A LA RECHERCHE DU FAILAND PERDU
August 21st, 2023 | Ian Carnaby's Racing News
Like Marcel Proust, I drift back to the places of my youth. Some have disappeared, some have become something else and some are simply too loud.
Actually it might be stretching a point to mention my formative years where the Failand Inn is concerned because I was already 37 when we moved to the Bristol area. The Failand is an old coaching inn which sits on the high road above Nailsea. It’s closer to Bristol than Clevedon and is less than a mile away from Richard Holder’s old yard at Portbury. It was a place for celebration, for late night games of spoof and brag and tall tales but most of all it was a racing pub. Sadly, that is no longer the case but things are never allowed to fade out altogether while I’m around.
I sit there in the quiet of mid-afternoon, pondering the next day’s runners over a Chilean Pinot Noir as opposed to the ubiquitous Malbec from Argentina. I shall be remembered not as a writer or broadcaster but simply as a racing man. A racing man who kept Proustian hours and thought about the past, seldom the future. That’s ok with me, as a bemused Elliott Gould was wont to say about a changing LA in the late Robert Altman’s film The Long Goodbye.
Altman was a committed gambler, a blackjack man who once had $10,000 on the outcome of an American football match. He understood gamblers and the way they live for the moment, as you can tell from California Split, with Gould and George Segal giving over a whole day and night to activities where risk is a vital component.
If you listen carefully, complete strangers talk to each other at the races the way they never would in the street or on the tube. Often it’s because they’ve both backed a winner and the few seconds, maybe even the few minutes, of joy and relief are for sharing. I’m never quite sure of this but I think the horse which won for Gould at the track was called Egyptian Femme and he is still singing her praises on an escalator carrying a similarly jubilant punter the other way. We’ve all been on that escalator, even if we call it a lift and it doesn’t exist in Britain.
Altman had been over here directing Gosford Park and I tried hard to catch him for an interview but he’d just returned to America. What a man, gone too soon.
After his stroke I often took my friend Brian to the Failand. His speech had gone altogether but he wrote things down and we operated a ‘thumbs up, thumbs down’ system of communication – thumbs up for Sheffield Wednesday’s recent form or a small glass of rose, thumbs down for any fruit or vegetables. I said they were good for him and he wrote a rude word on the piece of paper.
It rained all day on one occasion and I told him about Ikdam, who was trained by Richard just down the hill and won the 1989 Triumph Hurdle at 66/1 in appalling conditions. Richard drove the horsebox while his then son-in-law Pat Murphy, married to Louise, stayed at Racecourse Farm. The story is both hilarious and sad and serves as a reminder of how quickly things can change.
The Failand was a real racing pub in those days and everyone at the stable was worried about Richard driving the horsebox back down the M5 because, as Richard Evans put it in his seminal Cheltenham book At The Festival, ‘Moderating celebrations at the racecourse may not have been his first instinct’. Well, he returned safely and might have enjoyed a quiet evening with close family and friends, which would have been quite a smack in the eye for tradition. Naturally he went to the Failand Inn and, as Mark Holder says, ‘It was one hell of a night in there; a long and boozy night’.
Richard died many years ago. Murphy left Portbury following his divorce and there was the sickening fall at Worcester which ended winning jockey Nigel Coleman’s career and left him not the same man at all. Even a journeyman wants to see the journey through. Chris Scott, the popular Bristol owner-breeder who gave Evans chapter and verse on the story, was cruelly claimed by Covid during those early, dreadful days.
There are a couple of regulars in the Failand who remember Ikdam but they struggle with Failand the horse. He was around at much the same time, though, a real old plodder owned by some local faces who never enjoyed a major payday. Richard had him early on and he failed in selling hurdles before moving to Roy Brotherton. Anyway, he had a year off and returned in a Windsor claimer over a mile and scored at 33/1. It was the sort of result you see in the paper and think must be a misprint. The old rascal was probably just having a laugh and soon picked up the ‘tailed off’ thread again. I distinctly remember a couple of old boys in the Failand gazing into their cloudy cider and failing to see the funny side.
I seldom fall short in that respect. You get used to stunning results and I recently tipped and/or backed three horses in a row, two of which finished stone last while the other managed a very modest ninth at Newmarket. This was Lethal Angel, who eased from 50/1 to 80/1 before the off. But Jimmy Quinn was easy on her, she’s a lovely, striking grey mare, Brighton is her place and she’ll come bursting between horses on my sponsorship day, September 4, paying various bills in the process.
My heart is a sad affair
There’s much disillusion there
But I can dream, can’t I?’
Old Brian would have remembered that. A decent drop of rose in the Failand and about half an hour writing down The Andews Sisters. He was probably on the road selling Batchelors Peas when it was a hit. Gone now, though. I’m running out of people who remember things. Come back, Marcel. I ebb.