Somewhere beyond the sea – compensation for Archie

February 16th, 2020 | Ian Carnaby's Racing News

I think it fair to say that Archie has never quite recovered from Benie Des Dieux’s last-flight fall at Cheltenham just under a year ago. Passing thoughts can reap a bitter harvest. He yields to no-one in his admiration for Ruby Walsh but suggested more than once that the great man was capable of indecision at the last with victory in an important race seemingly assured.

It was the final leg of a bold accumulator and, in Archie’s words, ‘would have made a difference’. Whether he meant a little place in Juan-les-Pins, a minor work by Lucian Freud or a woman with Bristol Rovers in her heart I have no idea, but I can see the hurt lingers on. Clearly there have been attempts to put things right  –  the gambler’s role in life, whether we like it or not  –  but these have proven unsuccessful. He approaches the forthcoming festival with mixed feelings. Every time Benie Des Dieux wins  –  there have been three fairly bloodless successes since the fateful day and that mishap is her only reverse since joining Willie Mullins  –  he drifts off into his own little world and we are careful to avoid any mention of the Mares’ Hurdle. A few years ago we also went quiet around Arc time, when Avenir Certain disappointed.

Alan the Buddhist, who once saw a clear leader fall at Fontwell and immediately vowed never to let racing hurt him again (which it hasn’t), was another in the Avenir Certain camp. He liked the name, which is fair enough.

“Was that because you’re certain we’re all coming round again?” I asked innocently. I’m all for anything that gets us through to the end, especially if it turns out not to be the end after all. I once attended a series of talks on the difference between Buddhism and Hinduism; the lecturer ended up as general manager at Swindon speedway stadium, so he’ll probably want it quieter next time.

Alan and Archie do not know each other well and I feared one of those ‘why do you do it?’ conversations that gamblers face every now and then, so I wandered over for another bottle of South African chenin blanc, not bad in the Botanist, abandoning all thoughts of the Kempton placepot in this appalling weather and concentrating instead on whether it was Bobby Darin or Mel Torme singing Beyond The Sea in the background.

It would make things a lot simpler if they played the original La Mer by Charles Trenet but you can’t tell them. I knew a chap who took his own CDs into the Sawyer’s Arms in Nailsea. Cat Stevens’ Greatest Hits was one of them, though I think Cat had become Yusuf Islam by then. Would Matthew And Son have helped him make it big in the 60s if he’d been Yusuf at that stage? I doubt it.

No one in my experience has ever drunk a glass of wine more slowly than Alan the Buddhist so I was relieved in a way that he was due to chant in half an hour or so. He is a kindly soul and has promised to visit Archie’s shop but the conversation has come round to doubts and certainties again.

“Have you got anything to give me a lift?” Archie said. Well, I fancied One For The Team at Newbury quite strongly and I think that form-line will supply the winner of the Pertemps Final at Cheltenham, so he may have taken my advice. It was strange, watching a proper NH race on decent ground at a Grade 1 track, right in the middle of this mini-monsoon.

“I think it’s Bobby Darin”, Archie said. “It’s not tricksy enough for Mel Torme. Mind you, it could be Harry Connick”.

“It couldn’t be Sammy Davis junior, could it?” said Alan the Buddhist and we gazed at him with no little affection, as we might a child that we love beyond all measure who is still struggling with maths homework when all the other children have gone to bed.

“That’s right”, Archie said. “It really, really couldn’t be Sammy Davis junior. And it’s not bloody Burl Ives, either”. And suddenly he burst out laughing, quite possibly for the first time since Benie Des Dieux came to grief.

“You’ll be all right”, I told him. “You’ve got a good record at Cheltenham. All you need is a little rest, a bit of sun on your back and a careful study of the Warwick race where One For The Team finished third. Sire Du Berlais came over for a jog round in that and finished just behind him and just in front of Henry Daly’s Stoney Mountain. Then all you need to do is ponder whether Henry has something better at home. I see a major pay-day coming”.

I think we can all see that I offer excellent advice. It’s just a question of working out why I fail to take any of it myself.


Ian Carnaby is a weekly contributor to The Weekend Card.

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