Back in a jiffy? Put in the diary

September 3rd, 2021 | Ian Carnaby's Racing News

I’m enjoying my racing without making it pay. All right, there’s nothing new in that but there have been a few mistakes lately, most notably with Red Alert, whose creditable second at Goodwood promised swift compensation at Bath, where I managed to oppose him.

A nicely-judged bet on Jack Ryan in a Brighton seller (‘my’ seller if the BHA hadn’t reversed the August 23 and Sept 6 fixtures) cheered me and reminded me of the old days, because I saw John Ryan had engaged a 7lb claimer for the horse at Yarmouth 24 hours later, so he was clearly expecting to offset a penalty. Darragh Keenan duly landed the Brighton race with a powerful finish and I imagine a few handy bets were landed.

A sucker for popular songs from the past, I really should have had more on Lavender’s Blue in a basically sub-standard Celebration Mile at Goodwood and not just because I remembered the nursery rhyme pretty well. ‘Lavender’s Blue, dilly dilly, Lavender’s Green; When I am King, dilly dilly, you will be Queen’ etc.

The mare had a very fair chance, especially on her close third to Bowthorpe Lady back in the spring, and that’s where the real money is made, as we know, with bets close to your limit at 20/1. They don’t come along very often and you’d need rather a lot of them to match the earnings of your closest friends,  whose interest in racing is more casual and less threatening.

Sometimes I ponder alternative career paths, a futile exercise at 72 but I don’t sleep much. The paths themselves were either ignored or failed to fire the imagination. I worked hard to get Baileys Irish Cream up and running but I was always going to be a flaneur and scribbler of sorts.

For sure, I’d never have made it as an advertising man. Whoosh!  –  my name for a brand new laxative  –  was dismissed out of hand while suggesting the Jiffy, a contraceptive to take on the big names, was met with complete silence at J Walter Thomson.

“Dear heart”, old Arthur Sears said. “You were looking ahead to a television slot before the product was launched. It’s forty years ago but I remember it well. You even had the young lover saying: ‘Excuse me, my darling, I’ll be back in a Jiffy’”.

Well, I still think a catchphrase like that would have caught on but Arthur, who spent a lifetime in the advertising business, was quite right to point out that even top agencies take years to risk the client’s budget on a television campaign.

I made a few other mistakes. It must have been 1979  –  Troy’s year. Seven lengths and a chirpy Willie Carson to ease the pain, although I generally found leaving a job quite therapeutic. I suppose the instinctive gambler always expects something to turn up.

Anyway, up Marylebone High Street, past the H Backhouse which became a Ladbrokes, past the Golden Eagle off Marylebone Lane (Brakspear’s and a ‘phone on the wall that actually worked; imagine that today), past the Baker & Oven and into the little park at the top. I recognised one of the old boys on the bench because he’d watched Import’s Wokingham with me through the window of a Radio Rentals shop a few years before and assured me it had won ‘by half a head’. (Which was just about spot-on.) I think he may have been Irish.

I go back to the park from time to time, just as I go back everywhere. The faces change but I can’t call them old boys any longer because they’re contemporaries. The bench is still there, so too the cans of Carlsberg Special, their preferred tipple. I got a round in a few years ago and was publicly rebuked by a well-dressed woman who remarked that I was hardly helping their future prospects. She meant well and I nodded politely, though she’d clearly lost touch with reality. People live the way they want to live and the old soaks regarded her as an alien.

I still have diaries from my youth. Some are rather embarrassing, especially the one covering the brief relationship with Helena Gubbins (a fine name), who knew more then than I know now. 1963 is a cracker with John Meacock’s Vakil-ul-Mulk topping the list of Horses To Follow. Vakil is something of a cult hero on the internet, where his unlikely appearance in the Epsom Derby is covered in some detail. He was soon detached but remained on my list and won a handicap hurdle at Wincanton at 100/8. ‘Laid out for it at Epsom?’ it says, so I must have had a sense of humour

Meacock, an ex-Army man with detailed knowledge of Persian history, was a good deal cleverer than people imagined. Karkeh Rud was on my list and won at 33/1 at Windsor, while Qalibashi, picked up for thirty-five pounds, obliged at Brighton at 20/1 and earned a place in a William Trevor novel.

Later on the very shrewd Julian Wilson picked up Qalibashi for a song and got Neville Dent to train her for the humblest of hurdle races at Southwell. It was a brilliantly conceived plot but sometimes you wonder if some malign spirit laughs at human ingenuity before reaching for his spanner. No one knows why the executive at Southwell approved the bright orange paint daubed on the wings of the obstacles before the fateful day but there is no doubt Qalibashi thoroughly disapproved and shied at every one of them before finishing second. Wilson, whose other interests included the bobsleigh, where he hurtled head-first down the run at 100 mph, did not weep. He may have seemed rather aloof, but ‘Wislon’, as he was known, was a true betting man at all times.

The 1979 diary with its detailed betting record went astray when it was snatched from my hand by a Soho miscreant who mistook it for a wallet. I’d have given chase, the way Foinavon (like me, lucky sometimes) might have pursued Dancing Brave, but thought better of it.

The diary, stained by potato peelings where April gave way to May, was returned to me by a kind soul who found it in his pig bin, as they were known then. I wondered what the thief had made of it. Not only had he stolen a diary rather than a wallet but even cursory examination of the former would have rendered the latter redundant.

There was a large tomato smear and a swear word (mine) down the left-hand side of February, where Within The Law had gone unbacked in the Schweppes, followed by a disastrous night in the Golden Nugget. I haven’t kept a record from that day to this.

I still wander down the same Soho streets, and Marylebone High Street and Mortimer Street, where Ladbrokes created the most palatial betting office of my experience  –  all plush carpets, relaxing armchairs, drinks and hostesses. It didn’t work, of course, because punters need more spartan surroundings to complain properly. I liked it, though, and once watched an entire Brighton card as the afternoon slipped away. Should they ever decide on something similar, I’ll be back.

Indeed, I’ll be back in a jiffy.