Getting to Goodwood last Saturday was an achievement in itself. On the Bank Holiday weekend I calculated a cross-country route from Oxfordshire to avoid the traffic. All went well until my satnav threw a hissy fit at my variations. Its female voice, that of an eager hockey mistress contemplating a career change to dominatrix, instructed me to take the fourth turning off a roundabout that possessed only three. Shortly afterwards came a peremptory order to ‘turn right’ off a long straight road that offered no exit, so I switched her off and navigated the old-fashioned way with a map. Even then there were problems: when I stopped in one leafy Surrey lane to seek confirmation from a sensible-looking lady in a headscarf that I was on the right road, I was puzzled at the way she backed away from the car window rather than approaching it with her advice. At the time I blamed the garlic in the excellent turkey koftas Mrs Oakley had served the night before: only afterwards did I realise that perhaps it is not wise to approach single females on the kerbside with your CD playing Jose Feliciano’s heavily suggestive version of ‘C’mon Baby, Light My Fire’. She probably passed on my number to the local constabulary.
After that journey I should have kept my betting money in my pocket. In the first race I was tempted by Jim and Fitri Hay’s The Corsican, trained by David Simcock, but having been told by a friend that the trainer thought he might need the run I backed the former Ascot winner Remote, trained by John Gosden. The Corsican, an improving horse, won nicely while poor Remote finished fifth of six, having bled from the nose.
Jim and Fitri have some excellent prospects this season and Jim is not afraid of a decent punt. The Corsican was backed from 9–2 to 7–2 and I suspect his owners took home more than the winner’s prize of £22,280. To add to that, Fitri owns The Corsican’s dam.
I backed the Hays’s Felix Mendelssohn in the next, but he did not appear to be suited to Goodwood’s undulations and could finish only fourth behind Ayrad, ridden by Graham Lee. With The Corsican having been ridden by Jim Crowley, it meant that the first two winners at the famous Flat course had been partnered by former jump jockeys and switching codes seems to be a growing trend. A former Grand National winner like Graham Lee, Timmy Murphy has now switched from jump racing to Flat while other lesser-known names such as Stephen Craine ride both on the Flat and over obstacles.
I remember talking to Jim Crowley, now the Hays’s main rider, back in 2006 when he switched to the Flat and made an immediate impression riding horses for his sister-in-law Amanda Perrett. He told me then, ‘You race so much tighter on the Flat. You have to tidy yourself up …in jumping there’s more time to recover if you miss the break and are not quite where you want to be. It’s not so good on the Flat if you’re seventh or eighth and wanted to be second or third …you’ve got to be on the ball.’
I thought it would be interesting then to hear Graham Lee’s reflections on the different disciplines given his huge success in riding a hundred winners in his first Flat season. Perhaps, though, I did not choose my day to interview a Yorkshireman who treats words as potential treasures best kept under the mattress and who regards the use of an adjective as reckless abandon. If I had had trouble reaching Goodwood from Oxfordshire, Graham Lee had fared worse. Starting from near Middlesbrough at 7 a.m. he failed to make it to the course in time for his first ride at 1.45 and I should have learned from the jockey’s on-air conversation with the eternally amiable and informative parade-ring commentator Anthony Kemp about his victory on Ayrad. Roughly translated it went like this: How had the race developed around him? ‘Didn’t see. I was in front all the way.’ Hadn’t this horse been doing well on the gallops? ‘They didn’t tell me.’
I fared no better. Riding on the Flat instead of over jumps you have to make decisions faster in five-furlong sprints than in a three-mile steeplechase. You have to do a lot more for a skittish two-year-old first time out than you do for a seasoned steeplechaser. So what difference has Graham found in the second phase of his career. ‘No jumps.’ But what about the tactics on the Flat, the split-second decisions? ‘It’s just the same. When the gates open you’ve got to get to the line first, obstacles or no obstacles,’ and off he went. Thanks, Graham, that taught us a lot.
At least then I had the consolation of backing a winner, when Quest For More held on well to take the 1m 6f stayers’ race at 9–2. Graham had two blank rides and a second. I hope his journey home was better.
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