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How Memory Does or Does Not Work: Peter O’Sullevan

Peter O’Sullevan died yesterday.  For many, many years he was the voice of horseracing and because when I grew up all there was on the television on Saturday was football, or racing, or wrestling, he was part of my childhood albeit in a background, subliminal way.

I’ve checked the many, many years timespan and he commentated for the BBC for 50 years.  50 years!  But of course O’Sullevan himself would have probaly said the former: 50 years, minus the exclamation mark because he was that kind of a man and exclamation points were probably only worth breaking out for the likes of Red Rum in the National who he called home on three separate occasions.

Or Desert Orchid.

Or Nijinsky.

I met Peter O’Sullevan once.  He was under an open-fronted tent at Cheltenham, sitting down, perhaps signing books.  There wasn’t a queue especially.  I don’t remember which occasion it was at Cheltenham – I have only been twice and neither were to the Festival.  It was either November, a mid-week meeting where I had a small racing club interest in a horse called Saucy Night, or it was some years later at the meeting held every year at the end of January.  This is the first of my memory glitches.  The second is who put whose hand on whose.  I stopped to say something to him and he seemed old, frail even.  It was a cold day.  I don’t remember what I said, but I remember his response was warm and my hand went over his hand, or vice versa.

It seems an odd thing to have happened, even now.  I am not inclined to touch people I know, let alone those I don’t, and yet my memory is that the moment I shared with Peter O’Sullevan was genuine and heartfelt.

Hands tell their own story.  It’s a shame I can’t quite articulate this one in words.  Or maybe it’s not – memories are made up of more than that, after all.

An Chéadaoin

I had a little write of this about the Champion Hurdle on Monday:

The ground is likely to be more good than soft good. This is, I reckon, going to suit the flat-bred lads a little better. So Celestial Halo by Galileo – tick and Punjabi by Komaite – tick, and whilst I’m at it Khyber Kim by Mujahid – tick. But the big fat tick to end all other ticks goes to Zaynar.

On Tuesday I find that the first 5 home were by flat-bred sires in the race. Binocular was the joker in the pack that I overlooked because, like Solwhit, he’d had problems. Well we were sold a bit of a pup there weren’t we? Actually his pedigree is interesting. His flat-bred sire was a flipping sprinter (and not a well-known sire at that), but his dam is stoutly-bred by the NH sire Pistolet Bleu. So there. Next year watch for the same kind of thing. A mix of toe and staying power to sprint off up the hill.

This Wednesday has turned into a bit of a dog already. Rudi spent some time treating the garden as a velodrome (running round the walls without the bike) after the foxes got the rubbish. So I’ve had to hold a Stewards’ Inquiry into why the rubbish was not in the shed (all before 9 a.m.). Added to that, the children are ill and I must teach later. You’ll therefore forgive me if my Cheltenham attitude has become too dilatory to inflict on readers. Those huge handicaps make me shudder. Blokes love them. I rest my case.

I am hoping to have earned my Guinness later. Whether it’s in life-changing quantity rather depends on how this lot run. One from THE bumper, one from the bumper in Huntingdon and two maidens and maybe a dabble on Ferdy Murphy’s pretender.

Shot From the Hip – by Monsun and has to be backed – worried about the Weld horse – Mullins who’s he?
Dominium – love it love it love it
TheRedBalloon – Sulamani has a staggering percentage call over 14f+
Mirza – the Dandy Nicholls runner could ruin my St Patrick’s Day party
Kalahari King – to place maybe because really I want the Master to win…

And this is nothing to do with anything, but I like a poem.

Achilles – by Carol Ann Duffy

Myth’s river – where his mother dipped him, fished him, a slippery golden boy flowed on, his name on its lips.
Without him, it was prophesied, they would not take Troy.

Women hid him, concealed him in girls’ sarongs; days of sweetmeats, spices, silver songs…

But when Odysseus came, with an athlete’s build, a sword and a shield, he followed him to the battlefield, the crowd’s roar,

And it was sport, not war, his charmed foot on the ball…

But then his heel, his heel, his heel…

I know, given the time lapse, that this poem has been a honed a little, but not a lot. What I want to know is if Beckham is Achilles, who the heck is Odysseus?

This is NOT a Tip – The Festival Day 1

Here’s the thing. At 1.30 a rabble of novices will kick off the Festival. Amongst them the short fav Dunguib. I can’t back him because he’s evens now and he needs “racing room”. So I could sit out the race. It seems sensible, but here’s the thing – I can’t. There’s a little voice nagging me. Now this is not the voice I generally listen to in punting matters as it knows bugger all about it, but this voice has been joined by a few others and I can’t ignore it.

The story starts at Cheltenham in January when I picked what appeared to be a pig called Fiulin in a good novices hurdle won by Restless Harry (more of him another day). Fiulin travelled ok and then spat the dummy somewhere at the top of the hill, coming home in his own time. Let’s say he needed the run. Chalked down to experience. Then just recently *searches have been throwing up the blog, these searches are “Fiulin” or “Evan Williams Fiulin”. Strange I thought. Who’s googling that bad lad. I’ve checked his price and it’s 200/1. No sign of a sustained or indeed much of any gamble yet, although his price halved for a short while yesterday somewhere – you see I’ve been watching. Anyway, one crap run in a small field at HQ when you have been yamming cream cakes all winter does not a Supreme Novice make so 200/1 seems a fair price.

Then Paddy Power offered this bet. Back a horse in the Supreme market and if Dunguib wins you get your stake back. Perfect. Now I just need Fiulin or Dunguib to win and I’ve lost nowt. Paddy will only get that bit of “shrewd” business though. Ladcrooks have already accepted my life-changing acca. I had to count the zeros a couple of times…

Back in the room, I am still not liking the Champion Hurdle. After a night to toss and turn on it I wake to find I am thinking:

You fool, it’s obvious Go Native will win the Champion Hurdle. Noel Meade, acknowledging his lacklustre record at the Festival, assures us GN has more speed than the Harchibald.

What an idiot you are, anyone can see the first-time blinkers for Celestial Halo will transform him, no matter what other heresy his owner has been preaching.

Don’t be such a dunce, Nicky says Binocular will win a Champion Hurdle, he just doesn’t know when.

Medermit’s a grey too and doesn’t Starluck look a bit grey too if you squint – you can’t just back one grey – you gotta back them all.

And so on through the field. Listen I’m with Nicky. Fiulin is going to win me a lot of money one day – I just don’t know when…

Fiulin passing through the ring for 280,000 guineas. He looks well up for Googling himself whilst enjoying a cream cake...

*In case you are wondering about the accuracy of google search terms I can tell you categorically that the Chow Chow is the world’s most popular dog (not in terms of ownership but in terms of search interest) and that Shaun the Sheep is in fact the world’s most popular celebrity.

This post was brought to you by Where’s the Madness in That? Productions

Champion Hurdle

Enough already with these impossible questions – I want answers now. That’s the mood I start the Cheltenham week in. I haven’t even paid too much attention this year, not having the time or the emotional energy to invest in four days of high drama and broken hearts.

Still, the demands of the blog are such that I need to form some kind of an opinion (however erroneous) on at least the principal races. I want that one (points finger) just won’t do.

So to this end I had a good look at the Champion Hurdle. This used to be my favourite race. When Rooster Booster powered past his rivals after winning the Greatwood I was mad for it. Since then though, things haven’t gone quite so well. Harchibald, Detroit City and indeed Celestial Halo last year, all have left deep scars on my psyche.

The form for many of the protaganists tomorrow is entwined like a nasty knot. In fact, if one of them (Punjabi, Solwhit, Go Native, Celestial Halo, Khyber Kim or even Medermit or Binocular) dropped me a line to say “actually we’ve been drawing straws down at the start” I wouldn’t be surprised. If you think any one of those will win, you’ve pretty much got to give the other six a strong chance too. Hopeless.

I’ve considered many opinions. Punjabi and Celestial Halo will come up the hill. Solwhit has been a bit poorly and has no course experience and isn’t he a bit better on the softer ground. Celestial Halo is buzzing at home and the BLINKERS are going to work wonders etc. etc.

Yada, yada, yada.

If I pick any one of those I’d be a big fat guesser. I backed Celestial Halo last year and I will back him again if only because I would kick myself if the first time blinkers do indeed work the oracle, but I do have one other little angle on the race. The ground is likely to be more good than soft good. This is, I reckon, going to suit the flat-bred lads a little better. So Celestial Halo by Galileo – tick and Punjabi by Komaite – tick, and whilst I’m at it Khyber Kim by Mujahid – tick. But the big fat tick to end all other ticks goes to Zaynar. He’s by Daylami (who is statistically a better sire than Mujahid and Komaite, but not the mighty Galileo) and he is guaranteed to come up the hill. Some believe Zaynar wants three miles, but I am prepared to entertain the notion that 2 miles at Cheltenham is within his compass given his run at Ascot. I am also prepared to overlook the 5yo Champion Hurdle stat that Katchit blew away and I am also prepared to forgive him for his no show on sticky ground at Kelso.

Why? Because he’s grey!

No, that’s not true. It’s because his profile is more convincing. He has all his potential stacked neatly in the locker whilst the others have a big tangle of dirty PE kit all over the floor, and frankly I am too lazy to sort through it any more.

Last year's Triumph Hurdle winner

Zenyatta wins her 15th start (record 15 starts:15 wins)

In her comeback race yesterday, the first since her “unretirement” the US Supermare gave weight away, found trouble in running, but still managed to bully her way up the inside rail to win by a length and a quarter. 

This horse is astounding.  She epitomises everything I look for in a racemare.  Jolie laide to say the least, her impressive physique still manages to ensure she makes room when she needs it for her last to first antics.  Watch the race at last years Breeders’ Cup as she becomes the first mare to win the Classic if you need more convincing, or just watch it anyway for fun. As a side note to myself she is by Street Cry and her pedigree is notable for the absence of Northern Dancer.

As we await the spectacle at Cheltenham I can’t help wondering if we are missing a trick to promote jump racing’s main event. This advert trails Zenyatta as she attempted her 11th straight victory; surely Kauto’s attempt at a third Gold Cup is worth a bit of promotional airtime.

Maybe without the handfuls of dirt and dodgy outfit though…

Seeing as Zenyatta had Twice Over in third in the Classic I am warming to this fellow’s chances in the Dubai World Cup and then some. As it goes, he owes me for letting the Raven past in the Craven the year before last.

Henry Cecil lifts the World Cup in the desert, yes I can see it 🙂

Solwhit Goes

Following his recent cough and dirty scope it is reported this morning that the Irish horse travels tonight to Cheltenham and will take his chance in Tuesday’s Champion Hurdle.

This is a rather convenient situation for me. I fancied the horse to win the race before all the coughing and if he doesn’t run well come the day I will be able to say

“Ah well, what can you expect, the animal clearly wasn’t right”.

My reserve was going to be Khyber Kim, so what now of his chances? It’s a headscratcher for sure.

Leave it with me.

I hope he's as shiny on the 16th March

Incidentally I will be keeping my eye on the mare Grassfinch when she runs in the Listed Mares’ Bumper @ Sandown this afternoon. Jimmy McCarthy is up, who happens to be the nephew of Irish poet and priest Michael McCarthy with whom my mother is acquainted and has kindly given me his latest book. Grassfinch will have her work cut out with an odds on Henderson mare and her conqueror last time out -Chicklemix, but that’s what racing is all about isn’t it; hopes and dreams.

We’ll also be watching out for Jimmy McCarthy partnering Ogee (same trainer as Grassfinch) next week at the Festival. Ogee being officially “my mother’s favourite horse”.

At the Races – Michael McCarthy
7 July 2007

In the dream my nephew, who is called after me
meets me at the races. He tells me I’m on yesterday’s video.
I remember yesterday, and where I was among the crowd.
I was in the grass paddock beside the hayshed,
standing on a rock above the furze machine.
It was around 1957. ‘There you are’ he says,
pointing up at the big screen.

I see myself coming towards me.
I’m wearing that checked grey overcoat.
I walk out of the screen past myself and notice
the overcoat is baggy. I’m bulkier than I thought.
As I walk up the terrace steps I observe myself
from the back. My hair is standing up. Thicker
than I remember. It’s turning from grey to black.

When I look again at the screen the video is finished.
I want to see the playback. The remote is out of reach.
I’m looking for a window-opener, or that long handled
candle-snuffer, when a woman asks me if she can help.
She gets the tape, a reel to reel, puts it into the machine.
I ask if it can be fast forwarded. She says not.
I’ll have to watch it from the start.

Not enough hours in the day…

…that is what I blame my abject punting display yesterday on.

Once again the world turned and I was slightly behind it.  Leaving late on account of the 8 a.m. inspection, missing the first and not being able to get a copy of the Post until I was on course all meant I had no chance for some proper study.  This is what you need when entering the bear-pit and I had a)  forgotten b) little opportunity – which was my own fault.

Time was on a Saturday, when the girls were little and had naps in the day, that I would take the dog out early doors and buy the Post.  I also used to buy the ill-fated Sporting something or another in its brief life.  Then I would read the form and read the trainers’ comments which, as a novice, I set great store by.  Then I would take the dog out again via the bookies and place my bets.

The kids never sleep during the day now, not even when they are ill.  On weekends they like to do stuff.  Come on dog walks, hang out, watch films.  I knocked the sticking my head in a paper habit on a Saturday a long time ago because it was selfish and didn’t read well.  Consequently, I have come to terms with Saturday, the biggest punting day of the week, being my missed opportunity so to speak.  I’m ok with that in the comfort of my own home.  Doing a nearly 8 hour round trip with your dear mother counting her wonga in the dusk is a little harder to take!  I don’t begrudge anyone a winner though.

I was able to read the Racing Post last night at bedtime.  Therein were  some of the nuggets I could have done with on course.  In one small field hurdle race I had a nice theory about the well-bred Fiulin, trained by Evan Williams (in form) and was somewhat seduced by some fancy entries (Champion/World Hurdle).  This fella downed tools before the home turn on the hill and came home last.  As he dragged his sorry, and as it became evident fat, arse past the stands to explain himself to his connections I popped him in the mental notebook “will come on for the run”.  If I had acquainted myself with the trainer’s view I would have know this:

“Time has conspired against us. It’s now the end of January and we haven’t been able to run him, so instead of going for a Mickey Mouse race and learning nothing, we are going for a good race to hopefully find out where we are with him. He has done a lot of schooling (makemeadiva notes: the beast jumped nicely it must be said), but he is a big horse and will come on a bundle for whatever he does here.”

So basically, I paid money to find out what I had already paid money to find out when I bought the paper.  This, incidentally, is what trainer, Robin Dickin, said of the race winner Restless Harry who laid it down from the front and earned the only applause of the day from me.

“I have been riding horses for 40 years but the feel he gave me when I rode him on Tuesday was the best I’ve had. It was an extraordinary piece of work so I have to be expecting a good run. He is in better order than before (his last race) and was hardly trained or fed – this time he’s highly trained and well fed, so I hope I haven’t messed him up!”

Of course, not all trainers’ comments are equal.  Paul Nicholls did not fancy Taranis, who delivered at 20/1 (well done to one Ms AMB 🙂 )after 766 days off the track since breaking down in the 2007 King George, saying:

“…it’s been a hard road back and I have yet to see the old ability’s still there.”

Yep the ability’s still there Paul and Fiulin is porky sort who thinks he doesn’t fancy actually running fast after about 1m6f. 

It was all there, shame I didn’t read it first.

On the upside, I saw a Red Kite and Buzzard on the way out (these are impressive birds of prey and deserve to be proper nouns).  I met some old and new friends on course and saw a fantastic yellow moon on the way home. 

Oh, and mother bought the chips.

Mine was on the M40

Cheltenham Epilogue

There are two post scripts from The Festival. 

1) Neptune Collonges was sadly found to have sustained a tendon injury during the Gold Cup and will be out until 2010/2011 season.  From reports it seems that his owner, John Hales, attributes the injury to the reason he ran lower down the field in the race than was certainly expected.  I hope they get him back sound and have more great days out with him in the future.

2) Kasbah Bliss DID NOT STAY.  I did not attend to the detail of the World Hurdle which was this.  In 2008 KB finished a worthy second to the magnificent Inglis Drever which was good form.  I thought a replication of that would be enough, as indeed it may have been ON the OLD course.  But last week’s race was run on the NEW course as was the race in 2007 wherein he finished 5th.  The New course has a longer run in and is said to expose any chinks in a horse’s stamina.  This information was shared today by Mel Collier in the Racing Post’s Anorak Corner.  Now I am not sure how one would have got this information except by using the evidence of ones own eyes but it just goes to show you must factor everything possible in before putting your money down.

Slapped wrist!

Get well soon Neptune

Get well soon Neptune