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Maid In India, Old Geezer in Hampstead

April 24th, 2019 | Ian Carnaby's Racing News

And so the Baths and Brightons are back with us again. Only Punchestown left (together with the fervent hope that a miracle Placepot pays for everything, as it did in ‘volcanic ash’ year, 2010) before the familiar round of tricky sprint handicaps, Shepherd Neame Spitfire in the Regency Tavern, no bitter at all in the Fox on the Downs and old Solveig’s Song waiting for the handicapper to drop her to 46 in a Brighton mile handicap.

It may take a while because she is up around 55 at present, having bolted up at 10/1 on Carnaby seller day last year. As my friend Arthur Sears, well into his nineties, is fond of pointing out, she is beautifully named. Solveig’s Song is a rather reflective movement from Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite and the seven-year-old mare is by Norse Dancer. She fairly burst clear at 10/1 on my day, making several people in the box very happy, but she will not be down to 46 by September 2.

The only familiar face to go in when Brighton’s season opened on Saturday was Junoesque, pretty solid at 2/1 favourite. Sitting in the Holly Bush in Hampstead a few days before, I could see he had a clear chance, though I always worry about fitness first time up. The Holly Bush was author Kingsley Amis’ local and I dare say he penned a few lines of Lucky Jim, his first novel, in there. I met him many years ago in my wine trade days when we were trying to get a schnapps called Doornkaat up and running. He agreed to write a piece about it and was great company with the wine flowing. In one of those Q & A pieces that magazines love, one of the questions was: ‘What is the worst thing anyone has ever said to you?’ and his answer was: ‘Shall we go straight to the table?’

Arthur, in advertising all his life, remembers another gem. ‘It is not worth giving up drink for the sake of an extra two years in a care home in Weston-super-Mare.’ ‘We were working on some project and he didn’t know I lived in Weston,’ old Arthur chuckled.

I’m starting to run out of work now, which is only to be expected at 70. There will be a small get-together at Punchestown to mark my retirement after 32 years as British correspondent on the Irish Field. I was recruited by the late editor Valentine Lamb, a wonderfully gregarious character who knew everyone, in Wheeler’s fish restaurant in Soho. They had a Chinese chef there called Mr Song and every now and then Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon, keeping a straight face, would say: ‘Tell me, Mr Song, how is business?’ just to hear him say: ‘Well, mustn’t glumble……’

1987 was quite a year, because Robert Maxwell opened (and closed) the London Daily News  –  the racing correspondent’s job failing to match the Irish Field one by 31 years and five months  –  and Hopping Around won an Edinburgh claimer for Pat Eddery in Eddery v Cauthen year (Steve won by a couple in the end) to wipe out all debts with two of the ‘big four’ bookmakers as they then were. Whilst I don’t believe in certainties on the turf, Hopping Around (7/2) must have been close because a couple of days later he finished fifth or sixth in the Manchester November Handicap, as I still call it.

Over the years my favourite places for studying form have included the Flask in Hampstead, the Regency Tavern in Brighton, the Blathwayt Arms in Bath, the Anglesey Arms in Halnaker and more or less anywhere in Southampton, though the Platform pub takes some beating. It’s not every hostelry that has a sign hanging from the ceiling with the inscription: ‘Not all who wander are lost’. J R R Tolkein, I think. It’s an admirable sentiment, even if a few of us buck the trend.

Sitting in the Blathwayt the other day, I had to acknowledge that a near six-month plan coming to grief at the final hurdle, as it were, can still hurt. Watching Eric Alston’s Maid In India in six-furling Listed sprints last autumn, it seemed to me that five would suit her better and the Whitsbury Manor Stud Stakes at Bath on Good Friday would be perfect.

Eric is no fool, however, and stall 11 of 11 at Bath is no use when the going firms up so a vet’s certificate was soon produced. The interesting thing, bearing in mind that Preston is a long way from the Roman city, is that stable-companion Acclaim The Nation still made the trip for a modest sprint handicap later on. He broke fast, Tom Eaves taking a glance over his left shoulder, grabbed the far rail and went for absolutely everything, only to be caught and beaten a neck by The Daley Express. It hardly takes a genius (which is just as well) to work out that Maid In India would have been given a similar ride, same jockey, same colours, from a lower draw. Which is not to say she would have won, of course, but I think she’ll be interesting next time.

‘Out of Indian Maiden, of course. All the nicely-named ones win,’ Arthur said.

‘Did Kingsley Amis tell you that?’

‘Good Lord no. I worked it out for myself. Cheers!’

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