Ah, the sweet smell of success – nearly

April 5th, 2023 | Ian Carnaby's Racing News

My Aunt Kate and Uncle Doug lived at 8 Methuen Street in Southampton. They are long gone but, like Marcel Proust, I wander the narrow street now and again.

I doubt that Marcel was ever seen in Southampton because he favoured the Bois de Boulogne and the Rue Caumartin but you know what I mean. He just wanted to check that things were much the same as he remembered them from his youth and they nearly were, though not quite.

In a previous piece I mentioned a speech at my school’s old boys’ dinner, where I acted as toastmaster. It didn’t go well and on reflection I should have left out the bit about a trade deal hundreds of years ago when Portuguese wines were able to enter Southampton Water without paying any duty. This agreement went under the name of the Methuen Treaty, although that’s as much as I know. I thought the old boys would be interested but some were nodding off and others were probably wondering if they’d be home in time for Match of the Day.

‘Man is born, suffers from love and toothache, and dies.’ I try to remember those words of the Spanish writer and philosopher Miguel de Unamuno when I’m thinking about things and regretting them too much. ‘We can’t forget the past, any more than we can change it.’ Actually I thought that was another of old Miguel’s helpful observations but, on reflection, I believe it may have been Jack Nicholson in The Two Jakes, a follow-up to Chinatown. (If you see only one ‘private eye’ picture, make it Chinatown.)

Where was I? Ah yes, 8 Methuen Street. There was a toilet at the bottom of the garden, no fancy ‘en suite’ bathrooms for the Carnaby clan, but Uncle Doug was a professional gardener so the walk from the back door down the path was a fragrant experience  –  a scented delight the cubicle at the end found rather hard to match.

Anyway, it was during one of our visits to Methuen Street that I said, as matter-of-factly as I could, that I’d had a pound on MacKenna’s Gold at Kempton. It wasn’t my first £1 bet because that was Chancer (oh, the irony!) at Wetherby. She was a reliable mare, trained by Charlie Hall, who I think was Ryan Jarvis’s uncle, and I walked the streets for a while before returning to the shop to learn she’d won quite easily at 7/4. My first £5, £10 and £25 bets all won as well but when I had £50 on Noel Murless’s Whortleberry, it was beaten on the nod by one of Harry Wragg’s.

But I was still a callow youth when MacKenna’s Gold ran at Kempton and if you look back and wonder when you first fell in love with something  –  or perhaps, more accurately, when it became an obsession  –  you remember you’d waited a year for the horse to run because the trainer, who may have been P (for Peter?) Dawson, always had his horses ready first time up.

What anyone at number 8 would have done with £10, a small fortune in those days, had MacKenna’s Gold held on is hard to say. There would have been general astonishment but ‘if’ is the most pointless word in gambling and he was caught near the line at 10/1. I’m bound to admit things haven’t changed much in that respect in the half-century since that memorable day.

It was a run-of-the-mill film, MacKenna’s Gold. Gregory Peck, Omar Sharif and Telly Savalas, with Jose Feliciano singing Old Turkey Buzzard on the soundtrack. I’m not immune to backing horses which remind me of films and songs, one of the most recent being Ahorsewithnoname, who has plenty of ability but broke a blood vessel at Wincanton and was unable to give of her best at Cheltenham. I suppose only those who were around fifty years ago remember the song and the group America, who never managed to follow up a very listenable LP. ‘I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name, it felt good to be out of the rain,’ etc.

The three of them must be my age now, if they’re still around. It makes you wonder what you missed, the free wind blowin’ through your hair, gazing on Ventura Highway in the sunshine, golden locks down to your shoulders, dodging the draft, ‘alligators, lizards in the air’, though I think that last bit owed something to the effects of Bolivian marching powder, not that it did the Bolivians any harm. Too late to recreate those days now, not that my hair was ever the right colour or length anyway.

Oh well. Another Easter, another Kempton, another Aintree. High time I returned to Liverpool to see what Echo and the Bunnymen are up to and whether there’s still a Billy Fury soundalike competition in that pub in Bootle, where I once came third.

They don’t have anything like that in Methuen Street. I still love it, though.


A note from Rebecca: If you enjoyed reading this journal I highly recommend Ian’s latest book which we published. It makes for wonderful reading for any horse racing fan. An ideal book to dip in and out of when time allows. Read more here.

Ian also records a daily racing line. 09068 888 111 60p per minute at all times and more from a mobile. Updated by noon each day.