Monday Musings: Some Luck on Saturday

I sometimes tune into Luck on Sunday, Nick Luck’s show on Racing TV, and always enjoy at least some of it, writes Tony Stafford. The odd regular might not be quite so welcome around my Sunday breakfast table but it was great that this morning he devoted half an hour to the brilliant Colin McKenzie, best known as the man who found Ronnie Biggs, the Great Train Robber.

Slightly older than me, since Oxford Colin has eased seamlessly into whichever area of journalism he arrived in: from his earliest days in the old William Hickey social column on the then pre-eminent Daily Express, through to the formative days of the Racing Post at Brough Scott’s invitation, and thence to 20 years as the Daily Mail’s correspondent he’s been a player.

McKenzie loved a scoop, none better than when he travelled out to Brazil, where Biggs had been living for a number of years, to interview him. The paper’s then Editor unceremoniously  ”shafted” him by reporting to Scotland Yard that the Wandsworth prison escapee was living in Brazil, quite openly doing carpentry work for various Americans in Rio.

That episode, the one that resounds still more than 40 years after the fact, characterises Colin’s career, but so does the late in his Mail tenure story when he revealed that Kieren Fallon would be getting a ban for a second failed drug test in France, soon after Dylan Thomas’s Arc win.

Everyone else who had been reporting on the Old Bailey race fixing trial in 2007 which collapsed leaving Fallon technically free to resume riding, took that route. McKenzie, soon to retire from the Mail, had some inside information that the French would step in if Fallon was cleared. He took the solo route and was proved correct.

In between, indeed soon after his Biggs triumph, McKenzie received hot information from someone in his social milieu that Lord Lucan, another <assumed> criminal on the run – in his case after the murder of his children’s nanny of which he was suspected – and thought to be protected by his society pals, was alive and well and living in South Africa.

Luck probed skilfully for a few minutes, trying to draw out some detail, but McKenzie, with a “memoirs” book probably still in the back of his mind, preferred to stay pretty schtum. Can’t wait for that one. I wonder if they’ll send me a copy?

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The other part of the show I enjoyed was the telephone interview with Sam Waley-Cohen, whose win on his father’s horse Impulsive Star in the Classic Chase at Warwick proved once again that he has few peers as a steeplechase rider.

Impulsive Star, lightly raced over the past two seasons, drew on all his rider’s skill as he took advantage of his light weight and the 3lb allowance he is still entitled to claim. Almost laughably so, one might say as the 36-year-old veteran of six wins around the Grand National fences – plus a second in the National itself on Oscar Time in 2011 – and the Gold Cup on another of his father’s great horses, Long Run, the first in the race by an amateur for 30 years, hardly needs any extra help.

Those of us tempted by Impulsive Star’s chance could hardly miss the frequent pre-race mentions of the fact that Sam would almost certainly be putting up overweight – it’s been years since he has even tried to do a weight as light as 9st 12lb. The biggest put-away merchant it seems was father Robert, Chairman of Cheltenham racecourse, another track where Sam historically has done well.

Well Sam did the weight, but even so when the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Calett Mad moved up to join and then pass Impulsive Star at the second last in the short Warwick straight after the three miles, five furlongs, the game seemed up. Here one might have anticipated Sam’s wasting-induced strength running out, but between the last two fences, Waley-Cohen galvanised Impulsive Star and by the line he had more than three lengths to spare. I had to take a second look at the film after seeing the result in print yesterday.

This was only the fourth Rules win and 14th ride for Waley-Cohen since the start of the 2018-19 season back in April. By contrast, young James Bowen, rider of the runner-up and who was not born as Sam recalled “when I had my first winner around Warwick” has won 51 from 338 this season.

Apart from his riding credentials, Sam Waley-Cohen, a prominent charity fund-raiser since the death of his younger brother Tom from cancer just before his 20th birthday in 2004, has multiple interests. He climbs mountains, runs marathons, pilots planes and helicopters, skis and boxes all for fun, which is precisely his approach to his riding.

In business he has developed the Portman Dentalcare brand into a company with – according to the record I saw yesterday – 15 centres. As long ago as 2011, as well as winning the delayed until January King George at Kempton, ending Kauto Star’s run of four and two months later the Gold Cup, both with Long Run, he received the Spears Young Entrepreneur of the Year award. Some jockey – some man!

Kempton was my stamping ground on Saturday and for the second year in succession Mercian Prince leapt his rivals silly from first to last in the two and a half mile handicap chase sponsored by Unibet. Amy Murphy considers this ebullient jumper the horse that first put her ever-developing stable on the map, and he certainly works well with Jack Quinlan who was in synch with him from start to finish.

One of the better ideas on big-race Saturdays is that William Hill usually picks out a featured race on which to offer spectacular place terms. It need not be a race of their sponsorship and Kempton’s special offer was the also Unibet-backed Lanzarote Handicap Hurdle. Usual terms for 14-runner handicaps are three places at one-quarter the odds. Here Hills were paying out on the first six, but at one-fifth the odds, which is more than a fair exchange.

What it does and did do was encourage us (me and Peter, still trying despite the judge-lengths fiasco there two weeks ago) to look for an outsider that might make the first six. We landed rather fortuitously on Big Time Dancer, ridden by the upwardly-mobile Jonjo O’Neill, Jr., for trainer Jennie Candlish, who stayed at home in Staffordshire.

Initially a massive – considering he’d won his previous handicap at Doncaster by ten lengths, but admittedly up 9lb for that – 20-1 he was shortened to 16’s and all the way round this big slab of a horse was jumping fast and coasting along untroubled in midfield.

From a long way out only the prospect of a fall threatened at worst the place part of the bet’s being landed, for an effective 6-4 all-round win, but once in the straight, success looked inevitable. The same goes for young Jonjo. His dad wasn’t too bad and the young man couldn’t have two nicer parents with mum Jacqui also playing a big part in the Jackdaws Castle story. They must be very proud and rightly so.

Tony Stafford

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