A Flaneur’s Festival

March 12th, 2019 | Ian Carnaby's Racing News

And so the great meeting is nearly upon us. With some relief I attend on the first two days as an observer and occasional player, whereas in previous years I’ve worked pretty hard  –  not that I’m going to bore you with the list of tasks here.

When I did the parade ring interviews for the crowd on my own (Jonathan Powell joined me later on) I often didn’t know who was next because I was pointing the wrong way. I used to pray it wouldn’t be a soap star because, the last time I watched Coronation Street, Ena Sharples, Martha Longhurst and Minnie Caldwell were in the snug at the Rovers Return. If it ever comes up in a quiz, Minnie’s cat was called Bobby. And Albert Tatlock once referred to a Man United v Southampton game, probably United’s one-nil win in an FA Cup semi-final in 1963 at Villa Park, the only goal a mistimed effort by the great Denis Law which went in off his knee. It’s not the sort of fact that helps you all that much at Cheltenham.

I’m not in the habit of making sentimental bets and my daughter cannot believe I had a few pounds on Southampton to beat Tottenham on Saturday. I suppose I thought Spurs might be tired after their exertions in Europe, but they completely dismantled us in the first half and should have been 4-0 up at half-time. It was only 1-0, though, and where there’s life there’s hope. We improved, scored twice and they took it rather badly, not shaking hands with anyone at the end. It could have been worse because Sissoko should certainly have been sent off and does not look the sort of chap you’d want to bump into  –  I mean literally bump into  –  on a dark night.

The football bets are going along all right and if Monsieur Lecoq had held on in the Imperial Cup it would have been a memorable day. It’s not often you see a horse starting favourite off 9st 8lb in a £40,000 plus handicap hurdle but he was all but home and hosed, as they say, when Malaya reeled him in. Paul Nicholls goes into the festival in tremendous form and and I know from friends who’ve attended the preview evenings where he’s been on the panel that he fancies Grand Sancy in the Supreme Novices’ on Tuesday. I’m not keen on this race and am happy to wait for another of his novices Posh Trish on Thursday.

I think you’ve probably got enough tips via Marten’s excellent service so I’m not going to burden you with more. From the way he won at Warwick Hazel Hill would be my each-way bet of the week if 7/1 is available in the Foxhunter on Friday but there will be a few more Gold Cup day thoughts in the Weekend Card.

I walked across London on Thursday to celebrate a friend’s 70th birthday in Langan’s Brasserie. Peter Langan, a mad Irishman from Co Clare, started off with Odin’s in Marylebone and then created the brasserie on Stratton Steet off Piccadilly. He was dangerous to know, quite often the worse for wear and the golden rules were not to wear your favourite tie or let your girlfriend wear a short skirt. He’d admire the tie and ask if he could have it. When people said no he’d retire for a while, then come back with a large pair of scissors and that was that. We won’t go into the short skirt business but if he pretended to drop something on the floor, well, I think you can fill in the rest. And the thing was, he was so outrageous he got away with it. Mercifully, he often passed out in the gents before any further damage could be done but he was quite a businessman and was in the process of setting up a Langan’s in New York (the other partners would not allow him to enter) when he wrote himself off after falling asleep in bed with a lighted cigarette. He’s been gone since 1988 but his memory lingers on and the sketch of him on the menus and business cards has captured him perfectly. You’d like the place, I think.

It was a very different time, of course. I once walked all the way from Marylebone Road to a Hill’s on Stratton Street because they were going the best price about Import in the Wokingham. He won but only just and it ended all financial worries for a while.

For old times’ sake I went to the Goat near Langan’s for a livener. I used to meet a lovely fellow called Jonathan Coles there. He followed me as sample room assistant when we were both graduate trainees with Gilbeys and were responsible for setting up tastings for the wine buyers. Jonathan had a slight stammer, loved his rugby and was intensely patriotic. “The number one prize in life’s lottery is to be born an Englishman,” he used to to say, so I suppose it’s just as well he was around before social media existed. And he was such a stickler for correct English he wouldn’t countenance ending a sentence with a preposition under any circumstances.

At his funeral (cancer) a mutual friend told the story about Jonathan buying a duck from one of the expensive outlets, Fortnum’s possibly, and putting it in the oven. There was an explosion with duck everywhere, both inside and outside the oven, even up and down the walls. He took this quite well but his letter of complaint regarding the instructions was greeted with less than common courtesy. This annoyed him no end and he penned a highly aggrieved follow-up, ending with the immortal line: “Of a fool, I shall not be made!”

Happy days long, long ago.