25 JANUARY 2003, Page 62

Let it be

Robin Oakley

0 n the death last year of Labour MP Frank Allaun one obituarist recalled Frank's story of the young man who returned from the first world war trenches full of zeal to change the world. He marched into the backyard of the family's terraced home in Salford and hurled a grenade into the privy, yelling, 'I've come back to do away with all that.' His father took out his pipe, paused and observed, `Yer ma were in theer'. Watching a glorious day's jumping at Kempton on Saturday I could not help but feel, 'Preserve us all from hasty reformers.'

The sight of top-class jumpers blazing round the speedy Thameside track is one of the traditional joys of the winter season. Watching Paul Nicholls's Young Devereaux, in the hands of the supremely gifted Ruby Walsh, battle off a renewed challenge from Seebald after the last in the Tote Exacta Chase, seeing Seamus Mullins's Farmer Jack soar into Cheltenham contention for the Arkle Chase by giving Epervier d'Or 8lbs, and a beating in the novices' chase, and cheering home Albert Ennis's Another Raleagh in the Fulwell Chase, not to mention two cracking handicap hurdles, made me ache afterwards to think how casually all this could be destroyed by the thoughts the racecourse executive have of turning Kempton into a floodlit all-weather flat track. How could they? How dare they? I know we could do with a state-of-the-art all-weather course within easy reach of London, but please not at Kempton. I might have to chain myself to the last of those three fences in the straight if the bulldozers are sent in.

After two Saturdays confined to playing in the Polytrack sand at Lingfield, fun though that had been in its way, it was sheer joy to be out again among those who have to jump as well as run. It was even more of a joy, I have to admit, having noticed that Indian Blaze, listed in last week's column, was running there again. He duly obliged at 9-1 and I was playing with bookies' money from then on. I failed to support Young Devereaux, reckoning that his dicky legs might find him out, but I ignored both the horse's great engine and the skills of Ruby Walsh, who brought him home despite less than happy experiences at each of the last two fences. There will always be a question mark about him staying sound but Young Devereaux is a class act. So is Walsh. Just watch him getting down low into a horse and imparting forward momentum. Just watch the rhythm of what he does.

Nor did I back Farmer Jack, though I will be doing so in future, Home bred by his owners Peter Partridge and R.M. Kellow, the seven-year-old scorched round Kempton even faster than Young Devereaux, carrying a good deal more weight. He has a really high cruising speed and generally jumps well, though he made such a mess of the second last that Andy Thornton did well to stay aboard. The horse is a credit to Seamus Mullins who said the owners have already had telephone number offers for their star, but won't be letting him go. Said Mullins, 'He was very fizzy and brash last year but now he's learned to settle.' He reckons he will get three miles in time. 'But I'm not a great believer in running horses over three miles in their first season and emptying them. He's never emptied yet in a race and I'm keen to keep it that way this year.'

It was a truly full day at Kempton. A crunching fall for Norman Williamson, himself deputising for the injured Mick Fitzgerald, let in J.P. McNamara for his first ride for Nicky Henderson, who'll probably join me in chains when the Kempton bulldozers come in, so many winners has he trained on the course. JP seized his opportunity with elan, triumphing on Non So in the £50,000 Tote Scoop 6 Lanzarote Hurdle and Nicky was impressed.

Jim Culloty helicoptered in from Wincanton to take the last on the useful hurdler Lord Sam. And part of Ruby Walsh's 362-1 treble was a thrilling victory for Mary Reveley on II Cavaliere, who beat the 16-1 shot Persian Waters, ridden by Andy Thornton, in a ding dong struggle after the last in the other handicap hurdle. Persian Waters' sporting owner Paul Green, a man who keeps faith, told me he had backed the Persian Bold gelding despite his 700-day absence from the racecourse with 'a leg' after trainer James Fanshawe had advised, 'Don't let him run loose.' Only racing people would know what Paul meant when he explained of the horse's long absence, 'There's legs and legs, and this wasn't really a "leg" leg.'

My own joy was reserved though for Another Raleagh's victory in the Fulwell Chase. Regular readers will have noticed a belief in Andrew Wates's horse who has been campaigned in the best company but never seems to manage to get his head in front, having been second in five of his last six outings. Seeing him down on lOst 51b I reckoned that it had to be his day at last. I not only backed him myself at 14-1 but rang a son long wearied of his father's 'good things and urged him to have a go too. My heart was in my mouth as Richard McGrath had to fight off a determined challenge after the last from Liam Cooper on the Jonjo O'Neill-trained Master Tern. But they came home by half a length. Street cred with Alex has been restored and the old enemy has paid for Mrs Oakley's smart new winter coat.