Robin Oakley We had been through so much together. Racing not just on the domestic scene but also in Melbourne, Mauritius and Maisons-Lafitte. Together over 15 years we had been bird-watching in Venezuela, Costa Rica and the Gambia, Madagascar and the Isle of Mull. But at Newmarket last Saturday somebody relieved me of my long-cherished Zeiss binoculars. Bombed out perhaps by too many 18-hour days lately in the television job, I either left them on the roof of the car as I retrieved an umbrella from the boot or I put them down when writing out a bet. Either way, somebody chose to help themselves.
One should not become attached to inanimate objects but somehow I grieve for those bins as well as nursing a sense of grievance at a dishonest world. A lowkey wet Saturday at Newmarket somehow seemed the wrong setting to have said goodbye to what had become old friends.
It just wasn't my week. A few days earlier I had been expertly relieved of my wallet by an Oxford Circus pickpocket. Losing the entire wallet made a change, said Mrs Oakley, from voluntarily handing its contents to a row of gentlemen with loud voices laying the odds at Kempton, Sandown and Lingfield Park. But what really rankled was that the wallet's contents included two winning Tote tickets I had been keeping to send to the Late Pay office. That really did hurt.
They say that trouble comes in threes, and the third disaster was not long arriving. I had driven to Newmarket largely in order to watch Major Cadeaux, one of this column's Twelve to Follow, in the Group Three Cheveley Park Stud Criterion Stakes. There are horses you back because somebody else gives you the whisper. There are horses you fancy on the form. And there are some horses which, for some inexplicable reason, you 'adopt' and follow through their careers.
I was hugely struck by Major Cadeaux when I saw him win a Newbury maiden on Lockinge day last May, beating such useful horses as Jo'burg and Conquest. Richard Hannon junior, assistant to his father, declared then that they thought the world of Major Cadeaux: 'He went past horses that were quickening. I love the way he did it. He's a proper bit of kit.' He added, 'They say, "Big horses, big vets' bills," but he's an exception.'
Major Cadeaux's only other outing last year saw him running a close-up second in Royal Ascot's Coventry Stakes, in which he got jarred up. This season his debut came in the Greenham at Newbury, when he hammered Peter Chapple-Hyam's double Group One winner Dutch Art, quickening impressively in the final quarter-mile. I doubled my bet on him for the 2,000 Guineas but in the first Classic Major Cadeaux finished only sixth, with Dutch Art in third. He spread a plate that day, injuring his foot, and was 'very sore' after the race. His trainer said they couldn't wait to take on the same competition.
When I saw him dropped to Group Three class in the Criterion, therefore, I decided this was the time to get stuck in and replace the contents of the stolen wallet and more. I arrived too late at a soggy Newmarket for the first race (yes, it really was that kind of week) but when I discovered the Hannon team had won that with Ghetto I increased my bet.
With Richard Hughes tracking the leaders early on and then getting a clear run on Major Cadeaux to make his effort, moving smartly into the lead a furlong out, I was counting my money. So I think were the connections of the 11/10 favourite, judging by the sober faces in the unsaddling box for the second afterwards — because that is where Major Cadeaux finished.
In the dying strides of the race, Mick Channon's 10-1 shot Silver Touch, ridden by the fresh-faced T.P. O'Shea, came with a real rattle. She nosed in front just before the line to win by a head. Richard Hannon junior was soon being philosophical, reckoning that the 51b penalty Major Cadeaux had carried had just proved too much. 'He's a good horse. We just got nutted on the line,' he insisted. 'He'll get there.' On the strength of that I will watch, and back, Major Cadeaux next time too. Provided, that is, I don't get my wallet stolen and my binoculars nicked that week as well.
Put Silver Touch in your notebook too, though. She clearly needed the extra furlong compared with her previous race at The Curragh, and the easier ground conditions. Bruce Raymond, owner Jaber Abdullah's racing manager, declared firmly, 'She's a big, powerful filly with a lot of improvement to come.'
We will hear more, too, of another Newmarket winner on Saturday, Classic Punch. A half-brother to the old hero Persian Punch and like him running in Jeff Smith's familiar purple colours with the blue V, the David Elsworth-trained fouryear-old stayed on well to win the Listed Ladbrokes Fred Archer Stakes after a 275day lay-off.
Having suffered muscle problems, the horse had been gelded and sent home for a long rest. His trainer was honest enough to declare, 'While I was hopeful, I have to confess I am a little surprised.' Few will be surprised to see him winning again, though it probably won't be in handicaps now.