Horses with egos
If I had oodles of the folding stuff and owned a few really good flat performers, guess I would be tempted to send them to Barry Hills or Michael Stoute or Henry Cecil or another of those used to handling big battalions of the very best. But if I came back in the next life as a horse, or even as an apprentice jockey, I think I might rather go to Eric Wheeler. The Pangbourne trainer was beaming after his good old servant Dancing Mystery had won the Tote Showcase handicap at Ascot on Saturday in the hands of his 31h-claimer Steve Carson. And it was as much pleasure for his horse as for himself.
Explaining that the seven-year-old, who won six races last year, had suffered from muck on his lungs and taken time to come right, Wheeler added that Dancing Mystery had found it a bit of a struggle in better class Listed races. 'The horse has got an ego. He was getting demoralised. He deserved that win.' So how much of an ego did Dancing Mystery have, I asked him. 'All horses have brains,' said Eric. They need to be kept happy. You have to understand them. You have to find them a girlfriend or a chum.' He'd seen life in big yards, he said, where all they knew about a horse was what colour it was and how it galloped. 'I've had my fill of that.' Dancing Mystery was simply an individual who liked to do his own thing.
The trainer is known, too, for his loyalty to stable apprentice Carson, who is not jocked off for a more fashionable name when the yard has a decent prospect. Asked if Carson would be riding the horse on his next planned outing at Newmarket this week Wheeler grinned and said, 'God's not available, so I guess he And no, he wouldn't be giving him any instructions on how to ride Dancing Mystery. 'The jockey knows the horse really well. I never tell him anything. You pay them to do the riding.'
A regular in the winner's enclosure that afternoon was the delightful Deirdre Johnston, wife of the Middleham-based Scottish trainer Mark. With her husband looking after the stable's interests at York, she was able to greet two winners and a second from their three runners. Most impressive was Fight Your Corner, the 11-2 shot tipped by Mark in his Racing Post column, who pulled away from a useful-looking field to win the one-mile two-year-old race by five lengths. As Deirdre was reminding
us that Fight Your Corner was their 100th winner of the season, her mobile phone was furiously pinging away in her bag with 'Scotland the Brave'. That would be Mark, she explained; the phone was set to ring that tune whenever it was him calling.
Johnston horses don't come to the races unless they're fit to do their best and they do seem to hold their form longer than in some other equally well-known yards. The Johnstons and in-form jockey Kevin Darley (is he ever out of it?) scored, too, with Golden Wells in the last, but in the Princess Royal Willmott Dixon Stakes, Love Everlasting had to give best to John Dunlop's leggy but lovely Rainbow Quest filly Head in the Clouds. She had not seemed an easy ride in some earlier races but, allowed by Pat Eddery to dictate the pace from the front and given a couple of breathers by her canny jockey, she saw off another good class field with total authority.
Another to go into my book for next year was little Dominica, Marcus Tregoning's filly. Since her previous victory had been at Musselburgh she was allowed to start at a generous 12-1. Showing a real turn of foot, she led pretty well all the way to beat the favourite Berk The Jerk. Marcus says that all of Alhaarth's stock seem to show plenty of speed and sprinting will clearly remain her game next year. The filly, he added, is delightfully easy to train.
You could hardly say the same of Rapscallion, Jeff Smith's Robellino colt who is in James Eustace's Newmarket yard. Not for the first time, Rapscallion got himself in a terrible muck sweat before the start of the seven-furlong Brunswick Hyperion Stakes, and he was still pretty keyed up after the contest. But there was nothing to complain about in his style of racing. He powered to the front two furlongs out, was headed 100 yards out by Playapart, but showed real resolution in battling back and getting his head hack in front on the line.
But then, just as trainer Eustace was reflecting that Rapscallion was 'slowly growing up', having caused less trouble this time being saddled, and Jeff Smith was justifiably exulting that he was some bloody horse', there came the dreaded ding-dong announcing a stewards' inquiry. The two principals had come close in the last 100 yards and it was now sweating time for the connections. Jeff Smith, fortunately, remained unlathered, if a trifle twitchy. Fortunately after such a brave performance the result was allowed to stand.
And a memo finally this week to the
VIBES', INC vagabond musician on the path back to Ascot station (The Spectator has readers in many quarters). If you really want to attract a few £1 coins from the punters then (a) do actually play your guitar, however excruciatingly, and (b) don't shout, 'Here come the losers, here come the boozers' as the crowds stroll past. It doesn't encourage generosity.