Another squall, fifty-three years on

December 27th, 2021 | Ian Carnaby's Racing News

Of course, it’s always wrong, or at least inadvisable, to go looking for a bet. I was happy enough with Thomas Darby and Samarrive, both at handy prices, and it’s not as if there was anything I’d been waiting for with Christmas in mind; no African Chimes and Emma O’Gorman and certainly no Spunyarn, sent to Saint-Cloud by Bill Wightman in December 1967 and successful in the hands of Yves Saint-Martin at 20/1.

What a certainty he must have been, for Bill to have thought of doing that! Indeed, what certainties many horses must have been been, had our depth of knowledge matched what we know now. Unfortunately, the game moves on as well and what we know now still falls short – only marginally short, perhaps – of the level required to put us well and truly in the chips. Er, sorry, to return a regular profit.

The gap would widen if we gave in to sentimentality or embraced our old friend ‘the hunch’. So I was never going to back Chubasco at Deauville a few days ago, even though there was no racing in Britain and the meeting was on Sky. Neither of these things would influence a true professional and as for the fact that a chubasco is a sea squall and there was a seafaring film called Chubasco (the supporting picture on a double-bill at the Southampton Odeon in 1968, as I recall), well, that could hardly be considered a factor.

So checking out Chubasco the horse was of merely academic interest, I think you can see that. He was giving away weight all round, or at least he was until Mlle Aude Duporte claimed her 3lb allowance. I’m not saying I spent much time on the race but that would have taken his weight down to 9 stones exactly – some way down the handicap, actually – and eleven of Mlle Duporte’s last 13 rides have been at Deauville (not many people know that) so she is something of a course specialist, even though none of the 13 has obliged.

I happened to come across the result a while later and noticed that Chubasco had finished second, beaten just over a length. He carried 11st 3lb and there was no mention of Aude’s allowance. (Sorry, I become over-familiar a shade too soon and have been rightly chastised over the years.) Now, just supposing I were anything less than an inch professional and had warmed to Chubasco’s prospects some fifty-three years after first hearing his name, this coincidence prompting a small investment on the pari-mutuel, I might have contacted the Racing Post and the Paris-Turf to voice my displeasure. Three pounds is well worth having in your pocket, or dans votre poche comme disent les francais, in fact it’s jolly nearly a length and Chubasco would have been in there fighting out the finish.

But of course nothing was further from my mind because I’m a pro. He was only 13/5 favourite anyway, not that I took any notice. Self-discipline, that’s the thing, non?

Sunday In The Park With George

In wishing you a happy and peaceful new year, perhaps I could introduce a serious note by underlining how important it is to stay safe and take no risks with your health. In the very recent past I’ve been told I do not ‘fit the criteria’ for a hernia procedure (I’m not in pain, the swelling is no bigger and there is no apparent risk of strangulation, a fine word, so we’re just going to ‘keep an eye on things’.) I should point out that I’ve had the hernia for three and a half years.

A shade more worryingly, I need to confirm that I am indeed available for a series of routine heart checks at the Bristol Royal Infirmary in a couple of weeks’ time. The phone rings for minutes on end until the recorded voice says the reason there is no answer is because all the staff are busy looking after other patients. This is fine by me because I don’t think selfishness is one of my faults but I trust, when I turn up on January 10, they’ll be expecting me and my name will be on the list.

They are worked off their feet, it’s as simple as that. As for their opinion of the so-called anti-vaxxers, especially the aggressive ones, who sometimes end up in hospital at the expense of people awaiting cancer treatment, I think we’ve probably got a pretty fair idea.

I was reading the obituaries of Stephen Sondheim the other day. Few, if any, of them mentioned his heart attack some thirty-odd years ago, which happened in Covent Garden. It was something of a chest clutcher and, bearing in mind this was before everyone had a mobile phone and the ambulance had to negotiate the traffic in one of the busiest parts of London, he was very fortunate.

My own attack in 2013 was much milder but I still received the ‘flashing blue lights’ treatment and the paramedics had already determined that at least two of my arteries were badly furred up, even before we reached the B R I. Anyway, three stents followed and I don’t want to dwell on it here, beyond saying that you wouldn’t necessarily receive such prompt attention today, so please take early advice if necessary.

I think 2022 will have to be the year I catch up on one or two things or they simply won’t be happening. I’ve always wanted to see Sondheim’s musical (some say his masterpiece) Sunday In The Park With George, about the French post-impressionist painter Georges Seurat, a troubled artist who made it only as far as 31. All you can say about favourite paintings is that you simply want to be there – Renoir’s depiction of the Bois de Boulogne, perhaps – and Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte is captivating. Anyway, a revival of Sunday In The Park With George is due in the West End this year and I hope and expect to be there.

The second trip is a little more awkward, since it involves driving from Bristol to Hexham and having a bet in the bumper, continuing on to Newcastle for a flight to Venice and retracing the steps taken by Donald Sutherland in Nicolas Roeg’s 1973 film Don’t Look Now. Several have tried and failed, losing themselves in the maze of streets and blind alleyways.

It would have to be off-season, I think, November perhaps, the quiet, almost deserted restaurant that Sutherland (John Baxter) and his wife Julie Christie frequent, the place where she faints as the recent loss of their daughter overwhelms her. There is an unforgettable scene with Venice bathed in brilliant winter light as Sutherland sees her off in a vaporetto, Christie having been called home to deal with a minor problem concerning their son at school. She cannot know that this will be the last time she sees the forlorn figure on the shore alive.

Whether I manage all of this remains to be seen. Perhaps there will be a race meeting somewhere nearby and I can write about it to help fund the trip. As with Marcel Proust, places matter as much to me as events – the Anglesey Arms at Halnaker before Goodwood, the Fairfax and its regulars at Gilling East when taking in York, even though pub and racecourse are the better part of twenty miles apart. One of the consolations of being hopelessly mired in the past is the certain knowledge that, at 73, it’s far too late to change.

Have a great year and stay safe.

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