Just one of those things
We all have our bits of racing bad luck. I have watched 16-1 shots carrying my wager come to the last clear of the field and topple over, having not touched a twig all round. I have come to the races determined to back a horse and been put off by a tip from those in the know, only to see my original selection romp home unbacked. I have been on my way to the ring for a decent bet, only to have my wife call me on the mobile about a washingmachine crisis. And that, we all know, is a situation which requires abandoning one's bet (always a winner in such circumstances) to dispense the required amount of sympathy — or getting home to find one's dinner in the dog.
But such happenings pale into total insignificance behind the experience of one Victor Chandler client at Ascot last Saturday. He got on with his f20,000 to win 125,000 on Bellator just as the starter called them in. A second later they were off. And Bellator stayed planted on the spot, unmoving, taking no part in the race. Neil Wilkins, Chandler's man, looked genuinely sympathetic as he declared, 'That's not the way we want to win the money.' One disgruntled punter came up to me afterwards and urged me to 'expose' what he saw as 'corruption'. After the famous episode of Browne's Gazette, the wellbacked horse who whipped round at the start of the 1986 Champion Hurdle in the hands of Dermot Browne, who was later warned off the Turf for ten years for his part in doping scandals, we all take a second look at the replays of such incidents these days. But I do not believe for an instant there was anything wrong on this occasion.
Owner Peter Richardson and trainer Venetia Williams would have been desperate for Bellator to have a proper prep race for Cheltenham. Jockey Carl Llewellyn, who was having his first ride for the stable, looked utterly dumbfounded. And he would not be riding for the Nigel TwistonDavies/Peter Scudamore operation if there were question-marks about his probity. It was just One Of Those Things. But one of those things is a nasty way to go £20,000 down. And the stable will now have the worry every time that Bellator might do it again.
Only the race before we had seen the talented but quirky Or Royal 'plant' for the nth time in his career. Perhaps he and Bellator had had a word in the racecourse stables. Bellator's misbehaviour virtually handed the £30,000 prize for the Mitsubishi Shogun Chase to Nicky Henderson's Tiutchev, one of this column's Ten to Follow who now looks absolutely spot-on for Cheltenham. In Celibate and The Outback Way he had two decent horses behind him and a relieved-looking Henderson said afterwards, 'That's put him right. We're on target.' You could not have a stronger hint from the acknowledged master of timing a horse's preparation for the Festival. Both Tiutchev and Bacchanal, he said, are gross horses who need a great deal of work and he would not rule out a racecourse gallop some time before Cheltenham. Resplendent in the yellowest of yellow socks, Nicky was equally happy with Bacchanal's facile victory earlier in a three-horse race for the Reynoldstown Novices Chase: 'He's enjoyed himself. He's got a high cruising speed and he stays.' But Bacchanal's race at Cheltenham, he acknowledged, will take more winning with the likes of Shotgun Willy and Saclo,ille to take on.
The Ascot card proved something of a benefit for Lambourn horses and the village is certainly humming at the right time. Charlie Mann, having the kind of season he has long deserved, took the William Hill Handicap Hurdle with Regal Holly, making it four out of four for her this season. Ever the realist, he pointed out that there was a lot of difference between winning a handicap with lOst 21b and going to Cheltenham, as the owners are keen to do. But Regal Holly is sound and very tough and he insists 'there's a little bit more to come yet'.
The other Lambourn success came for Noel Chance's Beethoven in the bumper. Up to three weeks ago, said Noel, Beethoven looked an ordinary horse 'then suddenly he just blossomed'. He was worried the Ascot race was a little soon but reckoned that an alternative later at Kemp
ton would have been too sharp for him. Noel was right because Beethoven had trouble negotiating the final bend even at Ascot. A lovely big fellow, he has chaser stamped all over him. A flat victory like that from a class field must have proved a nice consolation to Tim Collins, owner of the injured Gold Cup winner Looks Like Trouble. Some are lucky owners: Collins was in the yard when Beethoven was being unloaded for Ireland and asked whose he was. 'Mine,' said Noel. 'Right, I'll have him,' Mind you, with most of Ascot on the runner-up, the Queen Mother's First Love, trained by Nicky Henderson, taking the race off her was almost a Tower of London offence.
One more for your notebook incidentally is Paul Green's Hindiana, trained by Fercly Murphy. The winner of the novices hurdle was already a chase winner in his native France. Jockey Dean Gallagher gave me his verdict in just one word: 'Quality.' Owner Paul Green was delighted as the horse was not fully wound up and they had been unsure about the ground. Hindiana, he pointed out, strides like a flat horse. Although he has had horses in France, Paul much prefers racing in Britain. 'There's no atmosphere to French racing,' he says. It's like going to a party with no one there.' Unless I'm much mistaken, Hindiana should give him cause for a party or two in times to come.