While doing my best under a straw hat – wasn’t it etiquette in the old days never to wear one before Goodwood? – to avoid the unrelenting sun at Newbury on Saturday, I caught a glimpse of a jockey of former days, writes Tony Stafford. It was Bob Curant, someone I knew on little more than nodding acquaintance, but his brother John much more so. Bob, never in the top flight, was always a dependable jockey mostly for Lambourn trainers.
I’ve trotted out the tale of when Johnny, then a 5lb claimer, and Lester Piggott, multiple champion, were the pair in a small selling-plate field riding for Curant’s boss, Ken Payne. John of course was on the winner. I trust the irascible “window” Payne rewarded Lester suitably for the indignity.
John was a friend of Rod Simpson’s early on in their racing careers and as a result we got to know each other quite well. I called out to Bob, “How’s Johnny?” from my pitch outside the new, lavish owners’ facility at Newbury – where the long drawn-out building transformation is going on apace. The reply shocked me: “He’s not too bad now”, revealing unexpectedly a four-year period of illness that his brother has been going through.
The Curant boys originally came from Putney and after John retired, for a number of years his then girlfriend Sue ran quite a smart fashionable stall at Cheltenham racecourse. He was unfailingly friendly and cheerful, attributes which I hope are helping him through his adversity.
I would never have started off this always random affair but for the fact that, blow me down, in yesterday’s list of Racing Post birthdays, there was Bob Curant, aged 69, listed as the rider of decent sprinters, Frimley Park and Gabitat.
Slightly older at 73 on yesterday’s list was Howard Wright, significantly so as it’s him one has to notify to get included on said roster. When Sam Sangster bumped into me, also at Newbury earlier in the spring, asking how to join racing’s who’s who, we had to contact Howard, via wife Ann (sorry Howard I can never remember, should it be Anne?) for onward communication to supreme arbiter John Randall. Howard, as usual, was working away on a job – in Korea if you please – he’s retired, you see.
Howard, of course, best known as former Deputy Editor and lndustry Editor at the Post as well as a Director of the Northern Racing College, initially came down to London from South Yorkshire to work with me when I first took over as Racing Editor at the Daily Telegraph. However hard I try, I can never quite catch him up for age – and many other things besides.
Bob Curant shares an exact birth date with Seth Hancock, whom I never really got to know back in the distant past when I first went out to Kentucky in November 1982 on the recommendation of the late David Hedges – why me, David? – founder of the still-flourishing International Racing Bureau. Seth took over the legendary Kentucky nursery on the death of his father Arthur B (Bull) Hancock when aged only 23 back in 1972.
That first US trip brought me into contact with Henryk de Kwiatkowski, owner of Danzig, who was already standing at Clairborne where Seth had syndicated him for $2.8 million after going unbeaten in three minor races for Henryk. The following year, the son of Northern Dancer’s first crop showed exceptional talent right off the bat and continued to do so for the next two decades as it was in 2002 that War Front was born. Although only winning one (a Grade 2 handicap) of his seven starts for Joseph Allen, former husband of the late Henryk’s wife Barbara, he has since attracted Coolmore’s attention and for them has produced many top horses, most topically US Navy Flag, winner of last weekend’s July Cup.
The Hancock family were involved in the process whereby a toss of a coin led to Secretariat’s ending in the ownership of Penny Chenery rather than the Phipps family, New York nobility where racing and finance are concerned. Secretariat’s rider, unlike his owner, is still with us. Ron Turcotte was 77 yesterday.
Two more jockeys with a July 22 birthday, who’ve ridden eiher for me or for Ray Tooth are Iona Wands, unbelievably 43, and Adam Beschizza, 26, still the source of mirth when an appearance in front of the stewards is recalled. “Could you give us your name?” “Biscuit,sir <Beschizza>”. “Well, Mr Biscuit”.
Adam, who rode a pretty dire horse trained by Chris Wall for my boss last year, has since departed for the US. He, like Sophie Doyle, is making a much bigger impact over there than would have been the case in the UK.
Sophie’s brother James, after a tricky period when Godolphin’s internal politics meant he needed to replace temporarily the banned (for betting offences) James McDonald in Australia over the winter, is now in full swing and not just for his principal employers.
On Saturday, Doyle dominated a day that beforehand looked Ballydoyle’s personal property with a hat-trick in the Group races on the Curragh, culminating in a thrilling last-stride win on the William Haggas-trained Sea of Class, carrying the Tsui family colours adorned with such distinction by the filly’s sire, Sea the Stars.
Doyle’s classy ride denied a fourth 2018 Classic win to Donnacha O’Brien, riding Forever Together, on whom he’d won the Oaks when Ryan Moore partnered Magic Wand. Moore stayed loyal to the latter filly, but after her lack-lustre effort in fifth, Aidan O’Brien suggested she might be ailing.
Donnacha, winner of two of his 28 rides in the UK this year, clearly has few problems with his temperament, as those two were Saxon Warrior in the 2,000 Guineas and Forever Together in the Oaks. His places include Forever Together at Chester behind Magic Wand, Saxon Warrior in the Coral-Eclipse and seconds on Gustav Klimt (St James’s Palace Stakes) and Rostropovich, behind William Buick on Old Persian in the King Edward VII Stakes, both at Royal Ascot.
Buick, like Donnacha, has made a big impact in the top races this year, with Masar’s Derby for Charlie Appleby and Godolphin taking pride of place, along with the pair’s Dubai World Cup with Hawkbill back in March.
Coincidentally, both Buick, 30, and Donnacha, ten years his junior, also celebrated birthdays on July 22. William took time on Friday night in the Newmarket paddock to come over and partake in selfies with a friend of a friend, still the same helpful person he’d been 14 years earlier when he first took out his licence.
Donnacha, at 20, seemingly has his potential weight difficulties under control and the racing world at his feet. He leads the Irish jockeys list and with the power of his father’s and brother Joseph’s stables to call on, will be hard for Colin Keane to catch. Amazingly none of his 212 domestic rides, which have brought 56 wins this year, has been for a stable outside the family circle: shades of Dan and Harry Skelton.
One last footnote: I was able to enjoy the splendours of the Newbury owners’ room thanks to the absent Lew Day, owner of Spark Plug, who unfortunately did not fire in Saturday’s opener. With the Ashmore family I shared a table with Chris and Jenny Powell who said that although they had more horses in training than previously, they hadn’t been having much luck, suggesting that Jenny’s filly Ginger Nut had it all to do in a highly-competitive Weatherbys Super Sprint.
An hour later, the pair were in the winner’s enclosure after the filly’s thrilling £122,000 win – I thought my fancy Kinks was a little unlucky in third – celebrating with Richard Hannon junior, but regretting that Hannon senior, who’d been the inspiration with Lord Carnarvon for setting up the race, rarely goes racing nowadays and was an absentee.
Peter’s mum Elizabeth is a once-a-meeting £2 punter, often on short-priced favourites. On Saturday, considering the company at lunch and the fact that ginger nuts are her favourite biscuit, she collected a gargantuan £28.40 from her minimum stake. Biscuit, sir? Naturally!