Black Corton For The Top Man

November 3rd, 2018 | Ian Carnaby's Racing News

Many years ago – more than half a century anyway – I was a regular at Portsmouth greyhounds. Target Road, Tipner every Friday night and when my friends, one of whom had a car, tired of it I used to take a Royal Blue coach from Southampton.

Of all the memories I suppose Broken China giving himself time from Trap 3 and picking off the red jacket close home is the clearest and fondest because the race turned out exactly as I expected. Bob Dylan might have sung ‘The highway is for gamblers, better use your sense; take what you have gathered from coincidence’ but I like to think there was plenty of skill involved in finding that particular forecast. Nearly 40 years later I used the race, with a less rewarding outcome, in a short story in my book Not Minding That It Hurts.

The book also mentions The Circle Game, a song by Joni Mitchell about ‘the carousel of time’, or the way things come round again. Not that they can ever be quite the same of course, as Proust realised when he returned to the Bois de Boulogne, hoping to find the women every bit as elegant as they seemed when he was young and impressionable and nursing feelings for Gilberte.

We can’t change the past, any more than we can forget it, Jack Nicholson points out in The Two Jakes, a follow-up to the superb Chinatown. I go back to the places I knew as a child. Some of them have changed beyond recognition and some have disappeared – The Dell, Portsmouth Greyhound Stadium, Park Royal – but every now and then, as I close in on 70, something happens to bring back a poignant memory.

I lunched with a friend in Mar Y Terra on Wednesday; it’s an agreeable tapas place close to Blackfriars Bridge in London with a Betfred not far away.

The truly committed gambler will always fit in a race or two, even when getting back to Paddington by 4.30 is essential if the expensive band on the rattler back to Bristol is to be avoided. (I am not short of places to go in London which fill three hours quite agreeably but we’ll leave that for another time, perhaps.)

I should admit that I am not averse to the odd game of chance, which means Dylan’s lyrics sometimes apply to me. I know nothing of greyhound form these days and nothing could ever match Portsmouth or Park Royal, but in a shop I’ll back the dog closest to 4/1 and Supreme Claret was 9/2 (from trap 3) in the 3.59 at Monmore Green. I know you’ve never needed to know where Monmore is but it’s in Wolverhampton and it was one of the first tracks to broadcast to High Street outlets way back in the 1960s, when there was time for a couple of races before closing time at 6.30 pm, and it was dark outside and traps 1 and 2 seemed to enjoy quite an advantage.

Well, Supreme Claret was fast away but had to give best to two rivals down the back straight. Like Broken China she was clever, avoiding contact before finding a nice burst to take her past the one dog close home. The circle game in all respects and a handy, if hardly life-changing hundred and ten pounds.

Betting shops have changed almost beyond recognition and people simply don’t walk in and have twenty on a greyhound any more. The time it took the young woman to pay out – scanning the slip, putting it through the computer, peering at it again as if it couldn’t possibly be genuine – placed the 4.30 from Paddington at risk. It was a far cry, shall we say, from the days when I was a boardman in Ladbrokes, Pound Tree Road, Southampton where Terry the manager would be up on his chair, vigorously waving a rolled-up Sporting Life as a persuader and roaring home Nicolina (read the book) in a sprint handicap at Goodwood. Somewhere along the way we seem to have lost the interaction between staff and punters. Minimum wage, probably.

I just made the 4.30, thereby avoiding the temptation of the Victoria Casino in Edgware Road, where I have won the last seven times. The thing is, it took me seven visits and I know that, when the worm turns, as it surely must, the casino will not need seven goes at getting it back. It has taken me a lifetime to accept small setbacks without allowing them to become large ones and I dare say I’m not entirely in the clear just yet. I’m better, though.

Unlike Dostoyevsky’s grandma I’d much rather be right about horses than roulette but the end of the turf season on the Flat saw sprint handicappers win in quick succession at Doncaster and Newbury after finished stone last on their most recent outing. And then Capton finished last on Saturday and I knew it was time for a rest or rely entirely on Paul Nicholls over the jumps. It would be good to see Black Corton winning after Modus and Frodon last weekend.

Did you know, I ghosted Paul’s column in the Life well over twenty years ago, when See More Business was about to open the door to the big time. Then, as now, I lived in Nailsea, no more than an hour and a quarter, cross country, from Ditcheat.

Heck of a nice man, Paul Nicholls. “You don’t want to come all that way,” he said. “We can meet in a pub at Temple Cloud.” So we did, and sat in a back room and put it all together.

I go back there sometimes.