Things my mother taught me

December 1st, 2018 | Ian Carnaby's Racing News

Thank you to everyone for the good wishes during my stay in hospital. I now have a pacemaker, though the decision to go ahead was in the balance.

Everything had improved during my time there, including the heart rate, though it was still only in the 50s so future peace of mind gained the day and I was happy enough with that. I came home the day after and shall be filling in the forms to say how impressed I was by everything at the Bristol Royal Infirmary. How the NHS copes I have no idea but it’s a valiant struggle against the odds.

I tried to keep up with racing on a daily basis and something happened last Sunday to take me back a few years. In the 2m 5f handicap hurdle at Exeter, Kayf Charmer, absent for several weeks, had the recent form figures 020. There were two things my mother relied on – Captain Heath in the Daily Mail and the form figures 020.

“See, boy, they were trying with it the time before last and it didn’t quite work out, so they had to cover it up again. Today’s the day!”

I think everyone should be given instruction like this at the age of 13. It helps, not only where racing is concerned, but in life generally. Every time something goes 0201 I think about her and the sixpences she’d have had on. What with my mother’s system and my Dad relying on Eddie Magner’s ‘pit ponies’ to come good, I suppose I was always going to be a gambler of sorts.

Of course, you can’t put things like Kayf Charmer on the telephone line because you’d be acting on a whim. Even during a poor run I only ever go for things with a perfectly respectable chance on form. In fact, moderate though she looked overall, Kayf Charmer had favoured 2m 5f at both Exeter and Newton Abbot. She won at 33/1, of course, unbacked and just the sort of thing you need before an important meeting with the men in green gowns and a mask.

Some years ago I interviewed rails bookmaker Stephen Little, a civilised and highly intelligent man. I can’t remember how we got on to the subject of a possible afterlife, but Stephen didn’t believe and I wondered why. “Oh, I don’t know. Just the sheer logistics, I suppose,” he said.

Even so, I allow myself the mental picture of my mother shaking her head sadly when something like Kayf Charmer goes astray. Not that she’d have expected me to hold on to the winnings for long. When I worked as a boardman in Ladbrokes half a century ago I couldn’t quite get a bet on and was trying to signal to her to back Colin Davies’ Tartuffe, who was making his debut over hurdles at Newbury. There was a breakdown in communication and he was another to go unbacked at 33/1. “You’d soon have spent it,” she said. The truth hurts but it remains the truth. I waited and waited for Tartuffe and, unlike Godot, he eventually turned up at 100/6 in a Flat race at Newbury with Willie Carson up. That was in the days when you could spot horses fit from hurdling in March and early April. All gone now, of course.

I make no rash claims regarding racing or betting in general. Having said that, I think the exchanges offer some unmissable opportunities I can’t justify or embrace the level of application it would involve, not with six grandchildren – one of them being brought up by us – on the go, but sometimes you see prices you can hardly believe. Might Bite at evens? EVENS? In a Grade 1 race, which the Betfair Chase is, you want something with a near-flawless record. Might Bite is very talented and may well win the King George but his overall record does not fit that description. Indeed, even his jumping does not fit that description.

Unowhatimeanharry is not the force of old but still managed to win the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury, a weak event by Grade 2 standards. Now and then I try to highlight poor value in the Weekend Card and I’ve long felt that Wholestone is not one for the trenches. He won first time up, underlining how important it is to be with Nigel Twiston-Davies at this time of year, but soon lost interest yesterday. However, using the exchanges to lay 100/30 chances at 4/1 is inadvisable because now and again you will be wrong and leave yourself with ground to make up. Might Bite at evens was the perfect ‘laying’ position for the serious player.

Saturday is Ladbrokes Trophy day, though many will refer to it as the Hennessy. One year, the late Arthur Hopkins, PRO for Hennessy and a colleague from my wine trade days, said he had to find all the surviving winning owners, trainers and jockeys from 1957 onwards for a special lunch at Newbury on the Friday.

Arthur was a good old sweat with a Fleet Street background. He didn’t ask how you were getting on, he just glanced at your shoes. I liked him and agreed to help; we did well to find all bar three of the relevant connections. It was a good day and I said I’d see him for the big race the following afternoon. Arthur was a proper old hack, though, and had his moonlighting job to think of. A home game at Highbury or White Hart Lane for the Sunday Mirror, as I recall. He was a character.

I sold quite a lot of Hennessy around Hounslow and Isleworth, though I doubt my efforts extended their years of sponsorship. I hope not, anyway, because even as things stand I need to go on sponsoring my Brighton seller until I’m 107 to beat their record.

Still, I’m working on it, as the great James Garner used to say in Maverick. Incidentally, how long do pacemakers last?