Beer with the boys – Memories with Mathieu

October 21st, 2019 | Ian Carnaby's Racing News

My good friend George Materna  – successful businessman, great Goodwood supporter and joint-owner of Open Wide, who finished runner-up in the Stewards’ Cup this year  –  was recently in hospital to have a new hip fitted.

I have been through this and can endorse the opinion of many that it takes three months to get back to normal, as long as you keep up the exercises. I quite enjoyed them and managed to read Hardy’s The Woodlanders. which is about a hundred pages too long and not to be compared with Far From The Madding Crowd or Jude The Obscure.

Anyway, George also owns Beer With The Boys, who is very moderate but occasionally promises  –  no, that’s too strong, ‘hints at the possibility of’  –  a minor success to set alongside his sole victory of 2018. He is not keen on Brighton and has dropped out tamely at least twice, but I thought he had a chance at Bath the other Wednesday. Scott McCullough knows him best and kidded him along at the back, staying far side in the straight and giving him one sharp smack when last looked far more likely than first. Beer With The Boys kept on grimly and inside the two furlong pole in this 12f handicap he was steadily passing most of his exhausted rivals in the soft ground and even looked like getting to the winner Manucci, but the margin was still a length and a half at the line.

Beer With The Boys started at a typical Mick Channon sort of price, 12/1 from 14’s, and it was galling for George, who has rather more horses, including Open Wide, with Manucci’s trainer Amanda Perrett. It’s just as well he is one of life’s easy-going, all-round good guys because the surgeon cracked a small bone during the procedure and, although the operation went ahead, it set back the recovery time by six to eight weeks.

It was galling for me, too, because I backed the old rascal (Beer With The Boys, not George) to win and started the following day with a modest bank for the final Brighton meeting.

I think we should pass over the performances of Flowing Clarets and Major Pusey. The latter was an outright certainty on his second to the in-form Firenze Rosa over course and distance the week before because he was conceding her 20lb. During the protracted delay when four races were abandoned last week, he was backed from 9/2 to 5/2 favourite and beat one home, flatly refusing to do a tap from the moment the stalls opened. He is a horse of moods.

I was fairly stunned by this and it took me a while to recover. Which is quite crazy, really, because £40 each-way would have seemed like fourpence in the old days and would hardly have covered a single spin in the small hours in the Edgware Road. A philosopher, I reasoned that, had I gone to Brighton, which is well over three hours from here, I’d have lost on the first race and contemplated a rather bigger bet in the last. Then there would have been the licking of wounds in the Regency Tavern and the Casalingo across the road, the sympathetic Italians and the long drive home with no tapes, no MacArthur Park, which I wish I’d written, no Brahms either, because the car radio is in for a service.

So I put on a brave face, picked up the granddaughter from school  –  she is back with us, her dad’s Taiwan teaching appointment having not worked out, obeyed Kipling’s dictum whereby you make a pile of your winnings (small pile here) and risk it all on a single turn of pitch-and-toss and say nothing about your loss, before settling down to some Judy Collins when all were a-bed.

She does a rather splendid version of That Song About The Midway, written by Joni Mitchell. (How did Ben Hanbury win a Guineas and an Oaks with Midway Lady, by the way? It’s amazing, isn’t it?) A sad ditty, it touches on our mutual obsession and I particularly like:

So lately you’ve been hiding, it was somewhere in the news;

And I’m still at these races, with my ticket stubs and my blues.

And a voice calls out the numbers, and it sometimes mentions mine;

And I feel like I’ve working all the time.

It’s spot-on, isn’t it? Sad, ironic and true, and the trick is not wondering what she, or we, might have been doing instead.

Then I read some more of Paul Mathieu’s new book Duel, about the intense rivalry between Harry Hastings and Henry Chaplin, which reaches its bitter conclusion in the Epsom Derby, where Hastings stood to lose the modern-day equivalent of £11m.

If you buy only one book for Christmas, or two if you have a very special betting friend, make it Duel. If you think I’m biased, well, I’ve never met anyone who isn’t, and it’s true that Paul used to come in with Wogan’s Winner on Radio Two when I was preparing the sports bulletin for the Today programme on Radio Four but he is an outstanding writer and Duel is a superb piece of work.

Here’s something I didn’t know. Do you remember the song All Around My Hat by Steeleye Span? Mid-1970s, I think. Anyway, it’s a traditional old folk tune in which the girl vocalist sings of the green willow around her hat, ‘And if anyone should ask me the reason why I’m wearing it, it’s all for my true love who is far, far away’.

In fact it goes back to the nineteenth century and concerns a maid’s lover who was lost to the Australian penal colony. Dr Joseph Shorthouse owned Blue Riband, later sold to Hastings, but the horse went lame before the Derby. Shorthouse then owned the highly-regarded All Round My Hat, who was crocked at Danebury and never raced. In both cases, dirty deeds by the scurrilous Danebury handler John Day were suspected.

Shorthouse could pen a verse or two, as well. Thus:

All Round My Hat

I wear a Blue Riband

All Round My Hat

Since now he goes away

And if anybody asks me

The reason why I wear it

Tis, the legs of my true love

Were smashed by John Day

All of this and more in Paul’s book, which you will enjoy. Luckily I already have a copy and shall not be relying on some late-season heroics from Beer With The Boys or, heaven forfend, Major Pusey.