Racing the poorer without ‘Scotty’

May 7th, 2021 | Ian Carnaby's Racing News

The pandemic has hurt people in many ways, some of them tragic. I had a brush with the wretched thing last October but shrugged it off after a period of self-isolation. I ache here and there when out walking but at 72 I’m hardly surprised and it’s not bound to be anything to do with Covid.

It never crossed my mind that a friend or colleague could pass away without the news reaching me. But, of course, my favourite haunts have been closed for many weeks. They include the Botanist in Bristol, which features now and again in my book The Long Road From Portman Square and is next door to the University and Literary Club. The driving force behind the club was successful owner-breeder Chris Scott; it was only recently that a mutual friend in Nailsea told me that the virus had claimed Chris several weeks ago.

I was stunned. I’ve written about him and his horses in various publications and occasionally gone through the card for his guests at Bath, where he was a sponsor for several years. I should have heard but, like many people, I use the Racing Post website for declarations and form and don’t need the print version every day. The paper may well have covered Chris’s passing, though I found no mention of it on the internet.

It would be fair to say fish played a major part in his life. His parents ran a fish and chip shop in Kingswood, Bristol and he started off by driving a fish lorry on the final leg of its journey from Grimsby to West Bromwich and on to the west country. He then joined Charles Saunders, a subsidiary of Mac Fisheries, his 15-year stint ending with a management buy-out in the 1980s. “I’d been managing a frozen food division and was suddenly in a position to buy the Charles Saunders name for £1,” he smiled. “We moved to premises behind Temple Meads station and ended up with two thousand frozen food lines but I was always keen to keep the fresh fish side going as well.”

His first horse was Saunders Lass, who won a seller worth £816 at Nottingham in 1986 when trained by the late Richard Holder. The latter also looked after Ikdam, of course, who won the Triumph Hurdle at 66/1 after incessant rain had threatened Gold Cup day at Cheltenham. For the full Ikdam story, which is full of joy and sadness, you should read Richard Austen’s 2015 book At The Festival, in my opinion one of the best racing books ever written.

‘Scotty’ took a share in Ikdam after the race but had £100 each-way on him at 100/1 with William Hill on course on the big day as the rain continued to fall. He was also involved with Tomahawk, who won the Lanzarote Hurdle at Kempton after a crashing fall at Wincanton which ended with jockey David Matthews in Frenchay Hospital. (Being taken to Frenchay rather than the Bristol Royal Infirmary or Southmead is worrying, to say the least, though Matthews happily recovered.)

“For a while I was visiting him and Richard, who was very seriously ill, at the same time,” Scott recalled. “Richard’s son-in-law Pat Murphy took over the Portbury yard and Declan, Pat’s brother, rode Tomahawk at Kempton. The horse was McCririck’s ‘steamer’ of the day and went in at 12/1.”

Scott had a quarter share in Piccolo, who was Mick Channon’s first Royal Ascot winner in the King’s Stand Stakes in 1995. “He cost 18,000 guineas and at one stage we were offered £200,000 for him and Mick couldn’t believe it when we turned it down but we were enjoying ourselves. In the King’s Stand the horse drifted on course and I had £10,000 to £300 each-way twice. In all, I made about £30,000, which was my best-ever day, though I dare say I’ve paid it back one way and another.”

He often bet with Stephen Little, a charming and fascinating layer, who relied purely on maths without ever expressing an opinion or commenting on form himself. This was in stark contrast to Victor Chandler, who played both sides of the fence and was losing a small, or not so small, fortune that famous day until deciding Piccolo was the one to get him out and betting accordingly. He and the staff turned things round to such an extent that they ended up with champagne back at the London office in the evening. I digress, but Victor is an engaging character and when the spate of bookmaker ads first hit the television screens I thought him a natural performer. I don’t know enough about his subsequent fall from grace but I doubt there is any way back.

Channon had another yearling colt he liked in the shape of Repertory, who cost Scott £35,000 for a half-share and was brilliantly speedy but lost his way after finishing second in a Listed race at three. In the end, Scott let him go to Malcolm Saunders for 10,000 guineas without retaining a share. Then, when he got back from the Hong Kong Sevens  –  rugby is his other great love  –  he saw him entered in a Newbury handicap under top weight. “I left him alone and he won at 50/1, which shows you how tricky the whole thing can be. He was invited to the Hong Kong Sprint, where Malcolm said he should run in my name, which was a nice gesture.”

Scott and Saunders teamed up and enjoyed considerable success with the likes of Lockstock and, at a higher level, the very gifted filly Indian Maiden, who won at Listed and Group 3 level in England, Ireland and France. She produced Maid In India, a good winner for the Weekend Card in the hands of Eric Alston. Saunders remains a very canny trainer of ordinary sprinters, which is why he features regularly in my columns. It is a great pity his partnership with Scott is at an end.

Racing is not so well-endowed with genuine characters that we can afford to lose Chris Scott. “You know, Bristol has been good to me all my life and I try to put a bit back,” he once told me. Rather more than ‘a bit’, perhaps; he was involved in boxing promotions at Jury’s Hotel, various activities on behalf of the Taverners and was life president of UPCC, the underprivileged children’s charity.

Some years ago he bred Piccolo Rose from Saunders Lass and gave her to his wife Pat for Christmas, together with brand new colours, which she initially took to be a pink blouse. Channon managed to win a claimer at Lingfield with the filly and, much more recently, secured some black type for Unilit with a third in the Dick Poole at Salisbury.

I used to sit next to Pat at Bath while Chris was scurrying around, looking after his guests. He was a force of nature, never really still, always looking for the next opportunity, always checking that people were having a good time, which they were.

Apparently there was an operation near the end when things might have gone either way and he told my Nailsea friend he thought things were fifty-fifty. More a 33/1 sort of chap, he’d probably have been happier with an outside chance. A good, kind man, Bristol and the wider world is the poorer without him.

No wonder the club is still closed.