Twelve to Follow
Iwas all ready for it to rain on the bonfires last Saturday night. Mrs Oakley’s cat and I share a deep dislike of Guy Fawkes night, in my case induced by going into hospital one long ago 6 November with a rugby-mashed face and seeing how many miserable burned children were in there, too. Selfishly, I expressed the hope over breakfast with trainer Paul Webber that the forecast rain would wait until we had got through the seven-race Sandown Park card.
Paul had been talking to Andrew Cooper, Sandown’s director of racing, and he warned: ‘Andrew says it will rain at three o’clock.’ Later, as the runners for a handicap hurdle headed for the start, it began to pour. I looked at my watch and it was 3 p.m. to the second. If I can ever induce Andrew Cooper to give me a tip, I will treble my usual stake. There’s a man with a line to the best information.
The Flat season having been, as usual, like Charles II, ‘an unconscionable time adying’, it was a joy to be at Sandown wet or dry for a meeting which always offers future pointers. Everything was reassuringly in place among those who provide us with our winter fare. Henrietta Knight was looking worried and being kind to a man in search of an autograph. Venetia Williams provided a one-woman winter fashion lesson, and produced a first-time-out winner in Schuh Shine. A decent chasing prospect, Without A Doubt, emerged from Mark Pitman’s stable wearing the black, white and yellow colours of Malcolm Denmark, and a juvenile hurdle raider from Patrick Haslam’s Middleham yard was backed down to odds-on and won the juvenile hurdle they took in 2004 with Yankeedoodledandy.
Mind you, Anne Haslam, representing her husband, had her heart in her mouth as Tom Doyle rode an explosive finish on the little-regarded Kanpai to get within a short head of their Alfred the Great, partnered by Barry Keniry. Tom, now sitting in sixth place in the jockeys’ table, needs only a big race winner to make the next leap forward, and he rode a peach of a race on Native Ivy, sneaking up the inside of Kelantan round the final bend and then holding off the challenge of Ken’tucky. ‘Tom nicked it by coming up the inside,’ said delighted trainer Colin Tinkler. ‘Our horse is a bit inclined to be lazy and it got him running again.’ Tom was also aboard Offemont, a promising French import trained by one of my favourite racing partnerships, Lavinia and John Taylor. Sadly, this is to be their last season at Uplands. As usual Gingembre, their former Hennessy and Scottish National winner, has been in and out of training with a series of problems and may or may not be seen out this season. I hope, though, that Montgermont, another ex-French chaser, will pay his way for them this season, and I am selecting him as one of my Twelve to Follow.
I like to include a Grand National candidate and, like Tony McCoy, I will look no further than Clan Royal, who was second in 2004 and who was taken out of the race by a loose horse when they were leading at Becher’s second time around this year.
For Cheltenham I am hoping that Nicky Henderson’s Trabolgan could be good enough to rival Kicking King for the Gold Cup in the tragic absence of Best Mate. Nobody prepares horses for the Festival better and yet Nicky has yet to win a Gold Cup. Trabolgan has been second in the Champion Bumper and this year won the Sun Alliance Chase.
Another likely Gold Cup sort is Nigel Twiston-Davies’s Ollie Magern, who showed his wellbeing after a spell off with injury by beating the Gold Cup second, Kingscliff, to win the Charlie Hall Chase last month.
Victor Dartnall always has some good bumpers as he showed by winning the Sandown event on Saturday with Here’s Johnny. But it is last year’s winner of that race, Karanja, who goes into the twelve. The mare won a red-hot Newbury bumper and has made a promising start over hurdles this season.
Len Lungo’s Brooklyn Breeze has had a breathing operation this summer and reemerged to win a tune-up over hurdles. His trainer warns that there must be a doubt he will last the distance of the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham this Saturday (12 November), but if he doesn’t there will be flat-track opportunities elsewhere.
After the way in which the Irish creamed the top jumping races last year, we need a couple from over the water. My first is Mouse Morris’s Fota Island, impressive in beating Kadount at Aintree and in winning Cheltenham’s Grand Annual chase. The once chancy jumper now seems to have the measure of the bigger obstacles. The other Irishman is Michael Hourigan’s novice hurdler Mossbank, whom he describes as ‘the next Beef or Salmon’.
They are said to be excited at Alan King’s Barbury Castle yard over Senorita Rumbalita. She showed her toughness in a rough Aintree bumper and should do well over hurdles. I pick her in narrow preference to King’s My Way De Solzen.
As each-way hopes for the Champion Hurdle and for other top hurdle races I fancy Faasel, from the yard of Nicky Richards, who did us well last year with Monet’s Garden, and Howard Johnson’s Mephisto. Somebody has to take on the Irish.
The final selection might have been Martin Pipe’s Zeta’s River or Paul Nicholls’s Phar Bleu. But it is difficult to get a good price on horses from those allpowerful yards, so let us try our luck with Tom George’s staying novice chaser Idle Talk, an impressive winner the other day at Worcester. While there is talk there is hope ...