Women truly are different. Recovering in a spare bedroom from the wonders of a hip replacement (don’t ever jump on industrial-sized wheelie bins to compress the contents), I passed Mrs Oakley’s bedroom at 3 a.m. to find her light on. What was wrong? ‘I can’t get to sleep,’ she complained, ‘because I know there’s something I should be worrying about but I can’t remember what it is.’
My worry in recent weeks has taken a more obvious shape: how to explain to Spectator readers the performance of our Twelve to Follow on the Flat. You may remember (well, I do anyway) that our Twelve over jumps last season amassed a staggering profit of £430 to a £10 stake. Sadly we have fared rather less well with the summer Twelve. Between them they appeared in 49 races.
Charlie Hills’s Just The Judge won the Irish 1,000 Guineas, Ralph Beckett’s Secret Gesture was second in the Oaks, and Marco Botti’s Senafe was third in the German 1,000 Guineas. But only five of the twelve actually won races. The best priced was Roger Charlton’s Captain Cat, who scored at Kempton at 7–1. Henry Candy’s Cape Peron, sent to France for suitable ground, won at 42/10. Our only dual scorer was Luca Cumani’s Semeen, who collected both at Leicester and Haydock. But at 10/11 and 7–4 those two did little for the bank balance.
My biggest disappointment was Sir Robert Ogden’s luckless Baccarat, a lightly raced character whom I kept in the Twelve for a second season convinced he would win a big sprint. At Ascot he was drawn on the wrong side. At York he was badly hampered by a faller. Finally at Ripon he revealed his true worth by winning the Great St Wilfrid handicap at 9–2, breaking the course record in the process. He should have gone on to capture the Ayr Gold Cup, but once again he got the worst of the draw and finished only fifth. His final race of the season was in York’s Coral Sprint Trophy in which his jockey, the normally dependable Tony Hamilton, had him slowly away and stuck throughout behind a wall of horses. Said Timeform: ‘He didn’t enjoy much room and can be forgiven this.’ I am less inclined to feel that way about his jockey.
Baccarat apart, my only regret is the half-length by which One Word More, ridden splendidly by Graham Gibbons, went down to Breton Rock in the Beauty of Doncaster Cup in September. He was 25–1 that day and victory would have ensured us a healthy overall profit for the season. As it was, our return to the £490 invested was only £263, a loss of £127.
So now back to the winter game where Tony McCoy has already put his stamp on the season by riding his 4,000th winner over jumps, an incredible achievement by a man who is a true ambassador for his sport. A trainer he rides for regularly outside his J.P. McManus retainer is Rebecca Curtis.
I will start the winter Twelve with her Bob Ford, who was second at Ffos Las on his seasonal appearance. He stays for ever, copes with the mud and will surely win some long-distance chases. From the same yard Doing Fine should win a three-mile hurdle or two when the ground is not too soft.
This column has always been a fan of Emma Lavelle. She had a torrid time with the virus last year but has already passed last year’s winning total and is currently sweeping all before her. I was very impressed by Le Bec, who beat some top-class horses at Cheltenham last week and will surely be back there for the Festival. Another woman trainer in good form is Venetia Williams, and the very first horse I pencilled in for this year’s selections was her Katenko, such an exciting jumper when winning at Sandown and Cheltenham last year. He missed much of last season after suffering colic and undergoing a life-saving operation.
From Paul Nicholls’s multi-horsepower yard I will include Rocky Creek, who will probably be seen first time out in the Hennessy on 30 November and might one day win a National and Southfield Theatre. From Nicky Henderson’s cluster of jewels I will go for Utopie des Bordes and from another big yard I like Philip Hobbs’s Aintree winner Royal Regatta.
The less-fashionable Ian Williams places his horses well and his A Tail Of Intrigue battled all the way with Ashes House in a maiden hurdle last weekend, 28 lengths clear of the rest. He should pay his way.
Charlie Longsdon has an amazing strike record this season and I include his Magnificent Etoile, the winner of a handicap hurdle at Aintree. That leaves us short of horses likely to figure on the northern tracks so I will include The Last Samurai, a Donald McCain hurdler and James Moffatt’s Redpender. From last year’s batch, I will retain the biggest contributor to our profits, Jonjo O’Neill’s Holywell. He has apparently taken well to fences, although I doubt if we’ll be getting 33–1 on any success this season.
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