Last Wednesday, my wife suggested a trip to the seaside to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary, writes Tony Stafford. This Thursday will be the 49th anniversary of my first wedding – I doubt I’ll be marking that date other than sub-consciously, never mind next year.
The present Mrs S’s suggestion for the location of the trip came as a result of a friend’s recent experience. “I’d like to go to Sandbanks”, she said, and in preparation she scoured the internet for suitable lunch venues.
The previous time I’d visited the now exclusive resort, on the Poole (therefore Western) side of Bournemouth, was only a few years into my initial association in the early 1970’s but I’ll come to that a little later.
We arrived just before 2 p.m. but still in time for a quick lunch. The chosen restaurant proved to be yards from the car park and when I saw it was Rick Stein I could hardly believe my eyes – or my luck!
Me: “You know while you’re catching up on all those Russian programmes on the computer upstairs, I’m often watching the Food Channel < 133>? Well it’s usually Rick Stein!”
Her: “Really, I’ve never heard of him!”
The food was great, as it had been when Brian Meehan and his now wife Jax took me and a dozen other people to the Marlborough High Street branch of Rick’s last October after the parade of available yearlings at which I spotted Laxmi.
A leisurely walk along the beach towards Canford Cliffs and an ice cream followed in the 30 degree heat, before a return home listening to the England-Australia 20-20 on the car radio. Do not worry, dear reader, Mrs S had the earphones on and had something more suitable to entertain her.
The first trip to Sandbanks, as with most things in the early years of my Daily Telegraph employ, resulted from a telephone call from Fleet Street after the sales results from Doncaster appeared in the Sporting Life newspaper of that day.
A twice-raced horse called Princehood, trained at Newmarket by Atty Corbett, had won on debut by a short head, but had appeared only once subsequently, running down the field. Probably broken down, he was sent to the sales and made only 360gns to the bid of Mrs Louie Dingwall.
I believe it was in 1972 or the following year, but sadly the mountain of racing books that occupied the loft of a former Stafford household were dispersed many years ago. What I do know is that I called Mrs D, who would have been pushing 80 <born 1893> and asked if she had an owner.
“No, my dear”, she replied in the Devonian burr she retained for all her long life – she died aged 89 in 1982 – and we agreed that I would organise a syndicate to buy the gelding, a light-framed chestnut as I recall. <I wanted to say chesnut, but the computer’s word-check would not allow it, even though the Telegraph style book would definitely have given the latter ruling>.
So I managed to find nine like-minded souls, mostly in the paper’s sports room, and a trio of likely punters from the Coral shop opposite to pay 30 quid each and we had a horse! One guy was called David Oldbury, and I haven’t seen him for 40 years. The other two were Trevor Halling and Chris Allen, both musicians, and Trevor, as a result of our meeting, eventually became a racing journalist. His son Nick is a boxing commentator on television.
A few days after the initial contact, I found my way to Sandbanks, then nothing like the swish resort it is now. I located the petrol pump and small garage on the beach and the nearby stables, obviously no longer to be seen.
Mrs D, by this time nearly blind, had as recently as 1968 driven her horsebox all the way down to Cagnes-sur-Mer to win the local Grand Prix, worth £6,000, with the veteran gelding Treason Trial. She had been a taxi and ambulance driver during the War from the garage on the almost deserted sands and was one of the first women to be granted a licence when the Jockey Club relented in 1966.
That day I met the jump jockey Gary Old, who was to form a winning partnership a little later with the Donald Underwood-trained True Song, trained near Godalming, down the road from Trevor Halling’s home, and also veteran Sussex trainer Paddy Butler. Gary, who died a few years back, used to ride the jumpers, but as soon as the weather turned, he’d switch to summer mode, renting deck chairs as a beach gigolo.
During the war years, Gordon W Richards, also a West Countryman, went to stay with Louie and her husband Archie when a raw 11-year-old as the stable apprentice. Better than sweeping chimneys! Gordon, who had the “W” imposed – he had no middle name – to differentiate him from the 26-times Champion Jockey, became one of the great National Hunt trainers of the second half of the last Century far away from Dorset up in Cumbria where son Nicky still trains.
I digress. Princehood had a few runs for Mrs D, but in the manner of partnerships, a change was soon mooted. I’d got to know Ken (Window) Payne in his days training in the New Forest and he had by then moved into the main yard of Kingsley House – now the focal point of Mark Johnston’s operation in Middleham.
Ken reputedly not only used to sell multiple shares in single horses – there were apocryphal tales of six half-shareholders in some animals – but also occasionally resorted to housing two horses in a box such was his popularity for a while.
In the end he ran off with his (male) hairdresser years after his wife Lynda had decamped for a fling with the singer Gilbert O’Sullivan. One of the best Payne stories, of which there are many, concerned the day when he ran two horses in a four-runner Warwick (?) seller. Stable apprentice John Curant rode the winner, Big Jake, while Lester Piggott had the mount on the unfancied Mr Bojangles. Or was it the other way round? Why did I let those form books go?
We moved the horse to Payne, and we were on to a man when told he’d win the Doncaster seller one Thursday afternoon. He was unplaced. Two days later, some of us watched in the bar of the pub next door with a mixture of horror and disbelief as Princehood – his race televised on BBC with Julian Wilson’s commentary – strode home at 14-1 in a Lanark handicap, setting a track record.
Last week I wrote about the likelihood of Sod’s Law’s being balloted out of last Wednesday’s London Gold Cup qualifying race at Kempton and he duly missed the cut by one, three horses on the same weight getting in.
It looked long odds-on that a similar fate would befall him this week in another of the series, but after Hughie Morrison took his terrier-like reasoning into battle with the BHA’s Paul Johnson arguing that there was no reason that the BHA could not sanction a division of the race, he won the day. Let’s hope Sod’s Law runs well on Wednesday. As Hughie said after his triumph, “I didn’t make any new friends today!”
On Friday, up in Co Durham, I saw Sod’s Law’s full-brother, a gorgeous flashy chestnut colt foal with four white socks and a big white face, along with two more home-bred foals, both by Garswood. When Gabrial The Wire won unchallenged the following day at Chester, we were encouraged that, as with Dutch Art and Mayson, both previously patronised, the choice of cheap-as-chips Garswood and Cheveley Park stud would pay off for Ray Tooth one day.