December 15th, 2023 | Ian Carnaby's Racing News

‘Then, while the wheel is spinning, the Jack of Diamonds is waiting or Hemingway’s bunch of  skins is hurtling towards the furlong pole, we’re not thinking about anything else, regretting anything else or checking the time. This is where we live.’

The above appears in the foreword to The Long Road From Portman Square, a book I wrote a couple of years ago. I think I was at pains to highlight the difference between true gamblers and those for whom the odd investment, even on a daily basis, is a harmless hobby, humdrum but comforting.

It’s fairly obvious which group welcomed me with open arms long ago. I’ve toned things down these past 25 years or so but the memories tumble over each other  –  Import, Vakil-ul-Mulk, David Chapman’s cross-country treble with Scotch Imp, Glencroft and Chaplins Club, cold nights and strange people at 3am on Paddington Station, the early-morning pub at Smithfield Market, the blissful taxi ride all the way home.

To return to the sentiments expressed above, it’s probably as well to check their validity now and again. No problem there! Whilst I shall not dwell on this, it’s been an expensive year, what with a trip to Canada to see our daughter and family and a more expensive Brighton sponsorship than usual after 27 years. To be frank I needed a winner, even if the discovery of a cyst on my pancreas made total concentration a mite tricky.

The fortnight between the ultrasound scan and the CT one was a worrying time but, let’s be honest, there’s only one Balmoral Handicap on Champions Day at Ascot and The Gatekeeper was drawn low, which I thought might prove crucial. Add in the fact that he likes soft ground, big fields and had Joe Fanning, not a million miles behind L Piggott and S Cauthen when it comes to dictating the pace, on top and in I went at 25/1.

I think I started shouting at the three-furlong pole, something my wife had not heard since we were courting and Eddie Hide grabbed the nearside rail at a Windsor night meeting; amazing it didn’t put her off, really.

Anyway, when it all died down I remembered the cyst and thought I’d better tell our younger daughter about my humble accounts, codewords and the rest of it because the word ‘pancreatic’ can make a man uneasy in the wee small hours but it turned out to be benign with a further check due in April, around the time of Punchestown and the first Brighton meeting but you can’t have everything.

The Gatekeeper netted £750. I don’t know why Wilsons sent me £770 but I’ve always had a soft spot for them, ever since the muggy Friday afternoon at Sandown when Mervyn Wilson offered me evens about Tim Henman beating Goran Ivanisevic, even though the world could see the latter was totally outclassed. An even ‘nifty’ if I opened an account, which of course I did. Sandown stayed dry but the heavens opened at Wimbledon and repeated the dose the following day. Tim  –  lovely chap but no real competitive backbone, which is sad but true  –  finally subsided on Sunday. Needless to say, even Mervyn thought he’d win but what mattered to him was having the account up and running. You have to understand how bookmakers think. I’m getting the hang of it now.

The Gatekeeper’s all-the-way triumph meant I could invite two more friends to the Horserace Writers’ annual lunch, where I was fortunate enough to win an award, thanks to Marten’s support via these pieces. Greg Wood of the Guardian wrote an appreciation to die for in the brochure and it was one of those magical days.

Funnily enough the Balmoral winner is not my horse of the year, however. That would be the streetfighter Rhoscolyn, who won three times at Goodwood off marks of 87, 91 and 94 and had The Gatekeeeper, who needed a much bigger field, back in fourth on the final occasion. The ground was heavy, then soft twice, but Rhoscolyn just put his head down in the pouring rain and wouldn’t give in. A plain, rangy gelding, he waits patiently for the tongue-tie to be removed and wonders what all the fuss is about. For a horse who once needed 196 days off following a wind operation, he ain’t done bad, as one admirer remarked.

It wasn’t me. I was off in search of a glass of champagne, a celebration similar to the ones after the CT scan and the award. I tell you, the days of wine and roses are alive and kicking.

May you feel the same way over Christmas and in 2024. And thank you for your continuing support.

Ian Carnaby’s books are available to buy on our website by clicking here