Autumn in New York? Yes please

November 12th, 2023 | Ian Carnaby's Racing News

Not long ago, Katey Kontent finished a very good second at Salisbury. She was carrying 9st 10lbs and was up against colts and geldings so it was a very fair effort.

I think of all the people on course and in betting shops risking a few coins, or even a few notes, on this interestingly-named filly. Having read Amor Towles’ Rules of Civility  –  a fine, unusual novel lent to me by my good friend Howard Dawson  –  I know that Katey Kontent is an impecunious New Yorker who, through a chance meeting, finds herself moving in loftier social circles. The year is 1937, three years after the American-Belarusian Vladimir Dukelsky, who became Vernon Duke, wrote the song Autumn In New York, recorded by just about everyone from Billie Holiday to Frank Sinatra.

It made me think of several things. How much I love autumn, various family birthdays in November, including my own, the end of another Flat season, Operatic Society winning at Manchester when it staged the November Handicap, the leaves turning in New York, the film Bye Bye Braverman (I know, I know….) with George Segal and three Jewish friends hopelessly lost on their way to a funeral in the Big Apple, horses trying to defy 9st 10lbs or more in handicaps.

Like Proust, I remember exactly where I was when notable things happened. Karkeh Rud, one of John Meacock’s horses named after Persian rulers winning at 33/1 at Windsor in the mid-sixties? That was Ladbrokes, formerly a Charlie Malizia shop, in Portswood, Southampton. Import winning the Wokingham? A Radio Rentals shop window on Marylebone High Street, a road I loved so much it features in my book The Long Journey from Portman Square. Noel Murless’ Whortleberry? Sitting on a grassy bank outside the Willow Beauty in Harlow New Town, where all the pubs were named after butterflies or moths. Mid-70s, my first £50 bet, beaten on the nod by one of Harry Wragg’s at Newmarket. I’ve written about Whortleberry before and was delighted to receive a specially-made jar of whortleberry jam from trainer Jim Old and his wife Margaret.

Anyway, I’m perfectly au fait with horses, people, places and investments but not so sharp when it comes to weights. I need to be because the majority of my bets on the Flat are in handicaps and plenty of horses are set to carry ten stones or more these days.

This may be my imagination but I think a lot of people ‘gloss over’ top-weights in big handicaps. It’s possibly a psychological thing and every now and then it catches us out, Astro King in the recent Cambridgeshire at Newmarket being a prime example. This was a magnificent effort under 9st 12lbs, the second time in a row he’d carried that much to victory. Unsurprisingly he started at 20/1 at headquarters. When I saw he’d been raised 5lbs after York I dismissed him too readily; an expensive mistake.

The wonderfully durable Sea Pigeon defied ten stones as a nine-year-old in the 1979 Ebor. He and jockey Jonjo O’Neill were hugely popular but he was still allowed to start at 18/1 because hardly anyone could imagine a scriptwriter’s dream actually coming to fruition.

I can’t claim to have backed many winners carrying ten stones, but as a teenage follower of Bill Wightman, Les Hall and Richmond Sturdy I wouldn’t have missed any that turned up. Funnily enough, it did happen once, though in a roundabout way.

Old Candid Picture, one of Les’s winners on a memorable day at York over 60 years ago, later moved to Basil Foster at Middleham. In the days when Stockton racecourse became Teesside Park and then reverted to Stockton, finally closing in 1981, Candid Picture’s star was on the wane but he was no back-number. Virtually ignored in the ring, he defied ten stones in a run-of-the-mill handicap and made one loyalist a few hundred miles away very happy indeed.

This performance would not have made him famous, but he was also partnered on the gallops by Davy Jones of the pop group the Monkees, the photograph appearing in more than one tabloid paper.

The Monkees were an underrated American group but Jones was born in Manchester and rode work from an early age. He and Foster were lifelong friends and when the trainer retired to Florida through ill health it was Jones who looked after him. They died in 2012 and 2013 respectively.

I imagine only one of them saw the leaves turning in New York and I must admit my own odds are on the drift. Still, we daydream believers can never be ruled out and that’s my candid opinion.