Making the special moments count

October 28th, 2022 | Ian Carnaby's Racing News

I ebb slightly. It’s just a silly phase I’m going through. (10cc around 1975? I think so.) My Brighton day was good fun, which is all I ask, but everything has gone up and for the first time in ages I find myself needing a winner or two. Needing as opposed to wanting, that is. It goes without saying we always want winners.

The trick is to live quietly and wait for an unmissable opportunity. Eric Eldin just denying Lester when Gaykart repelled Pretty Puffin in Newmarket’s winter chill wasn’t truly unmissable but I’ve never forgotten it  –  the shop girls braving the cold in Cherry Hinton, penny for the guy, mister? as soon as you alighted from the special bus in Parker’s Piece, the subdued golden glow from the old-fashioned lamps in the Turk’s Head.

Cambridge was good to me, even if it came and went too soon. One year I was resigned to hitching back to Southampton after a lean spell but Bunto won the Winchester Handicap at Newbury and I had him in a double with one of Lt Col ‘Ricky’ Vallance’s at Bath. I imagine David Elsworth trained it really, just as he set up quite a few of Richmond Sturdy’s little touches at Shrewton. Ricky was somewhere to the right of Capt H Ryan Price and in matters of discipline he’d have given Attila The Hun a run for his money. Even so, people who assisted him at his Devizes yard were happy and grateful enough, though Paul Cole worried about the gun.

Vallance has been gone for many years, so too Doug Marks, a lovely character who won a wartime Oaks on Godiva, beating odds-on favourite Golden Penny and Gordon Richards in the process. As a trainer he did well with sprinters, especially if Atty Corbett had had them before, and was the last man to run a horse twice on the same day (about fifty years ago), winning a seller on the Rowley Mile course before sending out the same filly to finish third in a handicap later in the afternoon.

He also trained Bunto, of course, who finished fourth in a Wokingham in the hands of Peter Madden. Later on he sponsored the Flanagan and Allen Handicap, named after two of the Crazy Gang, at Brighton. It was this which helped persuade me that sponsoring something similar might be a good idea.

Bunto, with his great big feet and floppy ears, helped me out more than once but winning the Winchester Handicap felt special, like Dancing Paddy landing the Eastleigh Handicap Hurdle at 9/2 in 1994. Dancing Paddy was saddled by Ken Cunningham-Brown, who was instrumental in launching Mick Channon’s training career, enough to endear him to any son of Southampton.

9/2 paid a few bills that day but if I salute Eastleigh on my way south (which I do, even at 73) it has more to do with the old engine sheds, the Pirelli factory, the expat Celtic supporters’ club and Benny Hill.

My first serious bet was a pound on Chancer (I know, I know) in a novices’ chase at Wetherby when I was 14, maybe 15 and the last, for rather more than that, was on Zoman in the Rogers Gold Cup at the Curragh in 1992. Chancer won and Zoman didn’t, quite, although it looked a dead-heat to me.

I’ve gone quiet but the gambler faces temptation on a daily basis. All I can say after all these years is that if a bookmaker’s price looks too good to be true, be very, very careful. When the prime ministerial race was down to three runners the 8/11 about Rishi Sunak looked extremely generous. Penny Mordaunt couldn’t win and Boris Johnson, handed a highly unlikely opportunity by the hapless Liz Truss, had very little time to prepare.

Leaving aside what I feel about Johnson, it’s all of Lombard Street to the proverbial china orange that he quit as soon as 100 votes proved unattainable and the rubbish he spouted about ‘now not being the right time’ should be  consigned to the dustbin. But all true gamblers will have spotted a neat trick in the build-up, which involved the magical figure of 102. Tell people you’re confident of making a hundred and they’ll take it with a pinch of salt but casually drop 102 into the debate and maybe, just maybe, they’ll think you’ve done your sums and jump on the wagon. ‘Don’t bluff a bluffer,’ I murmured to the television screen but of course it wasn’t me the charlatan was trying to convince.

Anyway it didn’t work (thank goodness) but the bookmakers had thought it through and they also knew that Johnson would have a very fair chance if a head-to-head with Sunak went before the Conservative party members. So from their point of view it was worth flirting with some 8/11 about Sunak.

Johnson retired a few hours after the Saints held on against Arsenal, with sweeping rain powerless to disturb a mood of supreme happiness. I know they’re all on thousands but they gave everything and you can’t ask for more. The Cherry Hinton girls, the little lad with his top-hatted guy, my dad’s steel-tipped shoes beating a path to Pirelli’s at six in the morning, the Saints holding on in the rain, memories to last a lifetime.

And sometimes they have to. When I started writing this piece I felt that most things in my little world were ticking over all right but then, half-way through, Mike Barnes’s son Lewis emailed me to say that his dad had died.

Mike was a client of Marten’s and a regular reader (and constructive critic!) of my ramblings. We started off a few years ago talking about the Palace v Southampton FA Cup semi-final of 1976 (he was a big Palace fan) and ended with him offering to edit a book about racing snippets in classical works like Ulysses if I ever got around to writing it. I’ve been scribbling for a few years and I can say without hesitation that he was the most erudite person ever to get in touch.

He had a lovely way about him, as well. When you’re in a Brighton guest house, getting ready to look after thirty guests and making sure everything is in place, it’s gratifying to receive a good luck message from out of the blue. Mike Barnes was a man who wore his unmistakeable intelligence lightly and when he signed off with ‘mind how you go’, not only did it seem very good advice, you also knew he meant it. We are much the poorer for his passing.