Monday Musings: David Cassidy and the Sundance Years

Why do so many things happen on a Tuesday?, writes Tony Stafford. It’s obvious, because I write this stuff on a Monday and quite often forget that it’s what I intended writing about and end up doing something else.

Late last night, I’d still forgotten and then something Mrs Stafford threw out in a conversation about nothing – she mentioned “time” – reminded me.

David Cassidy, the singer and actor in the Partridge Family series in the early 1970’s, died on Tuesday aged 67. He’d already retired from the show after which he became the subject of the sort of fan mania that followed the Beatles around in the 1960’s.

His teen heart-throb good looks were still in place when he replaced Cliff Richard in the musical “Time” co-written by Dave Clark, founder of the Dave Clark Five, an early rival band to the Beatles during the show’s two-year run at the Dominion Theatre in London’s West End.

By this period, I’d already been going to Kentucky for a while to the yearling and breeding stock sales and had seen Cassidy a few times at Lexington restaurants. He was a great friend of Barry Weisbord, publisher of the racing industry “bible”, Thoroughbred Daily News (TDN), which still appears in its European version every day at Tattersalls auctions.

On Derby Day 1987 I was surprised when I bumped into Cassidy a few minutes before the race behind the main stand. He asked where would be a good place to watch the race, and I took him up to the press box at the top of the old stand. He was delighted to get a great view of his friend Steve Cauthen winning easily on the Henry Cecil-trained and Louis Freedman-owned Reference Point.

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Many people have said in the days following news of his death at 67, suffering from dementia, that he was a generous person. From minimal experience I can fully relate to that. After going off looking for Cauthen he organised tickets for the entire Stafford family – first wife and three kids – to the show and a visit to his dressing room afterwards.

Weisbord related in his TDN tribute to his friend that Cassidy, like him, loved horses and betting, breeding and owning possibly contributing to the fact that he did not end up with a shed-load of cash. I can relate to that too, although where there’s life there’s still hope.

I still bump into Weisbord from time to time and always remember that it was at one of his Matchmaker events in 1984 that I showed just what a useless punter I am. Sat next to Patrick Biancone at Keeneland on the Calumet Farm table, I couldn’t resist betting with Patrick on what the various lots at the auction would make.

The lots, or “hips” as they are known at American horse auctions because the number is put on the horses’ hip, were nominations for coverings by the various stallions. The idea and also commercial viability of the sale coincided with the height of the Robert Sangster – Sheikh Mohammed bidding frenzy when prices for yearlings rose to an unbelievable and never <never say never, Ed> to be repeated $13.1million.

I think we had around 15 bets on what each lot would fetch and I won once; and, as we were going at around 20 bucks a go, it was a very expensive “free” dinner. Calumet was going to stand Derby winner Secreto, owned by the Venezuelan businessman Luigi Miglietti. Secreto, trained by David O’Brien, Vincent’s son, beat his father’s El Gran Senor in a pulsating finish at Epsom which did not result in much similarity to the bonhomie when another O’Brien son beat his father in the Melbourne Cup – though these O’Briens are not genetically related to their predecessors except by geography and of course extreme talent.

Happily for all concerned, Secreto missed the Irish Derby allowing El Gran Senor to win and for Messrs O’Brien, Sangster and John Magnier, O’Brien’s son-in-law, to collect the multi-million stud fee that seemed to have gone by the board after Epsom.

The bloodstock world of 2017 continues to have echoes of its make-up of 30 years ago, and one of the biggest players these days is Peter Brant, owner of White Birch Farm and a New Yorker, like Weisbord and Joe Allen, owner of the last top-class Danzig colt, War Front, and Brant’s brother-in-law.

My first trip to Kentucky in November 1982 was arranged by David Hedges, founder of the International Racing Bureau, who organised my stay at Robin Scully’s Clovelly Farm in Lexington. On the Sunday before the sale we went to the Hyatt hotel for alcohol-free – Kentucky was “dry” on a Sunday in those days – drinks with Henryk de Kwiatkowski, Danzig’s owner, and Brant.

On hearing that I worked for the Daily Telegraph, Brant said: “If you could sort out the unions, British newspapers would make anyone a fortune”. I told him the Telegraph was for sale and he should make a bid. He didn’t and years later spent some time in jail.

During the sale, when I spent much of the time with de Kwiatkowski, we were in one of the bars, when the American owner Danny Schwartz called over. “Rick, we’ve bought a lovely colt”. When I looked at the sales returns I saw the horse had been knocked down to Sir Philip Payne-Gallway, agent to Stavros Niarchos, so in my article I speculated that Niarchos and Sangster had gone into partnership.

Imagine my frustration when I learned that a minor dispute with the print unions had prevented any of my offerings that week making the street. A year later, Niarchos, Magnier, Vincent O’Brien, Sangster and Schwartz were all listed as partners in Seattle Dancer, the $13.1 million colt who never lived up to his pedigree as half-brother by Northern Dancer to Triple Crown hero Seattle Slew.

I expect Barry Weisbord will be at the foal and mare sale this week and next which will conclude proceedings for the bloodstock year. The decent yearlings on sale today will be an aperitif to what is sure to be extravagant business at the later stages of the foals on Friday and Saturday and the early part of the broodmares next week when some choice lots will be eagerly-sought.

David Cassidy made a massive impact, especially on pre-pubescent girls in his heyday, as at least one article in the Daily Mail chronicled. A Grade 2 win for his filly Sweet Vendetta was probably enough to satisfy his yearning for racing success and there will always be others to follow in his footsteps. What could be better than owning a good horse, or even a not-so-good one that gets you into the winner’s enclosure? Not much, from where I stand.

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