Some horses stay with us

March 11th, 2023 | Ian Carnaby's Racing News

It was hardly the sort of race to fire the imagination so close to Cheltenham but, to my intense satisfaction and a handy profit to boot, Suzi’s Connoisseur went in at 9/1 at Lingfield the other day.

He is twelve years old, hadn’t won in 31 tries since his last success at Newmarket in 2019 and was ridden in this apprentices’ handicap by 7lbs claimer Tommie Jakes, hitherto unknown to me.

You have to bear in mind how poor some of these races are, and Tommie had done pretty well on Suzi’s Connoisseur the previous time, finishing a close fourth in a similar contest. He came from some way off the pace when successful, avoided any interference, stayed on the outside and got up close home with a little flourish of the whip in celebration.

It was a Carnaby sort of race and I suppose it’s too late for me to change now. It reminded me of Bath sprint handicaps in the late 1990s when Milton Bradley used apprentices so effectively. Or going back many years before that we had Richmond Sturdy running two or even three in a race and winning with the one no one could spot.

I have many Sturdy memories but one that stands out is Fire Fairy winning an amateur riders’ handicap at Windsor at 16/1. At a racing lunch Diana Henderson, Nicky’s first wife, could not believe I remembered the race; I think she may still have been Diana Thorne when bringing Fire Fairy home.

Briefly  –  and only briefly  –  I thought of writing a book about long-forgotten horses like Fire Fairy and what stage of life I’d reached when they won (or failed narrowly, of course, because those memories can be even more poignant).

But you have to be convinced that enough people are interested, don’t you? And that probably means people of my age (I’m trying and failing to avoid the term ‘old geezers’ here). You have your doubts but then something happens to perk you up.

For instance, you can find John Meacock’s Vakil-ul-Mulk on YouTube. Tailed off in the Derby, he became a minor folk hero, a no-hoper to gladden the heart, while Meacock, a British Army veteran who studied Persian history and personalities, was clever enough to win a later Wincanton handicap hurdle with him at 100/8.

Stable-companion Qalibashi had only a modicum of ability but the ever-astute Julian Wilson, aided and abetted by trainer Neville Dent, bought her cheaply and set her up for a humble hurdle race at Southwell. Poor old Qalibashi. She had this at her mercy but, for whatever reason, the Southwell groundsman had painted the wings of the hurdles bright orange. She shied at every flight and could finish only second.

You have to read and read and read to pick up on these things and you leave yourself short of time if all you want is the winner of the next race. Many autobiographies are cobbled together and some ‘ghosted’ efforts are even worse, but Wilson’s Some You Win is rather different. There aren’t many famous commentators who’d admit to being with two very expensive ladies of the night before an important family engagement the next day. I think this involved a prospective marriage partner but he had to cancel. Well, he was tired and you can’t have everything.

As for Qalibashi, she made his book, of course, and indeed William Trevor’s Mrs Eckdorf in O’Neill’s Hotel, where the Sporting Life’s Brighton report is summarised and her earlier 20/1 success mentioned. Meacock had picked her up for £50. The greyhound of the moment was Yellow Printer, whose well-being, contrary to one or two adverse reports, was confirmed.

You soon realise you’d need photographs to make the book work. Anyone can see I’d have no problem with the Proustian memories. I could justify the inclusion of Doug Marks’s Bunto, fourth in a Wokingham half a century ago but almost entirely forgotten now, by including a photograph of Doug with the Crazy Gang (Flanagan and Allen, Brighton sponsorship connection) but old Bunto with his floppy ears and great spade-like feet is but a warm and distant glow, a comfort in the wee small hours of the morning.

Some relevant pictures are easier to find than others and some are very expensive. From my childhood Les Hall’s Candid Picture stands out and I well remember a newspaper piece about Davy Jones of the Monkees riding him out on Basil Foster’s gallops when the old horse moved on. A tremendous story, complete with picture, and a moving one, too, because if Basil treated Davy well in this country, the loyalty was returned in spades when the trainer retired to warmer climes in Florida through ill health and the former pop star took care of him. Sadly, they’ve both gone now.

When I hd my hip replacement I was lying in a hospital bed and reading Some Horses by Thomas McGuane, my favourite American author. My book would have a handful of horses from other spheres included and McGuane tells us that only ONE horse survived the Battle of the Little Big Horn; his name was Comanche.

‘There is a special grief for the innocent caught up in mankind’s murderous follies’.

I wish I’d thought of that. But then, I’m only an ok writer and Thomas McGuane is a great one. Life hurts sometimes.


A note from Rebecca: If you enjoyed reading this journal I highly recommend Ian’s latest book which we published. It makes for wonderful reading for any horse racing fan. An ideal book to dip in and out of when time allows. Read more here.

Ian also records a daily racing line. 09068 888 111 60p per minute at all times and more from a mobile. Updated by noon each day.