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Marathon Man required? Send for the Doyler

October 16th, 2023 | Ian Carnaby's Racing News

The going at Goodwood has been soft or heavy more often than not this year and nothing changed on their final day in October. You have to make the circumstances work in your favour if possible and that was certainly the case with Paul and Oliver Cole’s Thunder Ball, who had recent course form over a mile in similar ground and came clear in the Inkerman London Handicap. He was backed from 4/1 to 3/1 just before the off.

You can’t always make jockey bookings pay but there was an eye-catching example here with the talented Alec Voikhansky taking over from the yard’s own apprentice Mohammed Tabdi, who had nearly always ridden Thunder Ball in the past. Both lads claimed 5lbs but Voikansky has had far more opportunities and has already ridden winners for several top yards.

Sometimes it’s tempting to let an eye-catching booking override the form, such as it is. The Shunter couldn’t win the Cesarewitch on his most recent effort, a well-beaten fourth of 6 at Gowran Park, but that was over a hopelessly inadequate mile and a half and followed a long gap since some pretty uninspiring efforts over hurdles.

When the Irish lay one out for a specific target they do it properly and it doesn’t matte how long it takes. But you still need the right man on top and Emmet Mullins, as crafty as they come, had booked ‘the Doyler’, James Doyle. When you look back at it now it’s obvious, isn’t it? But if you’d tipped or backed it and it finished fifteenth, beaten 35 lengths, you’d have cursed yourself for sheer, gung-ho recklessness.

There have been other Doylers, of course, both real and fictitious. In his epic novel At Swim, Two Boys  – not to be confused with Flann O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds  –  Jamie O’Neill has the young Doyler Doyle joining the Irish Citizen Army in 1916  and losing his life to a stray bullet as he searches for his teenage lover, Jim Mack.

In the total confusion of the failed Easter rising, a Proclamation establishing an Irish Republic was read outside the General Post Office in Dublin but many townspeople had no idea what was going on and were making their way to Fairyhouse for the Irish National. When word reached the racecourse, all transport was suspended but the big race had already taken place. The winner was All Sorts, an extremely tough six-year-old who had to walk all the way home to Co Westmeath, a journey which took six days. Undaunted, he returned and finished second in 1917 and 1918.

O’Neill does not cover all these details but At Swim, Two Boys is a superb  piece of work, sometimes recalling the free-flowing style of James Joyce and featuring a memorable character in the shape of McMurrough, a self-regarding but also self-loathing gay intellectual, recently arrived from England after a minor (though perhaps not so minor) scandal landed him in court. A Wildean character with all the language but not quite the bons mots, he never convinces the street-wise, contemptuous Doyler but ends up earning the sympathy of Jim Mack and the reader.

Sometimes I wonder how the results of big races abroad reached people in England all those years ago. All Sorts’ exploits may have struggled for a mention halfway through World War 1 but it’s easy to forget how popular racing was among the general public. McMurrough would no doubt have celebrated in style when Gay Crusader won the Newmarket Derby in 1917, had he known that one day ‘gay’ would mean rather more than happy.

As for Call Boy in 1927, well, perhaps we shouldn’t go there but ninety-six years ago it was simply a theatrical term  –  “Two minutes, Mr Flanagan!” etc. That was also the year that BBC Radio broadcast the race for the first time and the Midday Standard, which had exclusive rights to jockey Steve Donoghue’s thoughts, arranged for a fleet of Moth aeroplanes to fly over London, a series of lights giving his tip to readers who knew the code.

I could have done with something like that at Goodwood. The way the weather has been his year, I’d have had no trouble reading the message.