Time to recharge the batteries

March 19th, 2020 | Ian Carnaby's Racing News

There we are then, all over for another year and quite possibly all over until the greenfinch puts in an appearance on the bird table outside and the talk is all about Royal Ascot, Wimbledon and the Tour de France. Some of my friends think even this is optimistic and they may be right. For me, the virus itself is frightening but the absence of sport, Southampton apart, merely a minor setback. Maybe we were all in need of a break anyway, not that I want anyone to suffer financially.

The hospital visit, initially with a view to a check-up, lasted 16 days. I am not about to bore you with this. There is a kind of itchiness where the upgraded pacemaker makes its presence felt just below the left collarbone and I hope that’s it for the rest of my allotted span (as if anyone plans these things; I mean, come ON.) Updating my line from the corridor was totally unsatisfactory, I lent the nurses a hand with poor old Donald, who didn’t know where he was in the middle of the night and kept crying out, we nearly held on with ten men against Newcastle, I could see Copperhead wasn’t going to win after a mile in the RSA and I acquired a taste for pea soup, possibly as a result of my affection for English ‘B’ Pictures of the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Pea-souper London fog, see. The Blue Lamp and It Always Rains on Sundays. Jack Warner was a copper in both so he must have been a pretty short price to nail the role in Dixon of Dock Green. There’s a villain called Nicky Henderson in It Always Rains and one of the characters studies the back page of the News of the World (News of the Screws as it was known in the Street of Shame) because it printed the Walthamstow greyhound results from the night before. Imagine that. All gone now, together with the soft porn cinema on the corner of the North Circular Road and the thoroughfare which led to the stadium, bathed in its pinky orange glow on race nights. Inge, I Have Lust and My Swedish Meatball. You’d go a long way to find another double bill like that.

Where was I? Ah yes, Cheltenham week. I came home on Wednesday and the following morning had £25 each-way on Rapper at 25/1 with Wilsons, who were paying on the first six in the Pertemps Final. He was just about in front turning for home but started treading water after two out and finished seventh. Excellent info (as we gamblers say after a near miss) from a rosy-cheeked Alastair Down two months ago. I suppose the three-mile handicap hurdle at Aintree would have been just about perfect but we shall never know, unless Henry Daly can keep him ticking over quietly for a year. Rapper, not Alastair.

When Ematom finished fourth in the Stayers (first three only, of course) I might have wished myself back in hospital but the great Jim Old, who teams up with Nigel Twiston-Davies these days, rang me from Cheltenham to say he thought Summit Like Herbie really ought to win the handicap chase at Doncaster but the syndicate wasn’t travelling so he didn’t have to go. Herbie jumped well and won very easily at 100/30 from 4/1, which paid for the week, the only irritation being that it was too late to put on the line.

I knew all about Herbie but sometimes we’re short of vital information. A friend who’d attended the final  –  and quite possibly the best  –  preview evening at Cheltenham itself passed on the news (too late) that Henrietta Knight, one of the guests, had been working with Ematom and expressed doubts about his effectiveness at the track. In the end he probably did well to finish fourth and when you look back at the Gold Cup, you’ll see that the bitterly disappointing Kemboy was far from disgraced in seventh.

I never make any bones about my punting career. Much better these days but too much of a deficit from the middle years would sum it up. But even then, I seldom bet on steeplechases because the risks were only too apparent. As Stan Mellor once said, ‘If people knew what went on in a three-mile steeplechase, they wouldn’t bet’. Wrong, Stan, because the simple truth is that many of them will bet on anything. But right in principle. The risks outweigh the odds, no matter how much you love the game. They don’t have to fall, they only have to belt a couple, and you don’t always see that from side-on on television. Herbie didn’t touch a twig at Doncaster but Kemboy hated everything about Cheltenham.

Have a look back at it. He fell at the first last year, so we were none the wiser. But here he was ‘wrong’ or jumped big, or reached from too far out and couldn’t possibly win after a mile. Patrick Mullins rode a fine race and Kemboy was still trying to make ground from a hopeless position. It’s a pity because he beat Al Boum Photo strictly on merit in the Punchestown Gold Cup last year, other way round and a much flatter track, of course, with someone called Walsh on top, which didn’t do any harm. Paul Townend had factored everything in, and preferred Al Boum Photo here. Trickier decision at Punchestown if they meet again although that, too, may have to wait another year, another deep breath, another phone call to Wilsons but not, perhaps, another pacemaker.

A nurse called Tara woke me up at 4am to take my blood pressure but found the machine was out of batteries. ‘Well at least you’ll always have Tara,’ I said. She was quite a bit younger, though. So were all the others, come to think of it.