More than this – quite a bit more, actually

September 23rd, 2022 | Ian Carnaby's Racing News

I seem to have changed horses in midstream, as we used to say. This was going to be about the Heineken Silver Handicap at Goodwood, the startling ability of Harry Davies and Saffie Osborne and the way a very clever gamble on runner-up Carp Kid went astray by inches. Then there were some Goodwood memories, most notably the interview with Omar Sharif and the drink with Jeffrey Bernard.

Mailman was in there somewhere, as well, leading on to certain courses being forever associated with certain horses  –  Bunto and Newbury, Duggan and Catterick, Jim’s Tavern and Plumpton, Hopping Around and Edinburgh, etc.

There was an autumnal feel to it, though  –  hardly surprising in an autumnal sort of person, I suppose  –  and I found myself recalling some seasonal lines from long ago:

‘The sun and the moon take turns in the sky

The days drift on by too soon;

The meadows are kissed by a cool autumn mist,

Far away now is June’

I take your point. It’s hardly the work of an aspiring poet laureate, even a callow youth displaying a measure of promise. But it’s superior to the average pop song lyric and Frank Ifield made a good job of Summer Is Over. It gives us a convincing secondary reason to remember him, as well.

Anyway, the piece was taking shape and Bill Murray popped up somewhere, prompting me to play that closing bit from Lost In Translation when he stops the taxi and catches up with Scarlett Johansson in the crowded Tokyo thoroughfare to say goodbye properly. Roxy Music’s More Than This is playing in the background. That was when a friend called to enquire how strongly I fancied Azure Blue at Newmarket (very strongly indeed) and asked about a cryptic crossword clue involving a reliable pick-me-up the morning after. He even had the F and the B but had never heard of Fernet Branca. People live sheltered lives.

The 1970s was a time of ‘me too’ products looking for a minor share of the market, rather like Betdaq and Betfair today. At Gilbey’s we got behind Underberg and I did my level best to sell it in west London. I also wrote about it and eventually found the piece from nine years ago. I’m not sure why it didn’t appear in The Long Road From Portman Square, which is not to say it has any great merit, though I admit I like it and thought I’d pass it on. Here it is. Bill and Tokyo and Dougie Marks winning with Bunto at Newbury will appear soon.



It’s too late now but Paraguay is where I should have made it big. I liked it there but I was selling the wrong things to the wrong people. Graphic arts materials weren’t my sort of thing but I could definitely have sold them Underberg.

A morning pick-me-up at 80 per cent proof, Underberg tasted quite strange but came in tiny bottles in bandolero belts, so I think you catch my drift. How could you lose in Paraguay? When I was in Asuncion in the 1970s you saw those belts everywhere. All you needed to do was fill the spaces intended for bullets with Underberg, but I couldn’t see it at the time. Come to think of it, deep in the forest I could probably have shifted some Doornkaat German schnapps, as well, but that’s another story.

I went racing whenever possible. There was nothing happening in Paraguay but I had quite a big bet on the favourite in a claimer in Brazil. It came second, arriving late on the scene, and I wondered about the jockey but ‘not terribly busy’ doesn’t have the same ring to it in Portuguese and it’s bad form to suggest anything untoward when your hosts are paying for lunch.

I did my level best with Doornkaat in this country. At Gilbey’s we even invited Kingsley Amis to lunch and persuaded him to write about it but it made no difference. Marketing people tell salesmen certain things and the salesmen nod politely, keeping their own counsel. How many times have you read that there’s no reason why betting shops shouldn’t appeal to women? Complete tosh, of course. Women don’t bother with betting shops because they regard them as male enclaves with too many experts. (Only part of this is correct.)

Marketing men come up with ideas and the big bosses are always going on about competition. I’ve never been remotely competitive. When I was selling in Hounslow and Isleworth, the Gordon’s Gin man and I got together and worked out who had the best prices on various items. This cut down the workload considerably and soon we were able to take Friday afternoons off. I  believe he had women in Staines and Arnos Grove and I went to Kempton Park.

When I felt a bit iffy in Bolivia  –  it’s a mistake to push someone’s car at altitude  –  I did think briefly about some last words because my chest was hurting but it’s not the sort of thing you prepare for, is it? “By golly, that Operatic Society was some performer”, would lose something in translation and the Bolivians crouching over you with their worried oval faces would probably end up telling your nearest and dearest that you’d been on your way to see the Mikado in La Paz.

People do talk about racing right at the end, though. In his book Blood Horses: Notes of a Sportswriter’s Son, John Jeremiah Sullivan tells how his father saved his greatest sporting memory  –  Secretariat winning the 1973 Kentucky Derby before completing the Triple Crown  –  for his deathbed. Sullivan senior could turn a phrase but drinking and smoking claimed him early and his son was left trying to find a comparable sporting experience  –  in other words, something that moved him so much it left everything else at the post.

Last words are tricky because not many people are around at the time and historians tend to dispute what was actually said.

“Either that wallpaper goes or I do” is many people’s favourite and the facts shouldn’t be allowed to spoil a good story, though Oscar Wilde uttered the words a few weeks before his death and was probably attempting a Catholic prayer when the end came. I rather like Humphrey Bogart’s “I never should have switched from scotch to Martinis”, which sounds just like him.

I sold plenty of J & B Whisky in Isleworth but a lot of publicans insisted on Bell’s. The phrase ‘Afore ye go’ has stood the test of time and we all know what it means. This is just as well because, lying in your sick bed in Inverallochy or wherever, you wouldn’t want the quack dipping into his bag for a Bell’s miniature and crying: “Afore ye go!”

You’d be better off with an Underberg.