Friday, October 20, 2006

Magical trips around the world and through the years

It's been a full day. I've got back in the house at 9.15 after our trip to Lingfield, it's too late to start doing any work, so what better way to unwind than with a blog? (I bet you thought I was going to say 'an Edgar' then). If I take long enough over this - oh dear, that will have alerted the anti-verbosity squad at the HRA to the possibility of my outdoing myself "in terms of" talking shite - I might even still be going when we've reached a suitable time to call Joff or Richard (Melbourne nine hours ahead of us currently) for a Caulfield Cup morning chat. (Sigh).

I ended yesterday by finishing 'The Lincoln Lawyer', yet another outstanding Michael Connolly. No Bosch, but none the worse for that. Joe gave us this book on his last visit, and I know he'd be pleased to know that we've now both enjoyed it as much as he told us that he had done. So he was in my mind last night, and I'm pleased to say that he's been very much there this afternoon, because Larry and Iris came down to Lingfield to join the Premier Cru for Jack Dawson's outing this arvo. I was so pleased when Larry rang me this morning to say they'd be coming, and Antony very kindly rang round the various Premier Crumen who were scheduled to attend to see how many they would be, ascertained that there would be two owners' tickets free, and said that he and his co-owners would be delighted for Larry and Iris to use these. So we had a good gathering in the parade ring: Paul and Margaret, Trevor and Sheila, and Larry and Iris. Jack looked great, despite his lengthening coat, and we had a good man aboard, The Head Waiter himself, George Baker. George, predictably, rode him perfectly, but unfortunately the race confirmed the suspicion that Jack isn't quite as fast as he was three or four years ago. The spirit is still very willing, but the flesh is starting to weaken. There's definitely another race in him, but as he is still quite highly-rated (especially over hurdles) how to find it is the question. Still, it was a pleasure just to be there, to see Jack looking so completely happy in his work, both before and after the race, and to know that, after all the fun he's given us and the injuries he's overcome, he's still a more-than-willing competitor. It seems strange to say it about a run which wasn't good, but it was only natural to head to the bar afterwards and, courtesy of Paul, polish off a couple of bottles of champagne between us. The true sporting ethos is that it's the taking part that really counts, and thanks to Jack we've been able to take part in style, over and over again.

They'll be taking part in style at Caulfield in ten hours or so. This time last year we were able to watch all the races, thanks to a rather bizarre arrangement which saw Aussie Sky on an obscure satellite channel here - 423 I seem to remember - courtesy of William Hill I think. Unsurprisingly this didn't last more than a few months, because there didn't appear any obvious commercial explanation for it being shown, so sadly we can't see the action this year. Jason Weaver told me at Lingfield today that he's hopeful of finding a telecast of the Cup on some internet site, but I don't share his optimism. Who's going to win? (Well, who's going to run is another question, Imperial Stride or Land N Stars? Not that I'd say it matters: Imperial Stride is good enough to win, but I doubt he's close enough to his peak to do that, while Land N Stars might be good enough to beat one or two, but surely no more than that). I'll be barracking for one of the Japs, Pop Rock, because a win for him would further bolster my already-too-high optimism for our Helissio yearling filly. We thrive on dreams. And we like to see superhoop Damien Oliver doing well. I see he's lost none of his competitive edge, as I read he picked up a 14-meeting suspension on Thousand Guineas Day, which kicks in after Caulfield Cup Day and then allows him to resume on Derby Day. Sphenophyta, part-owned by my fellow Winning Post columnist Shane Crawford, and Growl have surely to run well. It seems hard to believe that their riders can make those weights, particularly Nikolic, and I'd say that their determination to do so is a tip in itself.

I've only seen one Caulfield Cup in the flesh (I'm being very self-indulgent here, so if you're getting bored, don't feel awkward about admitting it, and just skip the rest of this piece - but I feel it's important to get in the mood for one of the year's great racedays, and my way of doing so is banging on about it - and as I'm home alone, the blog-readers are the only audience I have) but that was a cracker. 1991. Let's Elope. There was a wonderful Racetrack centrespread the following month, and this was when Racetrack was a large almost-broadsheet magazine, of the field approaching the first turn, and it rates as one of the best photographs I've ever seen. The fire in the eyes of all the horses (well, all bar one, because Ivory Way was wearing pacifiers) says it all about the fierce competitiveness of the race. I think I'll dig it out this evening and look at it before I go to bed. A great race - but if I could only watch one race, it would have to be the Cox Plate. I've only seen one Cox Plate in the flesh - Surfer's Paradise, 1991 - but I've seen two more live on TV: The Phantom Chance, 1993, in the bar after the last race of an outstanding card at Rotorua, and Makbe Diva last year, at home here before going out to start work for the day. But, of course, being able to see it on TV in the UK was an aberration, so we won't have that luxury next week. But the following week it will be roses all the way, as I'll be on course for my fourth VRC Derby, following Fire Oak in 1990, Star Of The Realm in 1991, and - um, this is embarrassing, who won the Derby in 1993? The Mackinnon winners from those days - Better Loosen Up, Let's Elope and The Phantom, three years after running placed in the Melbourne Cup and one week after his several-years-younger full-brother won the Cox Plate (which explains why The Phantom received perhaps the most memorable standing ovation I've ever seen at a racecourse) - are easy to remember, but who won that Derby? Bloody hell! I've a feeling it was Mahogany, but that seems so bloody unlikely for a horse who won the Lightning Stakes about three years later. I'll just go and check in Greg Hall's book to see if it was indeed he and get back. (And feed the dogs while I'm at it).

Um, yes, Mahogany it was. The greatest horse to win a Derby for umpteen years, I was there, and I couldn't remember. Oh dear. Anyway, the gist of this gentle meander down memory lane is that, as you'll be able to work out, I'm really looking forward to our trip. And if either By Storm or Lady Suffragette can set us up for it with a win on Monday, that would be even better.

But for trips down memory lane, one I had midweek was pretty special. Technically, this isn't a trip down memory lane, because this photo was taken in 1901, so nobody who was around when it was taken is still alive so it isn't in anyone's memory - but even so, allow me some latitude and I'll tell you about a photograph I was privileged to see in a scrap book on Wednesday. The compiler of the book had, it appeared, come to Newmarket on holiday in July 1901, and was taken out on the Heath to watch the horses work. The date and time (7am) are written in alongside a photo of two horses who happened to walk past. One of them was Diamond Jubilee, winner of the previous year's Derby (even Triple Crown, I think). It was so much to take in I couldn't be sure exactly, but I think the other horse was also a champion, an Oaks filly perhaps. And Herbert Jones, his regular jockey, was on Diamond Jubilee, with Bobby Jones on the other horse. And, and this is the really special part, both jockeys were riding out in broad-brimmed straw hats (even in the sepia-tinted black and white photos, one could tell that it was, even at 7am, a true sunny summer's day). It was just magic. To see that, completely unexpectedly, as a snap in someone's holiday scrap-book and to read the exact details inscribed alongside was the closest thing to time-travel one could get. One could see the dust and feel the heat, and suddenly this horse who is still a household name and his equally-famous jockey (in his broad-brimmed straw sunhat) were just strolling past. Pure magic.

Isn't racing a wonderful sport?

6 comments:

problemwalrus said...

Todays piece reminded me what a great sport racing is.One of my own favourite memories ia racing held in the summer on the beach at Sanlucar de Barremeda.5 races.A wait for the tide to go out.The starting stalls towed along the beach.The runners preceeded in the race by a Guardia Civil (National police) jeep.And one of the competitors a former selling plater once trained by Gaye Kelleway.On course catering -tapas and manzanilla.What Memories do others hold dear?

D.D. Fan Club said...

Wath

I sympathize with the lack of Caulfield Cup coverage for you. But how about this. Got up at midnight to watch the terrific card at Newbury only to be given 5 races from Lingfield. I assumed that Newbury must have been off but quick look on net showed that the meeting was on. Could be contract reasons or maybe those in control are not serious about long term coverage as the betting pools held about the same as a Bulli dog race.

Commander Collings said...

On the subject of memorable races:

The date: Saturday, 25 October 2003

The place: the sweltering open-air press box just past the finish line at Santa Anita (with forest fires and the San Gabriel mountains for a backdrop)

The race: a 20-minute wait for the photo-finish result to the Breeders' Cup Turf which ended in a dead-heat between High Chaparral and Johar. The Commander's money was on the mighty Falbrav, who was just a head behing this pair in third, but no-one could have minded, having just witnessed one of the most thrilling races in memory.

War'n'Place said...

The HRA word police are going to be out on this one - surely twice the length of the last blog. Who makes up these HRA quotes about "cutting the crap" and "talking shite", apart from The Master? I'm sure such polite and gentle people in their offices would never use such language.

I wonder what The Master's opinion on the loss of the horse Bula from the race title, as an expert on racing's rich heritage? I just wonder whether the Arkle is next? Not that many current racegoers will have heard of him, so using Mr Gillespie's logic the title could get changed. I think the only way the "youf of today" get to know about racing's heritage is through these old race titles and we ask ourselves "who is Arkle? what did he do?".

joff said...

Far from bored Wath. All great races as evidenced by them being burnt (or singed in the case of Mahogany) into your memory. Brilliant race Saturday. 80% fit Hamdan import saluting in the style of his Metrop win, Japanese horses running blinders and only a length or two between the first six. Great, clean but competitive race run in brilliant sunshine in front of third biggest CC crowd ever - nothing better. More sunshine at 6am today at Moonee Valley for 'Breakfast With The Best'. Impressed by Racing To Win, Red Dazzler, Undue, Efficient and the hash browns.
Look forward to seeing you out here and maybe even speaking beforehand!

Stato-man said...

no wonder your audience is dwindling - and I am worried you too will incur a suspension out here next week for incessant verbal drivel.
Glenda Bullen is anxiously awaiting to enjoy some brahmas with also.
PS: 2002 Cox Plate for me - Northerly, Defier, Grandera and Sunline