Eclipse day at Sandown Park last Saturday was fascinating. Lester Piggott proved once again and for the umpteenth time that he's just as about as romantic as a woman with a display of the coolest, coldest and most cerebral display of raceriding that it can have been my pleasure and displeasure to watch. When I say displeasure, I am, of course, talking through the large hole in my pocket. As usual, I started off by fancying the winner before the off and then got put off by more sound advice from experts than it's been my pleasure to hear for years. I really arrived fancying Arteius like mad, determined to back it fairly heavily and then went off it in my usual fashion after having listened and taken too much notice of people whose opinions didn't matter a damn.
Sound advice came from my old friend Bill Marshall who trains in Newmarket and who had so much success with Raffingora and My Swanee a few years back. I arrived at the course particularly keen on Artic Tern and when I told Bill that the only thing that worried me about the animal was his terrible reputation for travelling badly, he said, 'Don't go and look at horses in the paddock. The sight of them doesn't necessarily give you a clue.' I said that surely one could get some idea of whether the animal was fit and happy and he said, 'No. I've had horses sweat up and look like pigs and they've cantered in and I've had them look like they've been French polished and run like cows.' By and large I agree with Bill although it's certainly a fact that when horses are well and in good nick, like human beings, it shows in obvious ways. They positively shine, look well-muscled and keen and happy. As it happens, Artie Tern looked all those things and, although I beg you not to report me to the Race Relations Board, I have to say that I'm utterly disenchanted with French jockets. Arteius would have won anyway, but Maurice Philliperon rode an appaling race in my opinion. Incidentally, although Freddie Head won the Grand Prix de Paris on Sunday, I wouldn't have more than two quid on him on anything in this country. I reckon the likes of 'Kipper' Lynch and Robert Edmondson, good as they are, would give the reputedly good man of Chantilly and Longchamp, 7lbs and a hiding at the likes of Bath and Wolverhampon.
What I liked most about Saturday was getting to talk to Vincent O'Brien, trainer of the Eclipse winner, and Ryan Price. After the Eclipse,! managed to get O'Brien to one side and ask him about something that's always intrigued me about racing. Horses losing weight and gaining it. O'Brien weighs his horses on a weigh bridge
and he told me that in sheer sweat a horse can lose as much as 10 kilos during a race which I guess is something like 221bs.
If they eat up well after and recover the lost poundage, then he's got a pretty fair idea that they've recovered well and have suffered no ill effects of the race. Loose livers with bathroom weighing machines, please take note. As in most spheres money, of course, goes to money and Mrs Getty owned the winner. I was almost tempted to propose to the woman in the unsaddling enclosure, but a fortnightly period of pessimism dissuaded me.
After the big race, I found myself standing next to the great Captain Ryan Price in the stand. I felt slightly outranked. And it's all quite mad. There's Major Peter Nelson, Major Dick Hem, Captain Ryan Price, Lance-Corporal Doug Marks and Trooper Jeff Bernard. So what.
Incidentally, talking of Doug Marks, I'm thinking, if it doesn't cost too much at Weatherby's of changing the name of my horse from Deciduous to Disastrous.