I wish I could see something other than The Minstrel winning the 2000 Guineas. I was very keen on Tachypous before he got beaten at Newbury—a lazy performance more than a bad one, said knowing eyewitnesses—but I just can't fancy horses that need blinkers in Classic races, Racehorses of 1976 rates him at 128, only 2 lbs behind The Minstrel, and in all fairness to Tachypous it needs to be remembered that he went down with a virus in mid-season. His sire Hotfoot was a cracking middle-distance horse and his dam, Stilvi, was a very hot sprinter who beat Deep River in the 1972 King George Stakes at Goodwood. What was really impressive about Tachypous last year was his victory in the Middle Park Stakes in which he beat Nebbiolo, the Gimcrack Stakes winner, and Mandrake Major, the Flying Childers winner, after looking to be in all sorts of trouble in the early stages of the race. He came like a bomb in the last halffurlong.
They say that The Minstrel looks a little imposing now that he's three years old. By Northern Dancer, the sire of Nijinsky, The Minstrel is out of Fleur, a mare I've never heard of, but who, after some investigation, appears to have never won over more than a mile. The only thing! don't like about-The Minstrel is his price. 7-4 seems to me to be a reminder of the fact that most bookmakers are large and jolly and sunburnt when the rest of us are trying to snatch a few bob at the winter game.
I suppose the best value bet in the race is the 14-1 that it's just about possible to get
about Sporting Yankee. By that great horse and stallion, Vaguely Noble, Sporting Yankee is probably a little underrated by most people. I shall back him with what little ammunition I may have on Guineas day; but what a dreadful name to saddle a horse with. The very words, Sporting Yankee, put me in mind of those really tatty, dreary betting shops where you do your pieces on a grey and unfriendly afternoon.
Lester Piggott is reported to have said that he thinks Cloonlara is a very good filly indeed. He should know. I personally don't think 7-4 is particularly generous so I shan't be backing her for the 1000 Guineas. I'd probably take a chance with the Newmarket long shot Haco, but then I'm probably mad still suffering from the evil effects of setting up as an amateur bookmaker.
Aside from the Guineas there's a fearfully important race at Wolverhampton on Monday, 2 May. It is the race I await with bated, pastis-smelling breath as it marks the first racecourse appearance of my filly Deciduous. Geoff Baxter has continued to ride her in her work and Doug Marks, her trainer, continues to write me boring business letters about the price of oats and hay, but there have been a large number of postscripts to the effect that Deciduous has been galloping really well. Trainers have a tendency to exaggerate the merits of their charges, using phrases like 'He's jumping out of his skin,' and 'He can catch pigeons on the gallops.' My own favourite exaggeration is the one they use after the horse has won a race. Even if it's only got up by a neck the trainer will say, 'He won doing handsprings.'
To revert to more pressing and immediate details, I have to report that my local boozer, the 'Dover Castle' in Weymouth Mews, is now very nearly out of bounds to me. In a moment of lightheaded foolishness, prompted by the generosity of the guvnor, Mike Bunyon, last Saturday morning found me laying horses instead of backing them as is my wont. I laid Air Trooper £50 to £5 and Sebastian V £9 to £2 and that followed close on losing my tot the week before laying Red Rum. It will now cost me £66 the next time I go into the 'Dover Castle' for a drink, and I can't think of many drinks that are worth £66. Never mind, I'll recoup my losses on Deciduous, or at any rate on 2 June when my French mystery horse, that I'll tell you about later, wins the Derby.
Meanwhile, I can't help wondering why on earth Donald McCain, Red Rum's trainer, entered him for the Scottish Grand National. Considering the animal's won the Grand National three bloody times, you'd think it might be a case of taking the pitcher to the well once too often. T concede that Mr McCain knows a mite more than I do about training racehorses, but he must know by now that Red Rum is an Aintree horse and not an Ayr, Kempton or Hyde Park horse.