Go tell it on the mountain – just like Pat

January 15th, 2020 | Ian Carnaby's Racing News


I admit to finding this NH season a little disappointing so far. This is mostly because of the wet weather, abandonments and far too many races being run on heavy ground. Although that is inevitable after all the rain, there is ‘heavy’ and ‘heavy’, so to speak. For instance, as soon as I see that particular going description at Haydock or Lingfield I assume that the course is barely raceable and the temptation to bet simply disappears.

This allows more time to study other topics    the stories making headlines in the racing press and, where the Nicky Henderson blog via Unibet is concerned, the serious newspapers. I doubt very much that the trainer is interested in the betting side of things and we know he alerted the BHA to the fact that stable star Altior had worked indifferently. But the bookmakers had already eased the horse, subsequently a non-runner, in the betting on the Unibet Silviniaco Conti Chase at Kempton whilst shortening up stable-companion Top Notch, who ended up at 11/10 and finished a moderate third.

A simple soul, I doubt that there was anything untoward here, though I certainly believe there could be a mole in the yard passing on information entirely irrespective of Henderson’s blog. What I don’t understand is why the trainer would want, need or welcome that sort of involvement anyway. It can’t be for the money, can it? Or maybe Unibet offered the kind of deal that was simply unmissable, especially if someone else was detailed to put the piece together. Why turn down money for nothing? After all, other top trainers have had (and still have) links with Betfair. But if you’re going to dip a toe into that particular pool, you have to be very careful. Many people believe there is no smoke without fire and we all know a lie is halfway around the world before the truth has got its boots on. It wouldn’t surprise me if Henderson tired of the whole business quite soon and called it a day. 

Another story, or rather a snippet, in last week’s Weekender also caught my eye. ‘Is it me or is the Dubai Carnival turning a tad tedious?’ Alistair Jones wondered. His point concerned Godolphin’s dominance of their own festival and it was well made. Even so, I smiled to myself. Back in the early nineties, when the Sporting Life was still going and writers were falling over themselves to laud the Maktoums’ munificence, I wondered in my column how it helped owners and trainers in the north when each of the four brothers    Maktoum Al Maktoum was still with us then    had a runner in maidens at Carlisle, Redcar and Pontefract or wherever. 

Of course, Sheikh Mohammed’s generosity, like Sheikh Hamdan’s loyalty (think of the fate which had befallen Major Dick Hern at the hands of Her Majesty’s advisers), is beyond question. But when you pour so much money in, you’re looking to be the main man. As Gavin Pritchard-Gordon said to me before his retirement and departure from Stanley House, ‘What is the point of carrying on when my best horses are only third division material compared with the Maktoums’ ammunition?’

Of course, Ballydoyle and Khaled Abdullah between them have ensured that Sheikh Mohammed never achieved total dominance in Britain or Ireland. But Dubai is a very different matter and it’s no great surprise that the shoal of winners for the boys in blue prompts a ‘ho hum’ reaction. Just in passing, the carnival itself is a perfect example of racing dividing observers into two camps    the journalists who want, or are instructed, to write about it and the anonymous mass (actually more a crowd than a mass these days) of everyday and/or betting office punters who really don’t give a fig.   

Pat Murphy has never trained for the Maktoums and I doubt that it bothers him very much. Flicking through the results the other day I noticed that he’d had a winner, Galtee Mountain at Warwick. Now, here was a result to revive those who thought the old days had gone forever and beautifully-conceived plots in small yards were no longer executed to perfection

You should look at Galtee Mountain’s record. Pat owns him, as well, but took over the training after a single outing at Exeter for Jose Santos (??), where the horse beat one home. Beating one became Galtee Mountain’s hobby, or fixation, as indeed did 66/1, the price he started at three times in a row when all seemed lost, though not to Pat. A fourth at Fontwell, though 21 lengths adrift, marked a slight improvement. Or maybe not so slight, because the boy was only 9/1 (hmm) when bolting up at Warwick, beating Go As You Please by six lengths. He was still going all right (at 3/1 favourite) before suddenly weakening as if something had gone amiss at Lingfield the other day, though no one should have been tempted off a 10lb higher mark.

No, Warwick was the place to be to see an old pro (Pat, not Galtee Mountain) wind back the clock. The last time I can recall his having a long, lean spell, Barney Curley sorted out a sprinter for him, from Ireland I think, and it went in at Southwell, possibly, and Declan (Pat’s brother, who rode for Barney, of course) may have had a hand in it. I remember most horses but that one has gone, unlike the winner Pat trained for a group of us in Nailsea, a mare called Limelight, who dead-heated in a maiden hurdle and later went in at 16/1 at Chepstow after Pat had nursed her back to full health and fitness with his customary patience.

He is a lovely man and I miss him, but things change with the passing of the years and after some family sadness he moved from Portbury down the road to the Lambourn area and we lost touch, though he is never far from my thoughts. His late father-in-law Richard Holder held the licence at Portbury when Ikdam won the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham in bottomless ground in 1989. Richard drove he horsebox and Pat stayed at the yard, realising with every drop of rain that fell that Ikdam had a chance, as long as the meeting survived.

It’s a wonderful story, full of Bristol characters, told extremely well by Richard Austen in his book At The Festival, which was published about five years ago. Ikdam started at 66/1, incidentally, so Galtee Mountain would approve. So, too, Jose Santos, though I believe he has reverted to his former role as a bandleader in Brazil.

Only joking.

Ian Carnaby is a weekly contributor to The Weekend Card