More questions that answers? Yes, probably

November 13th, 2019 | Ian Carnaby's Racing News

It was a pity rain ruled out the final Doncaster meeting of the season and with it the November Handicap. It will always be the Manchester November Handicap to me, ever since Operatic Society dislodged Ken Gethin at the start, galloped a full circuit in the fog and then repeated the dose for real, beating 48 rivals in the process. 48! Proper racing in those days, of course.

I’m not interested in betting when the ground is heavy, especially on the Flat, so there have been several quiet days chez Carnaby of late, although the increasingly depressing trips to St Mary’s in the pouring rain remain unmissable. I think I told you many weeks ago that we would probably go down; the ‘probably’ has now disappeared, along with the price. That sort of bet is not something I could ever countenance myself, of course, but if you dabbled you will have few worries.

I was thinking of putting together a collection of columns in book form for Christmas but no one is all that interested, which is perfectly understandable. Winners matter much more than memories but it’s gratifying when a different sort of racing book comes out and that description certainly applies to my friend Mart Matthews’ Racing Post Quiz Book  –  1,000 Questions on Horseracing, which is available now. Personally I’d have priced it at £9.99, rather than three pounds more, not because it’s cheap and cheerful (it’s anything but) but simply because there is something about picking up an ideal Christmas gift for a penny short of a tenner.

For some reason, though I imagine it was because we discussed the project when it was still but a twinkle in the author’s eye, I found myself thinking about Brighton a year or two ago and a pre-race drink with Pam Wheeler, wife of legendary local DJ Rocking Billy.

There were two ladies ‘d’un certain age’, which means my sort of age really, at the next table outside the Fox on the Downs, which used to be The Winner. They wanted a tip but the only horse I fancied was Cruise Tothelimit in the 9.05 at Newbury, not due off for several hours. So I went for the safest option, Stonecrabstomorrow in the first across the road. He fell out of the stalls and finished last. Stone last, I should say, as I loitered by the furlong pole, waiting for David Ashforth, Mart and Mart’s son Dan, who was in a rich vein of form at the time.

Mart asked many quiz questions over the next few hours and I did quite well with one or two of them  –  the 17 players capped by England while playing for Southampton and the two horses which, with two letters reversed, have won an Ascot Gold Cup and a Royal Hunt Cup. Yeats and Yeast. Ashforth was very impressed; also clearly relieved that he didn’t have to think about it any more.

We missed a couple of winning favourites but managed to back Ooi Long, trained by Mark Rimmer, whose picture was on my wall at home for ages because he won a little race at Nottingham on Mrs Leadbetter (25/1) thirty-odd years ago. I had a share in Mrs Leadbetter, who might have made decent money at the sales. Sadly, she had a large boil on her bottom, which could happen to anyone, and it put people off.

Dan bumped into the in-form Eddie Fremantle, who said that Paperetto (14/1) would nearly win the last but jockey Daniel Cremin (7) had yet to get off the mark. Well, an hour later we acknowledged that we’d never be able to say that again as the unbacked 14/1 shot breezed past us in front. Time to head for the Regency Tavern.

“Dirty rifle”, Mart says.


“Which pop singer reminds you of a dirty rifle?”

You have to stay sharp but after an eight-race marathon I missed the fact that a Dusty Springfield tape was playing in the background. Then my dad’s watch stopped in the Casalingo Italian across the road. Actually it’s my watch now because he’s been gone for well over 40 years but you know what I mean. Mercifully the others reminded me it was nearly five past 9, so I ran to the William Hill around the corner and backed Cruise Tothelimit, who won at 100/30.

It was a perfect day, even with the three-hour drive home. I remember the radio in the Volvo estate I’d borrowed was stuck on Radio 2. There can’t be any other station in the world that would follow Leonard Cohen’s wonderful Suzanne (total bliss between Brighton and Hove) with The Organist Entertains. They do have something in common, though. Rocking Billy has never played either of them.