George Bernard Shaw once asked a female acquaintance on a cruise ship, ‘Will you sleep with me for £10,000?’, and received an affirmative answer. When he followed up by asking her, ‘Would you sleep with me for £10’, the lady took considerable umbrage, demanding furiously, ‘What do you think I am?’ ‘That,’ said the playwright, ‘has already been established. Now we are merely negotiating the price.’ We are all after a price for something. Having been deeply impressed by his prep run on the Polytrack, I have been trying to find a bookmaker willing to offer me an ante post price on Blue Bajan for Lingfield’s Winter Derby. But the four I tried all limply insisted that they wouldn’t be quoting prices until the day. Considering how much in racing is done to keep their cashflow going, it is often a poor service we receive from the layers in return. The slide-rule men long ago took over from the cavaliers.
It can be a frustration writing a fortnightly Turf column for a weekly magazine. The calendar ensures that by the time you read this the Cheltenham Festival will be all but over. If by then David Pipe, who I hope will also have won the Queen Mother Champion Chase with Well Chief, has picked up a handicap hurdle prize with Gaspara, then you can be sure that the old enemy will be hurting. At Sandown last Saturday, Gaspara’s victory in the Sunderlands Imperial Cup, as 11–4 favourite, underlined how little has changed at Nicolashayne since David Pipe, who has already clocked up more than 100 winners in his first season, took over from father Martin this season.
The Imperial carries a bonus prize of £75,000 for any horse which goes on to win at the Cheltenham Festival. Martin Pipe not only won the Imperial Cup six times but also secured that bonus, once with Olympian, once with Blowing Wind, for his owners. This time Martin is himself the owner of the four-year-old French filly and the exultant embraces of the Pipe clan in front of the big screen in the Sandown betting hall, where Martin always watches the racing, suggested that a long-planned coup had come to fruition.
Some victories take longer than others to organise. Paul Webber, whose bumper horses are always worth an interest, declared after the final of the European Breeders Fund mares-only bumper: ‘If I had a Ryan Price-style trilby I would tilt it to one side and say, “That was the plan”.’ In fact, he explained, it had been the plan for 2006 but after his winning mare Swaythe had suffered a series of niggling problems the connections agreed to wait for this year.
In the hands of young William Kennedy, Swaythe, who is owned by a bunch of Lloyd’s underwriters, came home three lengths clear of her field, which included eight previous winners, five of them unbeaten. She has a future, as does Edge Over, who was second recently in a hot bumper at Newbury, beaten only by unsuitable ground. After an iffy couple of seasons by Paul’s standards, the pendulum appears to be swinging back for the Webber yard. Had Swaythe been tried yet over hurdles, we asked. ‘Certainly not,’ smiled the trainer. ‘These boys are in insurance and they’ve only insured her to run on the Flat.’ But did I glimpse just the ghost of a Ryan Price trilby tilting there?
William Kennedy had the previous Saturday partnered Offemont, the strapping chaser owned by former trainer Lavinia Taylor and Miss Mary Talbot, when he ran at Kempton. Unfamiliar with the horse, he pulled him up after a couple of poor jumps, thinking he had gone lame. Quite rightly, too, said Lavinia, who wouldn’t have wanted any chances taken. Since Offemont is a lazy fellow who does nothing unless asked rather forcefully to do so, he was probably only too delighted to get away with half a race, but, reunited at Sandown with his regular pilot Tom Doyle, he was set about his business and stayed on well to beat the gambled-on Stan. ‘Horse and jockey have got confidence in each other,’ said the delighted owner. Offemont’s trainer Noel Chance put it a little more graphically: ‘He’s a lazy bugger and you have to bully him a little.’ The Taylors had watched the horse’s two previous outings while on holiday in South America, something they could never have contemplated while still training at Uplands. But they have not been exactly blessed with luck having switched to the owners’ life. Of the four horses (including the talented Montgermont) in which they have maintained an interest (with four different trainers) only Offemont is currently sound. And he was once struck into so badly at Newbury that they thought he might have to be put down. Offemont has had a busy time but it is a season likely to be curtailed once the ground dries up. ‘The more horrible the ground, the better it is for him,’ said Noel.
One ex-invalid who did prove his wellbeing at Sandown, and another one for next year’s notebook, is Killaghy Castle, trained by Nick Gifford. Killaghy Castle suffered such a bad overreach in a race three months ago that they thought the tendon sheath might have been cut, although fortunately it was not. But the damage was bad enough to require a three-month absence and the schooling gallop he had in the patient hands of Timmy Murphy in a field reduced to three runners was just what was needed. His trainer has no regrets about having kept him away from Cheltenham this year, insisting that is no place for inexperienced horses. ‘He’s still green and Timmy was getting some more education into him. Next season is what matters.’