe, John Hardie and new-boy Claude, there were jobs beckoning on the new national daily.

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Nobody could have predicted the soaraway nature of the Sun, with its Page Three and famed headlines like Gotcha! during the Falklands War and once Claude managed to get into the top racing spot, there was no stopping him.

In the early days, the phone would ring at 85 Fleet Street and a voice would ask: “Tony, what do you know about…?” But it wasn’t long before he was self-sufficient and 47 years later he was signing off with the suggestion that Paul Hanagan is going to be replaced by James Doyle as Hamdan Al Maktoum’s jockey.

Claude never worried that the facts might spoil a good story and as a Sussex 2nd XI cricketer for many years rarely bothered with Saturday racing, fair enough as the paper did not appear on Sundays in those days.

One afternoon when he was nominally on duty – either at Goodwood or Sandown – I’m not sure at which local venue, he called – no mobiles in those days – just to check all was well. The voice at the other end enquired where he was, and of course the answer was “in the press box”. “That’s funny,” he heard, “there’s a bomb scare and they’ve cleared the course!” No doubt he told them how many wickets he’d claimed with his off spin.

Another masterpiece was his “totally independent” prediction of the likely Grand National weights on the morning of their announcement in London. The Sun were sponsoring the race in those days, and blow me down if Claude didn’t get them almost entirely correct with a pound or two at most either way.

I suppose it was churlish for me in my own part-time extra job as editor of the Racehorse – I was still in my early days at the Daily Telegraph – to headline my piece in that weekly: “Come off it, Fraud!” but I couldn’t help myself.

Back in 1969, Lester Piggott was about to win his sixth in succession, and seventh of a total eleven, jockeys’ titles. Forty-seven years on, at Doncaster on Saturday, Piggott was part of the four-man Starship Partnership – the others are breeder Des Scott, Mrs John Magnier and Michael Tabor – which won the Racing Port Trophy with the William Haggas-trained Rivet.

Piggott won the race five times as a jockey, twice for the late Sir Henry Cecil, whose own ten wins in the race began with Approval in 1969. Henry took out his first licence earlier that year, and again, who could have predicted his amazing future success?

The Flat season’s end almost exactly coincides with Piggott’s birthday, and Guy Fawkes Day next week will be his 81st. Jockeys cannot take a ride until their 16th birthday nowadays, but Lester was 12 when The Chase gave him his first winner at Haydock in the summer of 1950.

Lester missed Doncaster on Saturday – maybe he was a guest at the wedding in Cap Ferrat of M V Magnier – but looked in good form when present at the Legends race there back at the St Leger meeting last month.

The irony of Rivet’s win is that it prevented Magnier, Tabor and Derrick Smith, along with the Niarchos family, in whose colours Yucatan ran, from recording yet another Aidan O’Brien-trained Group 1 winner.

Rivet and Andrea Atzeni – the latter winning the race for the fourth year in succession – stayed on too well for a one-paced Yucatan. Salouen, trained by Sylvester Kirk was a fast-finishing neck away third, just pipping Raheen House, a similar distance away in fourth.

For Raheen House that represented a massive improvement – 20lb in Racing Post Ratings – and fully justified Brian Meehan’s decision to run him. For owner Lew Day it has been quite a season as the only other horse he has in training is Cambridgeshire winner, Spark Plug. When he met Meehan, he said he wanted: “a horse that I wouldn’t be ashamed to tell my friends about”. The trainer certainly accommodated that wish and expects further improvement again from this imposing son of Sea The Stars next year.

Never having gone the pace in the finale under the latest champion, Jim Crowley, Dutch Law goes to the sales on Wednesday after a stellar year handled beautifully by Hughie Morrison. It will be a sad day if he finds a buyer and Ray Tooth will be there to watch. Sam Sangster’s Sirecam operation has made a video displaying his present well-being back in the stables, so if you want to look, log into the Tattersalls site. Come on Claude, here’s a proper horse on which you might like to spend your savings.


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